Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Jackson-Sevier Feud

This has been a busy year for Marble Springs.  In addition to our regular annual events, we recently joined Sevier descendants in commemorating the bicentennial of John Sevier’s death, and we’ll also be celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the end of the War of 1812 with a special event this month. 
            In retrospect, it’s somewhat appropriate that Sevier’s death coincided with the end of the War of 1812.  That war launched the national career of Sevier’s mortal enemy Andrew Jackson, and historians usually mark the beginning of the “Jacksonian Era” in 1815.  On a national scale, the date represents the passing of the torch from the generation that waged the Revolution to the generation that came of age afterward.  In Tennessee, a similar passing of the torch took place as the first prominent settlers—men like Sevier and James Robertson—yielded the stage to the men whose careers blossomed in the Age of Jackson.
            Maybe this generational difference helps account for the disdain in which Sevier held Jackson.  He dismissed him as a “poor, pitiful, pettyfogging, scurrilous lawyer,” and indeed Jackson must have seemed like something less than a formidable opponent for Sevier when he first arrived in Tennessee.  Sevier, after all, had been an officer of the Revolution, an architect of one of America’s critical battlefield victories, a congressman, a brigadier general of the Southwest Territory’s militia, and Tennessee’s first governor.  Jackson, by comparison, was an ambitious upstart, but he succeeded in securing a position of command over the state militia that Sevier wanted for himself in 1802.
            The tables turned the following year, when Jackson’s allegations that Sevier had engaged in fraudulent land dealings failed to prevent Sevier’s re-election to the governorship.  That October, their personal and political feud erupted into open confrontation when the two men encountered one another in Knoxville and began trading insults.  Jackson challenged Sevier to a duel, and the two spent the next several days swapping barbs by letter before another physical confrontation on the road to Southwest Point, where Sevier claimed Jackson attempted to “assassinate” him.  Little wonder that Sevier referred to Jackson as “one of the most abandoned rascals in principle my eyes ever beheld.”
            Given their contentious history, it’s ironic that Sevier supported the war with Britain that would make Jackson a national celebrity.  It’s still more ironic that when Sevier died, he was in Alabama as a member of commission appointed to survey the boundary line of the land Jackson forced the Creeks to sign over to the U.S.  His last official duty was to formalize one of his mortal foe’s greatest accomplishments. 
            But I think it’s important to remember that the achievements of Jackson himself, and the achievements of all the frontier leaders of the Age of Jackson, ultimately rested on the foundation laid by Sevier and his generation of Tennessee pioneers.  The territorial expansion, economic growth, and national renown that Tennesseans like Jackson achieved in the nineteenth century depended on what men like Sevier had accomplished in the eighteenth.  Indeed, I think it’s impossible to think about Tennessee history without first considering Sevier and his contemporaries.  In that sense, Jackson’s rise to national fame and Tennessee’s reputation as the “Volunteer State” in the War of 1812 both represent a sort of fulfillment of Sevier’s career.

            I hope you’ll join us for the rest of the events we have planned at Marble Springs in this bicentennial year of Sevier’s death.
~Michael Lynch
  President of the Board

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