Ransier, Alonzo J.
Alonzo J. Ransier
Alonzo J. Ransier was one of twenty African Americans elected to the U.S. House of Representatives during the Reconstruction era. Ransier represented his South Carolina district in Washington between 1873 and 1875, where he spoke eloquently on the House floor in favor of federal civil rights legislation.
Alonzo Jacob Ransier was born on January 3, 1834, in Charleston, South Carolina, as a free black. He had some education and by the age of sixteen was working as a shipping clerk in Charleston, which was a prosperous and bustling trade port. He was in his early thirties when the Civil War ended in 1865 and won an appointment as registrar of elections in the city. In 1866, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act, which dissolved the Confederate state governments and placed Southern states under federal military jurisdiction.
The other hallmarks of the Reconstruction era were the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, while the Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to any naturalized American or person born in the United States, including blacks, and further specified that no state shall abridge those rights by making or enforcing any law which denied the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. Ransier participated in the first Republican convention held in South Carolina in 1866, and two years later served a term in the state house. He also attended the state constitutional convention and in 1868 was one of the presidential electors who voted to approve the election of Ulysses S. Grant as president and Schuyler Colfax as vice president.
The Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, gave all qualified adult males the right to vote. Suddenly, some southern states that had relied heavily on slave labor before the Civil War found themselves with large black voting populations, and Ransier's South Carolina, along with Mississippi, was one of two states that actually had a majority black electorate. That same year, Ransier was elected lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket along with Ohioan and former Union Army commander, Robert Kingston Scott.
Takes Seat in House
In 1872, Ransier was a delegate to the Republican National Convention and supported the party faction loyal to Grant, the incumbent. That same year, Ransier won a seat in Congress and began his term in March 1873 as a member of the forty-third U.S. Congress. He supported several Republican-sponsored pieces of legislation, including a tariff bill and an attempt to adopt a six-year presidential term. He also tried to obtain federal funds to improve the war-damaged Charleston harbor.
Two speeches survive that Ransier made on the House floor during his time on Capitol Hill. Both were in favor of the Civil Rights Bill of 1875, which guaranteed both free blacks and recently freed slaves equal rights everywhere in the United States, including in schools and social settings. This was a hotly contested piece of legislation, and its opponents argued that it was unconstitutional and infringed upon the states' authority. The term "social equality" was a common political catchphrase of the day used by pro-segregationist southern whites who feared full civil rights for blacks would mean the end of the white population's dominance of the South.
- Born in Charleston, South Carolina on January 3
- Works as shipping clerk in Charleston
- Becomes registrar of elections in Charleston
- Participates in South Carolina's first Republican convention
- Serves in the South Carolina state legislature
- Wins election as South Carolina lieutenant governor
- Becomes delegate to Republican National Convention
- Serves in the U.S House of Representatives
- Dies in Charleston on August 17
The U.S. House delegation from Kentucky was entirely Democrat, at a time when that party's southern adherents were still fiercely segregationist. In a speech made on January 5, 1874, Ransier mentioned the opposition to the Civil Rights Bill voiced by one of those Kentucky colleagues and asserted: "I would most certainly oppose the passage of the pending bill or any similar measure if I believed that its operation would be to force upon me the company of the member from Kentucky, for instance, or anyone else. These Negro-haters would not open school-houses, hotels, places of amusement, common conveyances, or the witness or the jury box to the colored people upon equal terms with themselves, because this contact of the races would, forsooth, 'result injuriously to both.' Yet they have found agreeable associations with them under other circumstances which at once suggest themselves to us."
Ransier noted in the same speech that a Georgia representative in the House had argued in favor of letting the states decide civil rights matters instead of Congress. He responded to this by reminding the House lawmakers that the Georgia state assembly had recently prevented its newly elected black representatives from taking their seats in that chamber. The Civil Rights Bill passed on March 3, 1875, just as Congress was about to adjourn for the term. It specified that every American, regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, was entitled to the same treatment in inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement.
Returns to Charleston
Ransier's stint in Washington was finished. He had run for a second term from South Carolina's Second Congressional district, but lost. His wife Louisa died not long after he returned to his hometown, Charleston, and he spent his final years in the city. He was employed by the Internal Revenue Service but fell on hard times as the city, and much of the South, reverted to its segregated practices after Union troops departed and the Reconstruction era ended. Some reports note that he worked as a day laborer before his death on August 17, 1882, in Charleston.
A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Civil Rights Bill of 1875, supporting the challenge to its constitutionality and agreeing that Congress did not have the power to regulate the conduct of individuals.
"Alonzo J. Ransier Jan. 5, 1874." Neglected Voices: Speeches of African-American Representatives: Addressing the Civil Rights Bill of 1875. http://www.law.nyu.edu/davisp/neglectedvoices/RansierJan051874.html (Accessed 11 February 2006).
"An Honest Politician: Alonzo Ransier." The African American Registry. http://www.aaregistry.com/african_american_history/8/An_honest_politician_Alonzo_Ransier/ (Accessed 11 February 2006).
"Ransier, Alonzo J.—Biographical Information." Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=R000060 (Accessed 11 February 2006).