Brown returned to Pulaski and resumed his law practice following the war. He was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly in 1869. In the following year, he was a delegate to the state constitutional convention, and was elected its president by his peers. This convention overhauled the state's 1834 constitution, essentially updating it to meet post-Civil War demands. The document most notably guaranteed the right to vote to all males of at least 21 years of age, regardless of race, but also instituted a poll tax. Although it has been amended a number of times, it remains Tennessee's current state constitution.
Although he had been a Whig before the Civil War, Brown joined the Democratic Party after the war, and was nominated as the party's candidate for governor in 1870. Since the new constitution restored voting rights to ex-Confederates, Brown easily defeated his Republican opponent, William H. Wisener of Shelbyville, by a 78,979 to 41,400 vote. He was reelected by a similar margin over Republican candidate Alfred Freeman in 1872.
Brown's most pressing issue was the state's skyrocketing debt. In previous decades, Tennessee had accumulated $43 million in bonded debt, mostly to pay for internal improvements, such as turnpike construction and loans to railroads. Governor William Brownlow exacerbated the problem by issuing more bonds to pay the interest on outstanding bonds in the late 1860s. By the time Brown took office, the state was struggling to pay the interest on this debt. Brown managed to reduce the state's bonded debt to $20 million, and eliminated all of the state's floating debt. His efforts proved futile, however, and the state eventually defaulted following the Panic of 1873.
Brown's administration enacted the state's first truly effective public school legislation, which called for the establishment of county and city school superintendents, and the creation of the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Brown also advocated a board of directors to govern local school districts, and the organization of separate schools for African-American and white children. To support these schools, Governor Brown called for the Legislature to institute a small state tax and give cities and counties the power to raise additional taxes.
In 1875, along with several other former Confederate generals, he competed for an open United States Senate seat, but lost on the 54th ballot in the state legislature to former President Andrew Johnson.
Read more about this topic: John C. Brown
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