Nominating an African American for vice president, 1880

A primary source by James Milton Turner

Draft of a circular letter by J. Milton Turner to Republican delegates at the National Convention, May 20, 1880. (GLC09400.133)Born a slave in 1841, Blanche Kelso Bruce was the first African American to be elected to a full term in the US Senate. During his term as a senator from Mississippi (1875–1881), he advocated the rights of African Americans and other minorities, including American Indians and Chinese immigrants.

In this draft of a circular letter to be published in newspapers, James Milton Turner, chairman of the Negro National Republican Committee, proposes nominating Bruce as the vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket in 1880. Turner cites Bruce’s popularity with both Democrats and Republicans and applauds the senator’s commitment to the Republican cause:

You should support him, not because he is a negro gentleman, but because his record is consistent. For years he has been the only Republican Senator from the Southern section where the party has lost control, and hundreds of thousands of citizens are on the verge of disfranchisement. . . . The nomination of Mr Bruce would culminate the idea of Horace Greely, of Thaddeus Stevens, of Abraham Lincoln, of Chas Sumner, of Ulysses Grant, of Jas G. Blaine, of Jno Sherman, and indeed of the great Republican party and relieve the nation at once of the question of caste in American politics.

Although Bruce did not receive the nomination, he did receive eight votes at the Republican Party’s convention in Chicago.

Excerpts

You should support him, not because he is a negro gentleman, but because his record is consistent. For years he has been the only Republican Senator from the Southern section where the party has lost control, and hundreds of thousands of citizens are on the verge of disfranchisement who occupies his place without question, and that his official conduct is without reproach, and approved by all parties, while his political vote has been invariably cast with the Republican party is a fact. . . .

The nomination of Mr Bruce would culminate the idea of Horace Greely, of Thaddeus Stevens, of Abraham Lincoln, of Chas Sumner, of Ulysses Grant, of Jas G. Blaine, of Jno Sherman, and indeed of the great Republican party and relieve the nation at once of the question of caste in American politics. Horace Greely said of the finance the way to “resume is to resume” and the party should understand that the way to execute the constitution and the laws is to show determination to execute them.

A pdf of the full transcript is available here.

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