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Early Tennessee State Representatives

It appears just to give the names of our earliest Tennessee legislators, as well as other officers. Of the general assembly, which met at Knoxville March 28th, the senate was composed of James Ford, Tennessee county; James Winchester, Sumner; James White, Knox; George Doherty, Jefferson; Samuel Frazier, Greene; John Tipton, Washington; George Rutledge, Sullivan; John Clack, Sevier; Alexander Kelly, Blount; Joel Lewis, Davidson; and Joseph McMinn, Hawkins. It was organized by the election of James Winchester, speaker; Francis A. Ramsey, clerk; Nathaniel Buckingham, assistant clerk; Thomas Bounds, door-keeper.

The following were the representatives: Joseph Black and James Houston, Blount county; Seth Lewis and Robert Weakley, Davidson; Joseph Conway and John Glass, Greene; John Cocke and Thomas Henderson, Hawkins; Alexander Outlaw and Adam Peck, Jefferson; John Crawford and John Manifee, Knox; David Looney and John Rhea, Sullivan; Spencer Clack and Samuel Newell, Sevier; Stephen Cantrell and William Montgomery, Sumner; William Fort and Thomas Johnson, Tennessee; and John Blair and James Stuart, Washington. James Stuart was chosen speaker; Thomas H. Williams, clerk; John Sevier, Jr., assistant clerk; John Rhea, door-keeper.

Upon the organization of the two houses, and after opening the returns of the election of the different counties for governor, "Citizen John Sevier" was found to have been duly and constitutionally elected. After his inauguration the governor presented the following brief ad. dress:


"The high and honorable appointment conferred upon me by the free suffrage of my countrymen fills my breast with gratitude, which, I trust, my future life will manifest. I take this early opportunity to express through you, my thanks in the strongest terms of acknowledgment. I shall labor to discharge with fidelity the trust imposed in me; and if such my exertions should prove satisfactory, the first wish of my heart will be gratified. Gentlemen, accept my best wishes for your individual and public happiness; and, relying upon your wisdom and patriotism, I have no doubt but the result of your deliberations will give permanency and success to our new system of government so wisely calculated to secure the liberty and advance the happiness and prosperity of our fellow citizens.


Under the constitution, the governor was the only officer elected by the whole people of the state. His term of office was fixed at two years, and he was prohibited from serving more than six years in any period of eight. Sevier had no opposition during the first three terms he served. This proved his universal popularity, though, strictly speaking, he had not been really identified with middle Tennessee. The Cumberland people had not looked -to him. This may account for the fact that, as the center of population moved westward of the Cumberland mountains, Andrew Jackson began to compete with him in popularity. Today the military hero apotheosized by the east Tennesseans is Sevier; that by the middle Tennesseans is Jackson. Had Sevier been as well known personally in the west as he was in the east-his presence was magnetic -it might have been better for his fame.

As Governor Sevier had been selected before the state was admitted to the Union, so had the two United States senators, William Blount and William Cocke. After the state was admitted, the senate refused to recognize the senators, holding that they were prematurely elected; while congress passed an act allowing Tennessee but one representative in congress. The governor called an extra session of the general assembly, which, meeting July 30, 1796, continued in session ten days. Blount and Cocke were re-elected, an act was passed for the election of a congressman from the state at large, and provision was made for the appointment of three presidential electors.

Andrew Jackson announced for congress, and was elected without opposition, at the age of twenty-nine. As to Jackson's birth-state, Bassett, in one of the latest biographies of Old Hickory, thinks the weight of evidence favors South Carolina. Shortly after his arrival in Nashville Jackson became involved in a sensation which called attention more particularly to him than he would have otherwise received so early. This was concerning the lady who later became his wife, a more extended notice of which is given in another chapter. It was unfortunate as well as humiliating to all concerned, but did not prevent his steady advancement. Not only was his experience about this time a preparation for his eminence as an Indian fighter, but. in the general prosperity following the final overthrow of the Indians he had an ample share, partly through the diligent practice of his profession of the law, and partly through judicious purchases and sales of land. We have seen that he was a delegate to the convention to form the Tennessee constitution. Although anticipative, Fiske's resume of his career as a member of congress may be copied here

"When the house had assembled, he heard President Washington deliver in person his last message to congress. He was one of twelve who voted against the adoption of the address to Washington in approval of his administration. Jackson's chief objections to Washington's government were directed against two of its most salutary and admirable acts-the Jay treaty with Great Britain and Hamilton's financial measures. His feeling toward the Jay treaty was that of a man who could not bear to see anything but blows dealt to Great Britain. His condemnation of Hamilton's policy was mingled with the not unreasonable feeling of distrust which he had already begun to harbor against a national bank. * * * Of his other votes in this congress, one was for an appropriation to defray the expenses of Sevier's expedition against the Cherokees, which was carried. Three others were eminently wise and characteristic of the man

"1. For finishing the three frigates then building and destined to such renown-the Constitution, Constellation, and United States.

"2. Against the further payment of blackmail to Algiers.

" 3. Against removing the restriction which confined the expenditure of public money to the specific objects for which each sum was appropriated.

"Another vote, silly in itself, was characteristic of the representative from a rough frontier community-it was against the presumed extravagance of appropriating $14,000 to buy furniture for the newly built white house."

At the time of Governor Sevier's election a question of pressing interest was the controversy between the Indians and whites concerning the boundary. The treaty of Holston, made in 1791, had not been carried into effect, because of misunderstandings as to the line. The line was afterward run and marked. The settlement south of the French Broad and Holston rivers, under the treaties of Dumplin and Coyatee, had been extended to the Little Tennessee. Powell's Valley, likewise, was being exploited under North Carolina grants; and these settlements extended into the Indian country. The settlements formed beyond the line were compelled to remove, which caused considerable excitement on the frontiers. It was Sevier's policy to promote peace and friendship with the Indians. The organization and regulation of the militia had his attention, and this matter was well handled. The greatest problem was as to the disposition of public lands; for the system of land-laws was a puzzle. An attempt was made in connection with the question to sully his reputation. Aside from this subject, the course of public affairs during his first term offered little occasion for the display of extraordinary executive ability, though his manner of meeting such issues as confronted him leads Phelan to say he was one of the four best governors of Tennessee before the war, the others being William Carroll, James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson.

Meantime a rather sensational political occurrence took place. Before the general election in August, 1797, rumors of the imprudent conduct of Senator William Blount reached Tennessee. On July 3rd of that year President John Adams had sent a message to both houses of congress stating that there were grounds for believing the condition of the country was critical-some correspondence Senator Blount had with various parties indicated that he had entered into a conspiracy to transfer the territory of New Orleans ' and Florida to Great Britain through the, help of the British army and the Indians. Five days after the giving of the notice Blount was expelled from the senate on the charge of having been guilty of a high misdemeanor, entirely inconsistent with his public trust and duty as a senator. The vote stood twenty-five for expulsion to one against. Senator Tazewell, of Virginia, alone voted in the negative. On a vote for an impeachment, the vote stood eleven for conviction and fourteen for acquittal. "Time has not vindicated the justice of his expulsion," say Garrett and Goodpasture. "His friends did all in their power to counteract its effects. General Robertson spoke of the matter in the saddest, gentlest terms. * * * James White, the father of Hugh L. White, having resigned his seat in the [state] senate, of which he was speaker, Governor Blount was elected to that body and made its speaker. He received the kindest attentions of the people without exception. But death claimed him before they had an opportunity to honor him further."

After the rumors reached the state, it was certain that the expelled senator could not be elected. Joseph Anderson was thereupon elected to succeed him, and at the same session of the legislature Andrew Jackson succeeded William Cocke, whose term in the senate had expired.

Joseph Anderson, born near Philadelphia, November 5, 1757, and died in Washington, April 17, 1837, studied law, and at the beginning of the revolution was appointed an ensign in the New Jersey line. At the battle of Monmouth he served as a captain. He was present at Valley Forge and at the siege of Georgetown, retiring after the war with the brevet rank of major. He began the practice of law in Delaware, but President Washington in 1791 appointed him judge of the southwest territory. He took part in drawing up the constitution of Tennessee. From 1797 to 1815 he was senator from Tennessee, serving on important committees and twice acting as president pro tem pore; and from 1815 to 1836 he was first comptroller of the United States treasury.


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Source: Will T. Hale. A history of Tennessee and Tennesseans: the leaders and representative men in commerce, industry and modern activities, published Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1913.

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