John B. Henderson
was a U.S. senator from Missouri who in January 1864 introduced
into Congress an abolitionist proposal that helped lay the
foundation for the Thirteenth Amendment. He was born in
Danville, Virginia, on November 16, 1826, to Jane Dawson
Henderson and James Henderson. In 1832, the family moved to
Lincoln County, Missouri. After being orphaned before his tenth
birthday, he worked for a local farmer while attending the
common schools. At the age of 15, he began teaching school and
reading law. In 1848, he was admitted to the state bar,
established a legal practice in Louisiana, Missouri, and was
elected as a Democrat to the Missouri House of Representatives.
He lost three congressional races (1850, 1858, and 1860), but
served again in the State House in 1857-1858. Meanwhile, he
became wealthy through his expanding law practice and
investments in real estate, banks, and road construction.
Henderson was a slaveowner, but stood against its expansion
into the Western territories. He was a presidential elector for
Democrat James Buchanan in 1856, but afterward opposed the
presidentís support of the pro-slavery faction in the Kansas
Territory. In 1860, Henderson was a delegate and then a
presidential elector for (Northern) Democrat Stephen Douglas.
In early 1861, Henderson served as a Unionist delegate to a
state convention that rejected secession, and organized a Union
militia unit with which he saw brief action as a brigadier
general. In January 1862, he was named by the Missouri governor
to complete the term of U.S. Senator Trusten Polk, who was
expelled for supporting the Confederacy. Later that year,
Henderson won election to a full Senate term.
In 1861-1862, Henderson supported President Abraham Lincolnís
push for compensated emancipation, and in 1863 endorsed Governor
Hamilton Gambleís plan for uncompensated, gradual
emancipation (by 1870). Within a few months, though, Henderson
embraced the idea of immediate emancipation. In January 1864 he
submitted a joint congressional resolution for an abolition
amendment. It was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee,
which began drafting from the various proposals what would
become the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865. When Radical
Republicans came to power in Missouri in late 1864, he
cooperated with them to see that the state adopted a new
constitution in January 1865, which included immediate,
uncompensated emancipation. He also began identifying himself
as a Republican.
Henderson usually backed Lincoln administration policies, but
voted for Wade-Davis, the more stringent congressional plan for
Reconstruction pocket-vetoed by the president in July 1864. He
also sided with Radical Republicans against Lincolnís successor,
President Andrew Johnson, by voting for the Freedmenís Bureau
Act and Civil Rights Act of 1866. That year, he defended before
the U.S. Supreme Court a Missouriís state law requiring clergy
to swear past and future loyalty to the Union, but lost a 5-4
decision (Cummings v. Missouri) in 1867. He tried to
strengthen the Fourteenth Amendment (1868), which defined
national citizenship to include blacks, through an unsuccessful
effort to add a provision for voting rights (later incorporated
in the Fifteenth Amendment, 1870). As chairman of the Senate
Committee on Indian Affairs, he promoted expansion of the
reservation system, and helped negotiate treaties in 1867 as a
member of a federal Indian peace commission.
Although Henderson voted in 1867 for the Tenure of Office
Act, he voted the next year against the removal of
Andrew Johnson from the presidency. That decision
made him very unpopular in Missouri. Later that year, the state
legislature refused to elect him to a second term in the U.S.
Senate, selecting Radical Republican Carl Schurz, instead. Also
in 1868, Henderson married Mary Newton Foote and moved to St.
Louis; they later had one child. He supported his wifeís
efforts on behalf of womenís rights, and invested profitably in
1872, Henderson lost a race as the Republican gubernatorial
nominee, and was the GOPís unsuccessful U.S. senatorial
candidate in the state legislature early the next year. In
1875, President Ulysses S. Grant named him a special prosecutor
Whiskey Ring case, but soon removed him for
making disparaging remarks. Henderson presided at the 1884
Republican National Convention. In 1889, he retired from law
and moved with his wife to Washington, D.C., where they invested
in the real estate development of ďEmbassy Row.Ē He led the
U.S. delegation at the Pan-American Congress in 1889-1890, and
was a regent at the Smithsonian Institution, 1892-1911. John B.
Henderson died in Washington, D.C., on April 12, 1913.