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Michael Decker Hahn
( November 24, 1830 – March 15, 1886 )


Michael Hahn was a congressman and governor
of the provisional Union government in Louisiana during the Civil War, and a supporter of the abolition of slavery and the extension of suffrage to black men.

He was born on November 24, 1830, in Klingenmünster, Bavaria, to Margaretha Decker Hahn.  After the death of his father (whose name is unknown), his mother immigrated with her children to the United States, eventually settling in New Orleans, Louisiana, around 1840.  In New Orleans, young Hahn attended public schools, read law under an attorney, and earned a law degree in 1851 from the University of Louisiana (today, Tulane University).  In 1851, he was also admitted to the state bar and established a law practice in New Orleans. 

Hahn’s first electoral victory was winning a seat on the New Orleans school board in 1852.  During the 1850s, he earned notice for opposing slavery, U.S. Senator John Slidell’s faction of the Louisiana Democratic Party, and the presidential election of Democrat James Buchanan in 1856.  Four years later, he endorsed Democrat Stephen Douglas of Illinois for president, and then in the winter of 1860-1861 urged Louisianans not to support secession from the Union.  Most Unionists left New Orleans after Louisiana seceded, but Hahn stayed in the city.  He quietly refused to swear allegiance to the Confederacy when renewing his license as notary public, but otherwise kept a low profile.

When the Union gained control of New Orleans in 1862, Hahn swore loyalty to the United States, and was elected under the Reconstruction policy of the Lincoln administration as a Republican to Congress.  He was supposed to serve in the last session of the 37th Congress (December 3, 1862, to March 3, 1863), but was not seated until February 3, 1863, because of debate over the legitimacy of the Louisiana elections.  After his one-month term, he returned to New Orleans to work as a prize commissioner for the Union.  In January 1864, he became owner and editor of the New Orleans True Delta, in which he encouraged emancipation of the slaves.   

In February 1864, Hahn was nominated for governor of Louisiana at the Free State Party after radicals, critical of the Lincoln administration’s alleged slow pace on advancing black civil rights, bolted the convention.  Presenting himself as a moderate, Hahn won the election and was inaugurated on March 4, 1864.  Upon the private advice of President Lincoln, Governor Hahn tried to convince delegates at the state constitutional convention to grant suffrage to black men in the proposed state constitution.  He failed, but was able to see the legislature authorized to do so.  The state constitution, which was approved by voters in September 1864, abolished slavery, instituted minimum wages and maximum hours (nine) for laborers, and limited the political power of the planter elite.  On February 17, 1865, the new state legislature heeded Governor Hahn’s recommendation to approve the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery in the entire United States (ratified, December 1865).

The state legislature elected Hahn to represent Louisiana in the U.S. Senate, so he resigned as governor on March 3, 1865.  Controversy over Reconstruction policy, however, prevented him from being seated.  At a state constitutional convention on July 30, 1866, Hahn delivered an address endorsing voting rights for black men.  Later that day, a riot between white delegates, their black supporters, and white opponents left 34 blacks and three white Republicans dead and over 100 injured, including Hahn, who was shot in the leg.  The severe injury permanently undermined his health.

 In 1867, Hahn established and edited the New Orleans Republican.  In 1871, after failing to secure the legislature’s election as a U.S. Senator, he closed the Republican and moved to his sugar plantation in St. Charles Parish, where he founded the town of Hahnville and began publishing the St. Charles Herald.  In 1872-1876, he represented the parish in the state legislature, acting as speaker of the State House in 1875.  In August 1876, he was appointed state registrar of voters, and earned respect for his impartiality during the contested presidential election, which ended with Louisiana’s electoral vote being disputed.  In 1879, President Rutherford Hayes named him to a federal district judgeship.  In 1884, Hahn was elected as a Republican to Congress, resigning as judge in March 1885 to take his seat.  Serving only a year, he died in Washington, D.C., on March 15, 1885.

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