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Most Prominent Politicians (XVI): Tennessee


On to the Volunteer State. I’d say Tennessee has performed about to an expected level in generating prominent politicians. Its 3 presidents make it seem like it would outperform, but relative to other states its size in the South, it has rather underperformed in producing congressional leaders.

1. Andrew Jackson–Fairly obvious selection, a man who defined an era for both good and bad.

2. James K. Polk–stole half of Mexico in a blatantly expansionist war. But given that was more or less what he set out to do from the beginning, it’s hard to call him unsuccessful as such. Just a jerk. His administration was also ridiculed by European diplomats for not serving alcohol, as Polk was a teetotaler.

3. Andrew Johnson–Lemieux and I argue over whether Johnson or Buchanan is worse. I tend to go with the latter, but I’m hardly defending Johnson in making this argument. An utter disaster and Lincoln’s worst move.

4. Cordell Hull–Longtime congressman and shorttime senator, but his real accomplishments are of course as Secretary of State, where he served for 11 years, including during most of World War II.

5. Estes Kefauver–Kefauver was an important New Dealer and relatively progressive on racial matters for a man of his time, place, and political position. The Kefauver Committee investigative organized crime may be what he is most known for, but he accomplished far more substantial things. One of three southern senators to not sign the Southern Manifesto in 1956. Was nearly the Democratic presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956.

6. Al Gore, Jr.–The man who should have been president. Thanks Ralph.

7. Kenneth McKellar–Served as senator from 1917 until 1953. A classic southern conservative, though less so in his early days, McKellar became increasingly opposed to the New Deal as he aged. Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, he had full knowledge of the Manhattan Project. He chose to use that information to threaten holding up money for uranium acquisition as part of a feud with Tennessee Valley Authority head David Lillenthal. Nothing like holding up the nation’s war effort to settle a personal score.

8. Al Gore, Sr.–Like Kefauver, Gore should be lauded for refusing to sign the Southern Manifesto. Like Kefauver, an important southern liberal who supported a wide array of progressive legislation. Was targeted and defeated in 1970 as part of Nixon’s Southern Strategy.

9. Howard Baker–The first Republican elected to the Senate from Tennessee since Reconstruction, Baker became Majority Leader and one of the most powerful Republicans in the country, both during and after his Senate career, when he became Reagan’s Chief of Staff.

10. John Bell–I thought about putting Bill Frist here, but he was such a weak Majority Leader and has completely faded from the public view and consciousness, suggesting a not-so-important figure. So I went with Bell instead, who is most known as the presidential candidate for the Constitutional Union party in the 4-way election of 1860. He held any number of posts before that, including congressman, senator, Secretary of War, and Speaker of the House. One of only 2 southern senators to vote against the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

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