Early Tennessee Politics

DURATION: One class



(Source) Early Tennessee politics were tied closely to land speculation (buying land at low prices and selling off sections at higher prices). 
For example, William Blount was a friend of prominent speculator, Richard Henderson, and had political ties which helped him secure the position of territorial governor. While in office, Blount continued to engage in land speculation. 

After the constitutional convention ended but before Tennessee was accepted as a state, Blount went ahead and called for elections of the legislature and governor.

Military hero John Sevier won the election to become the state’s first governor. Sevier served the maximum three terms and continued to ally with Land speculators. 

William Blount and William Cocke were elected as Tennessee’s U.S. senators by the legislature. (All senators were elected by state legislatures until the 17th amendment was passed in 1913 calling for direct election by voters.) Voters elected Andrew Jackson as the state’s first U.S. representative.

Geography helped to create a democratic impulse in the Tennessee region. Communities were often isolated and separated from the east by mountains, leading voters to gravitate toward politicians whom they thought best represented them. 

As Middle Tennessee grew in size, a rift developed between Nashville and Knoxville. This was personified by a feud between Jackson and Sevier. Jackson had wanted the post of major general of the state militia, but had lost to a candidate favored by Sevier. 

Then Jackson tried for the post again in 1802. This time his opposition was Sevier himself. Governor Archibald Roane broke a tied vote in favor of Jackson. When Roane was up for reelection, he was challenged by Sevier. Despite being accused of land fraud by both Roane and Jackson, Sevier won. 

The hard feelings between Sevier and Jackson led to a verbal argument between the two that resulted in a duel in 1803 near Kingston. There Sevier and Jackson shouted insults at each other, but fired no shots. 

Political power shifted from East Tennessee to Middle Tennessee in 1809 with the election of Willie Blount (pronounced Wye-lee) as governor. Blount was the half-brother of William Blount, who had died by this time. Joseph McMinn of Hawkins County was elected governor in 1815. He would be the last governor from East Tennessee until the 1850s.

McMinn began a series of reforms, which included Tennessee's banking system. When the national economy collapsed in the Panic of 1819, McMinn's measures helped the state's citizens in the crisis.  At the same time, McMinn supported internal improvements such as providing for common schools.  He also helped create the body that became the Tennessee Historical Society.

As the Revolutionary leaders like John Sevier died, new leaders took their place. Andrew Erwin, John Overton, and William Carroll rose to prominent roles. Carroll served as governor for 12 years, overseeing the criminal code revision and the construction of a state prison and a state insane asylum. 

Sam Houston
, who had served under Jackson during the Creek campaign, served as a U.S. representative from Tennessee and was elected governor in 1827 at the age of 34 years old.  An unfortunate marriage (his wife left him after only 11 weeks of marriage) nearly destroyed Houston. He resigned as governor and went to live with the Cherokee Indians. Then Houston moved on to Texas where he became the father of the Texas independence movement, serving as president of the new republic and later senator and governor of the new state.

Guiding Questions: 

  • Who influenced politics in Tennessee during the Frontier Era?

Objectives:  Students will 

  • Learn about Tennessee politics and individuals who participated in the political process during this time


  • Students will be able to correctly identify political figures in Tennessee history.


  1. Students will be introduced to Tennessee politics during the frontier era through the Tennessee 4 Me website: http://www.tn4me.org/article.cfm/a_id/268/minor_id/83/major_id/26/era_id/3
  2. For 4th grade classrooms, teachers should use the outline provided or create an outline on the blackboard with the information from this link about individuals who played significant roles in Tennessee politics during this time in history.
  3. After acquainting students with these names and explanations, students should be divided into groups of two or three depending on the size of the class.
  4. Each group is given the name of a political figure on an index card, not to be shared with the class as a whole.
  5. During the next several minutes, students should use the information from the outline or website to write a small summary of the person on their card to be used for a “20 questions interview.”
  6. Next, students will take turns being asked questions about the individual they were assigned (the number of questions allowed may vary based on time and group size).
  7. Student will attempt to guess the identity given to the group based on information about this person’s political life.

Extensions:Have students

  • Prepare an oral report on the biography of someone who played an important role during this period of Tennessee history, such as Daniel Boone or Thomas Walker.
  • Write down a storyteller’s version of a Indian  returning with a hunting party and sharing his adventures hunting in what is now Middle Tennessee.
  • Design and create a diorama showing settlers traveling through the Cumberland Gap.
  • Create a poster depicting a long hunter or a Indian ready for a hunt, showing his hunting gear.




  • Tennessee Grade 4 Social Studies Standards:
    4.5.spi.10. Recognize the accomplishments of John Sevier contributed to Tennessee history (i.e., State of Franklin's one and only governor, Tennessee's first governor, United States Congressman, soldier).
    4.5.09 Recognize major events, people, and patterns in Tennessee.
    b. Identify the accomplishments of notable Tennessee individuals such as William Blount, and John Sevier.


            National History Standards:
Standard 3D: The student understands the interactions among all these groups throughout the history of his or her state.
Grade Level
Therefore, the student is able to
Analyze the significance of major events in the state's history, their impact on people then and now, and their relationship to the history of the nation. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
Read historical narratives to describe how the territory or region attained its statehood. [Reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage]