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 byHenry 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.
DiedJuly 22, 1903(1903-07-22) (aged 67)
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Catherine Rowena Howell
Children4 sons
2 daughters
RelativesEslanda Goode Robeson (granddaughter)
Benjamin N. Cardozo
(distant relative)
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow
ProfessionClergyman, politician, educator

Francis Lewis Cardozo (February 1, 1836 – July 22, 1903) was an American clergyman, politician, and educator. When elected in South Carolina as Secretary of State in 1868, he was the first African American to hold a statewide office in the United States.

Born free during the slavery time in Charleston, South Carolina to a mother who was a free woman of color and a Sephardic Jewish father, Cardozo gained his higher education in Scotland. He served as a minister in New Haven, Connecticut, before returning to South Carolina in 1865 with the American Missionary Association to establish schools for freedmen after the Civil War.

After working in South Carolina during Reconstruction, Cardozo received an appointment in 1878 at the Department of Treasury in Washington, DC. Later he served twelve years as principal of a major public high school, and lived in the capital for the rest of his life.

Early years[edit]

Francis Cardozo was born in Charleston as the second of three sons of Lydia Williams, a free woman of color, and Isaac Nunez Cardozo, a Sephardic Jewish man who had a position at the US Customhouse in the port city.[1] The children were born free because their mother was free. His parents had a common-law marriage, as state law prevented interracial marriage. Francis had an older brother, Henry, and younger brother, Thomas Whitmarsh Cardozo (1839-1881).[1] Their father arranged for the boys to attend a private school open to free blacks.

Isaac died in 1855, disrupting the stability and economic safety of the family.[1] As a young man, Cardozo worked as a carpenter and a shipbuilder.[2] Thomas was apprenticed to a manufacturer of threshing machines, but two years later, he and his mother moved to New York City. There he finished his education, married and became a teacher.[1]

Francis Cardozo went to Scotland for higher education. In 1858, he enrolled at the University of Glasgow. Later, he attended seminaries in Edinburgh and London. He was ordained a Presbyterian minister.[2]

After returning to the United States, in 1864 Cardozo became pastor of the Temple Street Congregational Church in New Haven, Connecticut. He married Catherine Rowena Howell. They had six children through their marriage: four sons and two daughters. One daughter died as an infant.[2]

Return South, 1865[edit]

In 1865, Cardozo returned to Charleston as an agent of the American Missionary Association. He succeeded his brother, Thomas Cardozo, as superintendent of an AMA school. (The AMA established both primary schools and colleges for freedmen in the South in the post-Civil War years.)

Cardozo developed this school as the Avery Normal Institute, one of the first free secondary schools for African Americans. It was established to train teachers, as freedmen sought education for their children and themselves as one of their highest priorities.[2] In the 21st century, the Avery Institute has been incorporated as part of the College of Charleston.

Thomas Whitmarsh Cardozo, brother[edit]

Francis Lewis Cardozo is often confused with his younger brother, Thomas Whitmarsh Cardozo, who moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he and his wife worked as teachers. Thomas Whitmarsh Cardozo also became involved in politics and was elected as circuit court clerk of Warren County in 1872. He was then elected as State Superintendent of Education. He was indicted later that year for embezzling. The jury could not reach a verdict, but political attacks on him continued. In 1875 the occupying northern army began to withdrew from the south and the newly elected Democratic-majority, mainly white, legislature brought impeachment charges against him. In 1876 Thomas W. Cardozo agreed to resign and left the state, moving to Massachusetts. Thomas Whitmarsh Cardozo died in 1881 at the age of 42. He is seen to have "capitalized on party weaknesses and eventually brought opprobrium on himself and his party."[1][3]

Political career[edit]

Francis Cardozo became active in the Republican Party in South Carolina 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. The legislature ratified a new constitution in 1868 that provided for integration of schools.

He was elected Secretary of State in South Carolina in 1868, and was the first African American to hold a statewide office in the United States. Cardozo reformed the South Carolina Land Commission, which distributed limited amounts of land to former slaves. During his term as secretary of state, he was chosen as professor of Latin at Howard University in Washington, DC, and advised the governor of his intention to resign. The governor helped approve an arrangement by which Cardozo could retain the office and also teach at Howard. A deputy was appointedHe taught at Howard until March 1872.[2]

Cardozo was elected as 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, although the latter election was one in which Democrats swept most offices and took over control of the state legislature and governor's seat.

South Carolina elections had been increasingly marked by violence as Democrats sought to suppress the black Republican vote. The 1876 gubernatorial election season was also violent and featured widespread fraud at the polls and disputes over counts. In the end, White Democrats regained control of the state government after a compromise at the national level led to the federal government abandoning Reconstruction. This included the removal of remaining federal troops from the South that year and other steps, including supporting Democrat Wade Hampton III's claim for the governorship in a disputed election. As customary in a change of administrations, Hampton demanded Cardozo's resignation and he left office on May 1, 1877.[2]

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 Democratic Governor William Dunlap Simpson.

In 1878 Cardozo was appointed to a Washington, DC, position in the Treasury Department under Secretary John Sherman.[4] He remained in that position for six years, during which time he worked on education policy for Washington.[2][4]


In 1884, Cardozo returned to education as a principal of the Colored Preparatory High School in Washington, DC.[4][2] He introduced a business curriculum and made it a leading school for African Americans. He served as principal until 1896.

Cardozo was a distant relative of former United States Supreme Court Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo.[5] Francis's granddaughter, Eslanda Cardozo Goode, married renowned singer and political activist Paul Robeson.

Legacy and honors[edit]

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.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e Euline W. Brock, "Thomas W. Cardozo: Fallible Black Reconstruction Leader." The Journal of Southern History 47.2 (1981): 183-206. in JSTOR
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ a b c "Who is Francis L. Cardozo". Cardozo Senior High School website. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  5. ^ Chafets, Zev (April 2, 2009). "Obama's Rabbi". The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  6. ^ "Who is Francis L. Cardozo". Francis L. Cardozo Senior High School. 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