Henry S. Foote

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Henry S. Foote
Henry S. Foote Brady 1849.jpg
19th Governor of Mississippi
In office
January 10, 1852 – January 5, 1854
Preceded by James Whitfield
Succeeded by John J. Pettus
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
March 4, 1847 – January 8, 1852
Preceded by Joseph W. Chalmers
Succeeded by Walker Brooke
Personal details
Born Henry Stuart Foote
(1804-02-28)February 28, 1804
Fauquier County, Virginia
Died May 20, 1880(1880-05-20) (aged 76)
Nashville, Tennessee
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Winters
Rachel (Boyd) Smiley
Alma mater Washington College
Profession Politician, Lawyer

Henry Stuart Foote (February 28, 1804 – May 20, 1880) was a United States Senator from Mississippi from 1847 to 1852 and elected on a Unionist ticket as Governor of Mississippi from 1852 to 1854. His strong leadership on the Senate floor helped secure passage of the Compromise of 1850, which for a time averted a civil war in the United States.

A practicing attorney, he published two memoirs related to the Civil War years, as well as a book on Texas prior to its annexation, and a postwar book on the legal profession and courts in the South.


Henry S. Foote, the son of Richard Helm Foote and Catherine (Stuart) Foote, was born in Fauquier County, Virginia. He pursued classical studies in 1819 and graduated from Washington College (now Washington and Lee University). He later "read the law" and was admitted to the bar in 1823.

In 1825 he moved to the developing territory of Alabama, where he began his law practice in Tuscumbia in the northern part of the present-day state. Foote established a newspaper, and frequently lent books from his personal library. He was one of 21 local trustees who in 1830 founded LaGrange College, now the University of North Alabama. LaGrange was the first college founded in Alabama to gain a charter from the state legislature.

Foote moved to Mississippi, where he practiced law in the state capital, Jackson, and in the river towns of Natchez, Vicksburg, and Raymond, which were centers of business associated with the cotton and slave trades.

After visiting Texas, Foote wrote the two-volume Texas and the Texans; or, Advance of the Anglo-Americans to the South-west; Including a History of Leading Events in Mexico, from the Conquest by Fernando Cortes to the Termination of the Texan Revolution (1841).

United States Senate[edit]

Foote was elected by the Mississippi legislature as a Democrat to the United States Senate, where he played a key role in securing the Compromise of 1850. During Senate debates over the projected compromise resolutions, Thomas Hart Benton refused to support the compromise and became enraged by Foote's verbal attacks. According to the historian James Coleman, during heated Senate debates over the projected compromise resolutions, Foote drew a pistol on Benton[1] after Benton charged him.[2] Other members wrestled Foote to the floor; they took the gun away and locked it in a drawer. The incident created an uproar that prompted an investigation by a Senate committee.[1]

Foote served in the Senate from March 4, 1847, until January 8, 1852, when he resigned to become governor after defeating Jefferson Davis in the election of 1851. Foote was elected on a Unionist platform at a time of increasing sectional tension. It was the last Unionist ticket in Mississippi. Because of Foote's distress with rising anti-Union fervor in Mississippi, in 1854 after his term as governor, he moved to California.

Civil War[edit]

Henry S. Foote, c. 1860

On the eve of the Civil War, Foote returned to Vicksburg. In 1859 he was a member of the Southern convention held at Knoxville. He moved to Tennessee and settled at Nashville, where he was elected to the First and Second Confederate Congresses.

As a member of the Confederate House of Representatives, he criticized the war policies of the Confederate President Davis. In one debate, he verbally attacked the Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin, and expressed virulent antisemitism.[3][4]

Early in 1865, Foote attempted to cross to Union lines and travel to Washington, D.C., but was arrested by Confederates before he could do so. The Confederate House of Representatives voted on January 24, 1865, to expel him, but the vote failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority. Later, he was appointed a Mississippi Commissioner for Confederate POWs being held by the North (his own son among them).

He resigned from office in 1865 and moved to Washington, where he sought a meeting with President Lincoln but was refused. Given the choice of leaving the United States or being sent back to the Confederacy, Foote fled to Canada and later to London. There he started writing a memoir of the war years.

Vanderbilt University[edit]

Old Central

The only building on the Vanderbilt University campus that pre-dates the school is Old Central, the residential structure attached to what is now Benson Hall. Old Central used to be Henry Foote's home.

In the late 1850s, Foote moved to Tennessee and married a widow named Rachel Douglas Boyd Smiley. Smiley had inherited land west of Nashville from her grandfather John Boyd, property that is currently the part of the Vanderbilt campus north and east of where Sarratt Student Center now sits. Around 1859, Foote and his new wife built a home on the property. However, Foote and his bride didn't live there long. Two years after the house was built, war broke out and Foote was elected to be one of Tennessee's representatives in the Confederate Congress.

By the time Bishop Holland McTyeire picked the West End site for the Vanderbilt campus, Foote and his wife no longer owned it. After Vanderbilt University was organized, the house Foote had built became a home first for Bishop and Mrs. McTyeire, then for Vanderbilt faculty members.[5]

Later life[edit]

After the war, in 1865, Foote returned to the US and settled in Washington, D.C. He practiced law and joined the Republican Party.

He published two memoirs, War of the Rebellion (1866), written mostly during his time in London, and the later Casket of Reminiscences (1874). He also compiled and published The Bench and Bar of the South and Southwest (1876), a history of the law in the region.

Appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes as superintendent of the New Orleans Mint, Foote served there from 1878 to 1880. He returned to Nashville, where he died that year. He was interred in his wife's Mt. Olivet Cemetery plot in an unmarked grave.


  1. ^ a b Coleman, James P. "Two Irascible Antebellum Senators: George Poindexter and Henry S. Foote," Journal of Mississippi History 46 (February 1984): 17-27
  2. ^ "Incidents of American politics during the Great Struggle". The Week : a Canadian journal of politics, literature, science and arts 1 (10): 156. 7 Feb 1884. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  3. ^ Herbert T. Ezekiel and Gaston Lichtenstein, "The Brains of the Confederacy", excerpt from The History of the Jews of Richmond from 1769 to 1917, 1917, p. 166, at Jewish-History.com,
  4. ^ Eli Evans, Judah Benjamin, The Jewish Confederate, Chapter 34, excerpted at The American Jewish Historical Society, accessed July 23, 2008
  5. ^ http://www.vanderbilt.edu/News/register/Apr08_02/story12.html
  • Coleman, James P. "Two Irascible Antebellum Senators: George Poindexter and Henry S. Foote." Journal of Mississippi History 46 (February 1984): 17-27.
  • Evans, Eli N. Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate, New York: The Free Press, 1988
  • Ezekiel, Herbert T. and Gaston Lichtenstein, The History of the Jews of Richmond from 1769 to 1917, 1917
  • Gonzales, John Edmond. "Henry Stuart Foote: Confederate Congressman and Exile," Civil War History 11 (December 1965): 384-95.

External links[edit]

United States Senate
Preceded by
Joseph W. Chalmers
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Mississippi
March 4, 1847 – January 8, 1852
Served alongside: Jesse Speight, Jefferson Davis and John J. McRae
Succeeded by
Walker Brooke
Political offices
Preceded by
James Whitfield
Governor of Mississippi
January 10, 1852 – January 5, 1854
Succeeded by
John J. Pettus
Confederate States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Member of the C.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee

February 18, 1862 – January 24, 1865
Succeeded by