150 years ago today, the majority in Tennessee said “no” to secession convention…
On February 9, 1861, Tennessee said her peace… 69,387 voted against secession, while 57,798 voted in favor (I’ve seen stats that challenge these exact numbers, but the percentage is about the same). Now, some folks are quick to point out that it was quite a narrow margin, however, as David Morris Potter points out in The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861, at that same time, “votes were also cast for men who would have been delegates if this proposed convention had met, and the Tennesseans rubbed salt into the secessionist wounds with 88,803 votes for Unionists to 24,749 for secessionists.”
Among those who voiced strong opinion against secession were Andrew Johnson and “Parson” William Brownlow.
In referring to the secessionist crowd (more specifically, the slave-holding aristocracy that pushed for secession), Johnson called them, “a cheap purse-proud set they are… not half as good as the man who earns his bread by the sweat of his brow”.
Brownlow’s remarks, especially his commentary in the Knoxville Whig, seem even stronger. Brownlow insisted that east Tennessee yeomen could “never live in in a Southern Confederacy and be made hewers of wood and drawers of water for a set of aristocrats and overbearing tyrants.” Considering the “hewers of wood and drawers of water” comment was drawn from Joshua 9:23, it’s particularly interesting considering the context in which Brownlow made the statement.
Even so, the final decision on secession in Tennessee was yet to come.