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John Armor Bingham
(January 21, 1815 – March 15, 1900)
John Bingham was a Republican congressman (1855-1863; 1865-1873) and diplomat.  In February 1869, he introduced a constitutional amendment to prohibit state discrimination in voting qualifications based on race, color, nativity, property, religion, or previous condition of servitude (i.e., being a former slave).  The proposal passed the House, but was replaced by the more moderate Fifteenth Amendment, which banned federal or state discrimination in voting qualifications “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” 

He was born on January 21, 1815, in Mercer, Pennsylvania, to Ester Bailey Bingham and Hugh Bingham, a carpenter and local politician.  When he was 12, his mother died and he went to live with a paternal uncle in Cadiz, Ohio.  In 1831, he returned to Mercer, where he worked for an anti-Masonic newspaper.  He attended Mercer Academy fulltime during the 1834-1835 school year.  Later in 1835, he began attending Franklin College in New Athens, Ohio, but did not graduate, perhaps due to illness.  In 1837, he began reading law at a law office in Mercer, and three years later was admitted to the Pennsylvania and Ohio state bars, establishing a practice in Cadiz.  Campaigning in 1840 for Whig presidential nominee William Henry Harrison led him to debate Edwin M. Stanton, the future U.S. attorney general and secretary of war, who was supporting Democratic President Martin Van Buren at the time.

Bingham settled in New Philadelphia, Ohio, in 1843, and married his cousin, Amanda Bingham, the next year.  The couple later had eight children.  In 1846, he was elected as a Whig to be prosecutor for Tuscarawa County, but lost reelection two years later.  He spent 1850 working for a law firm in Cincinnati before returning the next year to Cadiz, where he failed to win election as a judge in Harrison County.  When the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 opened the Western territories to slavery, Bingham organized the opposition in Ohio and was elected to the first of four consecutive terms in Congress as a Republican.  An abolitionist, Bingham opposed statehood for Kansas under the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution and opposed statehood for the free territory of Oregon because it discriminated against free blacks.  In 1860, he endorsed fellow Ohioan Salmon Chase for the Republican presidential nomination, and then campaigned in the general election for Abraham Lincoln. 

In the secession crisis, Bingham rejected efforts to compromise with the South.  During the Civil War, he pushed for the abolition of slavery and chaired the House managers at the removal trial of Tennessean West Humphreys, who had failed to resign as a federal judge before accepting a Confederate judgeship.  In 1862, Bingham was narrowly defeated for reelection.  After his term ended in March 1863, he served as a solicitor for the U.S. Court of Claims before President Lincoln appointed him to the Judge Advocate General’s Office at the rank of major.  In the latter position, he successfully prosecuted the court martial of William Hammond, the U.S. surgeon general, on corruption charges.  In April 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton named Bingham to the staff investigating and prosecuting the conspirators in the assassination of President Lincoln.  Bingham gave the closing argument for the prosecution.

In 1864, Bingham won the first of another four consecutive terms in Congress.  He supported most Reconstruction legislation, including the Freedmen’s Bureau Act, the Fourteenth Amendment, the Military Reconstruction Acts, and the Fifteenth Amendment.  He voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1866 because he believed Congress did not have the constitutional power to enforce civil rights against the states.  To remedy that omission, his proposal to grant Congress such authority became the basis for Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The Supreme Court later used the “due process” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Section One, to protect many civil rights and liberties listed in the Bill of Rights against interference by the states.

Although opposed to early efforts to impeach and remove President Andrew Johnson from office, Bingham joined the movement after the president violated the Tenure of Office Act.  The Ohio congressman served as chairman of the House managers prosecuting the case against Johnson at the Senate trial, where he delivered the three-day closing argument.  Bingham was implicated but not charged in the Credit Mobilier scandal.  He lost renomination in 1872 because of a popular groundswell to rotate the congressional seat among politicians from the district’s other counties.  After his term ended in March 1873, Republican President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him as the U.S. minister to Japan, where he served until recalled by Democratic President Grover Cleveland in July 1885.

After retirement from public office, Bingham remained active in Republican politics, campaigning for Republican presidential nominees Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley.  Bingham’s wife died in 1891, and he spent his final years in poor health and dire financial straits.  In 1898, Congress awarded him a monthly pension of $25.  He died in Cadiz, Ohio, on March 15, 1900.

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