Senator Benton and the People

Master Race Democracy on the Early American Frontiers

By Ken S. Mueller

From The Northern Illinois University Press

328 pp / 6.0 x 9.0 / 2014

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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.

Reviews & Quotes

"I have read with much interest Ken Mueller's political biography of Thomas Hart Benton. Mueller has provided a number of persuasive correctives to the extant biographies of Benton. He has also made a number of interesting, original contributions of his own. Benton was one colorful guy-irritating and infuriating to some but larger than life to others (including himself). An updated and comprehensive treatment of Benton's politics is overdue."
— Michael A. Morrison, author of Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny

About Ken S. Mueller

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.

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"The Early American Places series is an exciting development in scholarly publishing, one that will highlight the most important part of the study of history: the local and particular dimensions of global issues and trends. This is where the rubber meets the road, where ordinary people's lives help to make, and are made by, the bustling wider world in which they live. Early American Places is an original series, and it will publish important scholarship."

— Stephanie M. H. Camp, University of Washington