Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

James C. Cobb

Committee Members

William Bruce Wheeler, Charles W. Johnson


In the first quarter of the century, Knoxville's business-civic leadership in the late nineteenth century agreed that the city's prosperity demanded an active program of economic development. Most believed that the proper direction to take was to foster industrial-commercial expansion. Such a plan required attracting outside industry and capital.

The city's promoters also believed that attracting new investment required community solidarity behind any and every booster proposal. Knoxville's business-civic leaders rarely managed, however, to translate these convictions into a unity of purpose behind various developmental schemes. The following study ask why Knoxville's boosters remained seriously divided despite their efforts to maintain a social consensus for industrial-commercial development. At least part of the answer lies in the fact that the city's business-civic leadership failed to keep a mutual commitment to Knoxville's economic development above the mire of local political bickering and factionalism. As a result, they failed to translate a consensus for industrial-commercial progress into a consensus on issues with important ramifications for their developmental aims.

Part One of this thesis demonstrates that Knoxville's boosters believed that a social consensus behind their schemes and programs was crucial to attracting new industry successfully. A subsidy election held in 1887 to subscribe public money to two new railroads illustrates that business-civic boosters were determined to establish at least the appearance of harmony to facilitate their recruitment efforts. Throughout the subsidy campaign, boosters stressed the importance of diminishing the public visibility of dissent expressed towards the subsidy propositions. Local newspapers called for enthusiastic supporters to convince those inclined to vote against the propositions to refrain from voting at all. For business-civic leaders convinced of the all-consuming necessity of recruiting industry and investment from outside the community, the appearance of social consensus outweighed the importance of dissent as a "quality-check" on the efficacy of certain schemes.

The stiff competition of hundreds of other southern communities looking to prosper by the same methods led business-civic boosters to emphasize the less obvious advantages their community offered to any prospective investor. In Knoxville, like many other towns, boosters stressed the city's alleged social and political harmony. They hoped that a community that "unanimously" supported all methods of fostering industrial-commercial prosperity would promise enough political, economic and social stability to attract outside capital. Despite their exaggerations, however, boosters clearly recognized that Knoxvillians did not agree unanimously to much of anything. Their appeals to black citizens, the white working class, rural citizens and wealthy conservatives during the subsidy election suggested that they believed these groups were likely to oppose the propositions.

Part Two of this thesis examines political conflict in the 1890s in order to expand our understanding of the divisions that persisted in spite of the developmental consensus. The municipal controversies of 1893 and 1894 appear to be typical of public issues dominating local headlines throughout the era. As a rapidly expanding city, a growing demand for urban services plagued city leaders struggling to modernize a limited infrastructure. Boosters believed that improved urban amenities, such as transportation and utilities, attracted investors while a deteriorating city repelled them. Thus, municipal schemes became central to the efforts of Knoxville's promoters; however, such schemes also often provoked opposition. By examining the controversies surrounding Knoxville Water Company and the Knoxville, Cumberland Gap and Louisville Railroad schemes in 1893 and 1894, I hoped to determine who opposed these schemes, why they were against them, and if such opposition was related to statewide faction politics.

The municipal election of 1893-4 reveals something of the nature of this dispute because these controversies became central to the campaigning of both Democrats and Republicans. On the surface the dispute might be dismissed as simple Democratic versus Republican rivalry. In addition, personal factionalism perhaps explains why some Democrats chose one side over another. However, as the campaign proceeded, both parties adopted anti-ring and pro-reform rhetoric. This suggests that a measure of general discontent with city leadership characterized a portion of Knoxville's business-civic community.

Opposition to the municipal schemes reflected a concern that the KWC and the KCG&L proposals would saddle the city with unwanted and unwise debt. The national depression plaguing the country at the time probably heightened this concern. Reform-minded Knoxvillians believed that corruption threatened the city's "progress" and development because it led some city officials to back questionable municipal schemes. The solution, in their view, was to oust the city council "clique" from office and replace it with a body of experienced, wise and honest businessmen committed first and last to the city's overall progress. Thus, the election of 1894 became a battleground between two groups of business-boosters whose commitment to development failed to unite them behind important developmental schemes.

In 1887, boosters saw certain Knoxvillians outside of the business-civic community as the citizens most likely to oppose the railroad subsidies. In 1993, however, boosters disagreed among themselves over the municipal schemes. A political consensus behind booster plans may have seemed extremely important in recruiting capital successfully, but Knoxville's promoters were unable to draw on such a consensus when discord characterized the business-civic community itself. Local political bickering and factionalism divided Knoxville's leadership, and undermined efforts to promote an image of unity as a key element of the development effort.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Included in

History Commons