Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Stanley J. Folmsbee

Committee Members

Harold Fink, Edwin Redkey


The purpose of this thesis is to examine the life of Dr. John R. Neal. Dr. Neal's life was, for the most part, made up of a series of personal defeats which would have forced many men in similar positions to cease their public activities at an early date. However, Dr. Neal persevered and was unswerving in his devotion to whatever cause he chose to defend, whether it be freedom of the individual or welfare of the state. Actually, he left behind a series of accomplishments for which he has received very little credit, althought his contemporary associates continue to show an undying devotion to him.

The material used to delineate Dr. Neal's career was primarily obtained from newspaper clippings, much of which were contained in six scrapbooks he kept through 1928. The TVA files in Knoxville were very helpful in providing additional news items after 1933. Despite Neal's activity in many fields, few books contain information about his public activities. Neal's former home in Spring City, Tennessee, yielded valuable, if somewhat unorganized material. Personal interviews with former acquaintances provided additional historical information and personal anecdotes about him.

As a member of the Tennessee legislature, Neal was responsible for the passage of bills setting up the Tennessee public school system, obtaining a permanent yearly grant for the University of Tennessee, and authoring a mine inspection law. While he was a close contender in the U. S. Senate race in 1912, he was serving as a law professor at both Denver University and the University of Tennessee. In 1923 he was among five other University professors who were dismissed from the University of Tennessee, although controversy developed following his dismissal after the years of distinguished service he had given to the institution's law school. He opened his own law school in Knoxville in 1924.

Neal's liberal tendencies were more manifest after 1924. He served as chief defense counsel in the famous "monkey trial" in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925. Beginning in 1924 he became interested in the struggle for control of the Tennessee River between public and private hydroelectric power interests, placing himself firmly in opposition to granting permits for private interests to build dams on the river. His efforts in this endeavor were brought to fruition with the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933. Even then he continued to oppose both the private power companies and the TVA if he felt they were not working in the public interest.

Neal was able to project his opinions and objections to the people through the expedient of Tennessee politics. He missed few chances to run for the U. S. Senate or the governorship from 1924 to 1954, always losing but never daunted. Despite the wide margin by which he lost his elections, Neal usually managed to register a protest that the opposition won through dishonest means. The defeat at the ballot box combined with Neal's liberalism and his personal eccentricities resulted in his being a subject of some ridicule throughout the state.

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