Today in 1749, William Blount was born. A prominent American politician that often goes overlooked, he signed the United States Constitution and helped spearhead an effort to ratify the document at North Carolina’s Fayetteville convention in 1789.

After his role in ratification, Blount was appointed by George Washington as governor of the new Southwest Territory, a region that eventually became the state of Tennessee. Blount was perceived as something of an aristocratic elitist to the rustic frontiersman, and his administration over the region was consumed mostly by disputes between western settlers and Indian tribes.

Blount plunged himself into a firestorm of controversy in the late 1790s, when he conspired to allow Britain control of Florida and Louisiana in return for navigation rights to New Orleans and the Mississippi River. Under the plan, the territory’s militia was to aid the British fleet in attacks against New Madrid, New Orleans, and Pensacola.

By this time, Tennessee had become a state and Blount was appointed senator. As the United States Senate formed an investigatory committee to look into his deeds, Blount fled northward to North Carolina. He was quickly expelled from the Senate. Though doing so was considered constitutionally dubious, the House of Representatives also tried to impeach him – making him the first official in the country face the charge. The event ignited one of the first constitutional controversies, and in one House session, a brawl broke out between Matthew Lyon and Roger Griswold.

Ironically, Blount remained incredibly popular in Tennessee, where he served in the state legislature until the end of his life despite the federal charges against him. Amusingly, upon his return to Knoxville in 1797, he was greeted as a hero by a grand parade through the streets, and the people of Tennessee remained under the impression that he had looked out for their interests through all of the commotion. Blount’s supporters, including future president Andrew Jackson, supported him along the way.

Dave Benner

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