The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XV. Publicists and Orators, 1800–1850

§ 27. Thomas H. Benton; His Westernism

More than a word should be given to Thomas H. Benton (1782–1858), if the real importance of his work be given proper recognition; but we must content ourselves with a brief statement. For over thirty years, from the time of the Missouri Compromise until almost the outbreak of the Civil War, he was prominent in public life, an active, untiring representative of the active, untiring West. No man, not even Clay or Jackson or Lincoln, better typified the young, self-confident Western democracy; he represented the West of his day not only in the measures he advocated and the principles he followed, but in his very manner of speech—earnest, assured, buoyant, boastful, idealistic. If one would know America and its differences, how training and environment have affected oratory as well as views of public policy, one could get no better lesson than by comparing the full-blooded oratory of Benton with the acrid speech of Josiah Quincy or the polite eloquence of Everett. After Benton’s retirement from Congress, he prepared and published his Thirty Years’ View, a political history of the decades between 1820 and 1850 written from the viewpoint of an actor in the scenes described, with copious extracts from his own speeches and without special care to diminish the importance of his own influence. After this, though he was now past threescore and ten, he prepared his Abridgment of the Debates of Congress from 1787 to 1856, the last sentences of which he is said to have dictated in whispers from his deathbed.