When he returned to Washington, DC, Benton plunged back into his job. He attempted to represent a variety of local interests within Missouri such as the fur trade, men who wanted the old Spanish land titles approved, and the lead mining industry. He also introduced legislation that would decrease the sales price of public land the longer it remained unsold.
As the 1824 election approached, Benton became involved in the presidential campaign. He initially supported Henry Clay, a cousin by marriage. After Clay was eliminated from the race, Benton decided to support Andrew Jackson. While he and Jackson had resolved their differences by this time, Benton also recognized Jackson’s popularity in Missouri. Although Jackson lost to John Quincy Adams, Benton helped him win the presidential election four years later.
Benton represented Jackson’s interests on the floor of the Senate. The pair worked tirelessly on banking reforms, and many attribute the success of Jackson’s presidency to Benton. During the 1830s Jackson supported Benton as he fought for hard money
Hard money is currency that gets its value from the costly material of which it is made. Gold and silver coins, for example, are a type of hard money. In contrast, soft money is made of cheap materials, like paper, and its value is assigned by the government that issues it and validated by the public's faith in it. In the early years of the United States, paper money known as Continentals were issued, but their value collapsed during the Revolutionary War, and many Americans lost faith in soft money. Only hard money in the form of gold and silver coins was used as official currency in America for many years after this, but paper bank notes that could be exchanged for a certain amount of hard money were also issued by private and state banks. These notes were often used like a form of currency. From 1791 to 1811 and 1816 to 1841, the Bank of the United States issued notes backed by the U.S. government and exercised significant control over the nation's banking system. Many people opposed this role for the bank. During the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson and his supporters, such as Missouri's longtime U.S. senator, Thomas Hart Benton, fought to destroy the bank and promoted a hard money policy. They restricted the use of bank notes and only allowed hard money to be used in the purchase of government-owned lands. Jackson won his battle against the bank. Its charter was allowed to expire in 1841. While private and state banks continued to issue bank notes intended to be used at the local and state levels, no national paper currency existed in the United States until the Civil War era.
in the form of gold and silver coins instead of paper money and bank notes. Benton’s stance on currency earned him the nickname “Old Bullion.”
This painting by George A. Crofutt shows an allegorical female figure leading pioneers and railroads westward.
[Courtesy of the Library of Congress]
In the 1840s the status of the Oregon Territory became an important issue. Benton did not voice any strong opinions on the matter until May 1846 when he spent three days addressing “The Oregon Question.” He continued to believe in westward expansion, more commonly called Manifest Destiny, and set out to show “the true extent and nature of our territorial claims beyond the Rocky Mountains.” At the end of his final speech, Benton moved to reintroduce a bill to declare the Oregon Territory under U.S. rule. He had first presented the bill in a secret session of Congress in 1828. The area, also claimed by Great Britain, eventually became a U.S. territory in 1848.