“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back”
State 37: Tennessee April 16, 2018
We woke up at a Walmart in Bolivar well rested, and ready for a brand new day. We spent four days freestyle exploring through central Tennessee, and could not wait to see what adventures lie ahead today! The first item on the agenda is to drive 156 miles Northeast to Nashville to tour the Tennessee Capitol Building. After parking Rosie, we climbed up a steep staircase to reach the Statehouse, and as you may have noticed, the Capitol Building has no dome! Please see the pictures below.
Upon reaching the main entrance, we encountered a perplexing sign which read, “Please use the West entrance, with arrows pointing in both directions. Perhaps someone does not know which way West is? Please see the pictures below.
We finally found the correct entrance to the statehouse, passed through security, and met up with our tour guide on the first floor. On the wall to the immediate right were paintings of the three Tennessean’s who ascended to the presidency; Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson and James Polk. Interestingly, all three men were native to North Carolina, but moved to Tennessee. We will talk about more about Polk a little later. Please see the pictures below.
Our guide began by leading us into the capitol's central room! Housed within individual enclaves were busts of prominent Tennesseans, and above us dangled an exquisite chandelier. Please see the pictures below.
Our guide then led us to the Senate, which was beautiful, but otherwise unremarkable. Please see the pictures below.
Next, we were led into the House where our guide extended his finger, and said, “That is the exact seat where Harry Burns once sat”. “Harry Burns? Can’t say I’ve ever heard of the man”, I said in a moment of self-reflection. Our guide proceeded to share one of the greatest stories we have heard on our cross country trip. Woman’s Suffrage, or a woman’s right to vote, originated at the first Woman’s Rights Convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. Over the next 72 years, Feminists such as Alice Paul, Lucy Stone, Ida B. Wells, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony made speeches, signed petitions, marched in protests and demanded that both men and women deserved equal access to all of the rights of citizenship including the right to vote!
In 1919, the 19th Amendment went before the US House and US Senate, which states, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." The US House passed the 19th Amendment by a vote of 304 to 90, and the US Senate approved it 56 to 25. According to article five of the US Constitution ¾ of the states must ratify the Amendment. By the Summer of 1920, 35 state legislatures had ratified the 19th amendment, and only one more state was needed. The future of woman's suffrage lied within the vote of the Tennessee Legislature!
The Tennessee Senate easily passed the motion to ratify, but stiff opposition was met in the Tennessee House. Thousands of pro- and anti-suffrage activists descended upon Nashville! On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee House was deadlocked at 48-48 on whether or not to ratify the 19th amendment. One of the House Representatives voting that day was a man named Harry Burns. Burns was only 24 years old at the time, and was the youngest person ever elected to the Tennessee Legislature. Initially voting against Woman’s Suffrage, Burns perspective changed after receiving a letter from his mother, and below is and excerpt:
Hurray and vote for Suffrage and don't keep them in doubt. I noticed Chandlers' speech, it was very bitter. I've been waiting to see how you stood but have not seen anything yet... Don't forget to be a good boy and help Mrs Catt with her "Rats." Is she the one that put rat in ratification, Ha! No more from mama this time.
With lots of love, Mama.
On August 18, 1920, Burns returned to the deadlocked House for a repeat vote to ratify, but this time he carried the letter his mother had written. After much debating, it appeared the vote would once again be deadlocked. The House Speaker called out Burn’s name, and Burns voted “Aye” casting the tie breaking vote with his mother’s letter in hand. Tennessee became the 36th and last state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment, and Women’s Suffrage became part of the United States Constitution. In the immediate moments following the vote, Burns was chased out of the House Chamber by Anti-Suffrage protesters, and hid in the attic of the Statehouse until the angry mobs dispersed. Although Burns' swing vote infuriated his colleagues who opposed a Women’s Suffrage, he at least avoided the wrath of his mother, which may very well have been the lesser of two evils!
The following day, Burn’s addressed the assembly to defend his vote, and for the first time publicly expressed his support of Woman’s Suffrage. Burns said, “I believe we had a moral and legal right to ratify.”, and continued on, “I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” Although Burns spent the next five decades holding various public offices at the state level of government, he is most remembered for casting the tie breaking vote to ratify the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. To all my ladies, the next time you go to the polls remember you were afforded the privilege because a brave 24-year-old State Representative from Tennessee named Harry Burns who listened to his mother. What a great story! Please see the pictures below of the House.
Please see additional pictures below of our visit to the Tennessee Statehouse.
Upon conclusion of the tour, I exited the Statehouse, and began my exploration of the capitol grounds. Every US Statehouse highlights a single feature setting it apart from all others. The Iowa Statehouse has the most domes! The Colorado Statehouse is at the highest elevation! The Illinois Statehouse has the largest dome! The differentiating factor of Tennessee's Statehouse is most peculiar and uniquely eerie! The bodies of both of the building's architects; Samuel Dold Morgan and William Strickland, are interred within the capitol walls. As the story goes, the two architects were arch enemies throughout their lives. Strickland died in 1854 five years before the capitol's completion, and was entombed in the Northwest wall of the capitol building. When Morgan passed away in 1880, his family had him interred in the Southeast wall, as not to be outdone by Strickland! It is quite sad such animosity between to two men was carried into their eternal rest. Thus, the Tennessee Capitol Building has the distinction of being the only Statehouse in America to double as a mausoleum.
While we are on the topic of dead people, the Tennessee Statehouse is also the only capitol to feature the grave site of a US President. Our 11th President; James K. Polk (1845-1849) is one of our nation's lesser known leaders. However, Polk’s contributions to our country during his tenure still echo throughout the America we know today! While campaigning for our nation’s highest office, Polk stated he would serve only one term, and promised the people he would achieve specific items on his presidential agenda. Polk is credited with; reaching a settlement with Great Britain over the disputed Oregon Country, establishing an independent treasury system, winning the Mexican-American War, and expanded the US territory to the Pacific to include the area we now know as the American Southwest fulfilling the Manifest Destiny. Four years later, Polk met every major domestic and foreign policy goal he promised, and true to his word, he did not seek reelection. Three months after leaving the White House, Polk contracted Cholera and died in 1849 at the age of 53. Historians, constantly rank Polk as an above average president. To the left is a picture of James and Sarah Polk.
Since Polk died from Cholera, an infectious disease, the law required him to be buried in the Nashville City Cemetery on the outskirts of town.
Approximately one year later, Polk’s remains were moved to a tomb on the grounds of the families home called “Polk Place”, where the former First Lady; Sarah Polk lived for the next 42 years. Upon Sarah’s death on August 14, 1891, she too was buried at Polk Place, next to her husband.
Since the Polk’s had no children and Sarah died without a will, distant relatives fought in court for control of the estate. Eventually, Polk Place was sold, and the proceeds divided up among the heirs. In 1893, the bodies of James and Sarah Polk were relocated to their current resting place, on the grounds of the Tennessee Statehouse. Polk Place was demolished in 1900. This is why everyone should have a will!
Wait the story is not over yet! On April 10, 2018, the Tennessee Legislature approved a measure to move the remains of James and Sarah Polk from the Tennessee Capitol Grounds to Polk’s Ancestral Home 50 miles away in Columbia, TN. Although the legislature gave the interment the green light, no one is renting a back hoe and calling the undertaker just yet! The Historical Commission, the Capital Commission, a Judge and the Governor all have to sign off on the bodies relocation.
The Polk’s current grave site is situated in a far off corner of the capitol grounds, which is not handicap accessible, poorly signed and difficult to find. I walked around the entire capitol grounds twice before finally finding the Polk’s graves. Even more disturbing, the modest monument built at the Polk’s grave site is eclipsed by a nearby massive depiction of an Equestrian; Andrew Jackson, and Jackson is not even buried at the Tennessee Statehouse! Albeit extremely distasteful to repetitively desecrate a grave, hopefully, America’s 11th President and First Lady will finally find eternal rest at Polk’s Ancestral Home in Columbia, TN. At the very least, let all Americans hope that the 4th time is a charm! Please see the pictures below of the temporary final resting place of President James Polk, and First Lady Sarah Polk.
After departing the Tennessee Statehouse, we drove across town where we found a Walmart to spend the night.