November 4, 1801 - December 31, 1848
Ambrose Sevier was the first Senator from Arkansas. One of the dominant personalities in Arkansas politics, Sevier was serving as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee when the Polk administration sent him to Mexico to oversee the final negotiations and signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Sevier was born in Greenville, Tennessee, on November 4, 1801, moving to Little Rock, Arkansas, when he was 20 years old. Sevier served as the Arkansas Territorial delegate to Congress from 1827 to 1836, when Arkansas attained statehood. As an Arkansas senator, Sevier served on the Indian Affairs Committee, bringing much-needed federal funding to the new state. In an era without a strict Senate seniority system, Sevier was placed ahead of other Democrats on the committee and in 1839 promoted to its chairman. He lost the chairmanship in 1841 when the Whigs won a majority in the election of 1840. Heavily involved in day-to-day party business and in the committee selection process, Sevier’s real strength in the Senate stemmed from his leadership of Senate Democrats. When the party regained the Senate in 1845, Sevier returned to his position as chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee and was a member of the prestigious Foreign Relations Committee. An expansionist Democrat, Sevier supported an aggressive policy in the war with Mexico.
As the conflict dragged on, he called for territorial concessions from Mexico below the Rio Grande. Like Polk, Sevier was initially opposed to the treaty as negotiated by Nicholas Trist. Once he made his opposition known, however, he recommended ratification on the grounds that further territorial demands would prolong the war, and might not win the approval of the Senate.
The Senate ratified the treaty but amended three articles. Polk asked Sevier to go to Mexico to ensure ratification of the treaty by the Mexican government. As a personal friend of Polk, Sevier reluctantly accepted his appointment as peace commissioner and resigned from the Senate in the spring of 1848. Before he could depart, Sevier fell ill, resulting in the appointment of Attorney General Nathan Clifford as associate commissioner. Sevier regained his health, however, to join Clifford within a week of the latter’s arrival in Mexico.
When he left for Mexico, Sevier intended to return to his old Senate seat once his mission in Mexico was completed. However, he did not return to Arkansas until after the state legislature was seated and with his health failing, he was too ill to actively campaign for his old seat. Sevier died outside Little Rock, Arkansas, on December 31, 1848.
Walton, Brian G. “Ambrose Hundley Sevier in the United States Senate, 1836-1848” The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Spring, 1973). 25-60.