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Mexican War


Senator John Bell
Senator John Bell

Scarcely had the Mexican War ended when in 1850 Southern leaders convened in Nashville for a “Southern Convention.” There they complained of increasing dissatisfaction with the federal government. The South, overwhelmingly agricultural, produced cash crops—cotton, tobacco, and sugarcane—for export to the North or to Europe, but it depended on the North for manufactures and for the financial and commercial services essential to trade. Underscoring sectional differences, the labor force in the South included nearly 4 million enslaved blacks. Although the slaveholding planter class formed a small minority of the population, it dominated Southern politics and society. Slaves were the largest single investment in the South, and the fear of slave unrest ensured the loyalty of nonslaveholders to the economic and social system.

The South had become a minority section, and its leaders viewed the actions of Congress, over which they had lost control, with growing concern. The North demanded for its industrial growth a protective tariff, federal subsidies for shipping and internal improvements, and a sound banking and currency system. The West looked to Congress for free homesteads and federal aid for its roads and waterways. The South, however, regarded such measures as discriminatory, favoring Northern commercial interests. It also found intolerable the rise of antislavery agitation in the North. At this convention and other gatherings through the 1850s, Southerners often talked of secession from the Northern-dominated federal Union.

Tennesseans, however, seldom joined in such rhetoric. Although some, such as James G. M. Ramsey of Knoxville, openly predicted that “the days of our present Union are numbered,” most Tennesseans were not ready to contemplate secession. The prospect of a Southern secession depended on the presidential election of 1860, and as that contest approached people viewed the candidates with considerable apprehension. Tennesseans supported U.S. Senator John Bell, an indecisive man whose simple platform merely called for the preservation of the Union and the strict upholding of the Constitution.

William G Brownlow
Senator John Bell

By November 1860, however, Americans were so sectionally polarized that Bell’s candidacy interested few voters outside Tennessee and the border states. Instead, Illinoian Abraham Lincoln of the new (1854) Republican Party became president with less than 40 percent of the popular vote and with no support south of the Ohio River.

Seven states seceded before Lincoln could be inaugurated, but Tennesseans still did not consider secession until a federal fort (Fort Sumter, South Carolina) was attacked and Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 men to “suppress the rebellion.” This left no doubt that federal armies soon would invade the South. Tennesseans voted by a substantial majority on June 8, 1861, to secede.

In most of East Tennessee, the vote was against secession, and leaders there tried to form an independent state of loyal people. U.S. Senator Andrew Johnson of Greeneville refused to surrender his Senate seat, contending that no state could legally secede.

With the coming of the American Civil War (1861-1865), Tennessee was in the middle of it from the beginning: More battles were fought in the Volunteer State than in all other states except Virginia. The war in Tennessee included a half-dozen major battles, and hundreds of skirmishes, between the army of the Union and the army of the Confederate States of America, as the seceded states called themselves. Fort Donelson (1862), Shiloh (1862), Stones River (1863), Chattanooga (1863), Franklin (1864), and Nashville (1864) were large battles fought within the state’s borders. All these battles destroyed much property and took many lives. The majority were Northern victories and eventually opened the South to invading armies. After 1862 civilians were constantly harassed by marauding armies traversing the state.

By the end of 1864 Northern military forces controlled all of Tennessee. Andrew Johnson, whom Lincoln installed as military governor in the spring of 1862, served in this unique capacity until he became Lincoln’s vice president in 1865. The radical Republican William G. Brownlow, a Knoxville preacher and newspaper publisher, then became the governor during the restoration, or Reconstruction, period. He served until 1869. "Tennessee" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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