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My Turn - Reflections on state history

In case you missed it, Friday was Statehood Day in Tennessee. As far as I know, June 1, 2018 came and went without a lot of fanfare from the media and political leaders. Still, it serves to remind those of us who follow history in general and Tennessee history in particular, that on June 1, 1796, Congress  approved the admission of Tennessee as the 16th state of the Union.

Tennessee’s founding fathers had long recognized the need for the Southwest Territory to become a state. By 1795, they reckoned the time was ripe to act on their hopes and dreams. That’s when a territorial census confirmed a sufficient population for statehood, and a referendum revealed a 3-1 majority in favor of joining the Union.

Therefore, Gov. William Blount called for a constitutional convention to be held in Knoxville. Delegates  from all the counties convened there and crafted a model state constitution, including a democratic bill of rights. The voters chose John Sevier as  governor, and the newly elected Legislature picked William Blount and William Cocke as senators and Andrew Jackson as representative.

Wisely, Tennessee leaders transformed the territory into a new state, with a constitution and an organized government, before submitting their request for statehood to Congress for admission. Even so, admission was a close call. The Southwest Territory was the first federal territory to seek admission to the Union as a state. Hence, there was some hesitation on how to proceed. Ultimately, though, Congress divided along  party lines, and in a narrow vote on June 1, 1796 admitted Tennessee as the 16th state of the Union.

Tennessee has come a very long way since it was transformed from territory to statehood 222 years ago. Tennessee’s progress and problems are aptly attested to in the 2017-18 edition of Tennessee Blue Book. From “Tennessee’s Coming of Age” and “The Age of Jackson,” to “The Time of Troubles,” and “Reconstruction and Rebuilding,” and on to the “Early Twentieth Century” and “Modern Tennessee,” the Tennessee Blue Book is a single-source treasure trove of useful information on the history of our great “Volunteer State.” It also includes details on state and local government as well as other interesting facts and figures

On a personal note, I’ve heard folks say, “History is boring and dull,” to which I say, “au contraire.” Some people may be “boring and dull,” but history is a living thing, with larger-than-life characters. It can enlighten, entertain, and at times, edify and inspire. Surely, that pertains to Tennessee history, too. More later on how and why Tennessee counties were named.

Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at