William G. Brownlow



Induction Year: 1969

Lived: 1805-1877



The Tennessee Whig, Elizabethton

The Jonesboro Whig

The Knoxville Whig


A Virginia farm boy with little formal education, William G. Brownlow became one of America's most picturesque editors. A tall, robust, intense man, he was a carpenter and an itinerant Methodist preacher before getting into politics by opposing nullification by South Carolina. He became an editor in 1839 when he established a Whig newspaper in Elizabethton. He soon moved to Jonesboro and later to Knoxville, where he began Brownlow's Knoxville Whig in 1849.


"Parson" Brownlow's writing, like his preaching, was brilliant, often coarse and vituperative. His newspaper was like no other. He practiced his mottos "Cry Aloud and Spare Not" with relish; and his Whig, with 12,000 circulation in the 1850s, was the largest weekly in the South.


Pro-slavery but violently against secession, Brownlow used his Whig to lead the east Tennessee "Rebellion" against the Confederacy in 1861. He stirred up so much trouble that he was arrested and jailed. Fearful of making him a martyr, Confederate authorities escorted him out of the area and turned him loose. He went on to the North, where he became widely known through his speeches attacking the Confederacy.


In 1863 he returned to Knoxville and revived his paper. He was elected governor in 1865, re-elected in 1867, and then elected to the United States Senate in 1869 despite ill-health. He had sold his paper before going to Washington, but when he returned he purchased half-interest in the Knoxville Daily and Weekly Chronicle and wrote fiery editorials for it until his death in 1877.