There is a movement to remove Benton’s name from a Oregon County. Joseph Lane is overlooked. The Hart family were partners of Daniel Boone. You couldn’t convince many Americans to get back on a ship, go home, and leave a billion acres to the Rustic Native American Park of America. How many did so? None!
So, someone had to eventually step foreword and explain why no white man was going home, but rather was heading West to get more FREE LAND. Politicians are voted into office to shoot their damn mouth off. No one shot their mouth off more than Benton – until Trump was elected. This article begins, thus……….
“Alaska has had two renaming controversies this summer. Most recently, President Obama announced the official renaming of Mount McKinley to the native name of Denali. But earlier this year, an effort began to remove the name of a Confederate solider from a census district.”
“President Donald Trump, during a meeting earlier this year with Alaska’s two Republican senators, asked about reversing a decision made by the Obama administration and renaming the nation’s largest mountain, according to Sen. Dan Sullivan.”
Above is the home where Garth Benton, the famous muralist, and Christine Rosamond Benton lived with their daughter, Drew Benton, an artist. If I am elected Governor of Oregon, I promise to piss and moan about how the Bentons were attacked and victimized – for generations! When will it stop!
“Make the bad men go away, mommy! All we want to do is paint pretty pictures, now. Conquering the most powerful nation (to be) on earth, was interesting, but, not that interesting. We soon grew bored! You know how we are!”
Thomas Hart Benton
White Supremacy and Manifest Destiny in one of Oregon’s Most Liberal Counties
By Joseph Orosco (September 1, 2015)
Alaska has had two renaming controversies this summer. Most recently, President Obama announced the official renaming of Mount McKinley to the native name of Denali. But earlier this year, an effort began to remove the name of a Confederate solider from a census district. These districts are used by the government to section off areas of the state for population counting and they have no other state function. However, they are about the size of counties in other states. (The story of how a census district could be named after a Confederate is here). This made me wonder about the naming of counties during this season of renaming, particularly the name for Benton County, in which OSU is located.
Across the United States, there are at least nine different counties, including Oregon, named Benton. Seven of them are named after the US Senator from Missouri Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858). Benton served five terms in the Senate, failing to gain a sixth term in 1851 because of his opposition to slavery.
Benton’s legacy in Oregon comes from the support he gave in the Senate for acquiring the Oregon Territory. In 1842, he and the other Senator from Missouri, Lewis Linn (whose name adorns the country next to Benton), sponsored an idea to flood the Oregon Territory with American settlers so as to overwhelm the British administrators and pressure them to give up the area. The plan did not pass, but it did provide the groundwork for the Oregon Donation Land Act of 1850. The bill offered settlers hundreds of acres of land title if they could show they had worked it for several years.
The effect of this act is still felt today; if you ever ask why there are so few people of color in Oregon, then part of the reason is the Act of 1850. It prohibited Blacks, Hawaiians, Indians, and Asians from owning land in the state. Moreover, in preparation for the act, the territorial government of Oregon had started to negotiate with Native American tribes in the 1840s in order to remove them to reservations so that land would be available. This obviously led to tensions as some of the Native groups did not want to leave their ancestral lands. In the1850s, war broke out between settlers and Natives in the Rogue River Valley. Eventually the remaining Natives were corralled together and sent off by the US Army, forming today’s Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations.
Benton was out of office by the time the Rogue war took place, but he was instrumental in creating the environment in which it happened. He wouldn’t have been too upset about the developments, however. In 1846, he told Congress:
“The Red race has disappeared from the Atlantic coast; the tribes that resisted civilization met extinction. This is a cause of lamentation with many. For my part, I cannot murmur at what seems to be the effect of divine law. I cannot repine that is this Capitol has replace the wigwam-this Christian people, replaced the savages-white matrons, the red squaws . . . . Civilization, or extinction, has been the fate of all people who have found themselves in the trace of the advancing Whites, and civilization, always the preference of the Whites, has been pressed as an object, while extinction has followed as a consequence of its resistance”
In other words, Benton was a proponent of Manifest Destiny. At least in his version, the white race had a divine calling to expand its control from the eastern part of North America to the Pacific and to extend the reach of government and Christianity to other “races”. Part of his justification for the settlement of Oregon was that he believed the state could be the launching point for the white race to begin interbreeding with Asians and, thus, improve their culture and society:
“The sun of civilization must shine across the sea; socially and commercially the van of the Caucasians, and the rear of the Mongolians, must intermix. They must talk together, and trade together, and marry together. . . . Moral and intellectual superiority will do the rest; the White race will take the ascendant, elevating what is susceptible of improvement-wearing out what is not”
Benton also called for expansion into other territories. He advocated for reneging on a treaty with Spain to acquire some of its territories in the Caribbean and he was a supporter of Texas independence from Mexico. However, he was not a supporter of the Mexican American War of 1846-1848. Unlike many of his fellow white supremacists of the time, Benton believed that Mexicans were actually white people—a different branch of the Caucasian race than the American “Anglo-Saxon-Celtic” people, but still white. (Sam Houston, the first president of the Lone Star Republic, on the other hand, called Texas independence a matter of a conflict between “Anglo Saxon chivalry” and “base” Mexican marauding.)
So Benton leaves an odd legacy. Oregon is here largely because of his life’s work. But he saw his life work as bringing white civilization to save the rest of the world from its “savagery” and “backwardness”. His policies were instrumental in excluding people of color from the state and for the genocide of Native peoples in the Northwest. And while he did not support the tremendous land grab that was the war with Mexico, he did so only because he saw Mexicans as white cousins who only needed a bit of a push to modernize their way of life and certainly not destruction of it. (However, Benton was father in law and supporter of John C. Fremont, who gives his name to the Fremont Bridge in Portland.
Fremont led several expeditions into the West, including Oregon, and was a US army officer. His forces murdered an entire Klamath Indian village in 1846 before he returned his attention to stoking the fires of hatred between Mexicans and Americans in California. Under Fremont’s orders, Kitt Carson and others murdered three prominent Mexican Californians who were coming to see about the conditions of some of their relatives held prisoner. Fremont later ran as an anti-slavery Republican candidate against James Buchanan).
Benton’s legacy complicates the political mood around renaming these days. Most efforts at renaming public property focus on changing schools, parks, buildings or roads that commemorate Confederate leaders. The Confederacy was indeed a political movement dedicated to secession and founded on slavery. Yet, it’s important to realize that the Confederacy did not suddenly arise out of nowhere. It was nourished by an anti-black white supremacy that had much deeper roots in the United States and that was embraced by leaders who might not have backed the Confederacy. Thomas Hart Benton stood against slavery and it ended his political career; but that does not mean that he did not leave in his wake forced dislocation, murder, and a sense of racial superiority that still affects the lives of scores of people in the state of Oregon.
A good source for Benton’s views:
Reginald Horsman. Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.
My adopted son, Hollis Lee Williams, was born in Louisville Kentucky, and is kin to Thomas Hart from whom the famous artist, Thomas Hart Benton, descends. My brother-in-law, Garth Benton, was a cousin of Thomas
Colonel Thomas Hart
Colonel Thomas Hart was the son of Thomas Hart and Susanna Rice Hart and the brother to John, Benjamin, David, Nathaniel and Ann.
“The mother of Lucretia Hart was Susanna, daughter of John Gray, Colonel in the Royal Army. Tradition says he opposed his daughter’s marriage on the grounds that Thomas Hart, her intended, was a rebel. He was, indeed, a bold and active rebel, a member of two Provincial Congresses of North America, a Colonel in the Revolutionary Army, and one of the principals of that daring and romantic enterprise, the Transylvania Land Company. In spite of her father’s disapproval the wedding of Susanna Gray and Thomas Hart, parents of Lucretia Hart, went off as planned.” (Simpson, Letters to)
In 1780 Thomas Hart moved from North Carolina to Hagerstown, Maryland, where his two older daughters, Eliza and Susan, were married and where Lucretia was born.
“In the spring of 1794 Thomas Hart wrote to Governor Blount of Tennessee, who had married his wife’s niece, ‘You will be surprised to hear I am going to Kentucky. Mrs. Hart, who for eighteen years has opposed this measure, has now given her consent and so we go, an old fellow of 63 years of age seeking a new country to make a fortune in…
Another letter, written by Thomas Hart, dated Lexington, Kentucky 1795 says, ‘Oh, if my old friend Uncle Jacob Blount were here! What a pleasure we would have in raking up money and spending it with our friends -This is really one of the finest countries in the world -The society is equal to that of any interior town in the United States’. He did, indeed prosper.” (Simpson, Letters to)
“The fact that at a time when sailing vessels and clipper ships ruled the seas, Colonel Hart supplied all the rope used by the navy, proving that his cordage business was both extensive and successful. He rapidly laid the foundation of an immense fortune, comparable to the Vanderbilt wealth in New York”. (Schwartz)
“From his land sales Boone had raised about $20,000, and had been given additional money to purchase warrants by the Harts. Boone had between forty and fifty thousand dollars in cash in his saddlebags when he began his journey.” (Loforo)
There are conflicting stories as to exactly what happened with this great some of money. Here’s one version: “At the inn in James City, Virginia, described as Painter’s Fork, Boone while asleep was robbed of the entire amount. The incident caused much criticism and injured his reputation”.(Henderson)
Over the years, Boone paid this lost money back to the contributors, except for the Harts. “The Hart brothers, who had lost the most, saw the matter differently. In a letter dated August 3, 1780, Thomas Hart summed up their position on the robbery: ‘I feel for the poor people who perhaps are to loose even their preemptions by it,
but I must say I feel more for poor Boone whose character I am told suffers by it.’ Hart praised Boone as a ‘Just’ and ‘Upright’ person, who even in the most ‘Wretched Sircumstances’ was ‘a Noble and generous soul.’ He concluded his comments by stating that ‘therefore I will freely grant him a discharge for whatever sums of mine he might be possest of at the time.’
In 1844 William Henry Harrison was elected president with John Tyler as his Vice-president on the Whig ticket. Van Buren was defeated and Benton and the Democrats went into opposition. In April 1841 Harrison died and Tyler assumed the presidency. Shortly after that, Congress passed legislation repealing the Independent Treasury act and its hard money provisions. Benton’s daughter, Jessie, fell in love with Lieutenant John Charles Fremont, but her parents felt that they were too young for marriage. Fremont was sent off on a surveying trip. In October, on his return, they married secretly. In 1843 the senate again debated the future of the Oregon Territory with Benton arguing that it was rightfully United States territory. In February 1844 Benton was injured in the explosion of the “Peacemaker” canon aboard the Princeton and Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur was killed. President Tyler appointed John C. Calhoun to replace Upshur. In April 1844, Calhoun negotiated a treaty that would annex Texas to the Union and in his argument for the treaty emphasized the importance of protecting Texans’ right to own slaves. Benton supported annexation, but worried that it might provoke war with Mexico unless it was handled carefully and not rushed. Van Buren also questioned “immediate” annexation, while James K. Polk declared his support. Benton introduced a bill that would authorize the president to negotiate with both Texas and Mexico. In the subsequent debate Benton warned that the issue of slavery in Texas might ultimately lead some to advocate disunion. Van Buren’s position on Texas lost him the Democratic nomination for president. It went to Polk instead.
In November 1844 Polk was elected president and Benton was reelected to the senate. Texas was annexed. In June 1845 Jackson died. During 1845 and 1846 Benton continued to advocate the absorption of Oregon into the Union. The northern border of the Oregon Territory became an issue. Benton argued for a demarcation along the 49 degree line. Polk agreed and the final treaty was negotiated on that basis. Also in 1845 relations between the United States and Mexico deteriorated and eventually led to war in April 1846. At first reluctant to declare war on Mexico, Benton eventually cooperated with Polk in prosecuting the war. Benton was chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee and claimed to be the one who first suggested the plan for the southern campaign against Mexico City. In fact Benton wanted to lead it himself. John C. Fremont became involved in the conquest of California, during which he and Major General Stephan Kearny got into a serious disagreement and Fremont was court-martialed. Benton defended him during the court-martial proceedings, but he was found guilty on all charges and dismissed from the service. President Polk agreed that Fremont was guilty of insubordination, but offered to reinstate him in the army. Fremont refused and Benton was furious with the army and with the president. In January 1848 gold was discovered in California. During 1848 the senate debated the issue of governance in Oregon and California. Slavery quickly became an issue blocking agreement and Benton recommended that the citizens organize their own governments.
In November 1848 the Whig candidate, Zachary Taylor, was elected president. In January 1849 Benton proposed legislation that would create a national road from the Mississippi River to San Francisco Bay. At the same time a group of southern politicians led by John C. Calhoun prepared and signed the so-called Southern Address declaring that the Federal Government had no right to restrict slavery. Benton refused to sign. Within Missouri Benton was faced with severe opposition by pro-slavery advocates. In October 1849 Benton spoke at the St. Louis Railroad Convention in support of his National Road proposal. In the 1850 senatorial debates concerning the legal status of the new lands taken from Mexico, Benton supported President Taylor and opposed the Clay compromise. In the process he parted company with many Democrats and began to isolate himself politically. In January 1851 Benton was defeated and the Whig pro-slavery candidate, Henry S. Geyer, was elected to the Senate in his place. After his defeat, Benton started writing a book but also remained active in the Missouri political scene. On August 2, 1852, he was elected to the House of Representatives and took his seat in Washington in December 1853. In the spring of 1854 the first volume of Benton’s book, Thirty Years View, was published. It was criticized by many political leaders but well received by the public. It sold well and Benton made money on it.
Franklin Pierce was elected president in 1852. At first it was thought that Pierce might support Benton for Speaker of the House, but it did not happen. Benton continued to support his national road and to argue against the spread of slavery into territories where it had not previously existed. In April 1853 he asked Edward F. Beale to explore the feasibility of a railroad through Utah to California on his way to take up his duties as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in California. Benton’s position on slavery did not sit well with either pro-slavery advocates or abolitionists. Political fallout from the passage of the Nebraska-Kansas bill in 1854 further exacerbated the situation. He was defeated for reelection to the House that year. His wife, Elizabeth, died on September 10, 1854. In 1855 he ran for the senate, but no candidate was able to gain enough votes to be elected. Missouri left the seat vacant for two years. That same year a fire started in the chimney of his house burned all of his papers including the manuscript of the second volume of his book. he immediately set to work to rewrite the destroyed manuscript and in May 1856 he published the second volume. It was judged to be weaker than the first volume and did not sell as well. In 1856 the newly formed Republican Party nominated Charles Fremont for president. Benton supported the Democratic candidate James Buchanan and advised Fremont to reject the nomination. Benton was nominated for Governor of Missouri but lost in the election August 4, 1856. In the next few years Benton devoted himself to lecturing on the dangers of disunion. In 1857 Benton wrote an article attacking Chief Judge Taney opinion in the Dred Scott case. He continued to write to the very end. He died on April 10, 1858. He was buried in St. Louis on April 16, 1858.