Francis Lewis Cardozo

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Francis Lewis Cardozo
Francis Lewis Cardozo
Francis Lewis Cardozo
Secretary of State of South Carolina
In office
Succeeded by Henry E. Hayne
South Carolina state treasurer
In office
August 1, 1872 – May 1, 1877
Personal details
Born (1836-02-01)February 1, 1836
Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.
Died July 22, 1903(1903-07-22) (aged 67)
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Catherine Rowena Howell
Children 4 sons
2 daughters
Relatives Eslanda Goode Robeson (granddaughter)
Benjamin N. Cardozo
(distant relative)
Alma mater University of Glasgow
Profession Clergyman, politician, educator

Francis Lewis Cardozo (February 1, 1836 – July 22, 1903) was a clergyman, politician, and educator. He was the first African American to hold a statewide office in the United States. He was born in Charleston, South Carolina and died in Washington, D.C.

Early years[edit]

Francis Cardozo was born in Charleston as the son of Lydia Weston, a free woman of color, and Isaac Cardozo, a Sephardic Jewish man who worked at the federal customhouse. They had a common-law marriage, as state law prevented their marrying. Francis had a brother Thomas. His father encouraged the boys to attend schools for free blacks, the only ones in the city that would admit them. As a young man, Cardozo worked as a carpenter and a shipbuilder.[1]

In 1858, Cardozo matriculated at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Later, he attended seminaries in Edinburgh and London. He was ordained a Presbyterian minister.[1]

In 1864, Cardozo became pastor of the Temple Street Congregational Church in New Haven, Connecticut. He married Catherine Rowena Howell. They had six children, four sons and two daughters, both of whom died as infants.[1]

In 1865, Cardozo returned to Charleston as an agent of the American Missionary Association. He succeeded his brother, Thomas, as superintendent of an American Missionary Association school. He developed this school into the Avery Normal Institute, one of the first free secondary schools for African Americans. It was established to train teachers, as freedmen sought education as one of their highest priorities. In the 21st century, the Avery Institute has been incorporated as part of the College of Charleston.[1]

His brother Thomas W. Cardozo was Mississippi state superintendent of education in the 1870s, and was a corrupt politician.[2]

Political career[edit]

Cardozo became active in the Republican Party and was elected as a delegate to the 1868 South Carolina constitutional convention. As chair of the education committee, he advocated establishing integrated public schools in the state. He was also elected Secretary of State in South Carolina in 1868, making him the first African American to hold a statewide office in the United States. He reformed the South Carolina Land Commission, which distributed limited amounts of land to former slaves. During his term as secretary of state, he was elected professor of Latin at Howard University and intended to resign from his position as secretary of state. The governor protested his resignation, and an arrangement was made where Cardozo retained the office but appointed a deputy, so that he could teach at Howard. He remained at Howard until March 1872.[1]

He was elected state treasurer in 1872. After he did not cooperate with corruption, some legislators unsuccessfully tried to impeach Cardozo in 1874. He was reelected in 1874 and 1876.

South Carolina elections had been increasingly marked by violence to suppress blacks from voting. The 1876 gubernatorial election season was also violent and featured widespread fraud at the polls and disputes over counts. In the end the white Democrats regained control of the state government. A compromise at the national level led to the federal government supporting Wade Hampton III's case and he was inaugurated as governor. In 1877 federal troops were withdrawn from the South. Hampton demanded Cardozo's resignation and he left office on May 1, 1877.[1]

The Democrats prosecuted Cardozo for conspiracy in November 1877. Despite questionable evidence, he was found guilty and served over six months in jail. After the federal government dropped election fraud charges against some Democrats, Cardozo was pardoned in 1879 by Governor William Dunlap Simpson.

Cardozo moved to Washington, DC, where he accepted a position as clerk Treasury Department upon the appointment by John Sherman. He remained in that position for six years.[1]


In 1884, Cardozo returned to education as a principal of the Colored Preparatory High School in Washington, DC.[1] He introduced a business curriculum and made it a leading school for African Americans. He served as principal until 1896. In 1928, the Department of Business Practice was reorganized as a high school in northwest Washington, DC and named Cardozo Senior High School in Francis Cardozo's honor.[3]

He was a distant relative of former United States Supreme Court Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo.[4] His granddaughter, Eslanda Cardozo Goode, was the wife of the singer and political activist Paul Robeson.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Simmons, William J., and Henry McNeal Turner. Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising. GM Rewell & Company, 1887. p428-431
  2. ^ Euline W. Brock, "Thomas W. Cardozo: Fallible Black Reconstruction Leader." The Journal of Southern History 47.2 (1981): 183-206. in JSTOR
  3. ^ "Who is Francis L. Cardozo". Francis L. Cardozo Senior High School. Retrieved May 26, 2013. 
  4. ^ Chafets, Zev (April 2, 2009). "Obama's Rabbi". The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Burke, W. Lewis. "Reconstruction corruption and the redeemers’ prosecution of Francis Lewis Cardozo." American Nineteenth Century History 2.3 (2001): 67-106.
  • Burke, W. Lewis. "Post-Reconstruction Justice: The Prosecution and Trial of Francis Lewis Cardozo." South Carolina Law Review 53 (2001): 361+.
  • Richardson, Joe M. "Francis L. Cardozo: Black educator during reconstruction." Journal of Negro Education 48.1 (1979): 73-83. in JSTOR