History's Verdict

Blount on the Run

William Blount is one of the most important figures in Tennessee history. He had been a leader in North Carolina, serving in the Continental Congress and in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and thus he signed the U.S. Constitution. As governor of the Southwest Territory appointed by President Washington in 1790, he was the key player in maneuvering the territory into statehood in 1796. When Blount became one of Tennessee’s first two U.S. senators the same year, he commanded a powerful political faction and owned millions of acres through shrewd speculation.1

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World War I and the Constitution

Nov. 11, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, “the war to end all wars.” The colossal conflict began in 1914, yet the United States did not enter “the Great War” until 1917. When it was over, 11 million soldiers and around 7 million civilians were dead. 20 million soldiers were wounded. 116,708 American soldiers were killed and 204,002 were wounded. 130,915 Tennesseans were enlisted in the armed forces and 3,836 were killed.[1] Tennessee also proudly produced America’s greatest hero of the war: Alvin York.[2]

The terrors of trench and gas warfare were introduced and dynasties were toppled, including those in Germany, Austria and Russia. On a lesser scale, the war brought changes to America. And, like the Civil War, demonstrated the strength of our Constitution in times of crisis. 

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Thomas E. Dewey: America’s Greatest Prosecutor

Although best remembered for his two unsuccessful runs for the presidency, Thomas E. Dewey is arguably the greatest prosecutor in American history. His cases against organized crime figures are legend, and so is his courage.

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The First Case of Temporary Insanity

To be responsible for a crime, the defendant must traditionally have criminal intent, mens rea, a guilty mind. Hence, the accused cannot be punished for an act perpetrated while insane. Sir Edward Coke observed in 1628: “A madman is only punished by his madness.”[1] And as an 1828 British decision declared, “Insanity vitiates all acts.”[2]

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The Triumph and Tragedy of Earl Rogers

He was a new kind of criminal defense lawyer: daring, flamboyant, creative and ready to use forensic evidence, visual aids and reenactments like never before. He moved criminal trials into the modern age. His tactics (some said “tricks”) were shocking yet effective. He appeared for the defense in almost 100 murder cases. He lost only three, and only one client was executed. He made the practice of criminal law exciting and attractive. Young lawyers rushed to handle criminal cases. He was who Clarence Darrow hired when he needed a lawyer.

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Ida B. Wells at the Tennessee Supreme Court

Ida B. Wells was one of the earliest and most eloquent pioneers of civil rights in America. Her long and courageous struggle for racial equality commenced in a Tennessee railroad car in 1884. Before Rosa Parks there was Ida B. Wells. And, sadly, before Plessy v. Ferguson,[1] there was Chesapeake, Ohio & Southwestern Railroad Co. v. Wells.[2]

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