The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 42, July 1938 - April, 1939 Page: 154
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
of Tennessee, and finally Senator, always embroiled in contro-
versies, he rose to prominence and power by the sheer force of
his energy, his flaming hatreds, his amazing power of vitriolic
invective and an undoubted gift for leadership. The story of his
life, as told by Professor Coulter, is a disturbing revelation of
what such a man may accomplish in troubled times.
Born in Wythe County, Virginia, in 1805, Brownlow became a
Methodist circuit rider in the Holston Conference at the age of
twenty-one. In that mountain region the various denominations
quarreled with each other more zealously than they fought the
Devil; and this young preacher soon attracted attention by his
violent onslaughts upon Baptists and Presbyterians. An admirer
of Henry Clay, he also developed a keen interest in politics. In
1839 he set up a newspaper which later became the Knoxville
Whig; and with this weapon he was able to flay Democrats as well
as rival denominations. Like most mountaineers, he hated Negroes,
and for that reason defended slavery and lashed the abolitionists.
As he had no sense of fair play and was unrestrained in abuse, he
had become famous throughout that region before 1860; but he
had actually made little headway in politics toward which his
ambition had turned.
Secession and civil war gave him his great opportunity. Like
most East Tennesseeans, he opposed secession. Even after his
state had joined the Confederacy, he attacked the new government
with such venom that he seemed to be courting martyrdom. But
when he was finally jailed on a charge of treason, he found no
joy in it. As he agreed to leave the state, he was escorted to the
Union lines. Always resourceful in turning any situation to his
advantage, he made speeches throughout the North, relating his
terrible experiences (which lost no horror in the telling), extolling
his own courage, consigning the "damnable rebels" to everlasting
perdition and arousing the blood-lust of the patriots. He wrote
an autobiography which became a best seller; he collected money
with which to re-establish his Knoxville Whig; and then, as the
Union armies had recovered most of Tennessee, he returned there
with a commission as a United States treasury agent.
Vengeance was at hand and Brownlow was happy. He abused
and threatened the "rebels" through his paper; he seized their
property as treasury agent; he helped to prepare their destruction
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 42, July 1938 - April, 1939, periodical, 1939; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101107/m1/168/: accessed June 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.