Henry S. Foote, Governor, U.S. Senator

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Henry Stuart Foote

Birthplace: Fauquier, Fauquier County, VA, United States
Death: May 20, 1880 (76)
Nashville, TN, United States
Place of Burial: Nashville, Tennessee, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Richard Helm Foote and Jane Foote
Husband of Rachel Douglas Foote and Elizabeth Foote
Father of Virginia Cecilia Aldrich; Jane C. Carneal; Ann Elizabeth Stewart; Isabella Wood; Henry Stuart Foote, Jr. and 2 others
Brother of Celia Jane Stuart Hord; George William Foote; Sarah Catherine Hereford and Richard Foote

Occupation: statesman
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Henry S. Foote, Governor, U.S. Senator




Henry Stuart Foote (February 28, 1804 – May 20, 1880) was a United States Senator from Mississippi from 1847 to 1852 and Governor of Mississippi from 1852 to 1854. His emotional 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.


Henry S. Foote was born in Fauquier County, Virginia. He pursued classical studies in 1819 but did not graduate from Washington College (now Washington and Lee University), to his regret. He later studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1823, and commenced practice in Tuscumbia, Alabama, in 1825. In Tuscumbia, Foote established a newspaper, frequently lent books from his personal library, and was one of 21 local trustees who founded in 1830 LaGrange College, now the University of North Alabama. LaGrange was the first college to open its doors in Alabama and gain a charter from the state legislature.

Foote moved to Mississippi and practiced law in Jackson, Natchez, Vicksburg, and Raymond. After visiting Texas, he 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

Foote was elected 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, he drew a pistol on Senator Thomas Hart Benton.[citation needed] He was wrestled to the floor; the gun was taken from his hands and locked in a drawer. The incident created a brouhaha that required investigation by a Senate committee.

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. Because of Foote's distress with rising anti-Union fervor in Mississippi, he moved to California in 1854 after his term as governor.

Civil War

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 mercilessly assailed Confederate President Davis's war policies, and in one debate attacked Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin, displaying virulent antisemitism.

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 moved to Washington and sought a meeting with President Lincoln but was refused. Given the choice of leaving the country or being sent back to the Confederacy, Foote fled again, first to Canada and later to London.

Later life

After Robert E. Lee's surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, Foote moved to Washington, D.C., and practiced law. He wrote two memoirs, War of the Rebellion (1866) and Casket of Reminiscences (1874), and compiled The Bench and Bar of the South and Southwest (1876). Appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes as superintendent of the New Orleans Mint, Foote served there from 1878 to 1880. He died in Nashville and was interred in his wife's Mt. Olivet Cemetery plot in an unmarked grave.




Henry Stuart Foote was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, on 28 February 1804. He graduated from Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia, in 1819, studied law, and migrated to Mississippi in the 1826, settling in Vicksburg and becoming active in state politics. He was noted for regularly changing political affiliations, earning the moniker Colonel Weathercock. Like many political figures in his day, Foote affected a number of characteristics of the planter elite, including taking on the title Colonel and engaging in “affairs of honor,” most notably in two shootouts with Sargent S. Prentiss.

Beginning in 1847, he represented Mississippi in the US Senate, serving until 1852, when he resigned to become governor. Foote was a staunch advocate of slavery, employing his oratorical skill to deliver several memorable addresses on the subject, including one in Congress in which he warned that abolitionists might meet the noose in Mississippi. His fire-eating oratory earned him yet another moniker, Hangman Foote, which he proudly kept.

Nevertheless, Foote did not truly fit the mold of the extreme secessionists. During the Crisis of 1850 Foote actively worked to find a solution and was instrumental in hammering out the details of what became the Compromise of 1850. As partisan lines in Mississippi collapsed and reformed into states’ rights and Unionist camps, Foote fell firmly into the Unionist group. When Foote returned home, the states’ rights Mississippi legislature censured his actions. Foote defended his position by running for governor against Jefferson Davis in 1851, winning handily and considering his efforts vindicated. Within two years, support for Unionists had weakened considerably, and in January 1854 Foote resigned the governorship, departing for California.

Foote subsequently became involved in Know-Nothing circles, but his proslavery past prevented him from winning office in California. By the late 1850s he had settled in Nashville, Tennessee. He campaigned against secession, but after Tennessee left the Union, he was elected to the Confederate Congress. He used his position as a soapbox to criticize the Davis administration. In 1863 Foote fled to the North, attempting to negotiate a peace settlement, but he was unwelcome there and went into exile in England and later Canada.

After the Civil War Foote continued his attempts to match his earlier political successes. He worked with Horace Greeley and Carl Schurz to garner southern support for the Liberal Democrats in the 1872 presidential election, but the movement developed little momentum. In 1876 he endorsed the Republican ticket and was rewarded with the directorship of the New Orleans mint. He authored four books, The Bench and the Bar of the South and South-West, Texas and the Texans, The Civil War, and Casket of Reminiscences. Henry Foote died in Nashville on 20 May 1880.

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Henry S. Foote, Governor, U.S. Senator's Timeline

February 28, 1804
Fauquier, Fauquier County, VA, United States
Alabama, United States
June 8, 1836
October 13, 1841
Raymond, Hinds County, Mississippi, United States
January 16, 1846
Jackson, Hinds County, MS, United States
May 20, 1880
Age 76
Nashville, TN, United States