Trusten W. Polk — Missouri’s 12th governor

Elizabeth Davis

Trusten W. Polk was born on May 29, 1811, in Delaware where he received his early education before attending Cambridge Academy in Maryland and Yale in Connecticut. His wish was to go into the ministry, but at his father’s request, he went into law.

Polk moved to St. Louis in 1835 where he began a successful law practice. On Dec. 26, 1837, he and Elizabeth Skinner were married, and their union was blessed with five children.

Taking an active interest in education, Polk joined Henry S. Geyer in supporting the establishment of a state university. He also helped with the creation of the Missouri Medical College in St. Louis.

Polk served as city counselor for St. Louis until poor health forced him to resign. He recuperated by taking a long trip through Cuba, the eastern US, and Canada. His selection as a delegate to the Missouri Constitutional Convention brought him back to Missouri in 1845. Chairing the Committee on Education, he fought for state support for free public schools.

In 1856, he was elected Missouri’s 12th governor and was sworn-in Jan. 5, 1857. Barely a week later, the General Assembly chose him to succeed Geyer in the U.S. Senate. Polk resigned as governor Feb. 27 and took his seat in the U.S. Senate on March 4, 1857.

Polk’s pro-slavery feelings were well known. The Senate expelled him and Missouri’s other senator, Waldo P. Johnson, in January 1862 on grounds of disloyalty and engaging in rebellion against the U.S. government.

During the Civil War, Polk served as a colonel in the Missouri State Guard under Confederate General Sterling Price and later as a judge in the military courts of the Department of Mississippi in 1864 and 1865.

After the war, and after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Missouri test oath for lawyers was unconstitutional, Polk returned to St. Louis and resumed his law practice.

He died in St. Louis on April 16, 1876, and was laid to rest there in Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008, She has covered the War Between the States, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she syndicated her column statewide in September 2018 and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to