Missouri Sen. Thomas Hart Benton Dies

Saturday, April 10, 1858

Thomas Hart Benton. Painting by Ferdinand Thomas Lee Boyle. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

Former six-term U.S. senator from Missouri and advocate of westward expansion, Thomas Hart Benton, also known as "Old Bullion," dies in Washington, D.C. Benton earns his nickname for his intransigence in supporting gold currency over paper money, but he gains more traction in setting the northern U.S. border with Canada at the 49th parallel and bringing Oregon under sole U.S. control. A staunch Democrat, Benton nonetheless refuses to adopt a strong proslavery stance as North-South divisions mount in the 1850s, and he is denied another term in the senate in 1851. He serves one term as U.S. congressman from 1853-1855, and his son-in-law, John C. Frémont, runs for president as a Republican in 1856, only to lose to James Buchanan. Benton remains a Democrat until his death on April 10, 1858. His later life and death signifies a changing of the tides away from political moderates and toward partisans on the slavery issue. 

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