Benton Background

Named for Senator Thomas Hart Benton, the great-uncle of the artist of the same name, this suite has large windows that offer spectacular views of Benton Park. Its king-size bed has a Saavta luxury mattress that offers a wonderful night of rest. A whirlpool tub and shower offer the guests additional opportunities for comfort. And like all of our Inn, the Benton Suite has Wi-Fi access.

Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858) was a colorful figure to say the least. One of the first senators from the newly-formed State of Missouri, Benton was a strong advocate of westward expansion as well as an opponent of slavery.

In 1799 he was dismissed from school after admitting to stealing money from fellow students. As Benton was leaving campus on the day he was expelled, he turned to the students who were jeering him and said, “I am leaving here now but damn you, you will hear from me again.” He then left school to manage the Benton family estate, but historians posit that Benton used the events as motivation to prove himself worthy in adulthood.

At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson made Benton his aide-de-camp, with a commission as a lieutenant colonel. Benton was assigned to represent Jackson’s interests to military officials in Washington D.C.; he chafed under the position, which denied him combat experience. In 1813 Benton engaged in a frontier brawl with Jackson in which Jackson was wounded.

After the war, in 1815, Benton moved his estate to the newly opened Missouri Territory. As a Tennessean, he was under Jackson’s shadow; in Missouri, he could be a big fish in the as yet small pond. He settled in St. Louis, where he practiced law and edited the Missouri Enquirer, the second major newspaper west of the Mississippi River.

In 1817 during a court case he and opposing attorney Charles Lucas accused each other of lying. When Lucas ran into him at the voting polls he accused Benton of being delinquent in paying his taxes and thus should not be allowed to vote. Benton accused Lucas of being a “puppy” and Lucas challenged Benton to a duel. They had a duel on Bloody Island (then in the middle of the Mississippi and claimed by neither Missouri nor Illinois) with Lucas being shot through the throat and Benton grazed in the knee. Upon bleeding profusely, Lucas said he was satisfied and Benton released him from completing the duel. However rumors circulated that Benton, a better shot, had made the rules of 30 feet apart to favor him. Benton challenged Lucas to a rematch on Bloody Island with shots fired from nine feet. Lucas was shot close to the heart and before dying initially told Benton, “I do not or cannot forgive you.” As death approached Lucas then stated “I can forgive you—I do forgive you.”

His loyalty to the Democratic Party was legendary. Benton was the legislative right-hand-man for Andrew Jackson, and continued this role for Martin Van Buren. With the election of James K. Polk, however, his power began to ebb, and his views diverged from the party’s. His career took a distinct downturn with the issue of slavery. Benton, a southerner and slave owner, became increasingly uncomfortable with the topic. He was also at odds with fellow Democrats, such as John C. Calhoun, who he thought put their opinions ahead of the Union to a treasonous degree. With troubled conscience, in 1849 he declared himself “against the institution of slavery,” putting him against his party and popular opinion in his state. In April 1850, during heated Senate floor debates over the proposed Compromise of 1850, Benton was nearly shot by pistol-wielding Mississippi Senator Henry S. Foote, who had taken umbrage to Benton’s vitriolic sparring with Vice-President Millard Fillmore. Foote was wrestled to the floor where he was disarmed.

Uniquely, Benton has been the subject of biographical study by two men who later became presidents of the United States. In 1887, Theodore Roosevelt published a biography of Benton. Benton is also one of the eight senators profiled in John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage.