Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Senator Benton and the People: Master Race Democracy on the Early American Frontiers

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Senator Benton and the People: Master Race Democracy on the Early American Frontiers

Article excerpt

Senator Benton and the People: Master Race Democracy on the Early American Frontiers. By Ken S. Mueller. Early American Places. (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2014. Pp. [xii], 320. Paper, $29.95, ISBN 978-087580-700-3; cloth, $45.00, ISBN 978-0-87580-479-8.)

For over thirty years, Thomas Hart Benton was one of America's most influential politicians--talented, prickly, heedlessly ambitious, and absolutely convinced of his own greatness. Ken S. Mueller, in the first biography of Benton since William Nisbet Chambers's Old Bullion Benton, Senator from the New West: Thomas Hart Benton, 1782-1858 (Boston, 1956), brilliantly reintroduces "Old Bullion" to a new generation of scholars. Senator Benton and the People: Master Race Democracy on the Early American Frontiers is not, however, a traditional political history; it is rather an analytical biography that interweaves policy and personality with recent scholarship that puts race front and center. As Mueller contends, "It is impossible to understand Benton's political career without conceding that it was possible for him to be both the courageous nationalist portrayed in early biographies and an unquestioning believer in the racial superiority of white Americans" (pp. 12-13, emphasis in original).

Along the way, Senator Benton and the People also provides insights into dozens of events, trends, and personalities of the early republic. The reader is therefore treated to well-developed discussions of western separatist schemes, the War of 1812, the Congress of Panama in 1826, the centrality of honor, and the transformation of Missouri from a frontier territory to a slaveholding state. Mueller even manages to make the minutiae of land policy not only clear but also almost engrossing, in part because he never loses sight of the tangible effects such polices had on white settlers, Native Americans, and African Americans alike. …

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