The Early Nineteenth Century

For the most part a rough and ready people, numbering over 100,000 by 1800, the settlers of Tennessee were nevertheless strongly influenced by the Great Revival, a wave of religious hysteria that swept the state that year. The virtues and vices of their strongly egalitarian society were exemplified by Andrew Jackson, who was prominent in the faction-ridden politics of Tennessee. By 1829 when Jackson became president, the state was prospering. The first steamboat had reached Nashville in 1819, the year in which Memphis, soon to become the metropolis of a fast-growing cotton kingdom, was platted.

Internal improvement projects—canals and then railroads—were pushed, and a new, smaller wave of immigrants (predominantly Irish and German) arrived after the Cherokee and the Chickasaw were banished West in the late 1830s. Insatiable land hunger, the spirit of adventure, and personal considerations carried many white Tennesseans beyond the state; among them were Gov. Samuel Houston and David Crockett, both of whom had been conspicuous in the fight for Texan independence. A decade later the response of Tennessee to the request for volunteers to fight in the Mexican War was so overwhelming that it has since been known as the Volunteer State. Tennessee’s James K. Polk, a Jackson protégé, was the President of the United States during that war.

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