Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Stephen V. Ash

Committee Members

Daniel Feller, Ernest Freeberg, Michael R. Fitzgerald


On February 10, 1869, Tennessee Governor William G. “Parson” Brownlow tendered his resignation as he prepared to take his seat in the United States Senate, to which his Radical allies in the General Assembly had elected him in the aftermath of the 1867 state election. On resigning, Brownlow expressed full confidence in DeWitt C. Senter, the man who would succeed him. Stunningly, six months later Brownlow’s Radical party verged on collapse after its Conservative rivals captured control of the General Assembly in the August 1869 state election. The new legislature speedily repealed many of the enactments of the five years of “Brownlowism” and called for a constitutional convention. That convention met in January 1870 and produced a new state constitution in less than six weeks. The Radicals’ pleas to Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant for federal intervention fell on deaf ears. Conservatives and ex- Confederates crushed the Radicals in the August 1870 judicial and November 1870 gubernatorial and legislative elections. With the election of Governor John Calvin Brown, a former Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan member, Tennessee’s Reconstruction era ended.

This study explores the last chapter in Tennessee’s Reconstruction, which took place between February 1869 (Brownlow’s resignation) and November 1870 (Brown’s election). During that pivotal period, Tennessee’s political parties converged and then dissolved into intraparty factionalism, which had profound consequences for white Radicals and the state’s freed people. How these political developments came about is the central historical question addressed in this dissertation, which fills a glaring gap in the understanding of Tennessee’s Reconstruction.

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