Summary: During its early years, the frontier region of Middle Tennessee developed from thinly settled outposts to a premier destination for thousands of land-hungry immigrants. The resulting population explosion led to a shift in political power from a small group of surveyors and speculators to the farmers, merchants, and entrepreneurs attracted by a burgeoning, globally-connected agricultural economy. This study chronicles the rise of Middle Tennessee’s political system as it transformed from one dominated by land interests to an increasingly vibrant democracy in which the “common man” had more of a voice. It also explores the fact that as the economy grew a sharp debate emerged between the mercantile class and ordinary farmers as to the best way to sustain regional progress.
In short, this colloquium will outline the issues, values, and visions around which the politics of early Middle Tennessee were based. It will show how the region’s emerging political culture established a foundation for the rise of popular democracy, through which Tennesseans not only expressed themselves with ballots, but also through town hall meetings, toasting, parades, and even effigy burnings.
Kristofer Ray is an assistant professor of early American history at Ashland University. His articles have appeared in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly and Ohio Valley History, and he also has helped edit four volumes of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. He is currently working on a biography of Jefferson in his final retirement, 1809-1826. He received his BA from Baylor University and his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.