By: Jack Swift
Johnson County Historian
As I learn more about the governors of Tennessee, it becomes clear to me that there has been much variation among them. I have found that there is a great deal of interesting facts about them and their governorship. It is interesting to know that some consider William Blount to be the first governor of Tennessee due to his being governor for the Territory South of the River Ohio which included Tennessee. George Washington appointed Governor Blount to that post in 1790. In 1796, Blount presided over the constitutional convention that transformed part of the territory into the State of Tennessee.
One of the most controversial of the governors of Tennessee was Isham G. Harris who served from November 3, 1857 until March 12, 1862. He used his governorship and influence toward getting Tennessee to secede from the union and become a confederate state. After the end of the Civil War, there was a reward of $5,000 for his capture. He fled the state but returned to Memphis in 1867 and resumed practicing law.
I’m sure other governors could be named that were interesting as well, but the most interesting to me were the Taylor brothers, Robert (Bob) and Alfred (Alf).
I like to tell the story of those brothers who ran against each other for Tennessee governor in the election of 1886. Both were outstanding orators and both were skillful fiddle players. I understand that they not only ran against each other for the governorship, they campaigned together taking turns fiddling and speaking. Both were active in politics with Bob running as a Democrat and Alf running as the Republican contender. While Alf lost in his bid for governor at that time, he was later elected governor in 1920. He served one term.
The brothers’ campaign was called the “War of the Roses” due to the supporters of Bob wearing the white rose of York on their lapels and the supporters of Alf wearing the red rose of Lancaster. In English history the “War of the Roses” was fought between the houses of Lancaster and York from 1455 until 1485.
Sometime along the way I acquired a book titled Lectures and Best Literary Productions of Bob Taylor published in 1912. The book includes a selection of lectures and other works by Bob. In connection with the aforementioned Governor Harris, the book includes Bob’s Address at the memorial services of Harris at Memphis, Tennessee on November 21, 1897. In his memorial address, Taylor had much good to say about Harris and his accomplishments.
The Taylor brothers were born in the Happy Valley section of Carter County. Bob became a three-term Tennessee governor and one-term U. S. senator. Alf served one term as governor, being elected in 1920. Alf, the older of the two, was born August 6, 1848 and died November 25, 1931. Bob was born July 21, 1850 and died March 31, 1912.
The Taylor brothers’ race for governor of Tennessee was truly a unique event in the history of the great state of Tennessee.