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John Quincy Adams
The son of former President John Adams and his wife, Abigail, John Quincy Adams was groomed from a young age for a political career. His education was overseen by his parents, who also instilled in young Adams a Puritan morality that would inform his political decisions in adulthood. Despite the privileges of his upbringing, feelings of inadequacy and a fear of failure plagued Adams. These qualities did not impede his progress as a statesman and he served as a U.S. senator, as president, as a member of the House of Representatives, and as an ambassador abroad.

Until his father’s death, Adams maintained a close relationship with the elder Adams, whose approval he constantly sought. When, while serving in the U.S. Senate for Massachusetts, Adams found himself alone because of his ideals, he took comfort in the fact that his parents never abandoned him. Their support seemed to validate Adams’ determination to pursue what he believed was best for the country, regardless of party and constituent pressures.

After creating controversy in the Senate, Adams resigned before he could be ousted. Later, however, he served as president from 1825 to 1829. He had earned the respect of the people of Massachusetts, who asked that he run for a seat in the House of Representatives. He agreed to do so only under the conditions that he do no campaigning and that he serve according to his own conscience, not as an extension of a party or of his constituents. He won overwhelmingly, and served in the House until his death.

Thomas Hart Benton
A ‘‘rough and tumble fighter off and on the Senate floor,’’ Thomas Hart Benton had a reputation as a man who would not shrink from a fight and who usually won. As Missouri’s first senator, Benton served from 1821 to 1844. He was extremely popular with his constituents and never had any worries about being re-elected. When Missouri, a slaveholding state, started to lean toward joining the southern states in the plan to secede, Benton would not hear of it. Above all, he valued the Union, a stance he would hold so firmly that it would ultimately cost him his Senate seat. His position was also weakened by his refusal to debate slavery on the Senate floor because he assumed that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (which brought Missouri into the Union) had taken care of that issue for his state.

After being replaced in the Senate, Benton returned to Congress as St. Louis’ representative in the House. Even though he knew it would cost him re-election, he delivered an impassioned speech against the Kansas-Nebraska Bill (which permitted slavery in the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska as a concession to the South) that his party supported. He was not re-elected, and his future attempts to win senatorial and gubernatorial elections failed. Despite his failed political career, he managed to accomplish the one thing that meant the most to him: Missouri did not join the secessionist states.

Benton had been a strong proponent of opening the West, playing a pivotal role in the development of the Pony Express, the telegraph line, and highways into major cities. He had only completed one year of college but prided himself on his ability to remember most of the books he read. When a fellow senator got confused about a name or date, Benton took great pleasure in locating the fact in a book and sending the information to his colleague. Benton also thrived on learning from people from diverse backgrounds.

Sam Houston
Sam Houston’s background was colorful and adventure-filled. As...

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a boy, he ran away from his Tennessee home and joined the Cherokee Indians, who adopted him. He later re-entered white society in Tennessee, becoming governor. He served until his sudden resignation after discovering that his new bride was in love with another man. Houston returned to the Cherokees until Andrew Jackson, Houston’s commander during the War of 1812, sent him to Texas on a military mission. There Houston began a new life.

Houston was the first president of Texas when it was an independent republic, and later became Texas’ first U.S. senator. Although he came from a slave-holding state, he opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. This bill overturned the Missouri Compromise, which had banned slavery from the territory that became Kansas and Nebraska. To Houston, the Missouri Compromise was sacred, and he believed in preserving the Union above all. Although he was a Southerner by ‘‘birth, residence, loyalty, and philosophy,’’ his first priority was to his country. He was a forceful, outspoken, and independent figure in the Senate; an ambitious and principled man who ultimately sacrificed his political career for his beliefs.

After losing his seat in the Senate, Houston returned to Texas and became governor. When Texas chose to secede, however, Houston could no longer be a part of Texas politics. He resigned, refusing to let Texas separate from the Union.

Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar
Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar of Mississippi was an eloquent speaker who abandoned his hatred for the North in favor of reconciliation and unity. He surprised his fellow congressmen when, in 1874, he delivered a moving speech lamenting the death of Charles Sumner, a man who had been an enemy of the South, which Lamar loved so dearly. This speech demonstrated Lamar’s deep commitment to mending the relationship between the North and the South although his constituents did not all see his point of view. There were other instances of Lamar conflicting directly with the people of his state, but Lamar followed his conscience and sense of right rather than the tide of public sentiment. Ultimately, the people of Mississippi came to respect and support him throughout a long political career. He served as a U.S. senator, as chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, as secretary of the Interior, and as a justice on the United States Supreme Court.

Lamar had a relatively happy childhood on a plantation although he grew up without his father, who committed suicide when Lamar was young. Lamar showed an early interest in and aptitude for studying, and his love of books stayed with him throughout his life.

George Norris
George Norris’ acts of courage did not always lead to success, but he never regretted following the dictates of his own sense of morality. Not only did Norris act courageously in the face of political opposition, he also displayed courage when he made choices that conflicted with his constituency. He held a filibuster against Woodrow Wilson, who wanted to arm American merchant ships. The filibuster succeeded temporarily; then, Wilson discovered that he did not need congressional approval after all. Norris’ efforts, however, caused dissent at home in Nebraska, and he addressed his public in an eloquent speech that soon won over the voters of the state. Norris also backed an unpopular presidential candidate in 1928. Although Norris seemed to be the only person in Nebraska campaigning for Al Smith, he did so tirelessly. Smith was beaten handily by Herbert Hoover.

Norris had a difficult childhood. His father died when he was young, and Norris worked to support his mother and ten sisters when he was only a teenager. As an adult, he pursued careers in teaching and law before entering the political arena. As a politician, he was idealistic, independent, and willing to fight for his beliefs. He could also be emotional and vindictive, sometimes engaging in personal attacks rather than focusing on the issues. He usually conducted himself professionally, however. He was known for his honesty, mild manners, and preference for staying home and reading instead of engaging in Washington social life.

Edmund G. Ross
Edmund G. Ross entered the U.S. Senate as an undistinguished freshman but left as an outcast. He shocked his party members by thinking for himself and voting as he saw fit. When Ross became a senator, he found that a war was being waged between the legislative and executive branches of the government. Further, the Radical Republicans (a faction of the Republican Party) had plans to get rid of President Johnson by impeaching him. They succeeded in impeaching Johnson and went on to the conviction phase of the trial, believing that they had the necessary votes to convict the president.

Although Ross had agreed with Radical Republican policies for much of his term in office, he shocked the party by voting against conviction. He did not believe that Johnson was given a fair trial, so he could not in good conscience vote for his removal from office. This was a pivotal vote because party leaders had counted on it, and without it they lacked the number of votes needed. As a result, Johnson finished out his term, and Ross’ political career came to an end with the next election.

Twenty years later, Ross’ reputation was redeemed when the act under which the Radical Republicans had attempted to convict Johnson was repealed. At that time, Ross was seen as a visionary and man of justice.

Robert A. Taft

The son of President William Taft, Robert A. Taft harbored his own ambitions to become president. He was respected as a man who voiced his opinions and stuck by his principles, regardless of adversity. Kennedy notes, ‘‘Examples of his candor are endless and startling.’’ One example was in 1946, a month before the elections. Taft’s party, the Republicans, expected to win valuable seats, and they looked forward to this time with great optimism. When Taft learned about the Nuremberg trials, he became incensed. He did not believe that the Nazi war criminals were innocent of wrongdoing, he believed that the trials themselves—and the strict death penalties that came with guilty verdicts— were unjust. Taft wondered how the Nazis could have known that they would be subject to a trial by the rest of the world, a trial in which they could lose their lives. These crimes had never been formally recognized in international law. Although there was no occasion for Congress to address this matter, Taft felt he had to speak out against the trials.

For his denouncement of the trials, Taft’s constituents and party members criticized him. The latter feared that this brash act would cost the Republicans in the upcoming elections. Meanwhile, the Democrats delighted in the scandal that ensued and hoped that this event would sway voters’ opinions their way. Taft was disappointed in the harsh criticism he endured, but when the time came for elections, his speech seemed to have no impact on voter behavior. The Republicans swept the election after the frenzy calmed down. Even after experiencing the consequences of his decision, Taft did not regret voicing his opinion.

Daniel Webster

Daniel Webster, a leading critic of slavery, was approached by Henry Clay with his idea for a compromise between the slave-holding and free states. Both senators knew the compromise would come under attack from both sides, but they also knew it might be the last hope of preventing southern states from seceding. Despite his objections to slavery, Webster agreed to give Clay his support, and even delivered a controversial speech for what became known as the Missouri Compromise. Although his actions succeeded for a time in preventing secession, they came at great personal sacrifice. Webster had to let go of his dream of ever becoming president of the United States.

Webster was known for his speaking abilities. Kennedy writes, ‘‘A very slow speaker, hardly averaging a hundred words a minute, Webster combined the musical charm of his deep organ-like voice, a vivid imagination, an ability to crush his opponents with a barrage of facts.’’ While Kennedy acknowledges Webster’s amazing skill as an orator, he also notes that Webster was a flawed man who saw nothing wrong with accepting money and gifts as political favors. Although his moral character may have been questionable, Webster was responsible, according to Kennedy, for temporarily holding the United States together at a time when the Union was very fragile.




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