Tennessee occupies a unique
position among her sister states. This uniqueness runs all through her
history. She drew her life blood from two of the original colonies. Her
earliest settlers founded independent governments in the wilderness, and
on their own petition North Carolina assumed jurisdiction. Tennessee was
the first state formed from Federal territory, and the only state whose
citizens were ever reduced from citizens of a state to become citizens of
a territory (1790).
Tennessee was unique in
having a period of three months during which she performed all the
functions of a state before receiving the consent of Congress to her
A unique distinction was
the fact that at Watauga the first government west of the Alleghany
Mountains was formed on Tennessee soil. Unique again when during the war
with Mexico 2,800 troops were called for and 30,000 responded: enough to
fight the war alone, unaided by other states. Again, Tennessee was the
last state to secede from the Union during the War of Secession; and she
was the first to be readmitted to statehood. Not only the time of
secession, but the character of the ordinance is different from the other
seceding states, and declares for secession as a "revolutionary right,"
needing no other justification than the natural privilege of free men.
Tennessee furnished more troops to the Southern and Northern armies, in
proportion to her population, than any other state, the number being
115,000 to the Confederacy, and about 51,000 to the Federal side.
Tennessee was the only Southern state that joined the Confederacy, besides
Virginia, which had a large Union following; and yet, she was distinct
from Virginia in having the Union men remain as citizens of the
commonwealth, constituting almost one-third of the citizens of the state,
and desperately striving to control the state government. Tennessee is
again unique in that she was the only Southern state to manumit her slaves
by direct vote of her citizens. She was the only state voluntarily to seek
re-admission to the Union before the close of the war. Unique again is the
fact that her name was not mentioned in Lincoln's Proclamation of
Emancipation. Tennessee was, too, the only Southern state that escaped
Congressional "reconstruction." And her manner of being readmitted to the
Union was different from that of any other Southern state.
While in these respects
Tennessee history differs from that of other Southern states, she is like
them in the sufferings endured and the loyalty displayed. And perhaps
because of her very uniqueness in other respects, she suffered more, while
her loyalty was no less genuine.
The period of
reconstruction of Tennessee covers, a longer period than in other Southern
states. It goes back to 1862, when after the fall of Fort Donel-son, the
state came under Federal control. In March of that year the Federal army
under Generals Smith and Buell entered Nashville, and the state government
was withdrawn by Governor Harris to Memphis. On Nov. 3, 1862, President
Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson military governor of the state, who
proceeded as far as possible to restore order and to establish the
authority of the government.
Late in 1864, some "loyal"
men, with the approbation of Andrew Johnson, called a convention to
assemble in Nashville. Delegates under this call from a number of counties
met in Nashville, Jan. 9, 1865. Who elected those delegates no authentic
records disclose. As a matter of fact, they were for the most part self
appointed. Of course, the "loyal leading men" getting up and issuing the
call for the convention had no legal or constitutional warrant in the
This is admitted, and the
only reasonable excuse offered is, that, as the result of the war, the
state and its affairs were in chaos and the people without any civil
government at all.
But this convention of its
own will adopted what it called amendments to the constitution of 1834 and
also a schedule of several sections deemed by it proper in the
reorganization of the state government.
With reference to the
question under review, it is not necessary to mention the amendments to
the constitution, except to say that one abolished slavery, and respecting
the schedule it promulgated it need only be said that its ninth section is
pertinent. This section is as follows:
"The qualification of
voters and the limitation of the elective franchise may be determined by
the General Assembly, which shall first assemble under the amended
Andrew Johnson, then
military governor of the state, by a proclamation issued Feb. 25, 1865,
declared the amendments and the schedule promulgated by the aforesaid
convention ratified by a vote of the people, and a permanent part of the
organic law of the state. In the adoption of these amendments Tennessee by
her own act abolished slavery from her borders.
Andrew Johnson, who had
been military governor since 1862, having now been elected as
Vice-President of the United States, an election for governor was called
for March 4, 1865.
At this election W. G.
Brownlow, of East Tennessee, became governor, and the state entered upon
its Reconstruction period proper. And now began four years of misrule more
trying upon the brave men and women of Tennessee than the four years of
terrible war. It was a condition from which they sought deliverance for
years in vain, but from which, after suffering untold ills, they were
released by the ambition of one man: William Gannaway Brownlow, who, after
serving four years as governor, aspired to a seat in the United States
Brownlow was formerly a
clergyman, and earned the sobriquet "Parson Brownlow." He was afterward
editor of the Knoxville Whig, and was especially known for his bitter
vituperation and vindictive spirit. On account of his unpopularity he was
compelled to suspend his paper on Oct. 24, 1861. He was an advocate of
slavery, but violently opposed to secession. His value to the Union lay
only in his radical, vindictive partisanship; otherwise he was wholly
unfit for high office, and conspicuously without ability.
The first object of the
administration was to fulfil all the conditions deemed necessary to be
readmitted to all the rights of statehood in the Union. These conditions
had been partially met, under the suggestion of President Lincoln, by the
calling of a convention in January, 1865, which submitted to the people
the amendments to the state constitution abolishing slavery, as mentioned
above. The legislature assembled in April, 1865, and promptly ratified the
Thirteenth Amendment to the United States constitution. All had now been
done that the state goveminent could do, and the governor and members of
the legislature awaited news from Washington, expecting that Tennessee
would now be given her full rights as a reconstructed state. No doubt
recognition would have soon followed, but the assassination of Lincoln now
occurred, and Congress, having taken matters into its own hands, adopted a
less liberal policy toward the seceded states. The delay of Tennessee's
readmission was more than a year, during which time the memorable bitter
contest took place between Congress and the President, over their relative
The radicals in Tennessee
looked upon the assassination of Lincoln as in reality a special
providence to them, since by it there was elevated to the presidency of
the United States a Tennessean who was in full sympathy with them in their
efforts to obtain readmission. They were doomed, however, to be
disappointed, as Johnson could do nothing. In fact, it proved a great
disaster, as Johnson could not harmonize the warring factions in Congress
as well as Lincoln. It was, however, the crowning glory of Johnson's
ambition to sign on July 23, 1866, the bill readmitting Tennessee into the
There are some points of
difference worthy of note in the readmission of Tennessee, as compared
with other Southern states. In September, 1865, General Rosseau, in
command at Nashville, wrote to the Tennessee delegation of senators and
representatives elect, who were waiting in "Washington, requesting
pointedly to know their attitude toward the administration if admitted.
Their answer was published throughout all the Northern states, and was
that they would support the policy of Johnson and of the Federal
government. Many public men at this time expressed themselves as favoring
seating Tennessee's representatives at the opening of the session.
However, when Congress convened in December, and Mr. Maynard,
representative from the First District of Tennessee, undertook to take
part in the preliminary proceedings, he was not recognized, and Tennessee
had to wait yet longer.
The struggle which
Tennessee had made for re-admission into the Union had made her many
friends, and it is probable that a majority of both houses were really in
favor of such admission without delay. But following the established rule,
the question was referred to the Joint Committee on Reconstruction. This
committee placed the matter in the hands of a sub-committee consisting of
Messrs. Grimes, Grider, and Bingham, who at once proceeded to collect
evidence on the subject. The letter of Governor Brown-low to certain
members of Congress stating that, "if the admission of congressmen would
mean the withdrawal of the army from the state, he was opposed to it,"
made an unfavorable impression.
However, on March 5, 1866,
a joint resolution introduced by Mr. Bingham on behalf of the committee,
recommending readmission, passed second reading. The matter rested here,
and Congress turned its attention to the Fourteenth Amendment, causing a
delay of some months to Tennessee. On July 19, a telegram was received
from Governor Brownlow, stating that the state had ratified the Fourteenth
Amendment. There was now nothing in the way of a final vote, and on July
20th, the resolution received a vote of 135 to 72 in the House, and on the
next day the senate, by a vote of 28 to 4, amended the resolution,
expressly stating, that Tennessee could only be restored to the Union "by
the consent of the law making power of the United States." The house
concurred, and Johnson signed the resolution on July 23,not, however,
without protesting against the position of Congress that a "joint
resolution was necessary to restore a state."
This readmission of
Tennessee in the manner described was, in effect, the re-creating of a
state, and not the restoration to original rights according to the
Crittenden resolution passed by Congress in July, 1861.
The legislatures which
convened during Governor Brownlow's administration were composed in large
part of inexperienced and radical members, ready without question to do
the bidding of their more partisan leaders. Men formerly prominent in the
state's affairs were now disfranchised. Unionism was the chief
qualification for exercising the right of suffrage, and the result was
that less than one-seventh of the voting population of the state was
represented. [Fertig.] No effort was made by Governor Brownlow or the
legislatures to deal with the returned Confederates, former masters of the
state, otherwise than as a subject class. No kindness was shown. Distrust,
prejudice, rancor and bitterness of feeling, were allowed full sway.
Some of the acts proposed
by Brownlow's first legislature may serve to show their hostile attitude
to the Confederates. The soldiers had returned from the army, poor, and in
many instances having no other clothes than the uniforms they wore. It was
proposed, and the bill passed the House by a vote of 58 to 5, to fine any
one wearing the "rebel uniform." A bill was passed by the Senate depriving
ministers, who sympathized with the South, of the right to celebrate the
marriage ceremony, and requiring them to work the roads, and serve in the
militia. Another bill provided that no woman could be licensed to marry,
unless she had first taken the "oath of allegiance." These although
receiving encouragement, fortunately failed to become laws; but the bills
enacted into laws were sufficiently irritating to greatly intensify the
bitter feeling in the state.
The legislature of 1866 had
enacted a law empowering the sheriff of each county to organize a posse of
twenty-five, or more if necessary, loyal men. The alleged excuse for this
was the presence in certain parts of the state of guerilla bands; but the
real object was to control the elective franchise by intimidation and
force. The records of the time are full of accounts of outrages
undoubtedly committed by this armed patrol. In 1867 was passed
"Brown-low's Militia Law," which organized a state guard, composed largely
of negroes and scalawags, whose plain purpose was to continue the
permanent disfranchisement of the Confederates.
This band was subject to
the orders of the governor to be used at his discretion. When an election
was held, the State Guard would be stationed at "rebellious localities to
enforce the franchise law." This law took away the right to vote from
Confederates, natives of the state, and now ready to submit to the
arbitrament of the war, and gave it to "loyal men" and carpet-baggers, who
had resided within the state probably not over six months.
These acts and the
organization of the Loyal League, a partisan union order among the
negroes, and the consequent insolence of this class, lately slaves, now
free, and drunk with the ideas of power and liberty pumped into them by
irresponsible and designing white men, led to the organization, in
self-protection, of the famous Ku Klux Klan.
Ku Klux Klan.
This Order originated at
Pulaski, in Tennessee, in the summer of 1866. It was the outgrowth of a
local secret society; out of which the young men of the community,
recently returned from the war, obtained much amusement on account of
grotesque and mysterious initiation ceremonies. The effect upon the
superstitious and ignorant negro race was quickly detected, and the wider
purpose of the Order was at once developed. The Klan soon spread over the
The following are the names
of the six originators. All are now dead except the two whose addresses
are given: John C. Lester; James E. Crowe, Sheffield, Ala.; John Kennedy,
Nashville, Tenn.; Calvin Jones; Richard R. Reed; Frank O. McCord.
It is not the purpose of
this article to discuss the general effect throughout the South of this
Order; our main purpose is with Tennessee and her peculiar history.
Attention must be called, however, to the remarkable manner in which the
hitherto intolerable conditions of the South were completely met, and
overcome by this organization. And it is to be noted that it was done with
the least violation of law, either of the Federal or state government. It
was probably the most remarkable evidence on record of the resourcefulness
of the Anglo-Saxon race, and its ability and determination to dominate.
Driven to desperation by conditions that threatened to destroy their
civilization, the citizens of the South, through this organization, turned
upon their enemies, overwhelmed them, and became again masters of their
own soil. It was a drastic measure, and its abuse can but be condemned.
But its proper use must be commended by all good men everywhere, for by it
was preserved the purest Anglo-Saxon civilization of this nation.
This Order had a prescript,
or constitution, which was adopted at the convention secretly held at
Nashville in the summer of 1867. A copy of this prescript is in the
possession of Hon. R. T. Quarles, archivist for the state of Tennessee,
and it is through his courtesy that the photographic reproduction is here
This, and all other
original copies, were printed at Pulaski on a hand press, and for that
reason some imperfections are to be noticed. The title page is as follows:
"Revised and Amended Prescript of the Order of the XXX. Damnant quod non
The entire prescript has
been reproduced from photographs of the original, and can be found in The
American Historical Magazine (Vol. V., No. I., Nashville).
Attention is called to the
Latin quotations, which in the original, are found at the top of every
page. A few are here given: "Magna est Veritas, et pre-valebit"; "Fiat
justitia ruat cwlum"; "Fide non armis"; "Dat Deus his quoque finem"; "Deo
ad-juvante, non timendum."
The quotations throughout
the entire prescript were well selected by classical scholars, and showed
a deep appreciation of the situation confronting the South. Whatever may
be said in condemnation of the outrages afterwards committed in the name
of this Order, Tennessee is proud of the fact that the beginning's of this
Invisible Empire were on her soil, and that the Grand Wizard who ruled
over this Mighty Mystic Realm was, as is now well known, the intrepid Gen.
N. B. Forrest, of Memphis.
Governor Brownlow was
determined to break up this band, and for that purpose declared martial
law in several counties, and sent companies of his "militia" to these
points in the state to make arrests. Madison county, West Tennessee, was
one of the first put under martial law, and, at one time, as many as 800
of "Brownlow's Militia" were stationed there. He employed secret agents
and detectives to assist him. None were arrested, for they successfully
disguised themselves and eluded detection. The testimony of General Gordon
before the investigating committee brings out the fact that not one member
of the Order was ever convicted in Tennessee.
Governor Brownlow, in July,
1868, convened the legislature in extra session, stating in the call: "Re-bellious
elements in the state are secretly assuming and perfecting a military
organization known as the Ku Klux Klan, with an eye to overthrow the state
There is no telling how
much longer these evils would have continued in Tennessee, had it not been
for the ambition of Governor Brownlow to succeed Johnson in the Senate,
and the legislature of 1869 very promptly elevated him to that lofty
position. This change brought to the governor's chair the speaker of the
Senate, Hon. D. W. C. Senter, a man with a more liberal policy than his
predecessor toward the Confederates of the state. The Order now having
accomplished its purpose, and an era of better times appearing, the Grand
Wizard, in March, 1869, disbanded the Klan by official proclamation.
Struggle for Control of
It is interesting history
to trace the legal struggle in which the citizens of Tennessee were
engaged from 1865-1870 in their effort to regain control of the state
government. This control was finally secured in peaceful manner, under the
strictest observance of the forms of existing law and was brought about as
The General Assembly which
convened in 1865, soon after the adoption of the constitutional
amendments, lost no time in passing laws limiting the elective franchise.
In May 3,1866, this same
General Assemblyand we may observe that it remained in session as long as
it wanted toamended the franchise law of 1865, and provided that every
white male inhabitant of the state twenty-one years of age and upward, and
a citizen of the United States, should be entitled to the privilege of the
elective franchise, subject, however, to the following exceptions and
disqualifications: (1) Parties who bore arms against the United States for
the purpose of aiding the rebellion; (2) Those who voluntarily gave aid,
comfort, countenance, counsel, or encouragement, to those hostile to the
United States, or who sought or voluntarily accepted any offers, civil or
military, or attempted to exercise the functions of any office, civil or
military under the Confederate States, or of any insurrectionary state,
hostile to the United States, with intent or desire to aid the rebellion
or any insurrectionary authority, or who voluntarily supported any
pretended government or authority hostile to the United States, "by
contributions in money or property, by persuasions, or influence, or in
any other way whatever."
This amending act provided
that the governor should appoint a commissioner of the registration for
each county in the state, whose duty it was to ascertain by proof and
register the name of each and every qualified voter, and to issue to each
a certificate that he was entitled to the privilege of the elective
The proof required to be
presented to this commissioner of registration was the evidence of two
competent witnesses known to the commissioner to have been at all times
unconditional Union men, and who testified that they were personally
acquainted with the person claiming to be registered, and that he had not
been guilty of any acts disqualifying him under the provisions of the act.
In addition the applicant
for registration was required to take and subscribe to an oath, that he
had never voluntarily borne arms with intent to aid the rebellion, nor
with such intent at any time to give aid, comfort, counsel, or
encouragement to the rebellion, and that he had never sought, nor
accepted, nor exercised the functions of any office under the authority of
the Confederate States, or of any insurrectionary state.
This commissioner of
registration was authorized to hear proof against, as well as for, the
applicant for registration.
The Act provided that no
person should be entitled to vote at" any election unless registered under
the act, and who had received a certificate of registration.
The previous registration
under the Act of 1865 was annulled, and this amendatory Act of 1866 was
Subsequently, the same
General Assembly, on March 8, 1867, (see Acts of 1867, ch. 36) passed
The fourth section of this
act empowered the governor to set aside the registration of any county and
make known the same by proclamation, when it should be made to appear to
his satisfaction that fraud and irregularities had intervened in the
registration of the voters of such county.
It is proper to observe
here that the same legislature, on Feb. 25, 1867, also changed the law by
striking out the word "white" so as to allow the colored brother to vote.
But nothwithstanding the
long and strenuous efforts of this continuous General Assembly to
perpetuate its power and to protect the state government from invasion by
those who in any way had sympathized with what it called the rebellion,
quite a number of people received certificates of registration who had
become disgusted with the debaucheries and excesses of the party in power.
Governor Brownlow set aside
the registration in various counties, and under the act of Feb. 26, 1868,
ch. 52, removed a number of commissioners of registration who had not
acted in accordance with what he thought was necessary to preserve the
state in the hands of the truly loyal.
It may be noticed that the
legislature on May 8, 1867, passed an act which, by its third section,
declared null and void the registration in Overton county, taken under the
All these acts made it a
crime for any person to vote who was not entitled to do so under the
provisions of the act.
One William Staten
received, Dec. 10, 1867, from the commissioner of registration of Gibson
county, a certificate as a qualified voter. On Feb. 23, 1868, Governor
Brownlow issued a proclamation declaring the registration in this county
void under the provisions of one of the acts before mentioned. On March 7,
1867, an election was held in Gibson county for sheriff, and Staten voted
at said election under the authority of his certificate of registration
issued to him Dec. 10, 1867. On March 26, 1868, Staten was indicted by the
grand jury of the county for illegal voting. The indictment set forth the
act aforesaid which he violated in voting. The lower court quashed the
indictment, and the state appealed.
The case was heard by the
supreme court for the western division at its April term, 1869, the
supreme court being composed of Henry G. Smith, George Andrews, and James
These jurists held that,
when a certificate entitling a party to vote was issued under any of the
acts aforesaid it was in the nature of a vested property right, and that
it could not be taken away without due process of law, and hence, that the
legislature had no right, without giving the party a hearing, to deprive
him of his right to vote under his certificate, and hence, could not
confer upon the governor the right to disfranchise him.
Senter, who as speaker of
the Senate succeeded to the governorship on the election of Brownlow to
the Senate, desired to be elected governor at the regular election. He was
distrusted by the radicals, who nominated as their candidate William B.
Stokes. The Democrats seized their opportunity, and promised Senter their
support, if he would allow them to vote. The decision of the supreme court
in the William Staten case referred to above was the turning point in the
contest, especially affecting the result in Middle and West Tennessee. In
addition to this, Senter instructed the commissioners of registration to
issue certificates to Democrats, which was done very generously. Senter
was elected by the largest majority ever given a candidate for governor.
The legislature was also
overwhelmingly Democratic for the first time since the war. Ante-bellum
leaders, with Gen. John C. Brown at the head, were once again in the
saddle, and Tennessee began to emerge from the dark clouds of the
And yet there was another
serious fight before the conservatives gained safe control of the state.
An effort was made by the radicals and defeated partisans of Brownlow to
bring the state again under military rules,to "un-state" Tennessee, to
use a term then in vogue. This occurred in 1870 shortly after the election
of Senter, and created much excitement throughout the state.
The legislature that met
under Senter had lost no time in repealing all the obnoxious acts of the
Brown-low administration, including the act creating the "State Guard,"
all laws granting aid to internal improvements, etc. We may observe here
that the strenuous Brownlow legislature was in a long continuous session,
and in addition to its efforts to disfranchise perpetually the intelligent
citizens of the state, was also engaged in heroic efforts to increase the
bonded indebtedness, and some $20,000,000 was added to the already
The effort of the radicals
to reconstruct Tennessee was fostered and in every way encouraged by the
holders of the bonds of the state-aided railroads, who saw the prospect of
a repudiation of this debt by the Senter legislature. The cry was raised
in Congress that Tennessee was about to repudiate the amendments to the
state constitution voted upon under Johnson, and was again setting itself
in "rebellion '' against the government. Ample encouragement of this idea
was received in Congress from such men as Thaddeus Stevens, Oliver P.
Morton and Ben Wade.
A committee to investigate
the situation was appointed, of which Gen. B. F. Butler was chairman. The
Tennessee legislature sent to Washington to interview this committee,
speaker D. B. Thomas of the Senate, and speaker W- O'N. Perkins, of the
In addition, a mass meeting
of citizens of Nashville held on March 19, 1870, appointed a committee
composed as follows: ex-Governor Neill S. Brown, Judge John M. Lea, Judge
J. C. Guild, and Gen. G. P. Thruston, an ex-Federal officer who had
settled in Nashville, and was now lending his valuable aid toward
Testimony was given before
the committee by speakers Thomas and Perkins, and by Judge Lea and General
Thruston. The efforts of these gentlemen were successful, and the
threatened return to military rule was averted. However, no legislation
was enacted by that legislature on the subject of the railroad debt, and
for the time being agitation on that question ceased.
The Constitution of 1870.
The Democrats now in power
were determined to get rid of all obnoxious legislation in the best way
possible, and to do their utmost to prevent a return of such abuse of
power as had been witnessed under Brownlow. There had been no revision of
the state constitution since 1834, and it was thought that now was the
time to" call a convention for that purpose.
Accordingly, after having
submitted the question to the people, this convention assembled in
Nashville, Jan. 10, 1870. The importance of the task before them was
realized, and the ablest men in the state were sent as delegates. Judge O.
H. P. Nicholson, the "Nestor of the Convention," who afterwards became the
chief justice of the state, was made chairman of the committee on
elections and suffrage, the most delicate work before that body. Hon. John
C. Brown, afterwards governor, was elected permanent president.
There was present one
member of the constitutional convention of 1834 in the person of Mr.
Boiling Gordon, of Hickman county, who was made temporary president. This
convention altogether consisted of some of Tennessee's most distinguished
men, and even now it is considered an especial honor to be referred to as
having been "a member of the constitutional convention of 1870." Under the
leadership of wise men, the work of the convention was quickly done,
adjournment being reached on February 23, one month and thirteen days
after assembling. The chief action of the convention was the re-enactment
of the constitution of 1834 with the elimination of the word "white" and
the addition of a poll-tax qualification.
By thus applying the
elective franchise to "every male person of the age of twenty-one," (the
constitution of 1834 provided that only "free white men" could vote),
Tennessee embodied in its constitution the substance of the Fifteenth
Amendment nearly two months before this was ratified and proclaimed by the
There was a fight over
giving the suffrage to negroes by constitutional provision. Four members,
on February 22, filed a protest, stating: "We hold that this convention
has no right to force negro suffrage upon the people of Tennessee." A
separate popular vote was urged on this provision. But arguments in favor
of negro suffrage were forcefully presented by the wise leaders and the
policy prevailed. Thus we have presented to us the sight of men of
Southern blood, and only recently from the field of battle, calmly and
resolutely facing the inevitable, and arguing that the right of suffrage
be given by constitutional provision to former slaves.
In order to prevent the
appointment of county offices of election by the governor, a power which
had been so grossly abused by Brownlow, the convention provided (Act XL,
Sec. 17), "No county office created by the legislature, shall be filled
otherwise than by the people or the county court." The constitution was
submitted to the people and ratified on March 26, 1870, by a vote of
98,128 for, to 33,872 against.
Tennessee has had three
constitutions, the first one ratified in 1796, called by Thomas Jefferson
the "most democratic constitution of any state"; the second in 1834, and
the third in 1870. The changes in the constitution of 1870 from that of
1834 are, however, so slight, outside of the right of suffrage, that the
present constitution may be viewed more as an amended instrument of 1834
than as a new constitution of 1870. Undoubtedly the leaders of the state
acted wisely at that time of unsettled conditions in tampering as little
as possible with the state constitutional law; but it is a fact recognized
for some years in the state that this constitution in some provisions is
cumbersome under present, and decidedly altered conditions. Hon. Joshua W.
Caldwell, who has written a most valuable book on the Constitutional
History of Tennessee, presents very cogent reasons why a new constitution,
or important amendments, are needed, and adds (p. 339), "but for the aid
thus given by the Supreme Court, the state would be intolerably hampered
by the present constitution.''
Judge Nicholson himself
said when the present constitution was ratified, that a new constitution
would be needed within ten years.
The people of the state are
very slow to take hold of this matter, however. In 1897 the time seemed to
many to be ripe for a constitutional convention, but the proposition was
Again in 1904, amendments
along certain lines were defeated. However, as Mr. Caldwell says (p. 353):
"Conditions demand, and ere long will compel a revision.''
The State Debt.
At the close of the days of
reconstruction, Tennessee, like her sister states, was confronted with an
enormous public debt which had been piled up during the chaotic period
just following the war. In Tennessee the settlement of her debt was a
question agitating her public men for fourteen years. Tennessee's state
debt in 1870 consisted of three distinct divisions: (1) the state debt
proper; (2) the "state-aid" debt; (3) the Brownlow debt. These classes are
explained in the following paragraphs.
Previous to the War of
Secession, in her effort to extend aid to worthy improvements within her
borders, Tennessee's outstanding bonds amounted to $16,643,000. A small
proportion of these bonds ($3,844,000) constituted what became known as
the "state debt proper," while the remaining bonds ($12,799,000) were
issued under the policy mentioned above of extending state aid to internal
improvements, mainly railroads, and for which liens were held on the
roads. This indebtedness was increased by the Brownlow administration just
after the war by an added debt of $20,363,406, making a total debt now on
the state of $37,006,406. At one time the total debt, with accumulated
interest, amounted to $42,000,000, and this at a time when the state was
impoverished, and the roads on which she held liens for practically all
the debt were destroyed. The state did enforce liens against twelve roads,
to which bonds amounting to $20,502,000 had been issued. The roads sold
for only $6,698,000 making a net loss of $13,804,000 to the state.
Speculators, through a
subsidized press and concerted action, attacked the validity of the post
bellum series of bonds, and thus ran the price down to a minimum. After
purchasing the bonds at a few cents on the dollar, as was done in many
instances, they were presented to the state at their full value to
discharge liens against other roads.
The state debt question now
became a burning political issue, and gave rise to three distinct parties;
(1) Those who wished to pay the "state debt proper" only; (2)those who
desired to pay the entire debt in fullcalled the "Sky Blues," and (3) a
class between these two, that favored paying in full the state debt
proper, but effecting an equitable compromise of the remainder.
The controversy over the
settlement of the debt was the occasion of a Republican gubernatorial
victory in 1880, the only executive of that political party in the state
since the days of Brownlow and Senter to the present. At this time the
Democrats split into two factions, the State Credit faction and the Low
Tax Democrats. John V. Wright was nominated on a platform to settle the
whole debt on a basis of fifty cents on the dollar with 4 per cent, added.
Judge S. F. Wilson was nominated as an independent Democrat, and favored
settling in full the state debt proper, and equitably adjusting the
balance, since it was tainted with illegality. Hon. Alvin Hawkins,
Republican, was elected.
Again in 1882 the battle
raged about this question, and again the Democratic party was split. The
regular Democracy nominated Gen. Wm. B. Bate, while the "Sky Blues"
nominated Hon. J. H. Fussell. Governor Hawkins was a candidate to succeed
General Bate was
overwhelmingly elected, and under his administration the debt was settled,
and thereafter removed from the arena of politics. The settlement was, the
payment in full of the "state debt proper," including accrued interest,
except during the war. This debt was admitted by all as valid, and
included bonds issued before the war for the following purposes: State
capitol, $493,000; Hermitage bonds, $35,000; agricultural bonds, $18,000;
Union Bank, $125,000; Bank of Tennessee, $214,000; turnpike bonds,
$741,000; Hiwassee R. R. bonds, $280,000; East Tennessee and Georgia R. R.
bonds, $144,000; Memphis & La Grange R. R. bonds, $68,000; total,
It was provided that the
remaining indebtedness should be funded into 30-year 3 per cent, bonds for
one-half the principal and accrued interest. The bonds held by schools and
charitable institutions were exempted from this settlement, and refunded
at full value.
At the time of the
settlement of the state debt, question, the debt, with interest, amounted
to nearly $30,000,000. By the settlement under Governor Bate, the debt was
reduced to about $16,500,000.
In 1899 the legislature
passed the Sinking Fund Act, and since that time the debt has been retired
at the rate of some half million dollars a year. At the present time
(1908) the state debt is as follows: 4 1/2% per cent, redemption bonds,
$1,000,000; 4 1/2 per cent, penitentiary bonds, $600,000; 3 per cent,
settlement bonds, $9,994,300; 5 per cent, certificates of indebtedness
held by charitable and educational institutions, $14,000; 6 per cent,
certificates of indebtedness held by charitable and educational
institutions, $656,000; total regular interest-bearing debt (1908),
With her immense resources
and an accumulating sinking fund, the credit of the state is "gilt edged,"
and the state debt will, within a few years, be entirely wiped out.
There is no more accurate
test of the progress of a people than the development of the school
system, and the support given to educational matters.
Tennessee has been called
the "University State of the South" from the number of institutions of
higher learning found in her midst. She now has a superb system of
schools, public and private, and is preparing for yet greater progress in
this direction in the near future. With such institutions as Vanderbilt
University, Nashville, founded in 1875; University of Tennessee,
Knoxville; University of the South, Sewanee; Cumberland University,
Lebanon; Southwestern Presbyterian University, Clarksville; Union
University, Jackson; Carson and Newman College, Jefferson City; Grant
University, Athens; Washington College, Salem; University of Nashville,
and Peabody College for Teachers, Nashville; and many others, both for
young men and young women, the need of Tennessee's students are well cared
for. Nashville is already the greatest educational centre of the South,
and annually thousands of young men and women gather there from all parts
of the United States.
Among the institutions for
negroes, established by religious denominations since the war, may be
mentioned: Fisk University, Roger Williams University (recently burned),
Central Tennessee College, and Knoxville College. Fisk University
(Nashville) is the highest grade collegiate institution for negroes in the
The present public school
law was enacted in 1873, and although at first considered an experiment,
has proven eminently successful. The permanent school fund amounts to the
sum of $2,512,500, bearing 6 per cent, interest. In addition a state tax
of fifteen cents on the $100 is levied, and where this amount is found
insufficient to maintain the schools in any county for five months, the
county courts are authorized to levy additional taxes to the same amount
as the state. A direct appropriation of fifty cents per pupilto be
increased Jan. 1, 1909, to seventy-five cents per pupil is also made.
Under this special appropriation, the state during 1908, paid for her
schools the sum of $425,000.
In addition an
appropriation was made by the legislature of 1907 of $100,000 to the State
University; and of $250,000 to the Peabody College for Teachers,this
latter appropriation, however, contingent upon the location at Nashville
of the Pea-body Educational Fund of $1,000,000 by the trustees of the
The number of pupils in the
public schools of Tennessee in 1870 was 89,000; in 1907-8, 773,380. The
average number of school days has increased from 77 in 1870, to 117 in
Tennessee has a less
percentage of illiterates than any other seceding state except Texas and
Arkansas in 1900 the per cent, being 14.1 for whites, and 41.6 for
negroes. In 1907 the per cent. of illiterates, both races, was only 29.4.
This is a gratifying situation compared with conditions thirty years ago
when the increase in white illiterates for the decade from 1860-1870 was
50 per cent. The situation in 1870 was,in fact, alarming, when the
commissioners would often, to relieve themselves of any responsibility,
employ a few peripatetic teachers, wholly unfit oftentimes for the duties
devolving on them, and suffer them to teach until the funds were
exhausted, when school would be suspended until the following year, only
to be taken up again in the same way for a month or two.
The white population of the
state has increased during the past three decades about 50 per cent.; but
the school enrollment to-day is, for whites alone, nearly 400,000, an
increase of some 600 per cent.
Great impetus has been
given to the cause of public education in Tennessee, especially within the
past five or six years by an extensive propaganda on this subject. The
people are alive to the great value of efficient schools, and are
preparing for yet greater things.
General Growth and
Tennessee's advance has
been great since the days of the sixties. In 1860 the census valuation of
all property (excluding negroes) was $393,693,767. It is to be noted that
this valuation was before the devastation of the war. The war reduced the
value of farm products alone $114,414,354 (see Handbook of Tennessee, p.
19). The census report in 1900 gave a valuation of $887,956,143, and 1908
the value was in excess of one billion dollars. In 1900 there were more
people owning their own homes in Tennessee than in any other Southern
state, except Texas. There were more manufactories than in any other
Southern state except Texas and Virginia; the value of her agricultural
products stands sixteenth in the Union, and exceeds all the seceding
states, except Texas. In the value of her manufacturing products she ranks
twenty-fifth in the Union, and leads all the Southern states, except
Louisiana, Texas and Virginia. More than 3,900 miles of railroads bring
her in touch with the world, and afford an outlet for her vast products.
Every variety of soil to be
found in the United States may be found in the state. Every crop grown in
the Union, except the tropical fruits, may be profitably and successfully
grown. Her mineral resources have hardly been touched, and include, among
others: iron, coal, marble, copper, zinc, lead, limestone, sandstone, and
phosphates. The first shipment of phosphate was made in 1894, when 19,188
tons, valued at $67,158, were shipped; in 1906, the shipment was 499,815
tons, and was valued at $1,852,840. This phosphate is found in middle
Tennessee, mainly about Mt. Pleasant and Columbia. In 1906 Tennessee
furnished 12.71 per cent. of the world's supply of phosphate.
In addition to her
minerals, there are great forests covering thousands of square miles in
the iron and other regions of the state. These forests contain many
species of fine trees, especially hardwoods.
Tennessee has a number of
large cities. The four largest are: Memphis, with a population of about
150,000; Nashville comes next with a population of about 125,000;
Chattanooga and Knoxville each have about 50,000.
The population of the state
in 1900 was 2,020,616, and in 1908 it was estimated safely at two and
one-quarter millions. In 1860 the population was 1,109,-801. In the
forty-seven years since the beginning of the war Tennessee has doubled her
Tennessee is one of the
fairest jewels in the diadem of the Nation. Eight states touch her
borders, and the mighty Mississippi sweeps by her western side, while
other rivers of navigable size penetrate her fertile valleys. She is
endowed with a balmy, salubrious climate, remarkable scenery, and a lavish
abundance of fruits, minerals and timber. Her statesmen and patriots have
not only honored her but the Nation, and their Anglo-Saxon principles are
kept pure and intact, with a glorious history.
books and pamphlets have been consulted in the preparation of this paper:
Caldwell: Constitutional History of Tennessee; DeBow's Review (1868);
Edmunds: Facts About the South; Dickinson, J. M.: Reply to Speech of
Senator Baxter on Tennessee (1903); Fertig: The Secession and
Reconstruction of Tennessee; Fleming: The Prescript of the Ku Klux Klan;
Folk, Reau E.; Tennessee's Bonded Indebtedness (1908); Garrett and
Goodpasture: History of Tennessee; Lester and Wilson: The Ku Klux Klan;
Marshall: Life of General William B. Bate; Merriam: Education in
Tennessee; Miller's Manual of Tennessee; Paine, Thos.H.: Handbook of
Tennessee (1903); Phelan: History of Tennessee; The American Historical
Magazine; Prescript of Order of XXX (Original copy printed at Pulaski,
Tenn.); Acts and Journals of Tennessee Legislature; Tennessee School
Reports, especially 1906, and Statistical Report, 1907.
Carey A. Folk,
Assistant Treasurer of the State of Tennessee; formerly President of
Boscobel College, Nashville.