Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Scoop! Sly Stoneman chides rebel church

     Union Gen. George Stoneman was no abolitionist, but there was at least one time when he deserves credit for doing the right thing, if not necessarily for the right reason.
     On June 5, 1865, The New-York Times reprinted a story from Brownlow's Knoxville Whig and Rebel Ventilator, a federally funded and wonderfully named newspaper, describing an episode when Stoneman favored the education of black children over the edification of white Presbyterians.
     Stories like this occasionally emerge as old newspapers are digitized. I haven't found this one in any other account on the worldwide web, so until someone tells me otherwise, The Stoneman Gazette is claiming this as a historical scoop:
(Clipping from The New-York Times, June 5, 1865, Page 1, Column 6)
     My fellow grace-filled Methodists and ink-stained wretches of the press will enjoy the rest of this story:
     William Gannaway Brownlow was a circuit-riding Methodist preacher in the 1820s who made newspapers his pulpit starting in 1839, when he published the Tennessee Whig in Elizabethton. In 1863, the Federal government actually provided "the Fighting Parson" with a press and funding to publish Brownlow's Knoxville Whig and Rebel Ventilator as a pro-Union voice in eastern Tennessee during the war. As far as I know, nobody complained about freedom of the press or separation of church and state. They must have had beeen preoccupied with something more important.
'The Fighting Parson'
     Brownlow was elected governor of Tennessee in 1864, and just two days after he was inaugurated—on April 7, 1865—he got the state legislature to ratify the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. Stoneman's second in command, Gen. Alvan Gillem, was an elected member of that legislature, but since he was on duty with the Army in Virginia, he was not able to vote on the amendment.
     Brownlow pushed for Tennessee to become the first Confederate state readmitted to the Union, which indeed happened July 24, 1866. 
     The following is from a profile of Brownlow written by a University of Tennessee historian:
     Seemingly never in doubt about his own rectitude, Brownlow regarded anyone who disagreed with him about religion or politics as an enemy. The circuit-riding Methodist parson turned to the press to spread his harsh anti-Presbyterian, anti-Calvinist, anti-Baptist rhetoric, and to branch out into politics. Brownlow’s speeches and publications drew both attention and anger. Founded in 1855, Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig expressed its owner’s fervently held views on the inferiority of blacks and his unalterable opposition to secession.
     In 1861, Brownlow’s criticism of the Confederacy led the government to shut down the Brownlow’s Weekly Whig for two years. On December 6 of that year, Brownlow was arrested on a charge of high treason against the Confederacy. Brownlow spent much of 1862 touring the North, giving pro-Union, invective-spiced lectures. When he returned to Knoxville in the fall of 1863, the federal government provided him with a press, some type, $1,500, and a government printing contract. On November 11, 1863, the first issue of the weekly Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig and Rebel Ventilator rolled off the press.
     Brownlow used the paper to attack the secessionists as “the negro-worshipping aristocracy [and] the cotton and tobacco-planting lords.” He declared that the “halter” (noose) should be used against the rebellion’s leaders, and he backed Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation. Thus, the political trajectory of Brownlow’s editorials had changed from southern Whig in the 1840s to radical Republican by the mid-1860s. In 1864, Brownlow was a force in the convention that abolished slavery in Tennessee and that led to the creation of a new state government. The Unionists won control of the Tennessee legislature, and Brownlow was elected governor in April 1865. Hatred of Brownlow and the Unionists became more intense as laws were passed to disenfranchise those who supported the Confederacy and to give blacks the vote.
     When Brownlow became governor, he turned over the editorship of the Whig to his son, John Bell Brownlow. In February 1866, the title reverted to Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig. In 1869, the paper was sold, and Thomas H. Pearne became editor. It was renamed the Weekly Knoxville Whig, but after only one edition the owners changed the name again to the Knoxville Weekly Whig. After resigning as governor in 1869 and despite his fragile health, Brownlow served a six-year term in the United States Senate. He returned to Knoxville in 1875 and joined William Rule’s weekly Knoxville Whig and Chronicle as editor-in-chief. William Gannaway Brownlow died on April 29, 1877, at age 71.

     Brownlow’s pugnacious editorial stances and willingness to meet violence with violence made him famous and earned him the nickname, “The Fighting Parson.” In the 1830s, before he started newspapering, he was sued for libel and shot in a religious dispute. In the years that followed, Brownlow was shot at through a window in his home, shot in the leg during a fistfight, beaten at a camp meeting after his derringer misfired, and severely injured by two attacks with clubs. One of his newspaper’s slogans sums up both his journalism and his life, “Independent in all things—Neutral in nothing."

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