Senator Benton and the People
Master Race Democracy on the Early American Frontiers
From The Northern Illinois University Press
Senator Thomas Hart Benton was a towering figure in Missouri politics. Elected in 1821, he was their first senator, and served in Washington, DC, for more than thirty years. Like Andrew Jackson, with whom he had a long and complicated relationship, Benton came out of the developing western section of the young American Republic. The foremost Democratic leader in the Senate, he claimed to represent the rights of “the common man” against “monied interests” of the East. “Benton and the people,” the Missourian was fond of saying, “are one and the same”—a bit of bombast that reveals a good deal about this seasoned politician who was himself a mass of contradictions. He possessed an enormous ego and a touchy sense of personal honor that led to violent results on several occasions. Yet this conflation of “the people” and their tribune raises questions not addressed in earlier biographies of Benton.
Mueller provides a fascinating portrait of Senator Benton. His political character, while viewed as flawed by contemporary standards, is balanced by his unconditional devotion to his particular vision. Mueller evaluates Benton’s career in light of his attitudes toward slavery, Indian removal, and the Mexican borderlands, among other topics, and reveals Benton’s importance to a new generation of readers. He offers a more authentic portrait of the man than has heretofore been presented by either his detractors or his admirers.
Ken S. Mueller received his PhD in history from Saint Louis University and is associate professor and program chair of general studies, history, political science, and geography at Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette, Indiana.
— Stephanie M. H. Camp, University of Washington