Louisiana prepares to remember a century-gone senator

This mural on an outer wall at the Bank of Louisiana in Louisiana, Mo., commemorates John Brooks Hendersonís involvement with the 13th Amendment, his friendship with Abraham Lincoln, and the time he spent working and living in Louisiana.
Posted: Dec. 3, 2012 3:57 pm Updated: Dec. 18, 2012 1:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

LOUISIANA Mo. -- John Brooks Henderson left a national legacy when he co-authored the constitutional amendment to abolish slavery in the United States.

Henderson's local legacy is more muted.

For most of his life, the U.S. senator maintained a law office and home in Louisiana, Mo. In 1850, he worked as city clerk for the city of Louisiana at a salary of $50, and he was one of the original stockholders of the Bank of Louisiana. Later, his family donated the land for Riverview Park near Main Street.

As the Civil War began, Henderson served at the state constitutional convention to determine whether Missouri should secede from the Union. Later he organized a brigade of Union-supporting state troops and served as a brigadier general of the militia.

As moviegoers have packed theaters to see the new movie "Lincoln," they've witnessed the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment. Northeast Missouri resident Brent Engle hopes the region and the country will remember Henderson, who collaborated with Abraham Lincoln to purge the country of slavery.

Henderson supported Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation, which ordered freedom for every slave in Confederate territory. As early as 1862, Henderson presented ideas for compensated but gradual abolishment of slavery. Through this project, he formed a close friendship with Lincoln. Even though Henderson owned slaves, he presented the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Senate, and it became law in 1865.

"It's just like our Founding Fathers," Engle said. "They put things into the Constitution that were absolutely brilliant, but they had faults of their own."

April 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of Henderson's death, and Engle -- along with local historian and journalist, Betty Allen -- intends to generate awareness of Henderson's legacy and his Louisiana connection. Although a plaque commemorates Henderson in Riverview Park and the Bank of Louisiana sports a mural in his honor, Allen said few people in the area understand the impact he had on American history.

"When it's somebody in your own backyard, and really in your own backyard, it should catch your attention," Allen said.

Engle admired Henderson's ability to see the morality of the slavery issue and his boldness in pursuing an amendment to the Constitution.

"Nobody wanted to touch the Constitution," he said. "It was considered a sacred document."

Henderson also gained notoriety for being one of seven Republicans who voted with the Democrats against the impeachment of President Andrew Jackson. Allen applauded Henderson's integrity and his willingness to go against his party for something he felt was wrong.

"He was a senator and a politician who had impeccable integrity, and he did the right thing, even though he felt it was probably going to cost him his career, and it did," Allen said.

Allen and Engle are preparing to blitz the community with Henderson's story. Engle has started writing a play about the politician's work in abolishing slavery. Allen said she hopes to approach schools and ask them to incorporate programs on Henderson and local history into the school day.

"We've got a lot of history in Pike County and a lot of history here in Louisiana, and John B. Henderson did so much," Allen said.