THE POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY AND POLITICAL
PERSONALITY OF THOMAS H. BENTON
BY PERRY MC CANDLESS*
Immediately after his arrival in St. Louis in 1815, Thomas H.
Benton associated himself with the conservative economic interests
which dominated Missouri politics. He appears to have accepted
the political situation as he found it and began to advance his public
career in line with the interests of established territorial leaders.
Thus, Benton gained an early foothold in Missouri politics and, as
editor of the St. Louis Enquirer, had established himself by 1820 as
an able political spokesman for all Missourians.1
Editor-politician Benton was the spokesman for political action,
not for a political philosophy. To promote the settlement and
development of Missouri, Benton's St. Louis Enquirer advocated a
broad program which required government action. Within this
program the only real political principle with which Benton was
concerned was that of State rights. He vigorously asserted that the
power to determine the status of slavery in Missouri rested with the
people of the state, not with Congress. Although his fight for statehood without slavery restriction was of great importance in establishing Benton as a popular political figure in Missouri, the effect
came more from the almost universal demand for slavery than
from any question of state rights as a general political principle.2
Undoubtedly Benton was more concerned with winning political support than he was with supporting a rather vague political principle.
During his early years in the Senate, Benton was much impressed
by three staunch Jeffersonian Republicans: John Randolph,
Nathaniel Macon, and John Taylor of Caroline.3 These were the
*Perry McCandless, born in Lincoln, Missouri, received his B.S. degree from Central Missouri
State Teachers College, M.A. from Southern Methodist University, and Ph.D. from the University
of Missouri. He is now assistant professor of social studies, Central Missouri State College, Warrensburg, Missouri.
*For a more complete account of Benton's early years in St. Louis, see the author's "Thomas H.
Benton, His Source of Political Strength in Missouri from 1815 to 1838" (unpublished doctor's
dissertation, University of Missouri, 1953), Chaps. I and II.
2Harrison A. Trexler, Slavery in Missouri 1804-1865 (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University
Studies in Historical and Political Science, 1914), Series XXXII, No. 2, 100-108; Floyd C. Shoemaker, Missouri s Struggle for Statehood (Jefferson City, 1916), pp. 109-33.
3Benton recorded his warm regard for the Republican leadership given by John Randolph and
their close personal relationship. Thomas H. Benton, Thirty Years View (New York, 1897), I,
473-75. Of Nathaniel Macon, Benton wrote, ". . . Mr. Macon was the real Cincinnatus of America
. . . my hereditary friend through four generations, my mentor in the first seven years of my senatorial, and the last seven of his senatorial life. ..." Ibid., I, 118. And of John Taylor of Caroline,
Benton said, "... I can hardly figure to myself the ideal of a republican statesman more perfect
and complete than he [Taylor] was in reality. ..." I bid., I, 45.