Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee

By Kent T. Dollar; Larry H. Whiteaker et al. | Go to book overview

Reconstruction Power Play
The 1867 Mayoral Election in
Nashville, Tennessee

Ben H. Severance

In September 1867, the city of Nashville went through what was probably the most controversial municipal election in its history. One of several exciting episodes in Tennessee’s Reconstruction, the Nashville election pitted two unforgiving opponents against one another: the Conservative incumbents, led by Mayor W. Matt Brown, and the Radical Republican challengers, backed by Governor William G. Brownlow, a man notorious for his vitriolic hatred of anything that smacked of rebellion. The respective platforms were unimportant; political power was the objective, and the election was a showdown. In their efforts to prevail, both sides insisted on election procedures that would guarantee them victory. The ensuing legal dispute resulted in a resort to armed force, the Conservatives relying on a “special” police force composed of ex-Confederate soldiers, the Radicals receiving a battalion of Tennessee State Guard, a partisan militia body created earlier in the year. Caught in the middle of this power play was the federal garrison, a presumably neutral law enforcer that was duty bound to prevent political riots. What followed was an election that nearly degenerated into a street battle.

The politics of Reconstruction in Tennessee was the politics of force. As unconditional Unionists during the Civil War, the Radicals naturally saw themselves as the only trustworthy citizens in the state. Since coming to power in early 1865, however, Governor Brownlow and his party, whose strength lay mostly in East Tennessee, exercised tenuous control over the

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