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This Week in History – Illinois Riot, Bleeding Kansas, Separate But Equal, Texas, and Richmond

This week in history, we’ll take a look at a pro-secessionist riot in Illinois, the beginnings of Bleeding Kansas, the Fifteenth Amendment, as well as the first black American elected to public office.

In weeks past, we’ve also detailed several lynchings that took place across this week in history. After much thought, I’ve decided to move the lynchings to their own post.

March 28

Drawing depicting the first few moments of the riot. By Mimi Jobe.
Drawing depicting the first few moments of the riot. By Mimi Jobe.

Riot and Murder in Illinois
With tensions between “Peace Democrats” and Republicans growing throughout the southern portions of the state, soldiers on leave found themselves loathed. A pro-secessionist riot in Charleston, Illinois resulted in nine dead and twelve wounded. The Peace Democrats wanted the war to come to an end by giving the South what she wanted – an independent, slave-holding nation. They generally despised abolitionists and often saw the soldiers as armed Republicans. It all came to a head on this date, known in Charleston as “Court Day,” which was a sort of celebration of the opening of the circuit court. Typically, there was a festival atmosphere with food, drink, and political speeches. This year, it was turned into a rally for the Democratic Party. More here.

March 30

Border Ruffians in Kansas Force Pro-Slavery Legislature in Kansas

Kansas’ first election, held four months prior, was a victory for the pro-slavery forces. However, when it was discoverefd that scads of pro-slavery Missourians had come across the border to illegally vote, another election was scheduled. Taking place on this date, this election too was fraught with fraud, and controlled by pro-slavery Missourians in many places. Though some small steps were taken to void the voting in the troubled districts, the acting governor simply seated the winners from the previous election. This caused the anti-slavery Kansans to declair them “the Bogus Legislature.” More here. Period letter about the ordeal here (very worth the read).

15th Amendment Ratified

Passed by the House and Senate in late February, the Fifteenth Amendment was proclaimed ratified by Secretary of State Hamilton Fish on this date. The amendment prohibited the state governments from denying or abridging citizens the right to vote based upon “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It also gave congress the power to enforce the amendment. This allowed black Americans the right to vote. More here.

March 31

Separate But Equal Rule First Established

Though the fight for desegregated schools is most often associated with the 1950s, one of the first battles happened a century before. In 1849, Charles Sumner represented Sara Roberts, a five year old black child who had to walk past several white schools in order to attend her black school. The case made its way to the state supreme court, where Sumner argued that such segregation branded “a whole race with the stigma of inferiority and degradation.” Nevertheless, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled on this date that as long as there were separate but equal facilities for whites and blacks, it simply did not matter. Further, the Chief Justice opined that racial prejudice would only increase if the schools were integrated. More here.

Thomas Mundy Peterson – First Black American to Vote Under 15th Amendment

With the passage of the 15th Amendment, black Americans were finally able to vote in every state. Prior, only a handful of states would grant them this right. The honor of being the first fell to Thomas Mundy Peterson of Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The election was to decide upon the town’s charter. Mr. Peterson was awarded a medal by the town in 1884. More here.

April 1

Convention of 1833, Texas

In 1833, residents of Mexican-owned Texas drew up petitions to send to the government in Mexico City, though the government ruled the convention illegal. Meeting on the same day that Santa Anna was inaugurated, the delegates ultimately decided upon forming their own Mexican state. The slave trade in Mexico had been outlawed, but many slave ships found their way to Texas regardless. In a public relations act, the delegates passed an anti-slave trade resolution and eventually published it in Mexico, while keeping it under wraps within Texas itself. Slaves continued to be imported despite the resolution. When the petition was delivered to Mexico City, Stephen Austin was arrested for treason. But because of the petition, Texas gained an additional seat in the central government, as well as many other compensations. More here.

April 2

John Mercer Langston, 1849.
John Mercer Langston, 1849.

John Mercer Langston – First Black American Elected to Public Office

Mr. Langston’s biography is filled with a relentless list of accomplishments. Born free in 1829 Virginia, Langston moved to Cincinnati at the age of ten. Four years later, he became a student at Oberlin College, graduating in 1849. By that time, he had already been asked to speak publically by Frederick Douglass. Because of his race, he was denied enterance into law school, but read law in a local law office, passing the bar in 1854. Along the way, he aided runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad, and spoke of social reforms, including the rights of women. He married, opened a law practice and won the election for Town Clerk of Brownhelm, Ohio, becoming (probably) the first black American to hold public office – all this by the age of twenty-six! The rest of his life was even more exciting and amazing. Read about it here.

The Richmond Women’s Bread Riot

With the Confederate economy tanking, and most provisions going to feed the soldiers, the women of Richmond threatened to riot (and then rioted) over the fear of starvation. To counter this, Virginia’s governor and President Davis – both incredibly out of touch with normal society – dispatched troops to quell the ladies. More here.

Ruins of Richmond, Va., April 1865 by Andrew J. Russell.
Ruins of Richmond, Va., April 1865 by Andrew J. Russell.

April 3

Federals Enter Fallen Richmond

After the Rebels abandoned their capital the previous day, United States troops entered with black regiments leading the way. A resident of Richmond had this to say about the sight of black Americans in Union blue: “Then our Richmond servants were completely crazed, they danced and shouted, men hugged each other, and women kissed, and such a scene of confusion you have never seen.”

And another wrote: “Soon the streets were full of Federal troops, marching quietly along. The beautiful sunlight flashed back everywhere from Yankee bayonets. I saw negroes run out into the street and falling on their knees before the invaders hail them as their deliverers, embracing the knees of the horses, and almost preventing the troops from moving forward. It had been hard living and poor fare in Richmond for negroes as well as whites; and the negroes at this time believed the immediate blessings of freedom greater than they would or could be.”

More accounts can be read here.

Has always had a love for history and the Civil War. During the 150th anniversary of the war, writing the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, which published daily for nearly five years. Wishing to continue the exploration, following the Charleston murders in 2015, and the activism around removing the Confederate Battle Flag, decided to dig a little deeper into the causes and repercussions of the War.