His father, a physician, died while he was still a child, but in spite of many difficulties and privations he secured an education, graduating at Middlebury College in 1826.
For five years following graduation he engaged in teaching, most of the time as principal of Castleton Seminary, interrupted by one year (1827 - 28) as tutor at the University of Vermont. He studied law in the meantime, was admitted to the bar in 1831, and established himself in practise at Rutland. Though an able lawyer his early and long- continued activity in public affairs prevented his attaining real eminence at the bar.
In 1833 he was elected to the legislature as representative cf Rutland. He was reelected in 1835, 1837, 1838, and 1847, and in each of the last three terms served as speaker.
In the latter capacity, declared Senator Poland, “he first displayed that almost wonderful aptitude and capacity as the presiding officer of a deliberative assembly, which afterward made him so celebrated throughout the nation” (Congressional Globe, 39 Cong. , 1 Sess. , p. 1908).
He was a member of the constitutional convention of 1836 and prosecuting attorney of Rutland County from 1836 to 1842.
His service in the House was without special interest or distinction but he was strongly opposed to the Mexican policy of the administration and denounced the war which resulted.
In 1850 he was elected to the United States Senate and served until his death sixteen years later, being at that time the senior member in point of continuous service.
His speech of March 20, 1858, on the proposed admission of Kansas under the Lecompton Constitution (Congressional Globe, 35 Cong. , 1 Sess. , App. , pp. 153-58) shows, however, that he was capable of sustained argument and close reasoning, had he wished to devote himself to long set addresses.
It was as a presiding officer that he appears to have made the deepest impression on his contemporaries. He was president pro tempore throughout most of the Thirty-sixth Congress and all of the Thirty-seventh, besides being often called on to preside when the regular incumbents were not available. “He was perhaps more frequently called to the chair than any other Senator, ” said J. B. Grinncll of Iowa, who also declares that his services had left a permanent impress on the parliamentary decorum and methods of the Senate (Congressional Globe, 39 Cong. , 1 Sess. , p. 1924).
When his death was announced, the splenetic Gideon Welles, never given to flattery of his associates, and usually suspicious of senators in particular, wrote in his diary (Diary of Gideon Welles, 1911, II, 466) that he had been a firm friend of the Navy Department, was “pater senatus and much loved and respected. ”
He was an active Whig and as such was elected to Congress in 1842, serving two terms until 1847 when he declined a renomination and returned to his legal practise.
His opposition to the extension of slavery led him to join the new Republican organization when the Whig party finally disintegrated. During his first term in the Senate he also served for a year (1854 - 55) as president of the Brunswick & Florida Railroad Company, visiting England in connection with the sale of its securities and the purchase of material. Foot was not distinguished as an orator and most of his remarks are brief and pointed interjections in the course of debate.
He was twice married: July 9, 1839, to Emily Fay; and April 2, 1844, to Mary Ann (Hodges) Dana.