1805 : Jacob Merritt Howard Born, Abolitionist

July 10, 2024 all-day

Jacob Merritt Howard can easily be credited as one of the most influential persons to our nation’s constitution outside of the Founding Fathers, particularly since he helped draft and pass the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.

Born in Shaftsbury, Vermont on July, 10 1805, the family lineage stretched seven generations in New England. His English forbearer, William Howard, settled in Braintree Massachusetts around 1644 and several relatives fought in the Revolutionary War. Howard attended district school supplemented by a private tutor, then enrolled in Brattleborough Academy. He graduated from Williams College in 1830, and went on to study law.

In 1832 he moved to Detroit, was admitted to the bar in 1833 and became City Attorney by 1834. In 1835 he married Katherine Shaw of Massachusetts and had seven children. He “took up arms” in defense of his adopted home during the nearly bloodless Toledo War. Several accounts report swine killed to feed troops as the only casualties. The exclusive human injury was that of a Michigan Sheriff, Joseph Wood, who was stabbed in the leg with a penknife by an Ohioan named Two Stickney. Stickney’s curious Christian name was given by his father, Major Benjamin E. Stickney “who fancied himself a military genius.” Major Stickney had two sons, the first named One Stickney. Two was the second.

Following the war Howard was a member of the Michigan legislature and elected to the U.S. Congress in 1840. By known accounts it is there he honed his thoughts on slavery and distilled what he believed to be the only answer to its eradication; war between the states.

In many accounts, including Burton’s City of Detroit , Howard is credited with officially adopting the name Republican Party and drafting the platform at the Under the Oakes convention in Jackson, Michigan on July 6, 1854.

In 1861 he was elected U.S. Senator following the death of Kingsley S. Bingham. He remained in the senate until 1871. During his first term he “is credited with working closely with Abraham Lincoln”. Howard was a contributor drafting and petitioning to successfully pass the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. In the following years Howard was instrumental in drafting and passing the 14th and 15th amendments as well.

Regarding the Fourteenth Amendment, Howard argued for including the phrase and subject to the jurisdiction thereof specifically because he wanted to make clear that the simple accident of birth in the United States was not sufficient to justify citizenship. Howard said: “[The 14th amendment] will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the government of the United States, but will include very other class of person.”   It was meant to ensure the rights of freed slaves, but some have argued in more recent times that it guarantees citizenship to every person born in the United States.

He died less than a month after leaving the senate on April 2, 1871. He is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit.

Sources :

Abolitionist Jacob Merritt Howard“, Capital Area District Library News, January 15, 2012.

Jacob M. Howard wikipedia entry.

Jacob Merritt Howard entry from Historic Elmwood Cemetery of Detroit

Derrick Bell, “To Make a Nation Whole (Civil Rights)“, New York Times, September 13, 1987.

Matthew Spalding, “14th Amendment Doesn’t Make Illegal Aliens’ Children Citizens“, U.S. News & World Report, August 30, 2010.


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