Thomas Hart Benton (March 14, 1782 – April 10, 1858), nicknamed "Old Bullion", was a U.S. Senator from Missouri and a staunch advocate of westward expansion of the United States. He served in the Senate from 1821 to 1851, becoming the first member of that body to serve five terms. Benton was an architect and champion of westward expansion by the United States, a cause that became known as Manifest Destiny.
Benton was born in Harts Mill, North Carolina, near the present-day town of Hillsborough. His father Jesse Benton, a wealthy lawyer and landowner, died in 1790. His grandfather Samuel Benton (~1720–1770) was born in Worcester, England and settled in the Province of North Carolina. Thomas H. Benton also studied law at the University of North Carolina where he was a member of the Philanthropic Society, but in 1799 he was dismissed from school after admitting to stealing money from fellow students. As Benton was leaving campus on the day he was expelled, he turned to the students who were jeering him and said,"I am leaving here now but damn you, you will hear from me again." He then left school to manage the Benton family estate, but historians posit that Benton used the events as motivation to prove himself worthy in adulthood.
Attracted by the opportunities in the West, the young Benton moved the family to a 40,000 acre (160 km²) holding near Nashville, Tennessee. Here he established a plantation with accompanying schools, churches, and mills. His experience as a pioneer instilled a devotion to Jeffersonian democracy which continued through his political career.
He continued his legal education and was admitted to the Tennessee bar in 1805, and in 1809 served a term as state senator. He attracted the attention of Tennessee's "first citizen" Andrew Jackson, under whose tutelage he remained during the Tennessee years.
At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Jackson made Benton his aide-de-camp, with a commission as a lieutenant colonel. Benton was assigned to represent Jackson's interests to military officials in Washington D.C.; he chafed under the position, which denied him combat experience. In 1813 Benton engaged in a frontier brawl with Jackson in which Jackson was wounded.