Tennessee history

The Tennessee legislature in 1879: Secret meetings, prison outsourcing, political rivalries

Taking a page from sports broadcasters showing archived games to make up for the lack of live programming during the COVID-19 pandemic, the TNJ: On the Hill blog is engaging in our own throwback legislative coverage. Today’s offering, a report by the editor of the old Daily Memphis Avalanche, a precursor of today’s Commercial Appeal, about legislative happenings on Feb. 9, 1879.

The author touches on some familiar themes at the General Assembly: legislative secrecy, the need for the Shelby County delegation to stick together, efforts to reduce incarceration costs through outsourcing, rivalries between local officials, and “the doings of lobbyists.”

Here’s the dispatch:

Our Legislative Solons : A Good Word from Them by an Occasional Correspondent

Retrenchment and Reform – A Desire to Do Something

NASHVILLE, February 9, 1879 – Notwithstanding the terrible legislative abortions and the rip-pell-mell style of action of the present General Assembly, it may well be characterized as one of economy, retrenchment and reform. Men of observation concede the fact that more business has been consummated so far during the present session than in some entire sessions of General Assemblies.

The bills passed with special reference to Memphis seem to be necessities and will probably be followed with good results. It is said that additional legislation will be required in order to perfect, if possible, the changed conditions of affairs. The necessary legislation will be enacted without trouble, if the Shelby delegation remains united on the various propositions in the future as in the past.

Committees during recess are working earnestly and sedulously, and if credit and be accorded rumor their labors will produce desirable and satisfactory results. Two committees are at work investigation all the alleged frauds subsequent to the war – by the issuance of bonds, the funding scheme, the Torbett or new issue of the Bank of Tennessee, the leasing of the penitentiary, the doings of the lobbyists, the trading of offices; in fact, their investigation apparently has no limit. But as they sit with closed doors and their proceedings secret nothing will be known until they report.

The State debt will be thoroughly examined, so that holders of the State bonds are likely to learn what class of bonds the State will good and what fraudulent. If any are classed as fraudulent, the people will be warned. The funding scheme and the practice resorted to impair the created of the State, will receive attention. […]

Happily for the State Government there is enough money to in the treasury to pay the current expenses for nearly a year to come; therefore the frauds, if any, in leasing the penitentiary will be thoroughly sifted and the guilty, if any, exposed. Continue reading

Capitol Commission: Not so fast on Polk move

Gov. Bill Haslam attends a ceremony at the James K. Polk tomb in Nashville on Nov. 2, 2012. (Image credit: Gov. Bill Haslam’s office)

(A report from on our James K. Polk correspondent J.R. Lind)

The Capitol Commission, the obscure hodgepodge body charged with maintenance of the state Capitol grounds, will wait just a bit longer to decide whether to give its imprimatur to the effort to relocate the tomb of President James K. Polk and his wife, Sarah.

The commission heard arguments from both sides Friday, but opted to delay a vote to some unspecified future date on the advice of chairman Larry Martin, the commissioner of Finance and Administration.

Spearheaded by Maury County legislators led by Republican Sen. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald, the movement to exhume the Polks from their tomb on the Capitol grounds and move them to the Polk Ancestral Home in Columbia has wound through the legislature for nearly two years.

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Matlock radio ad cites Burchett vote for Democrat as state Senate speaker, asks if he’d vote for Nancy Pelosi as U.S. House speaker

A radio ad unveiled today by state Rep. Jimmy Matlock’s campaign notes his leading opponent in the Republican 2nd Congressional District primary, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, voted as a state senator for the election of a Democrat as speaker of the Tennessee Senate and questions whether he would vote for Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the U.S. House. Here’s the Matlock campaign press release plus a  note on the referenced vote.

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Senate votes to expand Shiloh National Military Park

Press release from Sen. Lamar Alexander

WASHINGTON, June 7, 2018 – United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said the Senate’s passage of his bill to expand the Shiloh National Military Park in Shiloh, Tennessee, will help attract more visitors to Tennessee, boost local economies, and protect the site for future generations.

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MTSU building will remain named after Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest

Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney A. McPhee said Wednesday there will be no appeal of a Tennessee Historical Commission decision rejecting MTSU’s request to change the name of a campus building named for Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, reports the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal.

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Report says 110 Confederate memorials removed since 2015 — including eight in TN (where new National Confederate Museum is planned)

The Southern Poverty Law Center has produced a report saying 110 monuments, place names and other memorials or symbols tied to the Confederacy and its leaders have been removed nationwide since 2015, when a shooting at a black church in South Carolina energized a movement against such memorials. The group says it has identified 1,728 that remain.

The Associated Press, in an article on the report, says that the Sons of Confederate Veterans – which, along with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, played a role in erecting many of the memorials  – has at the same time been creating some new ones. The organization is also planning a National Confederate Museum to be located at Columbia, Tenn.

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New book on history of slavery in Tennessee

“History Bill,” as former Tennessean reporter Bill Carey is known in overseeing the non-profit Tennessee History For Kids organization, has waded through hundreds of old newspaper archives to produce a book that starkly illustrates how deeply slavery was once embedded in a state that now is often presented as a leader – well, at least in comparison to other Southern states — in opposition to the now-outlawed ownership of men, women and children by other men, women and children.

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Judge rules Memphis maneuver to remove Confederate statues was legal

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled Wednesday that the City of Memphis had a legal right to sell two city parks to a nonprofit organization that then removed Confederate monuments from the premises, reports the Commercial Appeal.

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Haslam declines to sign (or veto) legislation authorizing moving bodies of James K. Polk and wife from TN Capitol grounds

Gov. Bill Haslam has declined to sign a resolution giving the legislature’s approval to moving the bodies of former President James K. Polk and his wife, Sarah, from the state Capitol grounds to his parents’ home in Columbia, reports the Daily Herald.

Haslam’s press secretary, Jennifer Donnals, confirmed the governor’s decision to let the measure take effect without his signature in an email to The Daily Herald Tuesday. (The legislature’s website says SJR141 was “returned by governor without signature” on April 18. ) The governor had previously said he would prefer the bodies not be relocated.

Polk lived in Columbia after graduating college in 1818 until 1824. Polk owned the home after his father’s death in 1827. His mother stayed in the home till her death in 1852. Polk himself died in 1849.

“This is the only other home than the White House that James K. Polk ever lived in [that still stands],” (former Polk Home and Museum curator Tom) Price said. “James K. Polk was a president for all of us, and I think he’d appreciate the democratic process we’re going through, wanting to hear both sides of this argument.”

Now that Haslam has made his choice, the matter will go before the Tennessee Historical Commission and The Capitol Grounds Commission. After that, a Chancery court judge in Davidson County will hear the issue.

Haslam leaves open possibility of vetoing bill to protect Confederate monuments

Gov. Bill Haslam is leaving open the possibility of vetoing a bill inspired by City of Memphis’ moves to remove Confederate monuments from local parks and aimed at preventing any such actions in the future, reports the Times Free Press.

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