George Maurer, reading clerk for the U.S. House of Representatives | US House of Representatives: History, Art & ArchivesOn this date, George Maurer, reading clerk for the U. S. House of Representatives for nearly two decades, died at the age of 56. Born in Easton, Pennsylvania, Maurer earned a law degree from George Washington University Law School. In 1939, he accepted a position in the Parliamentarian’s Office for the House of Representatives where he worked with the longtime Parliamentarian, Lewis Deschler. He served in that capacity for three years before becoming a reading clerk for the House in 1943—a position he received through the patronage of Congressman Francis “Tad” Walter, also a native of Easton, Pennsylvania. In the 78th Congress (1943–1945), Maurer joined Alney Chaffee as one of two reading clerks for the House. On the job before the installation of an electronic amplification system on the House Floor, Maurer, known for his deep, clear voice, earned the admiration of Members for his ability to quickly and accurately read the roll call. Described by his colleagues as a “perfectionist” who “was like a machine who never made mistakes,” Maurer read complicated legislation in a timely and easy manner. Maurer also had the unique responsibility of reading the Annual Message addresses before a Joint Session of Congress for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. “George won the friendship and admiration of the Members of the House by his unstinting devotion to his work as well as by the efficient way in which he discharged his responsibilities," Representative Thomas E. Morgan of Pennsylvania recalled upon Maurer’s passing.
LANGSTON, John Mercer | US House of Representatives: History, Art & ArchivesOne of the most prominent African Americans in the United States before and during the Civil War, John Mercer Langston was as famous as his political nemesis, Frederick Douglass.1 One of the first African Americans to hold elective office in the United States (he became Brownhelm, Ohio, township clerk in 1855), Langston topped off his long political career by becoming the first black man to represent Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives. John Mercer Langston was born free in Louisa, Virginia, on December 14, 1829.2 His father, Ralph Quarles, was a plantation owner and had been a captain in the Revolutionary War. Langston's mother, Lucy, was a free Native American–black woman who had been Ralph Quarles's slave. Quarles emancipated Lucy and their daughter, Maria, in 1806. Lucy Langston left Quarles shortly after she was freed and had three children outside their relationship: William, Harriet, and Mary Langston. The couple later reunited, though state law forbade them to marry, and had three more children: Gideon, Charles Henry, and John Mercer. When John Langston's parents died in 1834, his father's estate was divided among his three sons and held in trust. Four–year–old John Langston moved in with a family friend, William Gooch, and his family in Chillicothe, Ohio. When Langston was 10 years old, Gooch made plans to move to Missouri, then a slave state. John's half brother, William, sued to relinquish Gooch's custody over his brother, fearing the move would jeopardize John's freedom and his substantial inheritance. The court prevented Gooch from taking the child to Missouri, and Langston became the ward of Richard Long, an abolitionist who had purchased William Gooch's Ohio farm.3 In 1840, John Langston's brother Gideon brought John to live with him in Cincinnati. One of the city's leading black figures, Gideon ensured that his brother received a good education. In Cincinnati, John Langston heard some of the strongest antislavery rhetoric in the pre–Civil War North, and experienced the violent race riots of 1841 and the restrictive "Black Laws" imposed as a consequence.4 In 1843, William Langston took custody of John and returned with him to Chillicothe. John's older brothers and their colleagues, who were among the first black graduates of Oberlin College in Ohio, inspired him to attend their alma mater. Langston received a B.A. in 1849 and an M.A. in theology in 1852. Langston wanted to become a lawyer, a profession only three black men in the nation had officially achieved nationwide in the early 1850s. After two law schools denied him admission, he studied under local abolitionists in Elyria, Ohio. In September 1854, a committee on the district court confirmed his knowledge of the law, deeming him "nearer white than black," and admitted him to the Ohio bar. He commenced his practice in Brownhelm, Ohio.5 In 1854, he married Caroline Wall, also a former student at Oberlin, who was active in the abolitionist movement and the Liberty Party.6 The couple raised five children: Arthur, Ralph, Chinque, Nettie, and Frank.7Langston's political involvement started with the Ohio conventions. A series of public meetings held statewide by prominent African Americans, the conventions called for the enfranchisement of black men and promoted their political participation. In 1852, Langston officially allied himself with the Free Democrats, who condemned the Fugitive Slave Law, allowed black delegates at their conventions, and elected Frederick Douglass as the national party secretary.8 Langston's political career soared throughout the 1850s and 1860s. On April 22, 1855, he became one of the first African Americans elected to public office in the United States when Brownhelm Township voted him clerk on the Liberty Party ticket.9 In 1856, he left Brownhelm for Oberlin and served on the town's board of education. During the Civil War, Langston recruited black soldiers in the Midwest. He never served in the Union Army, but hired a substitute to take his place—a practice common among wealthy white men.10 Following the war, he served on the Oberlin city council. In 1867, Langston served as Inspector General of the Freedmen's Bureau, touring the postwar South and encouraging freedmen to seek educational opportunities. He regularly spoke out against segregated facilities, including churches.11For the first two decades of the postwar era, Langston held prominent political and educational appointments. In 1868, he returned to Washington, DC, where he established the law department at Howard University, a new college founded to educate African Americans. In the early 1870s, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts sought Langston's aid in drafting his Civil Rights Bill. In 1871, Langston received an appointment from President Ulysses S. Grant (for whom he had campaigned in 1868) to the District of Columbia Board of Health. Langston served as Howard University's dean from 1868 to 1875 and from 1874 to 1875 as vice president and acting president of Howard; however, he resigned from the university when the board of trustees failed to offer him a full term as president. In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Langston resident minister to Haiti and chargé d'affaires in Santo Domingo. Following his departure in 1885, Langston petitioned the Court of Claims for over $7,000 withheld from him after the Democratically controlled House appropriated less than his fixed diplomatic salary. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor in 1886. From 1885 to 1887, Langston served as president of the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute in Petersburg. He left after the college's board of governors fell into Democratic hands. Settling in south–central Virginia, Langston was viewed as a celebrity by his black neighbors. In 1888, a citizen's committee asked Langston to run for a seat in the U.S. House, representing the "Black Belt of Virginia," a region whose population was 65 percent black.12 Although Langston had been assured that his nomination and election were nearly guaranteed, he began an aggressive campaign for the Republican ticket.13 Langston lobbied both white and black delegates to the district convention at a lavish party hosted by several prominent black women in Petersburg.14 His efforts were thwarted by strong opposition from white Republicans led by scalawag Confederate General William Mahone, a central figure in Virginia Republican politics.15 Using his formidable power over district Republicans—both black and white—Mahone orchestrated a separate district convention, excluding Langston's supporters, to nominate white candidate Judge R. W. Arnold. Though his appeal for support from the National Republican Executive Committee was unsuccessful, Langston obtained the backing of a biracial committee of district Republicans, entered the race as an Independent Republican, and methodically canvassed the district.16The election brought out stark racial divisions. Democratic candidate Edward Venable refused to share a debate platform with Langston throughout the campaign.17 Moreover, because Langston's candidacy threatened to divide the Republican vote, several prominent African Americans campaigned against him.18 Frederick Douglass, chief among Langston's detractors, wrote a letter denouncing his candidacy, and the Mahone faction spread copies throughout the district.19 On Election Day, Langston dispatched supporters to monitor every precinct for irregularities. His lieutenants instructed voters to say Langston's name after voting, as evidence of their support. Separate lines for blacks and whites at the polls meant black voters had to wait as long as three hours to vote. Ballot boxes were allegedly emptied of Langston's votes; Langston's supporters were not permitted to witness the count.20 As predicted, the Republican vote split; initial results indicated that Langston lost by 641 votes to Venable. Arnold was a distant third.21Langston contested the result in the House. At first, he had trouble hiring a lawyer; most attorneys in the district were white, and even sympathetic Republicans feared social and political ostracism.22 Langston finally hired a biracial team of lawyers (the white lawyers charged an exorbitant fee). The case took several twists. One of Langston's witnesses was cross–examined for six days, an incident Langston interpreted as a stalling tactic.23 Langston meanwhile tried to mend political fences in his district and even agreed to work on Mahone's gubernatorial campaign.24 The Republican majority on the Committee on Elections ruled in Langston's favor on June 16, 1890, but the whole House delayed hearing his case for three months.25 Democrats repeatedly blocked the case from coming to a vote on the floor, primarily by vacating the chamber to prevent a quorum, leaving only a few Members to address their interests.26 On September 23, 1890, Langston's case finally came to a vote before a crowded gallery occupied primarily by African Americans.27 All but nine of the 152 Democratic Members retired to the hallway to avoid a quorum. But Republican discipline prevailed; the majority doggedly mustered enough Members, primarily from their own ranks.28 Over Democratic protests that a quorum was not present, the House declared Langston the winner in a lopsided vote of 151 to 1.29 The vote gave Langston Venable's seat for the remaining seven months of the Congress. Most Democratic Members boycotted Langston's swearing in a few minutes later, but a few offered him cordial congratulations upon re–entering the chamber.30 Langston's experience in higher learning earned him a position on the Committee on Education.31 He immediately assisted the Republican majority by voting in favor of the controversial McKinley Tariff, a protective measure designed to drive up the price of cheap goods manufactured abroad. A Democratic newspaper commented that Langston's position on tariffs represented "a wall about the country so high and so great that the British lion would never have been able to get over it without the aid of dynamite or a scaling ladder."32 Only one week after arriving in Congress, Langston had to return home to campaign for re–election. Despite their previous "truce," William Mahone, now the governor, refused to support Langston as his district's Republican candidate. Antagonized by Langston's Independent run for office in 1888, Mahone accused him of purposely dividing the electorate by race.33 Langston responded that Mahone was blinded by racism and "almost a Democrat."34 The district convention backed Langston, whose strong support was primarily from the black population. Republican newspaper accounts indicate that President Benjamin Harrison, congressional Republicans, and the GOP national leadership supported Langston's re–election.35 However, many white Republicans in the district followed Mahone's lead and abandoned Langston, in some measure because of his unpopular vote on the McKinley Tariff.36 Langston lost the election to Democratic candidate James Epes by about 3,000 votes in the state's first Democratic sweep since before secession.37 Democratic newspapers blamed black voters' apathy for their party's solid victory in the state, but the contest mirrored a national trend: From nearly a 20–Member deficit, Democrats in the U.S. House captured a 100–Member majority.38 Langston believed the election was tainted by fraud—as evidenced by long lines for black Republicans at the polls, missing ballots in black strongholds, and undue pressure by Mahone supporters.39 But he feared contesting the election in the strongly Democratic Congress would be expensive.40 Returning in December 1890 as a lame duck to his first full session in Congress, Langston made his first speech on January 16, 1891. He emphasized blacks' U.S. citizenship, condemning calls for foreign emigration and what he deemed the Democratic Party's attempt to thwart black freedom. "Abuse us as you will, gentlemen," Langston told Democrats, "we will increase and multiply until, instead of finding every day five hundred black babies turning their bright eyes to greet the rays of the sun, the number shall be five thousand and still go on increasing. There is no way to get rid of us. This is our native country." Frequent, loud applause from the Republican side of the chamber interrupted Langston's speech. Newspapers admitted that Langston's speech rambled, but deemed him one of the most eloquent speakers on the House Floor.41 One day after his speech, Langston asked the U.S. Attorney General to send the House all documentation of suits on alleged violations of voting rights.42 The Judiciary Committee agreed to Langston's resolution, and it was adopted in the whole House. However, the Attorney General's office never complied, and the disfranchisement of southern freedmen continued. Not all of Langston's legislative efforts were successful. Langston submitted bills to establish a national industrial university to teach blacks useful labor skills and to observe as national holidays the birthdays of former Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, but the bills died in committee.43 Langston was unable to secure the appointments of several black candidates to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.44 On February 27, 1891, Langston returned to the House Floor to debate a civil appropriations bill. He used his experience as a diplomat in the Caribbean to advocate protection for American shipping interests.45 Langston returned to Petersburg, Virginia, at the end of the 51st Congress. In 1892, Republicans in his Virginia district asked him to run again, but he refused, noting that a white candidate would likely have more success. He continued to be active in politics, often speaking publicly about the achievements of his race.46 Promised a federal judicial appointment as well as several Treasury Department patronage positions, Langston began campaigning for President Benjamin Harrison's re–election in 1892; however, when the administration withdrew the promised positions, he backed rival Republican James G. Blaine's quest for the nomination. Langston spent the remainder of his life traveling between Petersburg and Washington and working on his autobiography, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol, which was published in 1894. Langston died at home in Washington, DC, on November 15, 1897.
The life and mysterious disappearance of Representative John V. Creely of Pennsylvania | US House of Representatives: History, Art & ArchivesOn this date, one-term Representative John V. Creely was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A lawyer and Civil War veteran, Creely entered politics as a member of the Philadelphia city council. After Republican Congressman Charles O’Neill of Pennsylvania fell from the good graces of the Philadelphia political machine, Creely found support to run as an Independent Republican against O’Neill. Elected to the 42nd Congress (1871–1873), Creely was assigned to the Committee on Indian Affairs. However, newspaper accounts suggested the Congressman failed to embrace his new role and shirked his duties as a Member. With only one listing in the Congressional Globe index for the ceremonial roll call of the Members for the start of the Congress, Creely seemed to do little to dispel the allegation. The Representative disappeared sometime in 1872 with little fanfare or news coverage. Few realized his absence. A year after his disappearance creditors attempted to collect on his House paychecks. The 42nd Congress came to a close with no sign of the Congressman; Philadelphia voters returned O’Neill to the House for the 43rd Congress (1873–1875). Nearly 20 years later, John Creely’s sister successfully had him declared dead. When the Joint Committee on Printing prepared to reprint the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress in 1927, the committee clerk, Ansel Wold, went to great lengths to obtain more information on Representative Creely. In a series of letters, he wrote to the men who served with Creely in the Union Army. One respondent noted, “He [Creely] was a splendid soldier, with a fine record and was honorably discharged at the end of his term of service. . . He went to Washington and that was the last time I, or any of his friends, ever heard of him. He never came back to Philadelphia, and disappeared utterly.”
RAPIER, James Thomas | US House of Representatives: History, Art & ArchivesA freeborn Alabamian educated in Canada, James Thomas Rapier fended off death threats from the Ku Klux Klan, rose to the top of the state Republican Party, and won a seat in the 43rd Congress (1873–1875). Rapier was one of seven black Representatives who fought for the passage of the major Civil Rights Bill of 1875. “Mr. Speaker,” he declared on the House Floor, “nothing short of a complete acknowledgement of my manhood will satisfy me.”1 James Thomas Rapier was born in Florence, Alabama, on November 13, 1837, to John H. and Susan Rapier. He had three older brothers: Richard, John, Jr., and Henry. The Rapiers were wealthy and well established in Florence. John Rapier, Sr., was a freed slave who had a lucrative business as a barber for 40 years.2 Susan Rapier was a freeborn mulatto from Baltimore, Maryland, who died in 1841 during childbirth.3 Five–year–old James Rapier and his brother, John, Jr., went to live with their paternal grandmother, Sally Thomas. Supported by his grandmother’s work as a cleaning woman, James Rapier attended a secret school for black children from 1854 to 1856 but also spent a great deal of time drinking and gambling on riverboats.4 Disappointed with his son’s behavior, in 1856 John Rapier, Sr., sent him to live with another family member in the experimental black community of Buxton, Ontario, Canada. While living in Buxton, which was inhabited entirely by fugitive slaves, Rapier experienced a religious conversion and decided to devote his life to helping his race. He later attended a normal school in Toronto, earning a teaching certificate in 1863, and returned to Buxton as an instructor.5 After following the events of the Civil War from Canada, Rapier returned to Nashville in late 1864. There he worked briefly as a reporter for a northern newspaper. With his father’s help, he purchased 200 acres of land in Maury County, Tennessee, and, over time, became a successful cotton planter. A self–described loner, he never married.6 The end of the Civil War provided Rapier opportunities in politics. His first political experience was a keynote address at the Tennessee Negro Suffrage Convention in Nashville in 1865. His father’s illness and his own disillusionment with the restoration of former Confederates to power in the state government prompted Rapier’s return to Florence, where he rented 550 acres along the Tennessee River. His continued success as a planter allowed him to hire black tenant farmers. He also financed sharecroppers with low–interest loans. In March 1867, when freedmen could vote in Alabama, he called a local meeting to elect a black registrar. His father, John Rapier, Sr., won the election, and James Rapier was unanimously chosen to represent the county at the Alabama Republican convention. James Rapier served as the convention’s vice chairman and directed the platform committee. Although he sought equality among the races, Rapier emerged as a moderate politician. He did not ignore the fears of white Alabamians, and, consequently, opposed the total disfranchisement of former Confederates and the redistribution of seized land. Rapier recognized that a political alliance between Republican whites and blacks—though fragile—was necessary for the party’s success in Alabama.7 In October 1867, he served as a delegate to the Alabama constitutional convention, where he advanced the Republican platform as the only black man representing his district. Rapier traveled to Washington, DC, in 1869 to attend the founding convention of the National Negro Labor Union (NNLU). The union organized to protect black laborers, to help sharecroppers, and to improve educational and economic opportunities for freedmen. The NNLU chose Rapier as its vice president in 1870. He opened an Alabama branch in 1871, serving as president and executive chairman, and attended three more national conferences throughout his career. Rapier’s increased name recognition allowed him to secure the Republican nomination for secretary of state in 1870. The first black man to run for statewide office in Alabama, he lost the position primarily because white Republicans remained uneasy about a black candidate.8 Rapier was appointed as a federal internal revenue assessor with the assistance of black Alabama Representative Benjamin Turner.9 By the early 1870s, Rapier was one of the most powerful black politicians in the state. In August 1872, Alabama Republican Party leaders determined it would be nearly impossible to persuade native–born white Alabamians to vote for an African American in the upcoming congressional elections.10 Although constituents from a district representing the state’s southeastern corner did not favor carpetbaggers, incumbent Charles Buckley, originally from New York, maintained a strong base among conservatives. Furthermore, Buckley represented a district in which freedmen were a minority, making up 44 percent of the population.11 Defying party leaders, Rapier sought the district’s Republican nomination. He used his recently founded newspaper, the Montgomery Republican State Sentinel (the state’s first black–owned and –operated news source), to crusade for the Republican Party, freedmen’s rights, and the re–election of President Ulysses S. Grant over Liberal Republican Horace Greeley.12 Rapier hoped his newspaper would improve communication between the races in Alabama and campaigned on the promise that he would represent equally voters in his district, regardless of their race.13 At a late–summer convention, Rapier easily gained the Republican nomination, receiving 25 delegate votes to Buckley’s five.14 In the general election, Rapier faced Democrat and Liberal Republican candidate William C. Oates, an ex–Confederate with a debilitating war wound. Rapier tirelessly traversed the district, speaking in 36 towns in as many days. He espoused his equal rights platform before the crowds and promised to support national legislation providing land for tenant farmers.15 Congressionally enacted federal enforcement acts (the Ku Klux Klan bills) temporarily quelled Klan violence, making for a peaceful election.16 Rapier defeated Oates with 19,397 votes (55 percent), becoming Alabama’s second black Representative in Congress.17 Heading to Washington, Rapier exuded confidence, declaring, “No man in the state wields more influence than I.”18 Before the 43rd Congress convened in late 1873, he traveled to Vienna, Austria, as Alabama’s commissioner to the Fifth International Exposition. Rapier noted that once he stepped onto foreign soil, “distinctions on account of my color ceased.”19 In the 43rd Congress, Rapier soon earned a reputation as a prudent and diplomatic legislator. Though a forceful and outstanding orator, he rarely embellished his speeches with rhetorical flourishes. An observer in the gallery noted, “Mr. Rapier is an insatiable reader, which does not make him, fortunately, less original in expression of his own ideas.… He is a plain, forcible speaker.”20 Rapier’s first act as a Representative, on January 5, 1874, was to introduce legislation designating Montgomery, Alabama, a federal customs collection site. The passage of the measure, which would boost the city’s economy, was considered Rapier’s greatest legislative achievement, and President Grant signed the bill into law on June 20, 1874. Rapier’s subsequent attempts to gain federal funding for improvement projects in Alabama were less successful, and he became involved in economic debates that usually divided along sectional lines. Rapier voted in favor of railroad regulation and called for increased currency circulation, promoting economic conditions favorable to the agrarian south and west. These debates signaled a significant split between southern and northern Republicans that proved damaging in future national elections.21Rapier’s experience as a teacher and a labor organizer earned him a position on the Committee on Education and Labor, but he focused his first term on advancing the controversial Civil Rights Bill. Rapier hosted strategy meetings in his Washington home in an attempt to pass the longstanding bill, which sought equal accommodations on public transportation and in lodging as well as equal education for blacks and whites. On June 9, 1874, Rapier spoke on the House Floor in favor of the bill, largely recounting his personal experiences with discrimination.22 Deeply disappointed with the eviscerated final measure that came before the House at the end of the 43rd Congress, Rapier, along with the other Alabama Republicans, voted nevertheless in its favor. The measure passed 162 to 99.23 The Civil Rights Bill had not yet come to a vote in July 1874 when Rapier returned to Alabama in anticipation of a close re–election contest. Divisions among southeastern Alabama Republicans were his greatest obstacle. Earlier that year, two factions split over the case of a federal judge credited with enforcing laws against the Ku Klux Klan. Rapier refused to take sides, yet most of his supporters allied themselves with the judge. Meanwhile, emboldened by state and federal ambivalence, the Klan attained new power in Alabama. As the election approached, one conservative Democratic newspaper said, “We will accept no result but that of blood.”24 White Alabama Democrats then proceeded to launch a campaign of economic coercion: Major business owners refused to hire black men or anyone who swore allegiance to the Republican Party.25 Rapier approached the mounting opposition by running an aggressive campaign. He attempted to assuage white fears about the Civil Rights Bill by maintaining that the legislation did not require integrated schools or social equality but merely gave blacks equal opportunity and funding.26 He traversed the state in a fashion reminiscent of his 1872 campaign, though threats from the Ku Klux Klan often disrupted his itinerary.27 Rapier’s pleas to federal authorities to ensure a peaceful election, including a personal telegram to U.S. Attorney General George H. Williams, went unanswered.28 In the chaos that ensued, more than 100 people were killed and scores of black voters stayed away from the polls.29 With the freedmen’s vote eliminated, Conservative Democrats swept the elections, taking two–thirds of the state offices. Attorney and former Confederate Army Major Jeremiah Williams edged out Rapier, taking 20,180 votes (51 percent) to Rapier’s 19,124. Rapier contested the election, without success, in the new Democratic House.30 In 1876, Rapier moved to Lowndes County near Montgomery to run for a congressional seat for the only remaining district with a black majority (65 percent) after gerrymandering by the Democratic state legislature.31 Rapier defeated incumbent black Representative Jeremiah Haralson in the primary election, and Haralson subsequently ran in the general election as an Independent. While both Rapier and Haralson advocated civil rights, voter protection, and increased leadership roles for freedmen, their personalities were drastically different: Haralson was outspoken, brash, and rhetorical, whereas Rapier was prudent and polished.32 The two men split the black vote—Haralson won 8,675 votes (34 percent) and Rapier won 7,236 (28 percent)—handing the election to white Democrat Charles Shelley, who emerged with 9,655 votes (38 percent).33 For his service, the Republican Party rewarded Rapier with an appointment as a collector for the Internal Revenue Service in July 1878. That same year, Rapier transformed the Republican Sentinel into the Haynesville Times and began a call for black emigration to the West—a movement he supported financially and by testifying before a Senate committee. In 1882 and 1883, Rapier fended off attempts by political enemies to remove him from his post as a collector, but failing health forced him to resign. He was appointed a disbursing officer for a federal building in Montgomery just before he died of pulmonary tuberculosis on May 31, 1883.