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Brownlow’s administration


Ku Klux Klan of Tennessee
Ku Klux Klan of Tennessee

During Brownlow’s administration, ex-Confederates were disfranchised (deprived of their right to vote). Political party allegiance changed. The Republican Party became dominant in the counties that were loyal to the Union during the war, while the former Confederates adhered to the Democrats. Internal dissension had brought an end to the Whigs. In July 1866 Tennessee ratified the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which guaranteed basic political rights to all U.S. citizens, and was readmitted to the Union by Congress. Tennessee was the first state to be readmitted. A race riot in Memphis in May 1866, when white residents attacked the city’s black community, had drawn congressional attention to the need to safeguard the newly freed blacks’ rights, thus helping to secure passage of the amendment in Congress. Racial tensions erupted elsewhere in Tennessee soon after the war. Vigilante groups and terrorist activities spread among the central and western counties, causing Governor Brownlow to impose military law over some of them.

The most notorious of the vigilante groups was the Ku Klux Klan, organized in Pulaski, Tennessee, in the winter of 1865 to 1866, by six former Confederate army officers. The Klan became committed to destroying the Reconstruction governments from the Carolinas to Arkansas. Klan members terrorized public officials in efforts to drive them from office and blacks in general to prevent them from voting, holding office, and otherwise exercising their newly acquired political rights. If intimidation failed to frighten their target, their victims might be flogged, mutilated, or murdered, all justified by the Klan as necessary to defend white supremacy.

Brownlow was succeeded by a conservative Republican, DeWitt C. Senter, in 1869. The new governor had been a Northern sympathizer but believed in universal manhood suffrage—that is, allowing all adult males to vote. He permitted former Confederates to vote, and this enabled the Democratic Party to regain control of the state. Strong in areas where the Confederates had been supported, Democrats remained solidly in control until relatively recent times. A new constitution of 1870 provided for universal manhood suffrage. Blacks began to participate in politics and to win office, usually as Republicans. In 1872 a Nashville barber, Sampson W. Keeble, became the first black to serve in the legislature. Office holding and voting by blacks declined substantially after the 1880s, when black suffrage was curtailed by the poll tax and other measures. "Tennessee" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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