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The Federalists


Thomas Jefferson’s
Thomas Jefferson’s

The nation’s first political party, the Federalists, who favored the urban commercial North, were never popular west of the Appalachians. Tennesseans flocked to Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Party (later the Democratic-Republican Party and then the Democratic Party), which drew its strength from agrarian interests and opposed aid to the urban North. After Federalist congressmen sought to delay Tennessee’s admission to the federal Union, its leaders vowed continued support for Jefferson and helped elect him to the presidency in 1800. Although Tennessee was to remain a one-party state for nearly four decades, sectionalism and personal factions were so rife that intraparty squabbles among the Democrats were frequent. Powerful leaders in the populous eastern counties kept Knoxville’s John Sevier in office for six terms, but three Middle Tennesseans, Willie Blount (William Blount’s half-brother), Sam Houston, and William Carroll, soon pushed the East Tennesseans aside and between them held the governor’s office for 20 years.

Middle Tennessean leaders moved the capital from Knoxville to Murfreesboro and finally to Nashville. They built roads leading out of Nashville like spokes of a wheel and, finding the soil in the Nashville Basin rich and productive, dominated the state in politics and wealth.

Middle Tennesseans found a powerful leader in Andrew Jackson, who married John Donelson’s daughter Rachel. Jackson’s stunning victory in the War of 1812, where he defeated a British army at New Orleans in 1815, made him a national hero, and he soon emerged to dominate the political scene.

His many duels, brutal brawls, and raucous behavior around Nashville at the turn of the century were forgiven, and Tennesseans sent him to the U.S. Senate in 1823 and to the presidency in 1829.

While Jackson had his share of enemies in both the state and the nation, his forces were strong enough to control Tennessee politics for most of the 1820s and 1830s. These included powerful local politicians such as William Carroll and men of great landholdings and wealth such as John Overton. The democratic spirit of the period was reflected in Tennessee laws modernizing the criminal code, establishing more humane prisons, building better mental health facilities, making most county offices elective, and removing inequities in taxation of real property. A new constitution eliminated property requirements for holding office and made representation in the legislature proportional. However, it still deprived blacks of the right to vote.

During the early 1830s, enemies of Jackson—led by John Bell of Nashville and Hugh Lawson White of Knoxville—formed a political alliance that replaced Carroll with a governor of their own. Jackson’s enemies at the national level, including leaders such as Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun, joined with Bell and White to form the Whig Party. Both White and Webster ran for president against Jackson’s candidate, Martin Van Buren, in 1836. White won Tennessee by a large majority, although he failed to win the presidency. James K. Polk, a staunch Jacksonian, reorganized the Democratic Party in the state, gained control of the state legislature, and became governor in 1839. The national Democratic Party chose Polk for the presidency in 1844, and he won. However, he did not carry Tennessee, where Whigs continued strong until the late 1850s. The Whigs blamed Polk for the Mexican War (1846-1848), but Polk emerged the victor when the peace treaty gave the United States new western lands that nearly doubled the size of the country. "Tennessee" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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