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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 Georgiamarker.

Biography

Hill was born September 14, 1823 in Hillsboro, Georgia in Jasper Countymarker. He attended the University of Georgiamarker (UGA) in Athens, Georgiamarker where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society and graduated in 1844 with first honors. He was then swiftly admitted to the Georgia bar later in 1844. He married Caroline E. Holt in Athens, GA in 1845.

His political life was full, and he ran for office under the aegis of a remarkable number of parties. He was elected to the state legislature of Georgia in 1851 as a member of the Whig Party. He then 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 successful 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 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 his former opponent Alexander Stephens. Following Stephens' highly-regarded argument based on a conservative reading of the Constitution, Hill struck a more pragmatic tone. In the speech, his arguments center around the conservative belief that disunion would ultimately lead to the downfall of slavery and Southern society. He quotes Henry Ward Beecher, an abolitionist who enthusiastically supported the dissolution of the Union as a means to ending slavery, and describes 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 argues that his fellow Georgians should continue to resist Lincoln democratically within the bounds of the Constitution. He compares this course to George Washington, "so cool, so brave, and so thoughtful." Arguing that the Northern states will eventually follow the British course of rising abolitionism followed by acceptance again of slavery due to economic necessity, he nonetheless allows that the South should prepare for secession and war if it should become necessary.

Ultimately, Hill voted for secession and became a political ally of Jefferson Davis. When the Confederate government was formed, he became a member of the Confederate Provisional Congress and was subsequently elected to the Confederate States Senate, a term which he held throughout its existence.

At one point in the Senate, Hill and fellow Sen. William Lowndes Yancey had to be separated by other members of that body after a bloody scuffle on the floor.

At the end of the Civil War, he was arrested by the Union and confined in Fort Lafayette from May until July in 1865.

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 and 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 where he quickly won a reputation as a spokesman for the South. He was elected to the U.S. Senate on January 26, 1877.

He served as a member of the U. S. House of Representatives from May 5, 1875 - March 3, 1877, and then as a member of the U. S. Senate from March 4, 1877, until his death August 16, 1882. His obituary was in the Atlanta Constitution, August 17, 1882, on the front page. He is buried in historic Oakland Cemeterymarker in Atlanta, GA.

Honors

There is a statue of Hill inside the Georgia State Capitolmarker in Atlanta, Georgiamarker, as well as a larger than life portrait in the Capitol Rotunda. Ben Hill County, Georgiamarker is named in his honor.

References

  • Retrieved on 2009-03-25


External links




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