Henry Stuart Foote: Nineteenth Governor of Mississippi: 1852-1854

by David Sansing / December 2003

During the United States sectional crisis of 1850, which was precipitated by California’s petition for statehood as a free state, U. S. Senator Henry Stuart Foote of Mississippi and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts joined with U. S. Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois to draft the Great Compromise of 1850. That compromise resolved, at least temporarily, the major controversies between the North and the South.

After the compromise was adopted by the United States Congress, Senator Foote resigned his seat and returned to Mississippi to run for governor in 1851. He organized a new party, called the Union Party, and ran against the Democratic State Rights candidate John Quitman, the state’s most ardent secessionist. That election was a bitter factional struggle that transcended party lines and the only issue was that of union or secession. On one occasion, when the two candidates held a joint speaking engagement, Foote and Quitman engaged in fisticuffs, and their supporters had to separate the two men.

Late in the campaign, when it was evident that Mississippians would not vote in favor of secession, Quitman withdrew, and the Democratic Party called on Jefferson Davis to take his place. But even Jefferson Davis, who resigned his seat in the U. S. Senate, could not defeat the popular Foote, who won by a narrow margin.

Foote was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, on September 20, 1800, but moved to Mississippi in 1830, by way of Alabama, after fighting several duels for which he had become rather infamous. Foote maintained an active and very prosperous law practice in Vicksburg and edited a newspaper for a short time before moving to Raymond in Hinds County. Foote was a learned man and wrote several books, including a highly entertaining autobiography entitled Casket of Reminiscences.

During Governor Foote’s administration, sectionalism intensified in both the North and the South, and Foote became increasingly out of harmony with Mississippi voters, who were moving gradually in favor of secession. Some leaders in his own party became disenchanted with the Compromise of 1850 and were convinced by the late 1850s that the South’s interests could be protected and preserved only through secession.

Two years after his 1851 election, the voters in November 1853 elected John J. McRae, a strong secessionist, as governor. That turn of events, plus his own failure to secure his re-appointment to the United States Senate, so angered Governor Foote that he resigned from office only ten days before his term was over. John Pettus, president of the state senate, served the remaining days of Foote’s term.

Foote moved to California but returned to Vicksburg for a short period, and then moved to Tennessee. Like many other southerners who opposed secession, Foote supported the Confederate States of America after it was formed and represented Tennessee in the Confederate Congress. When the Confederacy refused to seek a settlement of the war after the fall of Vicksburg, Foote resigned from the Confederate Congress.

After the Civil War, Foote opened a law practice in Washington, D. C. He was appointed superintendent of the United States mint in New Orleans in 1878 and served in that capacity until his death in Nashville, Tennessee, on May 19, 1880.

David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.

Lesson Plan

  • Henry S. Foote
    Henry S. Foote(1800-1880) Nineteenth Governor 1852-1854 Courtesy, Mississippi Department of Archives and History


Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (1950), 1170.

Dictionary of American Biography VI, 500-501.

Lloyd, James. Lives of Mississippi Authors 1817-1967 (Jackson, 1981), 173-176.

Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 65.