John Bell (1797-1869)

John Bell, a Representative and a Senator from Tennessee, was born near Nashville, Tenn., on February 15, 1797. He graduated from the University of Nashville in 1814, studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1816 and commenced practice in Franklin, Tenn. He was elected to the Tennessee senate in 1817, but after one term he declined to be a candidate for reelection and moved to Nashville.

Bell entered the U.S. House of Representatives in 1827 and served there as a Democrat until 1841, elected to the 20th - 26th Congresses (March 4, 1827-March 3, 1841). He was Speaker of the House of Representatives (23rd Congress); chairman, Committee on Indian Affairs (21st through 26th Congresses, except for 23rd), Committee on Judiciary (22nd and 23rd Congresses).

He broke with Pres. Andrew Jackson in 1834 and supported Hugh Lawson White for president in 1836. After White's defeat Bell became a Whig and, as a reward for party services, was appointed by President William Henry Harrison as Secretary of War March 5, 1841. He served until September 12, 1841, a few months after the death of President Harrison, when he resigned in opposition to Pres. John Tyler's break with the Whigs.

After six years' retirement from political life, Bell was elected to the State House of Representatives in 1847. In the same year, he was elected as a Whig to the U.S. Senate, serving as a U.S. senator for Tennessee from November 22, 1847, to March 3, 1859 (being reelected in 1853).

Although a large slaveholder, Bell opposed efforts to expand slavery to the U.S. territories. He vigorously opposed Pres. James Knox Polk's Mexican War policy and voted against the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), and the attempt to admit Kansas as a slave state.

Bell's temperate support of slavery combined with his vigorous defense of the Union brought him the presidential nomination on the Constitutional Union ticket in 1860, but he carried only Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

He initially opposed secession; however, following Pres. Abraham Lincoln's call for troops, he openly advocated resistance and henceforth classed himself a rebel. Bell spent the war years in retirement in Georgia, returning to Tennessee in 1865. He was an investor in ironworks at Cumberland Furnace in Chattanooga, Tenn. He died at his home on the banks of the Cumberland River, near Cumberland Furnace on September 10, 1869 and is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, near Nashville, Tenn.