There’s Another Confederate Monument in the US Capitol: Jefferson Davis’ Old DeskBreaking News
tags: Senate, Confederacy, Jefferson Davis
Before he was a traitor, Jefferson Davis was a senator from Mississippi. From the moment he walked out of the US Capitol to join the Confederacy in January 1861, his mahogany desk in the Senate chamber became a prize to be fought over, both politically and physically. Sen. Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania claimed to have made this prediction as a parting shot to Davis before his defection: “I believe, in the justice of God, that a Negro some day will come and occupy your seat.” In April 1861, Union soldiers who were billeted inside the Senate located Davis’ former desk and tried to slice it apart. As Senate official Issac Bassett later recalled:
…I heard a noise, as if someone was splitting wood. I looked over on the Democratic side of the Chamber and behold! There was a crowd [of] soldiers with their bayonets, cutting one of the desks to pieces. I hollered at the top of my voice, “Stop! What are you doing?” Several answered, “We are cutting that damn traitor’s desk to pieces.” I ran in among them and told them it was not his desk, that it belonged to the government. “You were put here to protect, and not to destroy!”
The desk was repaired and put back on the floor. Sen. Milton Latham, a pro-Southern Democrat from California, unsuccessfully offered to buy it after he took Davis’ chair home. In the years to come, there would be more battles over whom the desk rightfully belonged to, and whether it stood for tradition or treachery. When the dust settled, Davis and his cause were dead, but the desk was still very much his.
Two weeks ago, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), introduced bills to remove statues of Davis and 10 0ther men who served in the Confederacy from the Capitol. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has also called for the statues to go, as well as portraits of four former speakers who were Confederates. As the effort to scrub tributes to white supremacists from the halls of Congress gains momentum, a closer look at the history of the desk that once belonged to the president of the Confederate States of America is overdue.
The fight for Davis’ Senate desk resumed in 1870, when Mississippi’s legislature named Hiram Rhodes Revels to a serve a one-year term as the state’s first Black senator. (He was also the first African American member of Congress.) Sen. Revels was sworn in only after a two-day debate in which Democratic holdouts questioned his citizenship and credentials to serve. While there was speculation that Revels would be seated at Davis’ former desk, he did not occupy it, having assumed the office once held by Albert G. Brown, who had also resigned in 1861 to join the Confederacy.