Friday, August 26, 2016

The Constitution of Tennessee

Tennessee Constitution of 1796

Tennessee constitutional convention delegates met in Knoxville in January 1796 to write a constitution for a new state. This was a requirement for requesting Congress to grant statehood. Constitutional Convention 1796: Link

Free males over 21, who owned at least 200 acres and had lived in the territory for three years could vote. 
Read it here: Link
More here: Link

Tennessee Constitution of 1834

Read it here: Link

When the Tennessee Constitutional Convention of 1834 came together, it was flooded with petitions from all parts of the State, and especially from East Tennessee, praying for immediate emancipation. Nearly one third of the members of that body voted in favor of the action requested. But the majority turned a deaf ear to all entreaties and spread upon the journal an elaborate paper written by that astute lawyer John A McKinney, who sat for the County of Hawkins, in defense of their action. The remarkable thing about the paper, which I have published in full in the Quarterly Review of the Methodist Episcopal Church South for April 1892, is that it fully and frankly concedes slavery to be a great evil, and predicts that in some way or other its abolition is sure to come. The protest of the minority which was also made a matter of record was as strong a document as Wendell Phillips or William Lloyd Garrison ever wrote. It reads as if it might have come from one or the other of those radical reformers.
But after the year 1840- perhaps a little later- slavery came to be considered a fixed thing in Tennessee. Free debate concerning it was not longer tolerated, though many persons continued to cherish in silence the conviction that it was a great evil. Perhaps the last open utterance on the subject was in an address delivered by the Hon John M Lea before the Apprentice's Union at Nashville in 1841. Judge Lea is still living as fine a specimen of a cultivated and high minded gentleman as can be found in these United States. He is a son of the Hon Luke Lea, who as Congressman from the Knoxville District, secured David Farragut his position as midshipman in the United States Navy. I may also add that he was himself a large slaveholder and treated his slaves with such humanity and consideration that when emancipation came they were all capable of making a comfortable support for themselves. By his own testimony they are now- such of them as are still living- doing better for themselves than they did when they belonged to him.
The reasons for the sudden arrest of the reform that seemed to be imminent may be set down under four heads:
1. There was a natural resentment of the interference of the North which whether justly or unjustly was looked upon as an impertinence.
2. There was a growing fear fed by such incidents as the Nat Turner insurrection in Virginia that the further agitation of the question would lead to tumult and insurrection. Men who knew something from history as to what a servile war meant, might be excused if they shuddered at the mere prospect of such a thing.
3. There was a perplexing doubt as to what woud or could be done with the slaves if they were set free. Did not this doubt have some rational foundations? Do we yet know what the final results of emancipation are to be? As late as 1866, the Hon Horace Menard predicted that it would prove the euthanasia of the negro race. Is the man alive who would now venture to give any definite opinion on the subject? One thing is certain the stroke of Mr Lincoln's pen that set these ebon millions free raised almost as many questions as it settled.
4. In consequence of the invention of the cotton gin, slavery became what it had never before been, a very profitable institution. Human greed and avarice were thereby enlisted in favor of its perpetuation. No wonder that it got a new lease of life. Let not our Northern friends be too critical of us on this score. They had no vested interests to interfere with the operation of their benevolent sentiments. The notion that if conditions had been reversed they would have exhibited a loftier and more unselfish morality than the Southerners did is one of those pleasant delusions which the attentive student of human nature does not think it worth while to consider with anything like a careful scrutiny. It were easy to be virtuous, did virtue consist in denying to another man his cakes and ale. All this is now past. Let us be thankful that it is so. Who does not rejoice in his inmost heart that no man woman or child can now be held in bondage where the flag of the Republic floats? Who does not wish that the emancipated slaves should enjoy to the full the fruits of their freedom in increasing wealth, growing intelligence, and an improved morality. To assess the responsibility of the different sections of the country for the introduction and perpetuation of the evil system from which we are now happily released, would be an impossible task. That is a matter that must be settled at a more august and impartial tribunal than has ever yet been set up on this earth. But we can nevertheless, without thinking of the errors and mistakes of the past, address ourselves to the glorious work of lifting up all the citizens of our land to the highest level on which it is possible for them to stand. The past is history. But the present is in our hands. (Source: Elihu Embree, Abolitionist, Elijah Embree Hoss, University Press Co., 1897, pp. 26-28)

Suggested Reading:AFRICAN SLAVERY AND THE TENNESSEE CONVENTION OF 1834, (Quarterly Review of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Volume 12, Issue 1,Bigham & Smith, 1892, p 118) Article Starts on page 118 Link

Tennessee Constitution: Link

The Progress of Emancipation in Tennessee, 1796-1860 James W. Patton Justor: Link