Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Antebellum Politics in Tennessee

Antebellum Politics in Tennessee

Paul H. Bergeron
Copyright Date: 1982
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Antebellum Politics in Tennessee
    Book Description:

    Tennessee played a critical and vital role in national politics in the mid-nineteenth century. Two Tennesseans, for example, served as president and two others were presidential candidates. Such prominence be-speaks the importance of politics in the state's antebellum culture. For the first time in its history Tennessee developed a two-party system, one that was vigorous and exciting.In his study Paul H. Bergeron examines the development of this two-party competition by focusing on statewide contests. Two-party politics in Tennessee was marked by intense and evenly balanced competition, so much so that the outcome of virtually every election was un-certain. In such an environment each party worked diligently to stir the voters; that they were successful is indicated by the exceedingly high levels of turnout for elections.Paul H. Bergeron, the first scholar to study the development of the two-party system in Tennessee, presents a detailed narrative of this period coupled with a quantitative analysis of electoral behavior. He relates the peculiarities of Tennessee's experiences to other states during the antebellum decades. Bergeron also offers fresh insights and information on Tennessee's defections from Jacksonianism in the pre-Civil War period. His book is an important contribution to the growing list of state studies, north and south, that are steadily building a greater appreciation of the complexities of politics in Jacksonian America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6209-6
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. I Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Before the mid-1830s it had been the custom in Tennessee to conduct politics on the basis of factional and personal rivalries. In that regard Tennessee did not differ greatly from the other new western states. It entered the union in 1796 strongly disposed toward the Jeffersonian Republican party in presidential contests and for years never wavered in that loyalty. After the Federalist party disappeared, the nation’s politics at all levels lapsed into a one-party or no-party status. But Tennessee had been in that mold from the very beginning. That factional and personal antagonisms were the rule of politics should not...

  5. II Electoral Behavior: An Overview
    (pp. 9-34)

    One way to remedy the surprising disregard Tennessee’s antebellum political history has experienced is to begin with a longitudinal view that utilizes an empirical analysis of the elections from 1835 to 1860. To that end voting data and related information are offered which make possible specific and general observations. This chapter is arranged according to the size of the units being discussed and analyzed: first the three sections of the state, then the congressional districts, and finally the counties. These three components lend themselves to comparisons and contrasts, and the reader should be able to see how the electoral behavior...

  6. III Political Revolution, 1834-39
    (pp. 35-63)

    In the early 1830s Tennessee seemed a most unlikely place for a political insurrection among its citizenry. After all, Andrew Jackson, the state’s most famous individual, was serving as president, and most Tennesseans took great pride in his accomplishments. But midway through his second term, Jackson suffered the profound embarrassment and displeasure of witnessing a widespread “revolt” in his home state. His vice president, Martin Van Buren of New York, served unwittingly as a focal point of much of the unhappiness among Tennessee voters. By the time of the 1835 gubernatorial campaign, Jackson partisans could not shut their eyes to...

  7. IV Political Maturity, 1840-49
    (pp. 64-102)

    Two-party politics in Tennessee came of age in the decade of the 1840s when, judging from various statewide elections, the revolt against Jackson was firmly secured. The incipient Whig movement of the late 1830s became the bona fide, loyal and noisy opposition party, compelling the Democrats to fight diligently to maintain a high level of competitiveness. In the process the two parties waged eight vigorous statewide contests (five gubernatorial and three presidential) in ten years’ time. If the pace of politics in the 1830s was hectic, one must search for new phrases to describe the 1840s.

    As both parties refined...

  8. V Politics Transformed, 1850-59
    (pp. 103-147)

    The decade of the 1850s opened with a brilliant, but fragile, compromise agreed upon by Congress in a valiant effort to deal with the slavery question. For a time the menacing, strident voices of sectionalism were muted, but as the decade progressed the nation found itself caught up in a worsening controversy over slavery. Needless to say, Tennessee did not, indeed could not, escape the swirling crosscurrents of compromise and conflict.

    The question of the extension of slavery was the nation’s overriding concern. In 1850 Congress dealt with this problem by offering a package containing compromises favorable to both North...

  9. VI Conclusion
    (pp. 148-162)

    Although Tennesseans at the time did not know it, after the 1859 campaign results had been tallied the so-called antebellum era was essentially over. The next year would bring a national crisis of distressing proportions, with the tragic result that the union began to dissolve. If a mythical Tennessee voter had paused on the eve of the year 1860 to make an assessment of the preceding twenty-five years, he might have raised these two questions: Who were the Democrats, who were the anti-Democrats? What themes and topics characterized this extraordinary period of political conflict in Tennessee?

    The first question—Who...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 163-166)

    Before the outbreak of the Civil War, Tennessee voters had one more opportunity to participate in an election campaign. The climactic presidential contest of 1860 attracted attention and concern in the Volunteer State, as well as across the nation. In April, the national Democratic party split in two at its Charleston convention, with the result that both of the competing wings fielded their own candidates. The Northern Democrats nominated and supported Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, while the Southern Democrats lined up behind John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. The stresses that created such serious problems for the Democratic household gave...

  11. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 167-171)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 172-202)
  13. Index
    (pp. 203-208)