August 13, 2012
THOMAS HART BENTON II
JFK's book highlights the stories of eight United States Senators who risked their political careers to pursue justice.
In the introduction to the Memorial Edition, Robert Kennedy writes:
"Courage is the virtue that President Kennedy most admired. That is why this book so fitted his personality, his beliefs."
JFK Library Image
The title of Chapter IV is Thomas Hart Benton.*
Senator Kennedy tells us that Senator Benton of Missouri was nearly defeated in 1844-45 but didn't let that stop him from opposing his party & state on the expansion of Oregon.
He counseled President James K. Polk to oppose the Democratic all of OREGON or none stand in his dealings with Canada & Great Britain.
JFK writes that in the United States Senate, Thomas Hart Benton was "alone, hard & merciless."
Despite his knowledge & abilities, it was Benton's failure to recognize slavery as a major issue that proved his undoing.
His concern about the slavery issue was how it became a barrier to Western expansion & the admission of new states.
Senator Benton opposed the resolutions proposed by John C. Calhoun in 1847 that insisted that Congress had no jurisdiction when it came to the development of territorial slavery.
Calhoun was flabbergasted by Benton's opposition. He said:
"I certainly supposed the Senator from Missouri, the representative of a slaveholding state, would have supported these resolutions...."
To which Benton answered:
"I shall be found.....on the side of my country & the Union."
When the Democratic party split in 1848 over the slavery question, Senator Benton refused to support either side. JFK writes...
"He was now a man without a party, a politician without a recognized platform, & a Senator without a constituency."
In January 1851, Senator Benton, JFK writes, "after 30 years of outstanding statesmanship in the Senate...was....dismissed from the service & called home."
He was returned to Congress, however, in 1852, as a Representative from St. Louis but 2 years later he was defeated for re-election.
JFK concludes this chapter with these words of praise....
"Even in....defeat, Thomas Hart Benton was victorious. For his voice...on behalf of Union was one of the deciding factors that prevented Missouri from yielding.......(to) secession along with her sister slave states."
*Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858), United States Senator from Missouri 1821-1851), was born in North Carolina & studied law briefly at UNC. He moved to Nashville, TN where he was admitted to the bar & elected to the state senate. Benton moved to the Missouri Territory in 1815 & became one of the 1st senators from the STATE of MISSOURI.
Thomas Hart Benton
Photo by Matthew Brady
Library of Congress Image