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 byJames Whitfield
Succeeded byJohn J. Pettus
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
March 4, 1847 – January 8, 1852
Preceded byJoseph W. Chalmers
Succeeded byWalker Brooke
Personal details
Henry Stuart Foote

(1804-02-28)February 28, 1804
Fauquier County, Virginia, U.S.
DiedMay 19, 1880(1880-05-19) (aged 76)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Winters
Rachel (Boyd) Smiley
Alma materWashington College
ProfessionPolitician, lawyer

Henry Stuart Foote (February 28, 1804 – May 19, 1880) was a United States Senator from Mississippi and the chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 1847 to 1852. He was a Unionist Governor of Mississippi from 1852 to 1854, and an American Party supporter in California. During the American Civil War, he served in the First and Second Confederate Congresses. 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.

Early life[edit]

Henry S. Foote was born on February 28, 1804 in Fauquier County, Virginia.[1][2] He was the son of Richard Helm Foote and Catherine (Stuart) Foote. He pursued classical studies in 1819 and graduated from Washington College (now Washington and Lee University).[1][2] He later studied the Law and was admitted to the bar in 1822.[2]


Foote moved to Alabama in 1824, where he began his law practice in Tuscumbia.[1][2] He also established a Democratic newspaper.[1][2] He became a co-founder and trustee of LaGrange College, later known as the University of North Alabama. Shortly after, he moved to Mississippi, where he practiced law in the state capital, Jackson,[1] and in the river towns of Natchez, Vicksburg, and Raymond, which were centers of business associated with the cotton and slave trades.[3] He also visited the state of Texas and wrote a two-volume book about it.[citation needed]

Foote served as a Democratic Senator from 1847 to 1852.[1] He was the chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.[2] He played a key role in securing the Compromise of 1850.[1] 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[4] after Benton charged him.[5] 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.[4]

Foote defeated Jefferson Davis to succeed John A. Quitman as the Governor of Mississippi from 1852 to 1854.[1] He was elected on a Unionist platform at a time of increasing sectional tension.[1] It was the last Unionist ticket in Mississippi. Foote resigned and moved to California,[6] where he practiced the law in San Francisco and joined the American Party.[1][6] Foote was considered a leading candidate for United States Senate from California, but by the votes of every Democratic state senator, alongside abolitionist American Party state senator, Wilson G. Flint, the office went unfilled. He campaigned for the FillmoreDonelson ticket in the 1856 presidential campaign.[6]

American Civil War[edit]

Henry S. Foote, c. 1860

On the eve of the American Civil War of 1861–1865, Foote returned to Vicksburg. In 1859, he was a member of the Southern convention held in Knoxville. He moved to Tennessee and settled in Nashville, where he was elected to the First and Second Confederate Congresses.[2] As a member of the Confederate House of Representatives, he often harshly criticized the war policies of the Confederate President Jefferson Davis.[2] In one debate, he verbally attacked the Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin, and expressed virulent antisemitism.[7][8]

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.[3]

Postbellum career[edit]

After the war, Foote returned to Nashville, Tennessee, where he practiced law.[9] He was also a frequent visitor to Washington, D.C.[9] He joined the Republican Party in 1875, and he attended the 1876 Republican National Convention.[9] He published two memoirs and a history of the law in the region. He was the appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes to serve as the Superintendent of the New Orleans Mint from 1878 to 1880.[2][9]

Personal life and death[edit]

Old Central

Foote was married twice. With his first wife, Elizabeth Winters, he had two sons and three daughters.[1] His son Henry S. Foote Jr. served in the Confederate States Army and later as a superior court judge in California.[6] His other son, W. W. Foote, also served in the CSA and ran for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat from California in 1892.[6] One of his daughters married Nevada Senator William Morris Stewart.[6]

Foote had a third son with his second wife,[1] Rachel Douglas Boyd Smiley.[3] They briefly resided at Old Central in West Nashville, a house built in 1858 on land she had inherited from her grandfather, John Boyd, a congressman for the Republic of Texas.[3] The land and house later became property of Vanderbilt University, where it still stands today.[3] His third son moved to California.[6]

Foote died on May 19, 1880 in Nashville, Tennessee.[1] He was buried in the Smiley family plot at the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.[9][10] His second wife Rachel died in 1882.[11]


  • 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).
  • War of the Rebellion (1866).
  • Casket of Reminiscences (1874).
  • The Bench and Bar of the South and Southwest (1876).


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "The Bar's Tribute. Resolutions Concerning the Death of Henry S. Foote". The Daily American. Nashville, Tennessee. May 21, 1880. p. 2. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Henry S. Foote". The Daily Chronicle. Knoxville, Tennessee. May 21, 1880. p. 2. Retrieved April 23, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
  3. ^ a b c d e Bill Carey, Old Central built by former governor who slugged Jefferson Davis, Vanderbilt Register, April 08, 2002
  4. ^ a b Coleman, James P. "Two Irascible Antebellum Senators: George Poindexter and Henry S. Foote," Journal of Mississippi History 46 (February 1984): 17-27
  5. ^ "Incidents of American politics during the Great Struggle". The Week : A Canadian Journal of Politics, Literature, Science and Arts. 1 (10): 156. February 7, 1884. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Carter, John D. (May 1943). "Henry Stuart Foote in California Politics, 1854-1857". The Journal of Southern History. 9 (2): 224–237. doi:10.2307/2191800. JSTOR 2191800.
  7. ^ 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,
  8. ^ Eli Evans, Judah Benjamin, The Jewish Confederate, Chapter 34, excerpted at The American Jewish Historical Society, accessed July 23, 2008
  9. ^ a b c d e Gonzales, John Edmond (September 1960). "Henry Stuart Foote: A Republican Appointee in Louisiana". Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association. 1 (2): 137–146. JSTOR 4230559.
  10. ^ "FOOTE, Henry Stuart, (1804 - 1880)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
  11. ^ "News Notes". The Charlotte Observer. Charlotte, North Carolina. January 19, 1882. p. 4. Retrieved April 24, 2018 – via Newspapers.com. Mrs Rachel D. Foote, widow of the late ex-Gov. Henry S. Foote, died near Nashville, Tenn., on the evening of January 9, at the residence of her son, Robert G. Smiley.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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]

Party political offices
First Unionist nominee for Governor of Mississippi
Succeeded by
U.S. 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