May 21, 1881: Blanche Bruce Appointed Register of Treasury


May 21, 1881, marks the day that Blanche Bruce appointed Register of the Treasury after serving as Mississippi’s U.S. Senator. Bruce was born in slavery in March 1841 on a Virginia plantation. His father was slaveholder Pettis Perkinson.



He would receive an education by his father and eventually freed. During the Civil War, Blanche Bruce attended college in Ohio. He would establish a school for Black children in 1864 in Missouri. Bruce made his own wealth during Reconstruction, moving to Mississippi and running his own plantation.

Coming from wealth, Blanche Bruce was said to not associate with Black people on a kinship-level. The family sided with Washington’s ideology of Black gradually earning rights and a focus on industrial and agricultural education over DuBois’ academic and arts approach. He was viewed as suspect by Black people in the north since he was a landowner and the living conditions of Blacks on his farmlands weren’t essentials-only.



Before taking his post as Register of the Treasury, Blanche Bruce was appointed as senator to the state of Mississippi in 1874 and took his position in 1875. In 1880, he became the first Black politician to receive votes for Vice President at the Republican National Convention. Bruce served as Senator until 1881. Later that season, he was appointed to Register of the Treasury under James A. Garfield.



Being a position that was only around for over 70 years, it’s unknown what Blanche Bruce actually did in the role. Based on the duties of previous Registers, Bruce would be required to sign off on funds for a variety of works and federal actions. He would also assist the Treasurer in managing the country financial health.

When he left the position in 1885, during the Cleveland administration. Bruce would hold the position of Recorder of Deeds in Washington D.C. until 1890. In December 1897, he would return to the Register position and serve until his death three months later.



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