Did You Know? Stories From Legislative Librarian Eddie Weeks

On January 30, 1871, Governor Dewitt Clinton Senter signed into law Chapter LXVI (66) of the Third Session of the Thirty-sixth General Assembly of the State of Tennessee.  This Act created “a New County out of Portions of the Territory of Hamilton and Bradley Counties, to be called the County of James, in Honor of the late Jesse J. James.”

 As the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture explains, Reverend Jesse J. James was a Methodist minister who moved his family to Chattanooga in the 1850s, where he “became prominently identified with the industrial and financial growth of the city.”  His son, Representative Elbert James, introduced the bill which named the new county in honor of his father.

 Today, of course, there is no James County in Tennessee.  The era of this tiny Tennessee county covers an interesting time in Tennessee, being created only six years after the end of the Civil War.  It was not the only county created that year; 1871 also saw the creation of Moore, Houston, and Crockett counties, giving Tennessee 93 counties within its borders.  Unicoi County joined the State in 1875, followed by Pickett and Chester counties in 1879, giving Tennessee 96 counties.

The Tennessee Encyclopedia, in its entry for James County, gives a bit more information on the reason for this new county:

“Political motives played a role in the creation of the new 285-square-mile county.  The citizens of James County were predominantly Republican and rural, while Chattanooga residents were largely Democratic and urban…. Although the creators of the county expected the overflow from Chattanooga’s flourishing economy to provide the tax base for building schools and roads for the rural area, the revenues never materialized.”

James County did not have a peaceful existence.  Less than twenty years after its creation, Chapter 18 of the Forty-sixth General Assembly was “to abolish the county of James, and to restore the territory embraced in said county to the counties of Bradley and Hamilton, to which it belonged before the establishment of said county of James.”  That Act was signed into law by Governor Robert L. Taylor on March 11, 1890.

In September of 1890, the Tennessee Supreme Court weighed in on this Act of the General Assembly:

“As we have seen, James County was regularly formed and organized.  It had built its courthouse, jail, and other public buildings; had its officers in all respects as other counties. Now, must all these be swept from it without the consent of its people? Must the moneys expended in the nineteen years of its existence go for nothing? Of course these things must be if the Act is constitutional….

If the Legislature may dissolve one county and divide it out amongst its neighbors, it may abolish all, and destroy the State. It may divide Davidson or Knox, and remove their county seats to any other county by its legislative partition….

If desirable to abolish or change counties, the people interested ought to be consulted. Such are the spirit and policy of constitutional popular governments. They can and ought to be carried out….

To abolish a county and give its territory to others, is to take from the one and add to the others without the consent of the people to be affected. A Constitution which prohibits a small taking off, or appropriation, certainly protects against entire destruction. The act is void.” (James County v. Hamilton County, 89 Tenn. 237, 14 S.W. 601).

With the overturning of the abolishing Act, James County continued its existence, but its fortunes did not improve.  Less than thirty years later, the Sixty-first General Assembly passed 1919 Private Chapter 695, “An Act to provide for the abolishment and dissolution of the County of James, for the transfer to the County of Hamilton the territory embraced in said County of James, and for the repeal of [1871] Chapter 66.”

The Act, which was signed into law on April 15, 1919, by Governor A. H. Roberts, declared:

“That within two years from the date of this Act… an election… shall be called and held for the purpose of ascertaining the question whether a constitutional majority of the qualified voters in said county are in favor of, or opposed to the abolishment and dissolution of said James County…”

The election was held on December 11, 1919; the official vote was 953 in favor and 78 against.  (Remember that this election occurred before 1920 – women did not yet have the right to vote.  Only the men of the county voted in this election.) 

James County existed for 48 years of the state’s history.  With its abolishment, Tennessee went from 96 counties to its present 95 counties.

Tennessee Promise Continues To Show Promising Results

Tennessee Promise was created by Republican lawmakers in 2014 as both a scholarship and mentoring program focused on increasing the number of students that attend college in Tennessee.  As part of the Drive to 55 initiative, Tennessee Promise provides students with a last-dollar scholarship, or a scholarship that will cover the cost of tuition and mandatory fees not covered by the Pell grant, the HOPE Scholarship or Tennessee Student Assistance Award. This scholarship can be used at any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or other eligible institution offering an associate degree program.

 Most Promise students are the first in their family to go to college, and volunteer mentors have played a critical role in their success.

 Since Fall 2015, 51,221 students have enrolled using Tennessee Promise. Additional numbers reveal:

  •  Approximately 41 percent of all applicants for 2017-2018 were first generation college students.
  • Retention rates from Fall 2015 to Fall 2016 were 65.8 percent.
  • That number increased to 76.9 percent from Fall 2016 to Fall 2017.

 As our economy continues to evolve, House Republicans understand the importance of supporting innovative education initiatives like Tennessee Promise. These solutions will help us continue to prepare our future leaders with the education, training, and tools needed to excel at all career levels.

Majority of Tennessee Counties See Unemployment Rates Drop

Tennessee Ends 2018 with Continued Low Unemployment across Much of the States

More than three-quarters of Tennessee’s 95 counties experienced a drop in unemployment during December 2018 according to new data released by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Seventy-six counties saw a decrease in unemployment in December, and the rate remained unchanged in three counties.

Williamson County continued to have the state’s lowest unemployment during the final month of 2018 with a rate of 2.1 percent. Davidson and Rutherford counties had the next lowest unemployment rates at 2.3 percent each.

The December 2018 unemployment data for each of our counties can be found here.

Because of the fiscally responsible decisions made under the leadership of House Republicans, Tennessee remains the best place in the entire nation to live, work, and raise a family.

According to our Department of Economic & Community Development (TNECD), Tennessee has a cost of living 10.3 percent below the national average, and the second lowest tax burden in the entire United States. Our state also has a AAA bond rating, and we were rated first in the southeast for Best Infrastructure by Business Facilities magazine in 2017.

Republican leaders are committed to supporting job creation, eliminating burdensome regulations, and backing commonsense initiatives that will continue to attract new business to Tennessee throughout the 111th General Assembly. 

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