Former Pike County resident up for spot in Hall of Famous Missourians

Posted: Sep. 30, 2013 8:57 am Updated: Oct. 21, 2013 10:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

LOUISIANA, Mo. -- One of the co-authors of the 13th Amendment with Pike County roots has earned a shot at a spot in the Hall of Famous Missourians.

John Brooks Henderson is among the finalists to become one of two new honorees, which Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has asked the public to select.

The hall's collection of bronze busts generally has honored people chosen by the House speaker. The vote comes after controversy last year over the selection by a different House speaker of conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh.

This year's candidates are not so polarizing. Finalists were selected from public nominations received this summer. Brent Engel, a Northeast Missouri resident who has recently written a play about Henderson, said he believes all of the candidates are deserving, but Henderson's honor is long overdue.

"I think he will come through in the end because he did so much that still has significance today," Engel said. "He crossed the racial divide with both the African Americans and the Native Americans " he saw that the world was changing."

For most of his life, Henderson operated a law office and had a home in Louisiana. He served as city clerk for the city of Louisiana in 1850 and was one of the original stockholders of the Bank of Louisiana. He was a member of the Missouri House of Representatives in 1848-1850 and 1856-1858, and was active in Democratic politics.

When the Civil War began, Henderson attended the state constitutional convention, which determined Missouri's decision to keep ties with the Union. He was commissioned a brigadier general in the Missouri State Militia in 1861, commanding federal forces in Northeast Missouri.

Henderson was appointed to the U.S. Senate as a Unionist to fill the vacancy caused by the expulsion of Trusten Polk in 1862, and later became a Republican. Later that year, Henderson was elected to a full six-year term in the Senate.

Henderson did not run for re-election in 1868, and later was an unsuccessful candidate for Missouri governor. He died in 1913 at the age of 86.

Henderson supported the Emancipation Proclamation and freedom for every slave in Confederate territory. Despite his personal ownership of slaves, he presented the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Senate. It became law in 1865.

"He was involved in so much and so much still has bearing today," Engel said. "We're still talking about race issues. We're still talking about constitutional issues."

Historian Betty Jane Allen has worked to raise awareness of Henderson's story. She believes his career met its downfall when Henderson became one of seven Republicans who voted with the Democrats against the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868.

"This is an opportunity not only for Louisiana, not only for Missouri, but for Pike County," Allen said. "We've got our foot in the door and now we just have to let people know why this is important."

Claude Smith, a composer and music educator whose composition "Flight" was adopted as the official march of the National Air and Space Museum, received the most nominations.

The other finalists are Rose O'Neill, who created the cartoon Kewpie; composer and pianist John William "Blind" Boone; science fiction author Robert Heinlein; former elected officials Christopher "Kit" Bond and Sue Shear; suffragist Virginia Minor; and late professional golfer Payne Stewart.

Minor was the plaintiff in an 1874 U.S. Supreme Court case that unsuccessfully argued a constitutional amendment calling for equal protection gave women the right to vote.

In addition to the two chosen by the public, the House speaker will select a third person.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.