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Thomas J. Henderson (politician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thomas J. Henderson
Chairman of the House Republican Conference
In office
March 4, 1889 – March 3, 1895
SpeakerThomas B. Reed (1889–1891)
Charles F. Crisp (1891–1895)
Preceded byJoseph G. Cannon
Succeeded byCharles H. Grosvenor
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois
In office
March 4, 1875 – March 3, 1895
Preceded byJohn B. Hawley (6th)
William Cullen (7th)
Succeeded byRobert R. Hitt (6th)
George Edmund Foss (7th)
Constituency6th district (1875–1883)
7th district (1883–1895)
Member of the Illinois Senate
In office
Member of the Illinois House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born(1824-11-29)November 29, 1824
Brownsville, Tennessee
DiedFebruary 6, 1911(1911-02-06) (aged 86)
Washington, D.C.
Political partyRepublican

Thomas Jefferson Henderson (November 29, 1824 – February 6, 1911) was a U.S. Representative from Illinois and a Union Army officer during the American Civil War.

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In 1862, in the high mountains of Northern Ethiopia, a minority group was getting restless. For over a thousand years they had struggled against oppression, conversion and war. But for all those years, they’d finally come across an enemy that they just couldn’t shake. Missionaries. But those missionaries had brought more than just conversion. They’d brought stories of a place that the locals had only dreamed of. A homeland, thousands of miles away. And as more and more of their people converted over to that European God, a prophet arose with a plan to save them all. Five thousand Ethiopian Jews were going to walk to Israel. It was 1862 and Moses was alive. Yeah, the guy who can part the sea. The guy from the bible, he was here in the flesh. And he said, spread the word, guys. I’m back. My name is Abba Mahari and I’m Moses. Mahari was part of a group that the world now calls Beta Israel, although in Ethiopia they’ve always been known as Falasha. Outsiders. They’ve been here nearly two thousand years, but they’re still outsiders. This is not a country where they get a lot of love. It’s commonly accepted that they become hyenas at night and eat children. It’s said that they’re cursed. The oppression against the Falasha is so strong that even now, it doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or Muslim, blacksmiths are considered cursed. They live in their own parts of town. Ghettoized. And most people don’t even know why. Already among the poorest groups in the country, the 1800’s saw a near-total collapse of the Falasha society. Many felt that they could no longer survive in this country. With their lands confiscated, taxes reaching historic highs, and a large number of their population converting to the newfangled European God, the religious leaders of Beta Israel decided it was time to take action. For all their work to tear it apart, the European missionaries had inadvertently brought something to bring the community together. A homeland. To the truly religious Falasha, when the missionaries spoke of Christ, all they heard was that the Holy Land existed. The Europeans confirmed it. Some had even been. To many, it must have seemed like a waking dream. A land of milk and honey. A place where they belonged. It didn’t take long before a prophet arose who’d lead them on this historic journey. His name was Abba Mahari and he was Moses. He said so repeatedly, to anyone willing to listen. And soon, on the back of the faithful, into hundreds of tiny, splintered communities around the country, the Falasha began to heeded his call. From hundreds of small villages that speckled the Gondar countryside, five thousand people would set out for Jerusalem. They’d place their lives in the hands of this new Moses. The prophet of Beta Israel. And this wasn’t small decision. They weren’t exactly laden with hiking gear, and this was no trip to the store. They were risking everything to find a homeland they’d only just confirmed existed. The countryside of Ethiopia comes with two options: scorching hot, or pouring rain. Even when they say it’s cold here, for those of us from Northern countries it might as well be the height of summer. The sun beats down, there’s very little shade, and basically everything in this country comes with thorns. Hiking across the savannah would be more than physically demanding. It would kill. Yet, despite the beating sun and stinging earth, they walked for weeks across the arid landscape. They walked across mountains and down through valleys. They walked through the villages of their enemies. They walked until some began to die of hunger and thirst. But even as they buried their dead, they must have believed that it would be worth it in the end. The bible had told them that Moses walked for longer, and his reward was a place where he belonged. This hardship, to them, must have merely felt like fulfilling prophecy. And after many days, Abba Mahari came across his first real challenge. His followers had finally come to an impasse. A river. As many African lakes and rivers tend to come with parasites that kill without prejudice, virtually nobody among his followers could swim. Even today, you’ll find very few Ethiopians who can. But they had faith. This river might stop them, but it wouldn’t stop Moses. It was his time to shine. And tired and weak, but with eyes full of hope, his followers turned to their prophet to deliver his miracle. There are no records to show exactly what happened that day, but I like to imagine that he set up a whole ceremony. He got all of his thousands of followers to come and watch, and then had the religious leaders set up a hushed silence. You know, really milked it for all it was worth. And then there when things were perfect, Abba Mahari, the Moses of Beta Israel was ready to become biblical. He took up his holy stick, looked out at the river with all those eyes on him and let out a mighty blast. Only… nothing, of course nothing. And I like to imagine in my head that he did a second blast. Just to be sure. And when everybody looked away, he did kind of like a secret third one. But if you were one of the people watching, it probably didn’t matter. They turned around, and walked back that same treacherous route to the villages that they came from. As it turned out, knowing about the land of milk and honey was far easier than getting to it. Like so many millions of pilgrims over the millennia who’ve placed their success in the hands of divine intervention, their actual efforts might have been better spent in swimming lessons. God helps those who help themselves, as we’re so often conversely told. We don’t know much about early Beta Israel, but we do know that upon returning home, Abba Mahari had lost his place in society. Realizing the futility of attempting a pilgrimage after their third and most devastating attempt, the leaders of the Jewish community petitioned the government to remove the missionaries, each signing their name in protest. But Mahari’s isn’t on the list. He may have imagined himself an elder. A leader. A Moses. But in practice, he turned out to be just another dude with a stick. But the point of this story isn’t just to mock those who place their faith in powers beyond their own. It’s about the drive it takes to trust it. There’s a reason the Falasha committed themselves to death, walking across a dangerous landscape on the promise of a single man. They didn’t want to convert. They wanted to be themselves. To live somewhere that respected them in return. And all my joking aside, that’s a feeling that I think we can all understand. In the end, the Falasha did make it to Israel. At least, their successors did. Only, as you would expect, their arrival came due to rational practicality, rather than religious zeal. And it’s truly an incredible story all its own, I highly recommend you look it up. But as I didn’t know how to B-roll the Mossad opening a profitable dive resort in Muslim Sudan just to sneak the Falasha out of the Ethiopia into Israel, I thought I’d make this story instead. The story of a man and a very, very awkward walk home. Do you think they called him Moses sarcastically after that? I certainly hope so. Never underestimate the draw of a homeland for a displaced people. A hundred and fifty years ago, thousands of Ethiopian Jews marched across this country in the hopes of finding a land where they were important. But they never got there. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter your Gods or how much you believe in them, when you come across that proverbial river, you’d better know how to swim. This is Rare Earth. If they want me to pay for this, they go get my money from him. They bring it to me, and I pay them that. But I don’t pay twice. Absolutely not. I don’t get lied to.


Born in Brownsville, Tennessee, Henderson moved with his parents to Illinois at the age of eleven. He served as clerk of the Board of Commissioners of Stark County, Illinois from 1847 to 1849. and as clerk of the court of Stark County from 1849 to 1853. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1852 and commenced practice in Toulon, Illinois.

Henderson served as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives in 1855 and 1856 and then as a member of the Illinois Senate (1857–1860). He entered the Union Army in 1862 as colonel of the 112th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment and fought in the Siege of Knoxville and Atlanta Campaign being wounded at the Battle of Resaca. He commanded the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, XXIII Corps, from August 12, 1864. He was brevetted brigadier general in January 1865 and led his brigade at the Battle of Wilmington.

With the war's end, Henderson resumed the practice of law and moved to Princeton, Illinois, in 1867. He was appointed collector of internal revenue for the fifth district of Illinois in 1871.

Henderson was elected as a Republican to the Forty-fourth and to the nine succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1875 – March 3, 1895). He served as chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs (Forty-seventh Congress), and of the Committee on Rivers and Harbors (Fifty-first Congress). He also served as chairman of the Republican conference in the House. He was an unsuccessful candidate for renomination in 1894.

He was appointed to the board of managers for the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in 1896. He was appointed civilian member on the Board of Ordnance and Fortifications in 1900 and served until his death in Washington, D.C. on February 6, 1911. He was interred in Oakland Cemetery in Princeton, Illinois.


  • United States Congress. "Thomas J. Henderson (id: H000489)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
John B. Hawley
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 6th congressional district

Succeeded by
Robert R. Hitt
Preceded by
William Cullen
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 7th congressional district

Succeeded by
George E. Foss

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress website

This page was last edited on 6 July 2019, at 17:37
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