Thomas Hart Benton was born on March 14, 1782, near present day Hillsborough, North Carolina. In 1801, ten years after his father`s death, Mrs. Benton moved the family to the Cumberland Valley in Tennessee. He studied law, was admitted to the Tennessee bar in 1805, and was in 1809elected to the state senate. During the War of 1812, Benton raised a contingent of volunteers and served on Andrew Jackson`s staff. Their relationship cooled in 1813 when Jackson served as second in a duel between Jackson`s friend William Carroll and Benton`s brother Jesse. In 1815, Benton got into a bloody fight with Jackson in Nashville, prompting the Benton to leave Tennessee for St. Louis. In the summer of 1817, Benton developed a personal quarrel with Charles Lucas. On August 4, they exchanged insults at a polling place and Lucas challenged Benton to a duel. On August 12, they fought at Bloody Island at 30 paces and wound each other. Not content to let this settle the matter of honor, a rematch was arranged on September 27 at 10 paces, during which Lucas was mortally wounded. Thomas Hart Benton became editor of the St. Louis Enquirer and used his position with that paper to advance his political aspirations. In 1820, he was elected to the U.S. Senate from the new state of Missouri, where he served five terms. He made his mark by representing popular western causes—liberal land policy, road construction, and opening new territories to settlement. Although a believer in a "manifest destiny" for the American people, he rejected unilateral annexation of Mexican territory and supported Polk`s decision not to press for the 54-40 boundary for Oregon. Benton became very conservative on monetary matters. He opposed the Second Bank of the United States and earned the nickname “Old Bullion” for his advocacy of “hard money” over “soft money.” Benton was a foe of land speculators, preferring that purchasers of western lands be actual settlers. He strove to gain Congressional support for his programs of preemption and graduation. Benton was in general a supporter of Andrew Jackson (the two were reconciled) and an opponent of John C. Calhoun. In 1831, he denounced the Second Bank of the United States in a speech in the Senate, in which he said:
Monopolies and perpetual succession are the bane of republics. Our ancestors took care to provide against them, by abolishing entails and primogeniture. Even the plebes of the church, lean and few as they were in most of the States, fell under the republican principle of limited tenures. All the States abolished the anti-republican tenures ; but Congress re-establishes them, and in a manner more dangerous and offensive than before the Revolution. They are now given, not generally, but to few ; not to natives only, but to foreigners also ; for foreigners are large owners of this bank. And thus, the principles of the Revolution sink before the privileges of an incorporated company. The laws of the States fall before the mandates of a central directory in Philadelphia. Foreigners become the landlords of free-born Americans ; and the young and flourishing towns of the United States are verging to the fate of the family boroughs which belong to the great aristocracy of England.In 1841, Senator Benton introduced the Pre-emption Act. Until this time, a settler who cleared and improved public land might find that when it was put up for sale at public auction, he would be outbid by someone else. Under Benton`s act, the right of a squatter who had improved the land to some degree to purchaes up to 160 acres was extended into the future. This act encouraged further settlement of new lands and coincided with the principle of Manifest Destiny. Opposition to slavery, an unpopular position in Missouri at the time, cost Benton his Senate seat in the election of 1850. From 1853 to 1855, he served in the House, but lost a reelection bid due largely to his opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854). Benton lost a race for the governorship of Missouri in 1856. Thomas Hart Benton died in Washington, DC, on April 10, 1858.