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Behind the big themes, celebrated figures, and dry dates of history are the interesting stories of life in the past and ordinary people. Southeast Missouri has a varied and rich history that you often don’t hear about in history classes. Join Bill Eddleman of the State Historical Society of Missouri to hear about these stories with “Tales of Days Gone By.” Listen in on the second and fourth Thursday of the month during Morning Edition (7:45 a.m.) and All Things Considered (4:44 p.m.)

Alexander Buckner: Cape Girardeau County’s Only U. S. Senator

Alexander Buckner gravestone.png
No portrait of Alexander Buckner exists. This is his gravestone from Old Lorimier Cemetery in Cape Girardeau. His body was moved from his farm to the cemetery in 1897.

The southeastern part of the state produced one early Missouri U. S. Senator. Alexander Buckner was born in Jefferson County, Kentucky, in 1785 and became a lawyer in Charlestown, Indiana. He relocated to Missouri in 1818 and settled in Jackson. Buckner purchased a farm south of Jackson and split his time between the law and farming. Governor William Clark appointed him circuit attorney for the Cape Girardeau District, followed by his election as a delegate to the Missouri Constitutional Convention in 1820. He served in the Missouri Senate from 1822 to 1826, before the state legislature chose him to succeed David Barton as U. S. Senator in 1830.

Buckner served in the 22nd Congress in 1832 to 1833 and returned to his farm after adjournment. Tragically, cholera swept through the area, and Buckner perished of the disease on June 6, 1833. His wife Rebecca died hours later. Burial was on the farm, but in 1897 the Buckners were reinterred in Old Lorimier Cemetery in the city of Cape Girardeau.

What was his record during his brief tenure in Congress? Some of his views reflected the concerns of the “western” states. He supported inexpensive public land accessible to people needing land to make a living. Buckner favored a bill to distribute proceeds of public land sales to the states. (Previously this had been used to retire the national debt.) President Jackson vetoed the bill because he thought it favored certain states.

Similarly, Buckner supported equal access to government pensions for all Revolutionary War veterans during the debate on the successful Pension Act of 1832. He favored renewal of the charter of the U. S. National Bank, which President Jackson vetoed, leading to the destruction of the bank.

Buckner’s negative opinion of a bill to extend smallpox vaccination to indigenous peoples also reflected a western bias. The Senate nonetheless passed the bill. Similarly, in debates on the U. S. response to the Sauk & Fox or Black Hawk War, Buckner favored relying on friendly tribal groups to bear the brunt of the fight, but nonetheless voted for raising troops.

Buckner favored public funding of internal improvements, and introduced an amendment to the bill to improve navigability of the St. Francois River.

During the brief time Buckner was in the Senate, the Nullification Crisis played out. This dispute over tariffs on imported manufactured goods, in which South Carolina asserted states could nullify federal laws, ended with passage of the Compromise Tariff of 1833, which was agreeable to South Carolina. Buckner supported Jackson’s position and voiced strong pro-Union sentiments in debate.

Perhaps one of Buckner’s best statements in debates was during debate on reduction of postal rates, in which he professed “disclaiming all sectional feelings and view, which he declared he had never allowed to influence his opinions and actions and hoped he never would. On the contrary, he was in favor of every thing, the tendency of which was to promote the interests of the whole.”

The 1878 book by William Van Ness Bay, Reminiscences of the Bench and Bar of Missouri, has the best insight into the character and potential of Senator Alexander Bucker. “… he was sociable, genial, and industrious, and as a speaker, fluent, argumentative, and earnest…he impressed favorably all with whom he came in contact. He was not in the United States Senate long enough to obtain much reputation as a statesman, but he seldom failed to carry any reasonable measure in which his constituents were interested….”

Bill Eddleman was born in Cape Girardeau, and is an 8th-generation Cape Countian. His first Missouri ancestor came to the state in 1802. He attended SEMO for two years before transferring to the University of Missouri to study Fisheries and Wildlife Biology. He stayed at Mizzou to earn a master of science in Fisheries and Wildlife, and continued studies in Wildlife Ecology at Oklahoma State University.