Early American Places


NIU PressNIU Press

Senator Benton and the People:

Master Race Democracy on the Early American Frontiers

by Ken S. Mueller

Eagleton-Waters Book Award, The State Historical Society of Missouri, 2015

Finalist, Best Biography, Society of Midland Authors, 2015

328 pages

ISBN: 978-0-87580-700-3 (p), 978-0-87580-479-8 (c)



Academic libraries should acquire this fascinating study of how one man faced the conflict between sectional and national interests and chose the latter . . . . Recommended.
— D. Butts, CHOICE

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.

About the Author

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.

Mueller’s account of Benton’s career is lucid, and by presenting the man and politician ‘warts and all,’ it enables students of this period to better evaluate his legacy.
— Missouri Historical Review
By asking and convincingly answering big questions about antebellum America, Mueller has crafted an exceptional work of history. At once analytical and elegantly written, Senator Benton and the People combines the best of older and newer approaches to history—one that takes seriously the crucial importance of race while never losing sight of the essential importance of political power.
— The Journal of Southern History