A Courteous Gesture by Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton was an aide-de-camp to General Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812, but after the war, in Nashville, Benton and his brother Jesse got into a ferocious battle with Jackson and one of his brigade inspectors, Billy Carroll, over “a very obscure point of honor.”

Jackson was shot in the shoulder by Jesse Benton and nearly died. Thomas Hart Benton moved to Missouri and became a very popular senator. Ten years after their battle, they met in Washington, and bystanders feared they might draw pistols and go at it again.

But, as Robert V. Remini relates in “The Revolutionary Age of Andrew Jackson,” Jackson “stepped up to his old enemy and asked him about the health of his wife. Amazed and somewhat pleased, Benton responded quickly and returned the inquiry…

“The next time the Missouri Senator saw the General, he bowed. Jackson shot out his hand. The two men shook hands and dissolved their old hatred. In the political wars ahead, each found the other a bastion of strength and support.”

Benton was Jackson’s number one ally in his kock-down-drag-out fight over the Bank of the United States, and many other political battles. The legend grew up that it had been Thomas Benton, not Jesse, who shot Jackson. They were such fast friends, it made a good story.

Almost ten years after their reconciliation, after Jackson was elected president, the bullet flattened out against the bone and threatened to cause paralysis, so his doctor decided to remove it.

“With Jackson fully conscious and gritting his teeth, the doctor probed and dug into the arm and finally caught hold of the flattened metal and pulled it out,” Remini writes. “Jackson was nearly unconscious when the operation ended.

“In jest, someone standing nearby offered the souvenir to Benton, supposedly the owner of the bullet. The Senator refused, observing that Jackson had acquired legal title to it in common law by twenty years’ possession.

“But it had been only nineteen years.

“‘Oh well,’ said Benton, ‘in consideration of the extra care he had taken of it — keeping it constantly about his person, and so on — I’ll waive the odd year.'”