Edward Dickinson Baker: A Featured Biography
The only sitting United States senator ever to die in combat, Edward Dickinson Baker of Oregon was killed on October 21, 1861, in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. He led the regiment he had helped to raise when the Civil War began in the spring of 1861. Baker had practiced law in Springfield, Illinois, before being elected to the House of Representatives in 1845, defeating his friend Abraham Lincoln for the Whig nomination. In 1846, he resigned from the House of Representatives to command a brigade in the Mexican War. Baker moved to Oregon in 1860 and was elected to the Senate that same year. A skilled orator, he made a lasting impression upon the Senate when, dressed in military uniform, he delivered his famous call to arms on August 1, 1861. “We will rally the people, the loyal people, of the whole country,” he exclaimed, “they will pour forth their treasure, their money, their men, without stint, without measure.” Senator Baker’s tragic death prompted the creation of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.
Jefferson Davis: A Featured Biography
Born in Kentucky in 1808 and raised in Mississippi, Jefferson Davis graduated from West Point in 1828. Following brief service in Congress and military duty in the war with Mexico, he served as secretary of war (1853-1857) under Franklin Pierce. In that post he oversaw the construction of the new Senate and House wings of the U.S. Capitol. Davis returned to the Senate in 1857, on the eve of the Civil War, and witnessed some of the most dramatic events in Senate history. As talk of secession filled the Senate Chamber, Davis joined the "Committee of Thirteen" to seek compromise and avoid war. When Mississippi left the Union, however, Davis resigned. He bid farewell to the United States Senate on January 21, 1861. A month later, he became president of the Confederacy. Captured by Union troops in 1865, Davis was indicted for treason and imprisoned for two years. He died in New Orleans in 1889.
William P. Fessenden: A Featured Biography
As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee during the Civil War, William Pitt Fessenden of Maine was the architect of many of the nation's wartime revenue policies. When the Revenue Act of 1861 failed to generate necessary funds, Fessenden revised a House revenue bill in early 1862. After consultation with members, lobbyists, and the Lincoln administration, Fessenden introduced "this infernal tax bill" in May, igniting two weeks of intense debate among senators. The Senate finally approved the bill with more than 300 amendments on June 6, 1862, with only one dissenting vote--an indication of Fessenden's adroit political skill. It was his intimate knowledge of the nation's wartime financial needs that led President Abraham Lincoln to nominate Fessenden as secretary of the treasury, a position he held from July 1864 until March 1865. The Maine legislature returned Fessenden to the Senate in 1865 and he served until his death in Portland, Maine, on September 8, 1869.
James Murray Mason: A Featured Biography
In the Senate, James Murray Mason of Virginia resolutely defended southern interests. On January 4, 1850, he introduced the Fugitive Slave Act to strengthen existing law regarding runaway slaves. Henry Clay included the measure in his Compromise of 1850, a set of resolutions aimed at diffusing the sectional crisis. Eventually, the Senate approved five of Clay’s resolutions, including Mason’s Fugitive Slave Act. Although such measures maintained a fragile peace for a decade, ultimately they could not stave off civil war. On March 28, 1861, two weeks before the firing on Fort Sumter, Mason withdrew from the Senate to join the Confederacy. Four months later, on July 11, the Senate expelled Mason and nine of his southern colleagues. On November 8, 1861, the U.S. government arrested Mason and former senator John Slidell as they traveled to Europe to serve as diplomatic commissioners for the Confederacy, an incident known as the Trent Affair.
Charles Sumner: A Featured Biography
As Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner sat writing at his desk in the Senate Chamber on May 22, 1856, he was brutally assaulted by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina. Angered by Sumner's "Crime against Kansas" speech, in which Sumner criticized South Carolina senator Andrew Butler, Brooks struck Sumner repeatedly with a heavy cane. During the long recuperation that followed, Sumner's empty desk in the Senate chamber stood as a powerful symbol of the tensions between North and South in the years before the Civil War. This dramatic event was just one episode in a long Senate career that lasted from 1851 to 1874. When Sumner returned to full-time Senate duties in 1859, he continued to fight for abolition. With the end of war and ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, he concentrated on providing full political and civil rights to African Americans. Sumner authored the nation's first civil rights legislation. He died in 1874.
Benjamin Wade: A Featured Biography
Ohioan Benjamin Wade was one of the most influential members of the Civil War and Reconstruction-era Senate. Like his other Radical Republicans, Wade supported the abolition of slavery and called for civil rights for freedmen. He chaired the Joint Committee on the Conduct of War, which analyzed a broad range of issues, including Union military losses, the mistreatment of Union prisoners by Confederate forces, and the massacre of Cheyenne Indians. He co-authored the Wade-Davis Bill with Representative Henry Davis of Maryland to provide for the readmission to representation of rebel states upon meeting certain conditions, such as providing African American men the right to vote. President Lincoln pocket-vetoed the bill, preferring a more moderate reconstruction plan. Elected president pro tempore by the Senate in 1867, Wade was the next in line of presidential succession during President Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial.
Henry Wilson: A Featured Biography
Henry Wilson’s opposition to slavery drove him to enter politics. “Freedom and slavery are now arrayed against each other,” he declared in 1844. “We must destroy slavery, or it will destroy liberty.” In 1855 the Massachusetts legislature elected Wilson to the Senate where he joined the new Republican Party. Wilson influenced Civil War legislation as chairman of the Military Affairs Committee and continued to call for the abolition of slavery. In April 1862 Congress passed and the president signed the DC Emancipation Act, originally written by Wilson, freeing slaves in the nation’s capital. Wilson introduced the first post-war civil rights bill in 1865 and influenced Congress’s passage of constitutional amendments to guarantee citizenship rights to African Americans. Elected vice president in 1873, he became ill shortly after taking office and died on November 22, 1875. The Senate commissioned a marble bust of Wilson in 1885, as recognition for his service to the institution, marking the beginning of the Vice Presidential Bust Collection.
An employee of the Senate for 64 years during the 19th century, first as a Senate page, then messenger, and finally assistant doorkeeper, Isaac Bassett left a rich collection of written reminiscences upon his death in 1895. Having lived through the turbulence of the Civil War, Bassett recorded his observations and noted several significant moments during the war, such as the arrival of troops at the Capitol in 1861 and the Grand Review of the Union Armies in 1865 following the death of Abraham Lincoln. An online exhibit, Isaac Bassett: A Senate Memoir, highlights more of his recollections of the Senate leading up to and throughout the war period.
Ohioan Benjamin Wade was one of the most influential members of the Civil War and Reconstruction-era Senate. Like his fellow Radical Republicans, Wade supported the abolition of slavery and called for civil rights for freedmen. He chaired the Joint Committee on the Conduct of War, which analyzed a broad range of issues, including Union military losses, the mistreatment of Union prisoners by Confederate forces, and the massacre of Cheyenne Indians. He co-authored the Wade-Davis bill with Representative Henry Davis of Maryland to provide for the readmission to representation of rebel states upon meeting certain conditions, such as providing African American men the right to vote.