Benton, Thomas Hart (1782–1858)

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A Missouri attorney, senator (1821–1851), and congressman (1853–1855), Thomas Hart Benton was an avid Jacksonian Democrat who led the opposition, on constitutional and economic grounds, to rechartering the second bank of the united states. a hard-money man, nicknamed "old bullion," benton supported president andrew jackson's "specie circular" despite its adverse effects on his cherished goal of westward expansion. Benton opposed nullification, and was ever after an enemy of john c. calhoun and state sovereignty, allegedly saying in 1850 that Calhoun "died with treason in his heart and on his lips." Benton opposed extension of and agitation over slavery, and he personally favored gradual emancipation. Thus, Benton opposed the annexation of texas, bellicose agitation over Oregon, war with Mexico (although he ultimately voted for the war), the wilmot proviso, and henry clay's "Omnibus Bill" because all of these issues would impede western expansion and California statehood by involving them with slavery extension. Benton ultimately voted for some of the compromise measures in 1850, including the extension of slavery into some of the territories, but he opposed the new fugitive slave law. His opposition led to proslavery backlash and his defeat for reelection in 1850. In 1854 Benton published his senatorial memoirs, Thirty Years View, and in 1856–1857 An Abridgement of the Debates of Congress. While on his death bed, Benton wrote a long tract on dred scott v. sandford in which he argued for the constitutionality of the missouri compromise and savaged Chief Justice roger b. taney's opinion, which Benton believed was legally, historically, and constitutionally invalid, blatantly proslavery, and antiunion.

Paul Finkelman


Chambers, William W. 1956 Old Bullion Benton: Senator from the New West. Boston: Little, Brown.

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Benton, Thomas Hart (1782–1858)

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