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William Blount

In office
August 2, 1796–July 8, 1797
Preceded by (none)
Succeeded by Joseph Anderson

Governor of the Southwest Territory
In office
Preceded by (none)
Succeeded by (none)

Born April 6, 1749 (1749-04-06)
Windsor, North Carolina
Died March 21, 1800 (1800-03-22) (aged 50)
Knoxville, Tennessee
Nationality American
Political party Democratic-Republican
Spouse(s) Mary Grainger Blount
Religion Presbyterian

William Blount, (March 26, 1749 (O.S.)/April 6, 1749 (N.S.) – 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 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.[citation needed] 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.[1] 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.[2]

Blount's political offices

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.[3] 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.[3] 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. 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.



External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
United States Senator (Class 2) from Tennessee
1796 – 1797
Served alongside: William Cocke
Succeeded by
Joseph Anderson

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

WILLIAM BLOUNT (1749-1800), American politician, was born in Bertie county, North Carolina, on the 26th of March 1749. He was a member of the continental congress in1783-1784and again in 1786-1787, of the constitutional convention at Philadelphia in 1787, and of the state convention which ratified the Federal constitution for North Carolina in 1789. From 1790 until 1796 he was, by President Washington's appointment, governor of the "Territory South of the Ohio River," created out of land ceded to the national government by North Carolina in 1789. He was also during this period the superintendent of Indian affairs for this part of the country. In 1791 he laid out Knoxville (Tennessee) as the seat of government. He presided over the constitutional convention of Tennessee in 1796, and, on the state being admitted to the Union, became one of its first representatives in the United States Senate. In 1797 his connexion became known with a scheme, since called "Blount's Conspiracy," which provided for the co-operation of the American frontiersmen, assisted by Indians, and an English force, in the seizure on behalf of Great Britain of the Floridas and Louisiana, then owned by Spain, with which power England was then at war. As this scheme, if carried out, involved the corrupting of two officials of the United States, an Indian agent and an interpreter, a breach of the neutrality of the United States, and the breach of Article V. of the treaty of San Lorenzo el Real (signed on the 27th of October 1795) between the United States and Spain, by which each power agreed not to incite the Indians to attack the other, Blount was impeached by the House of Representatives on the 7th of July 1797, and on the following day was formally expelled from the Senate for "having been guilty of high misdemeanor, entirely inconsistent with his public trust and duty as a senator." On the 29th of January 1798 articles of impeachment were adopted by the House of Representatives. On the 14th of January 1799, however, the Senate, sitting as a court of impeachment, decided that it had no jurisdiction, Blount not then being a member of the Senate, and, in the Senate's opinion, not having been, even as a member, a civil officer of the United States, within the meaning of the constitution. The case is significant as being the first case of impeachment brought before the United States Senate. "In a legal point of view, all that the case decides is that a senator of the United States who has been expelled from his seat is not after such expulsion subject to impeachment" (Francis Wharton, State Trials). In effect, however, it also decided that a member of Congress was not in the meaning of the constitution a civil officer of the United States and therefore could not be impeached. The "conspiracy" was disavowed by the British government, which, however, seems to have secretly favoured it. Blount was enthusiastically supported by his constituents, and upon his return to Tennessee was made a member and the presiding officer of the state senate. He died at Knoxville on the 21st of March 1800.

For a defence of Blount, see General Marcus J. Wright's Account of the Life and Services of William Blount (Washington, D. C., 1884).

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