Benjamin Harvey Hill

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Benjamin Hill
Benjamin Harvey Hill - Brady-Handy.jpg
United States Senator
from Georgia
In office
March 4, 1877 – August 16, 1882
Preceded by Thomas Norwood
Succeeded by Middleton Barrow
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 9th district
In office
May 5, 1875 – March 4, 1877
Preceded by Hiram Bell
Succeeded by Hiram Bell
Confederate States Senator
from Georgia
In office
February 18, 1862 – May 10, 1865
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Personal details
Born (1823-09-14)September 14, 1823
Hillsboro, Georgia, U.S.
Died August 16, 1882(1882-08-16) (aged 58)
Gurley, Alabama, U.S.
Political party Whig (Before 1855)
American (1855–1859)
Constitutional Union (1859–1861)
Democratic (1861–1882)
Alma mater University of Georgia

Benjamin Harvey Hill (September 14, 1823 – August 16, 1882) was a U.S. Representative, U.S. senator and a Confederate senator from the state of Georgia.

Biography[edit]

Senator Hill's LaGrange home, Bellevue, was built in 1854-55 in the Greek Revival plantation style. The home was acquired by the Fuller E. Callaway Foundation and donated to the LaGrange Woman's Club in the 1950s. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 7, 1972 and designated as a National Historic Landmark on November 7, 1973.

Hill was born September 14, 1823 in Hillsboro, Georgia in Jasper County. He was of Welsh and Irish American ancestry.[1] He attended the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, Georgia where he was a member of the Demosthenian Literary Society and graduated in 1844 with first honors. He was admitted to the Georgia bar later in 1844. He married Caroline E. Holt in Athens, Georgia in 1845.

Political career[edit]

Hill was a candidate representing a number of parties, reflecting the volatile politics before the American Civil War and after. He was elected to the state legislature of Georgia in 1851 as a member of the Whig Party. He supported Millard Filmore running on the Know-Nothing ticket in 1856, and was an elector for that party in the Electoral College. In 1857, he ran for governor of Georgia unsuccessfully against the Democratic nominee Joseph E. Brown. In 1859, he was elected to the state senate as a Unionist. In 1860, he was again an elector, this time for John Bell and the Unionist party.

Hill known as "the peerless orator" for his skill in delivering speech,[2] was the only non-Democratic member of the Georgia secession convention on January 16, 1861, where he spoke publicly against the dissolution of the Union, along with Alexander Stephens, a former opponent. Following Stephens' highly regarded argument based on a conservative reading of the Constitution, Hill struck a more pragmatic tone. His arguments related to the conservative belief that disunion would ultimately lead to the abolition of slavery and the downfall of Southern society. He quoted Henry Ward Beecher, a Northern abolitionist who enthusiastically supported the dissolution of the Union as a means to end slavery, and described the anti-slavery Republican Party as a "disunionist" party, in contrast to the "Union men and Southern men" participating in the convention. Acknowledging the need to respond to the threat of Lincoln's election, Hill argued that his fellow Georgians should continue to resist Lincoln democratically within the bounds of the Constitution. He compared this course to George Washington, "so cool, so brave, and so thoughtful." He argued that the Northern states would eventually follow the British course of rising abolitionist thought, followed by acceptance again of slavery due to economic necessity. But he allowed that the South should prepare for secession and war if it should become necessary.[3]

Ultimately, Hill voted for secession and became a political ally of Jefferson Davis, who was elected as president of the Confederacy. When the Confederate government was formed, Hill transferred to the Confederate Provisional Congress. He was subsequently elected by the Georgia legislature to the Confederate States Senate, a term which he held throughout its existence.

At one point in the Senate, Hill and fellow Senator William Lowndes Yancey had to be separated by other members after a bloody scuffle on the floor.[4]

At the end of the Civil War, Hill was arrested as a Confederate official by the Union and confined in Fort Lafayette from May until July in 1865.

Postwar career[edit]

Unlike many Confederate politicians, Hill had a long and distinguished career as a "reconstructed" Southerner and U.S. politician. He ultimately became a Democrat after the Civil War ended. He spoke out passionately against Radical Reconstruction and in the summer of 1867 made a series of speeches in Atlanta, the most famous being the Davis House speech of July 16, 1867, denouncing the Reconstruction Acts of 1867. His courage and eloquence enhanced his regional fame and won him national recognition.

In 1875 he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, serving from May 5, 1875 - March 3, 1877. He quickly won a reputation as a spokesman for the South. He was later elected by the Georgia legislature to the U.S. Senate on January 26, 1877, as Reconstruction was ending. He served in the U.S. Senate from March 4, 1877, until his death on August 16, 1882. His obituary was featured on the front page of the Atlanta Constitution, on August 17, 1882.

He is buried in historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia.

Honors[edit]

There is a lifesize statue of Hill looking down from atop a similarly sized plinth inside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as a larger than life portrait in the Capitol Rotunda. Ben Hill County, Georgia is named in his honor.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Senator Benjamin H. Hill of Georgia: his life, speeches and writings page 9
  2. ^ Candler, Allen Daniel (1909). The Confederate records of the State of Georgia, Volume 1. Atlanta, GA: C. P. Byrd publishing. ISBN 978-1147068887. Retrieved July 22, 2013
  3. ^ Freehling, William W., and Craig M. Simpson, Secession Debated: Georgia's Showdown in 1860, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  4. ^ [1] Ferguson, Stuart, "The Zealotry of the Convert: Slavery's Firebrand Defender," book review of Eric H. Walther's William Lowndes Yancey and the Coming of the Civil War, in The Wall Street Journal, 8 July 2006; page P9; accessed on July 14, 2006

External links[edit]

Confederate States Senate
New constituency Confederate States Senator (Class 3) from Georgia
1862–1865
Served alongside: John Lewis, Herschel Johnson
Constituency abolished
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Hiram Bell
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 9th congressional district

1875–1877
Succeeded by
Hiram Bell
United States Senate
Preceded by
Thomas Norwood
United States Senator (Class 2) from Georgia
1877–1882
Served alongside: John Gordon, Joseph Brown
Succeeded by
Middleton Barrow