Henry S. Foote, lawyer, U.S. senator, and Confederate congressman, was born in Fauquier County, Virginia. Foote had practiced law in Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, and California before settling in Nashville in 1859. By that time he had held a half-dozen political offices, including that of governor and United States senator while in Mississippi. An active Democrat, he supported Andrew Jackson in the 1830s and James K. Polk in the 1840s. In Nashville he numbered among his law partners such men of distinction as Nashville lawyer and New South proponent Arthur S. Colyar.
More interested in politics than law, Foote soon announced his support of Stephen A. Douglas for president. He attended the nominating convention of 1860 at Charleston and boldly predicted that the election of Abraham Lincoln would produce secession and civil war. He declared Douglas the only candidate who could establish peace.
A strong Unionist, Foote despaired when Lincoln won election, and he urged Tennessee Governor Isham G. Harris to call a Nashville convention of slaveholding states. He warned Harris that piecemeal secession would be disastrous for the South. Lincoln's inauguration and subsequent call for seventy-five thousand volunteers pushed Foote into the Confederacy, and he worked with Harris to accomplish Tennessee's secession. In the early fall of 1861 he won election to the Confederate Congress from the Fifth (Nashville) District in a race against two other candidates.
Foote did not serve the state well in the Congress. He had held President Jefferson Davis in contempt since his Mississippi days, and the mutual hard feelings were exacerbated as each sought to serve a new government. Davis largely ignored Foote; many found him to be especially obnoxious; a Richmond newspaper editor threatened to shoot him; and others urged Confederate congressmen to censure and expel him. In 1862 Foote called for a widespread invasion of the North–with an expenditure of a million men and two billion dollars, if necessary–but by 1864 he was urging Davis to seek a negotiated peace.
Finally, late in 1864, Foote fled the Confederacy. Lincoln ignored him, but Andrew Johnson–shortly after his inauguration as president–ordered him either to stand trial for treason and rebellion or leave the country within forty-eight hours. Foote escaped to Canada and settled in Montreal but kept in contact with friends in Washington in an effort to have his citizenship restored. After he swore an oath of allegiance to the United States, endorsed black suffrage, and vowed not to enter politics again, he obtained permission to reenter the country. He lived for a year in St. Louis, but returned to Nashville in 1867. There he aligned with the Conservative Democrats.
During the next decade, Foote practiced law and divided his time between Nashville and Washington. He also wrote and published several books, including the well-received Bench and Bar of the South and Southwest (1876). He supported Rutherford B. Hayes for president in 1876 and two years later was chairman of the Republican State Convention. Hayes rewarded him with an appointment as superintendent of the United States Mint at New Orleans. He became seriously ill early in 1880 and returned to Nashville, where he died on May 19. He was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.