Tuesday, July 14, 2009

If Those Old Walls Could Talk: 1859-2009

Tom Humphrey points out that the Tennessee State Capitol is celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year, and it has seen some interesting times indeed:

One of the legislator-selected historical displays set up in a wing of the Tennessee State Museum this summer features a pair of dueling pistols said to have been made sometime between 1830 and 1860.

And while it's probably been many decades since the guns were put to use, the Capitol is still functioning and beautiful, especially since a facelift a few years back. The House and Senate still meet within its walls.

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, displays a letter written by an angry Davy Crockett to a man who owed him $200. Among other things, Crockett threatens to reveal the fellow as a cheater in playing cards.

Sen. Doug Henry, D-Nashville, exhibits a copy of the legislative acts of the 33rd General Assembly in 1861, including the state's secession from the Union. There's also a handbill signed by then-Gov. Isham Harris, who after the Civil War, became speaker of the United States Senate.

Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, features an 1876 engraving of an "African-American political convention" held at the Capitol and a print of people celebrating the ratification of the 15th Amendment prohibiting slavery to the U.S. Constitution.

A couple of corrections to the historical record are necessary. Isham Green Harris did not become, as Humphrey alleges, the "Speaker" of the U.S. Senate. There is no such office-Harris was President pro-Tempore of the federal Senate from 1893-1895. The 15th Amendment did not abolish slavery-that was the 13th Amendment. The 15th Amendment guaranteed that no man may be denied the right to vote on account of race.

With that said, as the Capitol celebrates its sesquicentennial we should be reminded how truly blessed we are to have a living testimony of sorts to the history of our great State in our midst, and so accessible to every citizen.

She was completed and put into use as the sectional conflict was beginning to boil over. Two years into the use of this beautiful new building would tear the Union apart. The Capitol walls bore witness to Tennessee's 1861 Ordinance of Secession, and the subsequent federal occupation of Nashville. The Union would transform part of the building into a field hospital for its wounded soldiers. Isham G, Harris, Andrew Johnson, and Parson Brownlow all walked the halls of the Capitol at some point-three men whose politics were as different and diverse as the State they represented.

The Capitol bore witness within its walls to the ratification of female sufferage, it will forever be known as the place where votes for women became the law of the land. Frank Gorrell and Jared Maddux bore witness to the political intreagues and power of the Tennessee Senate and the office of Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the Senate which it controls. Jimmy Quillen began his long career in Tennessee public service not in the halls of Congress, but in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Bill Jenkins became the first Republican Speaker since Reconstruction in a House that was divided 49-49-1-partly because of the vote of a friendly Democrat. The longest serving leader of a legislative body in the world during his time was to be found serving inside the Tennessee Capitol, the bulding where he cobbled together several coalitions to hang on to power, finally trying to stay just long enough to fall. Historic political intreague can happen in the Capitol every day-could you imagine what the walls would say if they could actually talk?



Post a Comment

<< Home

Locations of visitors to this page
Profile Visitor Map - Click to view visits
Create your own visitor map