Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran isn’t just leaving Washington. He’s also leaving behind Jefferson Davis’s old desk

With U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran planning to retire in April after a four-decade run in Washington, Mississippi political leaders and activists are now gearing up for an abnormally hectic election year. Amid the chaos comes an opportunity to revisit one of the more interesting (and controversial) historical ties related to Cochran’s tenure: His Senate Chamber desk once belonged to Jefferson Davis until he resigned in 1861 after Mississippi seceded from the Union.

Davis became president of the Confederacy not long after, which prompted the near-destruction of the desk at the hands of Union soldiers camping in the chamber one night in 1861.

“. . . as I entered the Senate, I heard a noise, as if someone was splitting wood. I looked over on the Democratic side of the Chamber and behold! There was a crowd [of] soldiers with their bayonets, cutting one of the desks to pieces. I hollered at the top of my voice, ‘Stop! What are you doing?’ Several answered, ‘We are cutting that damn traitor’s desk to pieces.’ I ran in among them and told them it was not his desk, that it belonged to the government. ‘You were put here to protect, and not to destroy!’ They stopped immediately and said I was right, they thought it belonged to Jefferson Davis.”

– Isaac Bassett, a doorkeeper who worked in the Chamber from 1831 to 1895

 

The desk remained in the chamber and served a long line of senators in the 20th century. Most were from Mississippi with two exceptions: Millard E. Tydings, a Democratic senator from Maryland, and Harry Truman—yes, that Harry Truman.

The late Sen. John C. Stennis used the desk until his retirement in 1989, at which time it changed hands as Cochran ascended to the senior spot.

He liked it so much he introduced a resolution adopted by the Senate in 1995 allowing the desk to remain reserved for Mississippi’s senior senator.

Read more about the history of Senate Chamber desks.

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