- Raging Moderates: Second Party Politics and the Creation of a Whig Aristocracy in Williamson County, Tennessee, 1812-1846.
Holladay, Robert, Koschnik, Albrect, Jones, James P., Childs, Matt, Department of History, Florida State University
Williamson County, Tennessee, moved from support of Andrew Jackson in the aftermath of the War of 1812, to become, by the Mexican War, the most pronounced Whig County in Middle Tennessee through a combination of personal, economic and political issues. Political leadership, economic nationalism and fears that Jackson's personality and policies undermined republicanism created a political culture that abjured sectionalism even after the Mexican War and increasing tensions over slavery. During...
Show moreWilliamson County, Tennessee, moved from support of Andrew Jackson in the aftermath of the War of 1812, to become, by the Mexican War, the most pronounced Whig County in Middle Tennessee through a combination of personal, economic and political issues. Political leadership, economic nationalism and fears that Jackson's personality and policies undermined republicanism created a political culture that abjured sectionalism even after the Mexican War and increasing tensions over slavery. During this period, the county became one of the wealthiest in the state through a diversified agricultural export economy based on chattel slavery, which county spokesmen lamented, but accepted as the basis for their prosperity. The presence and proximity of a number of political leaders of state and national renown, including John Eaton, John Bell, James K. Polk, Sam Houston, Thomas Hart Benton, Felix Grundy and most of all Andrew Jackson, created a dynamic in which national political issues tended to dominate local concerns from an early period. Because so many of these individuals spent time in the county, citizens were used to viewing them on a human scale. Between 1812 and 1833, the county largely embraced Jackson and his policies, though veterans who had served with him in the War of 1812 had reservations about his character. Jackson's military achievements, the Panic of 1819 and reaction over the disputed election of John Quincy Adams overwhelmed those reservations in 1828 and 1832. Once Jackson became president, there was support for his handling of the Eaton Affair, and the nullification crisis, but disquiet at his veto of the bill to recharter the Bank of the United States. After Jackson removed federal deposits from the bank and supported Martin Van Buren as his successor, county support dissipated rapidly. Thereafter personal rivalry between several county leaders and James K. Polk, disputes over economic policy and a merging of market capitalist ideology with conceptions of republican virtue, ensured that voter sentiment remained opposed to the Democrats. State and local issues such as funding for internal improvements and a new state constitution added to the interparty disputes. Williamson County party politics mirrored state politics in that both Whigs and Democrats believed they were protecting fundamental republican values from assault by the opposition. Unlike the state which was evenly divided between the parties during this period, after 1833, Williamson County was overwhelmingly Whig, a position that held until secession. Since no interpretive county history of Middle Tennessee has been produced, this thesis places this crucial area in the context of both the South and the nation, building on the comprehensive work of Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Charles Sellers and Harry Watson, among others, the only statewide antebellum political study by Jonathan Atkins, and county histories from other states such as North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida by Watson, Edward Baptist, Charles Morris, Daniel Dupre, and Robert Kenzer. Most of these areas had neither the continuous nationalist outlook endemic to Williamson County throughout the antebellum period, the agricultural diversity that helped produce it, nor the proximity to markets and national political leaders that reinforced it.
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