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Better Know Your Notes: Thomas Hart Benton on the $100 Gold Certificates of 1882 and 1922

Among the highlights from our March Baltimore Currency Auction was a Fr. 1215 1922 $100 Gold Certificate graded Superb Gem New 67 PPQ by PCGS (lot 3314). The note was the highest graded example of its type and realized an impressive $70,500. The newest edition of “Better Know Your Notes” looks at the man featured on that note, Thomas Hart Benton.

 

Thomas Hart Benton was born in 1782 in Harts Mill, North Carolina near present day Hillsborough. His father, Jesse Benton, was a wealthy lawyer and landowner, but died when the younger Benton was just a boy. Following in his father’s footsteps, Benton studied law at the University of North Carolina but was expelled in 1799 for allegedly stealing from classmates. He moved his family to Tennessee and established a large plantation. He continued studying law and was admitted to the Tennessee bar in 1805 then was elected to a term as a state senator in 1809. During that time he met another North Carolina-born Tennessean Andrew Jackson. Benton served in Washington on the behalf of Jackson during the War of 1812. The two men shared political beliefs as well as reputations for fiery personalities. During an altercation in 1813 Benton shot Jackson in the arm. Jackson carried the bullet in his body the rest of his life.

 

In order to escape the shadow of Jackson in Tennessee, Benton again moved his family, this time to the newly formed Missouri Territory. There he continued to practice law and was editor of a newspaper. His aggressive temper flared again when an opposing attorney in a court case accused him of lying. Benton killed the man in their second duel. Benton continued in politics and after Missouri was granted statehood in 1820, he was elected as one of Missouri’s first senators.

 

Politically a Democrat, Benton was a hard line supporter of “hard money” versus paper dollars, believing gold coinage or bullion was the only real money. He successfully lobbied along with Jackson for the abolition of the Second Bank of the United States. Perhaps most important to him was the continued westward expansion of the United States based on his belief in “Manifest Destiny.” He was a key player in the United States gaining sole governorship of the Oregon Territory and was author of the first Homestead Acts, which further boosted westward settlement.

 

Towards the end of his political career he was involved in yet another violent altercation, this time on the Senate floor. During heated verbal sparring over the proposed Compromise of 1850, Mississippi Senator Henry S. Foote lunged at Benton with his pistol and had to be wrestled to the ground and disarmed. A changing political climate denied Benton a sixth senate term in 1851 although he did win a two-year term in the house in 1852. He retired after his term in 1854 and died in Washington D.C. in 1858.

 

Ironically, the man who was so firmly against paper currency was picked to be featured on redesigned $100 Gold Certificates of the Series of 1882 and was featured again on the Series of 1922 notes.

 

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