KBIA’s Ryan Famuliner takes a look at the long history behind one of Missouri’s Senate seats, the race for which has grabbed national attention as Todd Akin and Claire McCaskill continue to campaign for the office.
I’ve heard a number of comments about a commentary KBIA aired on Talking Politics this week, so I thought it was worth sharing here. Columbia College’s Terry Smith wrote this commentary on the fascinating history of Harry Truman’s Senate seat, which happens to be the same seat Todd Akin is attempting to take from Claire McCaskill. The commentary is really worth a read or listen – it gives the long-angle look at the role this seat has played in some of the biggest political news stories in Missouri’s history – and thoughts on how things might be different if two planes hadn’t crashed.
As Terry noted in his commentary, though, that’s just the contemporary history of the seat. I was curious about the deeper history of this seat, and did some research. It didn’t disappoint.
If you want to get technical, the seat is probably Thomas Hart Benton’s to claim. He was the first Senator to serve in the seat, and did so for 30 years. While that’s notable enough, Benton is inarguably one of the most influential Missouri politicians in history, and two U.S. Presidents even wrote biographies of the guy.
But the fascinating details in the early American and Missouri history of this seat continued after Benton. The next man to fill the seat was Henry S. Geyer. Of note – he was the attorney for the slave owner in the Dred Scott case – the verdict in the case was issued two days after Geyer left office. He was succeeded by Trustan Polk, a former Missouri Governor who was eventually expelled from the U.S. Senate for his support of the South in the American Civil war. He became a Colonel in the Confederate Army.
Polk’s successor: John B. Henderson. He was the co-author and co-sponsor of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery in 1865. Henderson’s successor: Carl Schurz, an influential German-born Senator who was also a Union Army General during the Civil War. And Schurz’s successor: Francis Cockrell, who was able to win the seat in March 1875 despite his past as a Confederate Colonel in the Civil War. He matched Benton’s tenure, staying in his seat until he retired in 1905. In 1911, James A. Reed was elected. Historians say the former Mayor of Kansas City had very close connections to the Pendergast family, and some call him the first hand-picked mayor of the “Pendergast Machine” in 1900. And of course, in 1935, Harry Truman won the seat, and many credit the Pendergasts for that rise as well. Truman even attended Tom Pendergast’s funeral a few days after he became Vice President.
Finally, if you’re interested in things coming full circle, Thomas Hart Benton painted a mural at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. He agreed to start it 100 years after the death of his namesake - his great uncle, Thomas Hart Benton.