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Solomon Foot Dies

March 28, 1866

Image of Solomon Foot

In the 19th century, as many as four incumbent senators died of natural causes during each Congress. Eulogies delivered at funerals held in the Senate Chamber tell us a great deal about the culture of the Senate in those times. The March 1866 death of the Senate's senior member, 64-year-old Solomon Foot of Vermont, produced particularly revealing statements. With 15 years of Senate service, the widely respected Foot had been a steadying presence as Senate president pro tempore throughout the Civil War.

In his eulogy, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts described Foot as "unlike any other presiding officer."

His presence [at the desk] was felt instantly. It filled this Chamber from floor to gallery. It attached itself to everything that was done. Order was enforced with no timorous authority. If disturbance came from the gallery, how promptly he launched his fulmination. If it came from the floor, you have often seen him throw himself back, and then with voice of lordship, as if all the Senate was in him, insist that debate should be suspended until order was restored. 'The Senate must come to order,' he exclaimed; and meanwhile, like the god Thor, he beat his ivory hammer, in unison with his voice, until the reverberations rattled like thunder in the mountains. . .

Senator William Fessenden of Maine praised Foot's ability to ignore political criticism.

When a man becomes a member of this body, he has much to learn and much to endure. He may be upright in purpose and strong in the belief in his own integrity, but he cannot even dream of the ordeal to which he cannot fail to be exposed, of how much courage he must possess to resist the temptations which daily beset him; of the ever-recurring contest between a natural desire for public approval and a sense of public duty; of the load of injustice he must be content to bear, even from those who should be his friends; the imputations on his motives, the sneers and sarcasms of ignorance and malice. All this, if he would retain his integrity, he must learn to bear unmoved, and walk steadily onward in the path of public duty, sustained only by the reflection that time may do him justice.

Regrettably, we know little of this model senator today. He seldom spoke in the Senate and, most unfortunately, he ordered his survivors to burn his papers.