The history of the Republican Party in Tennessee
By Sparta Live | June 4, 2018 6:44 am
The Right Stuff – By Donald Holman
If you came to the state of Tennessee after your school years, you may not be familiar with the history of Tennessee and its three grand divisions: East, West and Middle Tennessee. As the Civil War approached in the mid 1800’s, Tennessee was no hotbed of secessionist activity.
The state of Tennessee was, for the most part, unsuited to the large plantations of the Southern states, and, therefore, had a relatively modest slave and slave-owning population. The only real area, in Tennessee, where slave labor was used was the western part where Tennessee joined the rest of the South topographically, with broad valleys and fertile soil.
Nonetheless, the state was faced with a vote concerning secession, and, in February 1861, 54 percent of the state’s voters voted against sending delegates to a secession convention, defeating the proposal for a state convention by a vote of 69,675 to 57,798. If a state convention had been held, it would have been very heavily pro-Union. 88,803 votes were cast for Unionist candidates and 22,749 votes were cast for Secession candidates. “That day the American flag was displayed in “every section of the city,” with zeal equal to that which existed during the late 1860 presidential campaign”, wrote the Nashville Daily Gazette. (Thanks to Wikipedia for the quote) However, just a few months later, in 1861, and with the attack on Fort Sumter, on April 12, 1861, followed by President Abraham Lincoln’s April 15 call for 75,000 volunteers to put the seceded states back into line, public sentiment turned dramatically against the Union. In the June 8, 1861, referendum, East Tennessee held firm against separation, while West Tennessee returned an equally heavy majority in favor. The deciding vote came in Middle Tennessee, which went from 51 percent against secession, in February, to 88 percent in favor, in June. Having ratified by popular vote its connection with the fledgling Confederacy, Tennessee became the last state to declare formally its withdrawal from the Union.
From then until recently, East Tennessee has been the headquarters for Republican politicians, in Tennessee. When the rest of the country turned increasingly Republican after the two elections in which the liberals took firm control of the Democrat Party (1968 and 1972), the rest of the South turned to the Republican Party as the best party for traditional values. But, in Tennessee, we already (unfortunately) had an active Republican Party, in East Tennessee. So as Republicans became the more dominant party in the state, the leadership of East Tennessee became the recruiting ground for Tennessee Republican officeholders.
So, you may wonder why a state as conservative as ours is cursed with such timid conservatives as Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, as well as a host of not-so-conservative governors. The reason is our East Tennessee Republican Party, over the years following the Civil War, learned that the only way they were going to get into power was to develop what I call of sort of embarrassed, cowed dog mentality regarding their conservative values. They seem to almost be embarrassed and apologetic of their conservative values, and mostly only gave lip service to them. This kind of “conservative” could do much better than the kind of in-your-face conservatives that were taking power elsewhere across the South, since in Tennessee two thirds of the state remained (for a while) Democrat controlled or at least sympathetic. And in East Tennessee, you were not Republican because you were conservative, you were Republican because that is all there was!
If you were watching the Trump rally last week, you may have noticed that Senator Corker was roundly booed at his introduction there, while Senator Alexander, although not enthusiastically cheered, was cheered. But, Lamar is no more conservative, and may well be considerably less conservative, than Senator Corker. However, Lamar knows to talk very little and make sure his speeches sound conservative yet “reasonable.” Lamar’s complete lack of willingness to do anything to resist the liberals, in his own quiet way, has allowed him to keep his job throughout all these years. He has learned the cowed-dog Republicanism well… and we have rewarded him by re-electing him, even when he resigned a leadership role in the Republican Party because he didn’t want to be “that” conservative. We get what we elect! The bottom line is that in most cases, a true conservative cannot win a statewide election. Too many times, two strong conservatives (at least) split the conservative vote in the primaries, and the lukewarm, middle of the road “conservative” gets the job!
Going forward, the leadership of the Republican Party has returned, for the most part, to Nashville, the capital city. But in Nashville, the Republicans in power most resemble their East Tennessee counterparts with very little willingness to support an actual conservative agenda. As you go throughout the week, I would challenge you to do a little research on issues you care about. Have the Republican of your area been voting conservative? Have they truly been true to their speeches and promises? Or have they talked one game and played another? Here is a hint as to how I look at it. We wouldn’t lose any conservatives that matter in my opinion if we lost the entire Tennessee delegation to Congress, except for Dr. DesJarlais. And it should probably be noted that Dr. D did not come into politics through the party process but rather by his own efforts! And despite many attempts to unseat him through more traditional (worthless) Republican candidates, he remains! The rest of our Republican delegation could probably not be convicted of voting in a conservative way even if charged with it.
So, my friends, too many conservatives skip the primary and vote R in the general elections and call it a day. But, in many elections, we lose the real conservatives in the primaries! Will you help this year with your vote and influence?