Thursday, June 9, 2011

William Blount
(The present Tennessee U.S. Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker would not have qualified to have been William Blount's water-boy.)

William Blount, (April 6, 1749 – March 21, 1800) was a United States statesman. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention for North Carolina, the first and only governor of the Southwest Territory, and Democratic-Republican Senator from Tennessee (1796–1797). He played a major role in establishing the state of Tennessee. He was the first U.S. Senator to be expelled from the Senate for treason and the only Senator expelled outside of the Civil War.

Early life and Revolutionary War
Blount was born near Windsor, North Carolina, in Bertie County into a family of distinguished merchants and planters who owned extensive properties along the banks of the Pamlico River.

During the Revolutionary War, Blount accepted appointment as the regimental paymaster for the 3rd North Carolina Regiment. Although a regimental paymaster was not a commissioned officer with command responsibility on the battlefield, Blount served under a warrant on the regimental staff and drew the same pay and allowances as a captain. He also participated in the regiment's march north in the late spring of 1777 when it joined Washington's main army in defense of Philadelphia against Sir William Howe's Royal forces. Blount and his comrades had participated in one of the key battles of the war. By demonstrating Washington's willingness to fight and the Continental Army's recuperative powers, the battle convinced France that the Americans were in the war to the end and directly influenced France's decision to support the Revolution openly.

After the battle, Blount returned home to become chief paymaster of state forces and later deputy paymaster general for North Carolina. For the next three years he remained intimately involved in the demanding task of recruiting and reequipping forces to be used in support both of Washington's main army in the north and of separate military operations in defense of the southern tier of states.

The fall of Charleston, South Carolina, to British forces under Sir Henry Clinton in May 1780 exposed North Carolina to invasion. The state again faced the difficult task of raising new units, this time to counter a force of British, Hessian, and Loyalist troops under General Charles Cornwallis. Blount not only helped organize these citizen-soldiers but also took to the field with them. His North Carolina unit served under General Horatio Gates, who hastily engaged Cornwallis in a bloody battle at Camden, South Carolina. On August 16, Gates deployed his units – his continentals to the right, the North Carolina and Virginia militia on his left flank – and ordered an advance. The American soldiers were exhausted from weeks of marching and insufficient rations. Furthermore, the militia elements had only recently joined with the regulars, and disciplined teamwork between the two components had not yet been achieved. Such teamwork was especially necessary before hastily assembled militia units could be expected to perform the intricate infantry maneuvers of 18th century linear warfare. While the Continentals easily advanced against the enemy, the militia quickly lost their cohesion in the smoke and confusion, and their lines crumbled before the counterattacking British. Cornwallis then shifted all his forces against the continentals. In less than an hour Gates' army had been lost. This second defeat in the South, the result of inadequate preparations, provided the young Blount a lesson that would stand him in good stead in later years. It also marked the end of Blount's active military career.

Governor of Southwest Territory
Blount was appointed Governor of the Territory South of the Ohio River (the Southwest Territory) by President George Washington in 1790. Blount governed from the home of William Cobb, Rocky Mount, located in current Piney Flats, Tennessee. After concluding the Treaty of Holston, he announced that the territorial capital would move to newly founded Knoxville. Blount named Knoxville after the first Secretary of War, Henry Knox. After moving to Knoxville, construction began on his mansion, known as Blount Mansion, in 1792. The mansion still stands in downtown Knoxville and is a popular museum.

Blount's political offices
* Member of North Carolina state house of commons 1780–1784, and briefly, its Speaker
* Member of the Continental Congress in 1782–1783 and 1786–1787
* Delegate to the Philadelphia Convention that framed the U.S. Constitution in 1787 (and signer of the document)
* North Carolina state senator 1788–1790
* Governor of the Southwest Territory, appointed by President George Washington in 1790, where he brought George Roulstone to Rogersville to print Tennessee's first newspaper, The Knoxville Gazette
* Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern Department 1790–1796
* Chairman of the convention which framed the first State constitution of Tennessee 1796
* U.S. Senator from Tennessee 1796–1797
* Tennessee state senator 1798–1800

U.S. Senate
While serving as U.S. Senator, Blount's affairs took a sharp turn for the worse. In 1797 his land speculations in western lands led him into serious financial difficulties. That same year, he apparently concocted a plan to incite the Creek and Cherokee Indians to aid the British in conquering the Spanish territory of West Florida. A letter he wrote alluding to the plan fell into the hands of President John Adams, who turned it over to the Senate on July 3, 1797. Four days later, on July 7, the United States House of Representatives voted to impeach Blount and on July 8 the Senate voted 25 to 1 to expel him from the Senate. The Senate began an impeachment trial on December 17, 1798, but dropped charges two months later on the grounds that no further action could be taken beyond his expulsion. That set an important precedent for the future with regard to the limitations on actions which could be taken by Congress against its members and former members.

The episode did not seem to hamper Blount's career in Tennessee. In 1798 he was elected to the Tennessee State Senate and rose to the speakership. He died two years later at Knoxville, where he is buried in the cemetery of the First Presbyterian Church.

In 1792, while governor of the Southwest Territory, Blount built the William Blount Mansion in Knoxville. The mansion is a National Historic Landmark.

Blount County, Tennessee, is named after Blount, as is the town of Blountville, Tennessee. Grainger County, Tennessee, and Maryville, Tennessee, are both named after his wife, Mary Grainger Blount. William Blount High School, William Blount Middle School, and Mary Blount Elementary School are named after Blount and his wife. (Blount County, Alabama, is named after his younger half-brother Willie Blount, later governor of Tennessee). Raleigh, North Carolina, has a street named after Blount going though the center of its downtown.

Blount was the father of William Grainger Blount (1784–1827), Tennessee state representative and U.S. Representative from Tennessee, 1815-1819. He was half-brother of Willie Blount (1767–1835), Governor of Tennessee, 1809-1815. He was brother to Thomas Blount (1759–1812), Revolutionary War veteran and U.S. Representative from North Carolina, 1793–1799, 1805–1809 and 1811-1812.