north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
     Thomas Hart Benton, antebellum politician of national standing, represented Missouri in the United States Senate for thirty years. Born at Hart’s Mill near Hillsborough in Orange County, Benton was the third child of prominent lawyer Jesse Benton and his wife Ann Gooch. Benton’s mother was the beneficiary of Thomas Hart for whom Hart’s Mill was named. Benton was educated locally, and attended the University of North Carolina briefly in 1798, leaving after only three months. Benton’s father died in the winter of 1790 and, following his departure from the University, Benton moved with his mother and siblings to Tennessee.

     The Benton family settled on a large tract southwest of Nashville, in a frontier community originally called “Widow Benton’s Settlement.” After privately studying law, in 1806 Benton was admitted to the bar and began practicing, also serving as a Tennessee state senator from 1809 until 1811. During the War of 1812, Benton served as Andrew Jackson’s aide-de-camp, until a duel that injured Benton’s younger brother Jesse precipitated a ten-year feud between Benton and Jackson. In 1815 Benton moved to St. Louis, Missouri.

     Benton continued his long-standing interest in politics after settling in St. Louis. In September 1817 he killed Charles Lucas during a politically motivated duel. Following Missouri’s admission to the Union, Benton was elected to the Senate, serving from 1821 until 1851. Significantly, Benton and Jackson renewed their friendship, and he became a key supporter of Jackson in the Senate. Throughout his time in office, Benton maintained a strongly pro-Union stance, despite the growing sectionalism in Missouri. In 1850 Benton was defeated for re-election in pro-slavery Missouri because of his anti-slavery views.

     In 1852, Benton was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served a single term. His memoir, Thirty Years’ View, was completed in 1856. In addition, Benton compiled An Abridgement of the Debates of Congress, 1789-1856. Benton died in 1858 after a memorable career as a politician, writer and public figure.


References:
William Nesbit Chambers, Old Bullion Benton (1956)
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress online: http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=B000398
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 139-142—sketch by Edwin A Miles
Hugh Lefler and Paul Wager, eds., Orange County, 1752-1952 (1952)
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