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Benjamin Harvey Hill

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Benjamin Harvey Hill
United States Senator
from Georgia
In office
March 4, 1877 – August 16, 1882
Preceded byThomas M. Norwood
Succeeded byMiddleton P. Barrow
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 9th district
In office
May 5, 1875 – March 3, 1877
Preceded byHiram Parks Bell
Succeeded byHiram Parks Bell
Confederate States Senator
from Georgia
In office
February 18, 1862 – May 10, 1865
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Deputy to the C.S. Congress
from Georgia
In office
February 8, 1861 – February 17, 1862
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
Born(1823-09-14)September 14, 1823
Jasper County, Georgia
DiedAugust 16, 1882(1882-08-16) (aged 58)
Gurley, Alabama
Political partyDemocratic
Other political
Whig (Before 1855)
American (1855–1859)
Constitutional Union (1859–1861)
Alma materUniversity of Georgia

Benjamin Harvey Hill (September 14, 1823 – August 16, 1882) was a politician whose career spanned state and national politics, and the Civil War. He served in the Georgia legislature in both houses. Although he had opposed secession in 1860, he represented Georgia as a Confederate senator during the conflict.

After the war and near the end of the Reconstruction era, Hill was elected in 1874 to the United States House of Representatives, and in 1877 as a U.S. senator from Georgia. He served in the Senate until his death in 1882.

Early life[edit]

Hill was born September 14, 1823, in Hillsboro, Georgia, in Jasper County. He was of Welsh and Irish American ancestry.[1] He attended the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, where he was a member of the Demosthenian Literary Society. He graduated in 1844 with first honors. He was admitted to the Georgia bar later in 1844. He married Caroline E. Holt in Athens, Georgia in 1845.

Early career[edit]

Bellevue plantation house
Hill's home, Bellevue

As a politician, Hill was affiliated with a number of parties, reflecting the volatile politics before and after the American Civil War. He was elected to the state legislature of Georgia in 1851 as a member of the Whig Party. He supported Millard Fillmore 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 the 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 known as "the peerless orator" for his skill in delivering speeches,[2] and he was the only non-Democratic member of the Georgia secession convention on January 16, 1861. He spoke publicly against the dissolution of the Union, along with Alexander Stephens, a former opponent. Following Stephens' highly regarded argument, based on a conservative reading of the Constitution, Hill struck a more pragmatic tone.

His arguments related to the conservative belief that disunion would ultimately lead to the abolition of slavery and the downfall of Southern society. He quoted Henry Ward Beecher, a Northern abolitionist, who enthusiastically supported the dissolution of the Union as a means to end slavery, and described 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 argued that his fellow Georgians should continue to resist Lincoln democratically within the bounds of the Constitution. He compared this course to George Washington, "so cool, so brave, and so thoughtful." He argued that the Northern states would eventually follow the British course of rising abolitionist thought, followed by acceptance again of slavery due to economic necessity. But he allowed that the South should prepare for secession and war if it should become necessary.[3]

Hill voted against secession,[4] but became a political ally of Jefferson Davis, who was elected as president of the Confederacy. When the Confederate government was formed, Hill transferred to the Confederate Provisional Congress. He was subsequently elected by the Georgia legislature to the Confederate States Senate, a term which he held throughout its existence.

In 1863, a debate between Hill and Senator William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama, a Davis critic, over a bill intended to create the Confederate Supreme Court erupted into physical violence when Hill struck Yancey in the head with a glass inkstand, knocking Yancey over a desk and onto the floor of the Senate. The attack was kept secret for months, and in the ensuing investigation it was Yancey, not Hill, who was censured.[5][6] Yancey left Congress before adjournment to recover from the injury, and his health deteriorated rapidly over the next months before he died on July 27, 1863, of kidney disease.[6][7]

At the end of the Civil War, Hill was arrested as a Confederate official by the Union and confined in Fort Lafayette from May until July 1865.

Later career[edit]

In 1874, Hill was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, serving from May 5, 1875 - March 3, 1877. He regarded himself as a spokesman for the South. He was later elected by the Georgia legislature to the U.S. Senate on January 26, 1877, as Reconstruction was ending. He served in the U.S. Senate from March 4, 1877, until his death on August 16, 1882. His obituary was featured on the front page of the Atlanta Constitution on August 17, 1882.[8]


Hill is buried in historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia.

Statue of Benjamin Harvey Hill, now located inside the Georgia State Capitol

Legacy and honors[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hill, Benjamin H. Jr. (1891). Senator Benjamin H. Hill of Georgia: His Life, Speeches and Writings. Atlanta, Georgia: H. C. Hudgins & Co. p. 11. Retrieved April 21, 2022 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ Candler, Allen Daniel (1909). The Confederate records of the State of Georgia, Volume 1. Atlanta, GA: C. P. Byrd publishing. ISBN 978-1147068887. Retrieved July 22, 2013
  3. ^ Freehling, William W., and Craig M. Simpson, Secession Debated: Georgia's Showdown in 1860, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  4. ^ The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It. The Library of America. 2011. pp. 14. ISBN 978-1-59853-088-9.
  5. ^ Walther, Eric H. (2006). William Lowndes Yancey: The Coming of the Civil War. pp. 358–66. ISBN 9780739480304.
  6. ^ a b "That D----d Brownlow", Steve Humphrey. Appalachian Consortium Press, 1978. p. 303.
  7. ^ Walther 2006, pp. 366–371.
  8. ^ "Ben Hill Dead". Atlanta Constitution. August 17, 1882. p. 1. Retrieved April 21, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ Krakow, Kenneth K. (1975). Georgia Place-Names: Their History and Origins (PDF). Macon, GA: Winship Press. p. 16. ISBN 0-915430-00-2.

External links[edit]