Although Alexander Buckner served in Missouri’s 1820 Constitutional Convention, the state General Assembly, and the US Senate, there is little in the historical record about his life. He was born in Jefferson County, Kentucky, in 1785. He studied law, went to the Indiana Territory in about 1812, and opened a law office in Clark County. He moved with his father, Nicholas, and his five sisters to Cape Girardeau County in the Missouri Territory in 1818. Upon his arrival, Buckner purchased a farm and established a legal practice. His talents as a lawyer gave him public exposure and connections that enabled him to enter politics—a field that appealed to him more than the law.
In less than a year after arriving in Missouri, Buckner was appointed as a territorial circuit attorney. He was elected as one of five delegates from Cape Girardeau County to the convention that wrote the constitution under which Missouri was admitted into the Union. Following statehood, Buckner served in both the Missouri State Senate and the Missouri House of Representatives. In 1830 the General Assembly elected him to the seat in the US Senate previously held by David Barton.
Buckner’s election as a US senator revealed the confused nature of Missouri politics at the time. In the absence of party organizations or platforms, contests for public office were personal and often bitter affairs. After Andrew Jackson carried the state in the 1828 presidential election, his Missouri followers rallied around Thomas Hart Benton’s campaign to elect “true” Jackson men to public office. Most Jackson supporters in Missouri opposed the American System: the Bank of the United States, protective tariffs, and federally funded internal improvements. The anti-Jackson minority generally favored the American System and liked Barton.
Barton’s intemperate personal habits doomed his chances for reelection, and the anti-Jackson forces had no candidate who could successfully challenge the rising tide of the Jackson-Benton forces. That set the stage for a bit of political intrigue. When the General Assembly met to elect a US senator, the names of six prominent individuals were put forth as candidates for the position. Alexander Buckner was one of them. The St. Louis Beacon presented Buckner as a Jackson supporter. Benton called all six “true” Jackson men, but Buckner had not made his stand on the American System clear. Probably for that reason, the anti-Jackson men, as a matter of self-interest, made Buckner their choice.
With no announced opposition candidate in the field, the Jacksonian leaders planned to give complimentary votes to each of the candidates in the first round, and then elect Missouri governor John Miller on the second ballot. The anti-Jackson men saw their chance, and, with their support and a share of the Jackson party votes, Buckner won the Senate seat on the first ballot. The Jackson-Benton men were angry, the opposition jubilant. The Missouri Intelligencer in central Missouri proclaimed Buckner’s election a victory for the anti-Jackson party and the American System.
There is no evidence that Buckner was involved in the maneuvering of the anti-Jackson forces, and the Missouri Intelligencer’s assessment appears to have been correct. In the Senate, Buckner voted to recharter the Bank of the United States, and he spoke in favor of the existing protective tariffs. Buckner’s tenure in the Senate was cut short by his early death in 1833. How he might have aligned himself in the emerging two-party alignments would be conjecture, but it seems reasonable to assume that he would have joined the Whig Party and supported its platform.
There is little in the record about Buckner’s personal life, aside from reports that he carried himself with great dignity and was affable and respectful of others. Contemporaries appear to have considered him a fluent and persuasive speaker, an industrious worker, and one who could impress those with whom he came in contact. Throughout his life Buckner was an active Mason.
Buckner and his wife both died of cholera within hours of each other at their home south of Jackson on June 6, 1833. They were buried on their farm, and left no descendants. In 1897 Buckner’s remains were removed from the farm grave and reinterred in the Cape Girardeau city cemetery.
Bay, W. V. N. Reminiscences of the Bench and Bar of Missouri. St. Louis: F. H. Thomas, 1878.
Conard, Howard L., ed. Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri. New York: Southern History, 1901.
McCandless, Perry. A History of Missouri: Volume II, 1820 to 1860. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1972.
Published July 14, 2022
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