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John Brooks Henderson
(November 16, 1826ĖApril 12, 1913)


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 railroads. 

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 in the 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.

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