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State of Tennessee
The Volunteer State[1]
Agriculture and Commerce
Anthem: Nine songs
Map of the United States with Tennessee highlighted
Map of the United States with Tennessee highlighted
CountryUnited States
Before statehoodSouthwest Territory
Admitted to the UnionJune 1, 1796 (16th)
(and largest city)
Largest metroGreater Nashville
 • GovernorBill Lee (R)
 • Lieutenant GovernorRandy McNally (R)
LegislatureGeneral Assembly
 • Upper houseSenate
 • Lower houseHouse of Representatives
JudiciaryTennessee Supreme Court
U.S. senatorsMarsha Blackburn (R)
Bill Hagerty (R)
U.S. House delegation7 Republicans
2 Democrats (list)
 • Total42,143 sq mi (109,247 km2)
 • Land41,217 sq mi (106,846 km2)
 • Water926 sq mi (2,401 km2)  2.2%
Area rank36th
 • Length440 mi (710 km)
 • Width120 mi (195 km)
900 ft (270 m)
Highest elevation6,643 ft (2,025 m)
Lowest elevation178 ft (54 m)
 • Total6,886,834 (estimate)[5]
 • Rank16th
 • Density159.4/sq mi (61.5/km2)
 • Density rank20th
 • Median household income
 • Income rank
Big Bender (archaic)
Volunteer (historical significance)
 • Official languageEnglish
 • Spoken languageLanguage spoken at home[7]
Time zones
East TennesseeUTC−05:00 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−04:00 (EDT)
Middle and WestUTC−06:00 (Central)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−05:00 (CDT)
USPS abbreviation
ISO 3166 codeUS-TN
Traditional abbreviationTenn.
Latitude34°59′ N to 36°41′ N
Longitude81°39′ W to 90°19′ W
Tennessee state symbols
Flag of Tennessee.svg
Living insignia
AmphibianTennessee cave salamander
Bobwhite quail
ButterflyZebra swallowtail
FishChannel catfish
Smallmouth bass
Passion flower
Tennessee echinacea
Lady beetle
Honey bee
MammalTennessee Walking Horse
ReptileEastern box turtle
TreeTulip poplar
Eastern red cedar
Inanimate insignia
DanceSquare dance
FirearmBarrett M82
FossilPterotrigonia (Scabrotrigonia) thoracica
GemstoneTennessee River pearl
Poem"Oh Tennessee, My Tennessee" by William Lawrence
Slogan"Tennessee—America at its best"
TartanTennessee State Tartan
State route marker
Tennessee state route marker
State quarter
Tennessee quarter dollar coin
Released in 2002
Lists of United States state symbols

Tennessee (/ˌtɛnəˈs/ (About this soundlisten),[8][9] locally /ˈtɛnəsi/[10]), officially the State of Tennessee, is a state in the Southeastern region of the United States. Tennessee is the 36th largest by area and the 16th most populous of the 50 states. It is bordered by eight states, with Kentucky to the north, Virginia to the northeast, North Carolina to the east, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi to the south, Arkansas to the west, and Missouri to the northwest. Tennessee is geographically, culturally, and legally divided into East, Middle, and West Tennessee. The Appalachian Mountains dominate the eastern part of the state, and the Mississippi River forms its western border. Nashville is the state's capital and largest city, and anchors the state's largest metropolitan area. Shelby County is its most populous administrative division, and contains its second-largest city, Memphis. The state's estimated population as of 2020 is approximately 6.9 million.[11]

The state of Tennessee is rooted in the Watauga Association, a 1772 frontier pact generally regarded as the first constitutional government west of the Appalachians.[12] The state's name is derived from "Tanasi", the name of a Cherokee town in the eastern part of the state before settlement by European Americans.[13] What is now Tennessee was initially part of North Carolina, and later part of the Southwest Territory. Tennessee was admitted to the Union as the 16th state on June 1, 1796. It earned the nickname "The Volunteer State" during the War of 1812, when many Tennesseans stepped in to help with the war effort, especially at the Battle of New Orleans. The nickname became even more applicable during the Mexican–American War in 1846, when the state sent more than ten times more soldiers than requested by the Secretary of War.[14]

Unlike states in the Deep South, Tennessee was politically divided during the American Civil War, with the western and middle parts of the state supporting Confederacy, and the eastern parts harboring pro-Union sentiment. As a result, Tennessee was the last state to formally join the Confederacy and the first to be readmitted to the Union at the end of the war.[15] During the war, Tennessee furnished the second-most soldiers to the Confederate Army, behind Virginia, and supplied more regiments of soldiers to the Union Army than any other state in the Confederacy.[15] During Reconstruction, the state had competitive party politics, but a Democratic takeover in the late 1880s resulted in passage of disenfranchisement laws that excluded most blacks and many poor whites from voting. This reduced competition in politics in the state until the passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-20th century.[16] Republicans, however, usually received at least one-third of the vote in statewide elections during this time, due to Unionists in East Tennessee.[17]

During the 20th century, Tennessee transitioned from a predominantly agrarian economy to a more diversified one. This was aided in part by massive federal investment in the Tennessee Valley Authority and the city of Oak Ridge, which was established just outside Knoxville to house the Manhattan Project's uranium enrichment facilities. This facility was used to help build the world's first atomic bombs, two of which were dropped on Imperial Japan near the end of World War II. After the war, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory became a key center of scientific research. In 2016, the element tennessine was named for the state, largely in recognition of the roles played by Oak Ridge, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Tennessee in its discovery.[18] The state also played a major role in the development of many forms of popular music, including country, blues, rock and roll, soul, and gospel.

Tennessee's economy is dominated by the health care, music, automotive, chemical, electrical equipment, banking, processed foods, and tourism industries.[19] Cattle, soybeans, corn, poultry, and cotton are its primary agricultural products.[20] The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation's most visited national park, is in eastern Tennessee, and a section of the Appalachian Trail roughly follows the Tennessee–North Carolina border.[21] Other major tourist attractions include the Tennessee Aquarium and Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel in Chattanooga; Dollywood in Pigeon Forge; Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies and Ober Gatlinburg in Gatlinburg; the Parthenon, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and Ryman Auditorium in Nashville; the Jack Daniel's Distillery in Lynchburg; Elvis Presley's Graceland residence and tomb, the Memphis Zoo, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis; and Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol.


Monument near the old site of Tanasi in Monroe County

The earliest variant of the name that became Tennessee was recorded by Captain Juan Pardo, the Spanish explorer, when he and his men passed through an American Indian village named "Tanasqui" in 1567 while traveling inland from South Carolina. In the early 18th century, British traders encountered a Cherokee town named Tanasi (or "Tanase", in syllabary: ᏔᎾᏏ) in present-day Monroe County, Tennessee. The town was on a river of the same name (now known as the Little Tennessee River) and appears on maps as early as 1725. It is not known whether this was the same town as the one Juan Pardo encountered, but recent research suggests that Pardo's "Tanasqui" was at the confluence of the Pigeon River and the French Broad River, near modern Newport.[22]

The meaning and origin of the word are uncertain. Some accounts suggest it is a Cherokee modification of an earlier Yuchi word. It has been said to mean "meeting place", "winding river", or "river of the great bend".[23][24] According to ethnographer James Mooney, the name "can not be analyzed" and its meaning is lost.[25]

The modern spelling, Tennessee, is attributed to James Glen, the governor of South Carolina, who used this spelling in his official correspondence during the 1750s. The spelling was popularized by the publication of Henry Timberlake's "Draught of the Cherokee Country" in 1765. In 1788, North Carolina created "Tennessee County", the third county to be established in what is now Middle Tennessee. (Tennessee County was the predecessor to present-day Montgomery and Robertson counties.) When a constitutional convention met in 1796 to organize a new state out of the Southwest Territory, it adopted "Tennessee" as the name of the state.


Tennessee is known as The Volunteer State, a nickname some claimed was earned during the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee, especially during the Battle of New Orleans.[26] Other sources differ on the origin of the state nickname; according to The Columbia Encyclopedia,[27] the name refers to volunteers for the Mexican–American War from 1846 to 1848. This explanation is more likely, because President Polk's call for 2,600 nationwide volunteers at the beginning of the Mexican–American War resulted in 30,000 volunteers from Tennessee alone, largely in response to the death of Davy Crockett and appeals by former Tennessee Governor and then Texas politician, Sam Houston.[28]

Maps of the Grand Divisions of Tennessee, with East Tennessee at the top, Middle Tennessee in the center, and West Tennessee at the bottom.


Tennessee borders eight other states: Kentucky and Virginia to the north; North Carolina to the east; Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi on the south; Arkansas and Missouri on the Mississippi River to the west. Tennessee is tied with Missouri as the state bordering the most other states. It is trisected by the Tennessee River.

The state's highest point is Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet (2,025 m).[29] On Tennessee's eastern border, Clingmans Dome is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail, and the third-highest peak in the United States east of the Mississippi River. The state line between Tennessee and North Carolina crosses the summit. The state's lowest point is the Mississippi River at the Mississippi state line at 178 feet (54 m). Its geographical center is in Murfreesboro.

Tennessee is geographically, culturally, economically, and legally divided into three Grand Divisions: East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee. The state constitution allows no more than two justices of the five-member Tennessee Supreme Court to be from one Grand Division and a similar rule applies to certain commissions and boards.

Tennessee features six principal physiographic regions: the Blue Ridge, the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region, the Cumberland Plateau, the Highland Rim, the Nashville Basin, and the Gulf Coastal Plain. Tennessee is home to the most caves in the United States, with more than ten thousand documented.[30]

About half the state is in the Tennessee Valley drainage basin of the Tennessee River.[31] Approximately the northern half of Middle Tennessee, including Nashville and Clarksville, and a small portion of East Tennessee is in the Cumberland River basin.[32] A small part of north-central Tennessee in Sumner, Macon, and Clay counties is in the Green River watershed.[33] All three of these basins are tributaries of the Ohio River watershed. Most of West Tennessee is in the Lower Mississippi River watershed.[34] The entirety of the state is in the Mississippi River watershed, except for a small area in Bradley and Polk counties traversed by the Conasauga River, which is part of the Mobile Bay watershed.[35]

East Tennessee[edit]

The Blue Ridge area lies on the eastern edge of Tennessee, which borders North Carolina. This region of Tennessee is characterized by the high mountains and rugged terrain of the western Blue Ridge Mountains, which are subdivided into several subranges, namely the Great Smoky Mountains, the Bald Mountains, the Unicoi Mountains, the Unaka Mountains and Roan Highlands, and the Iron Mountains.

The Blue Ridge area's average elevation is 5,000 feet (1,500 m) above sea level. Clingmans Dome, the state's highest point, is in this region. The Blue Ridge area was never more than sparsely populated, and today much of it is protected by the Cherokee National Forest, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and several federal wilderness areas and state parks.

Stretching west from the Blue Ridge for approximately 55 miles (89 km) is the Ridge and Valley region, in which numerous tributaries join to form the Tennessee River in the Tennessee Valley. This area of Tennessee is covered by fertile valleys separated by wooded ridges, such as Bays Mountain and Clinch Mountain. The western section of the Tennessee Valley, where the depressions become broader and the ridges become lower, is called the Great Valley. In this valley are numerous towns and two of the region's three urban areas, Knoxville and Chattanooga, the state's third- and fourth-largest cities, respectively. The third urban area, the Tri-Cities, comprising Bristol, Johnson City, and Kingsport and their environs, is northeast of Knoxville.

The Cumberland Plateau rises to the west of the Tennessee Valley; this area is covered with flat-topped mountains separated by sharp valleys. The elevation of the Cumberland Plateau ranges from 1,500 to about 2,000 feet (460 to about 610 m) above sea level.

East Tennessee has several important transportation links with Middle and West Tennessee, as well as the rest of the nation and the world, including several major airports and interstates. Knoxville's McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) and Chattanooga's Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport (CHA), as well as the Tri-Cities' Tri-Cities Regional Airport (TRI), provide air service to numerous destinations. I-24, I-81, I-40, I-75, and I-26 along with numerous state highways and other important roads, traverse the Grand Division and connect the major metro areas of Chattanooga, Knoxville, and the Tri-Cities, along with regional hubs such Cleveland, Greeneville, Morristown, and Sevierville.[36]

Middle Tennessee[edit]

West of the Cumberland Plateau is the Highland Rim, an elevated plain that surrounds the Nashville Basin. The northern section of the Highland Rim, known for its high tobacco production, is sometimes called the Pennyroyal Plateau; it is primarily in Southwestern Kentucky. The Nashville Basin is characterized by rich, fertile farm country and great diversity of natural wildlife.[37]

Middle Tennessee was a common destination of settlers crossing the Appalachians from Virginia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. An important trading route called the Natchez Trace, created and used for many generations by American Indians, connected Middle Tennessee to the lower Mississippi River town of Natchez. The route of the Natchez Trace was used as the basis for a scenic highway called the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Some of the last remaining large American chestnut trees grow in this region. They are being used to help breed blight-resistant trees.

Middle Tennessee is one of the primary state population and transportation centers along with the heart of state government. Nashville (the capital), Clarksville, and Murfreesboro are its largest cities.[38] Interstates 24, 40, 65, and 840 service the Division, with the first three meeting in Nashville.

West Tennessee[edit]

West of the Highland Rim and Nashville Basin is the Gulf Coastal Plain, which includes the Mississippi embayment. The Gulf Coastal Plain is, in terms of area, the predominant land region in Tennessee. It is part of the large geographic land area that begins at the Gulf of Mexico and extends north into southern Illinois. In Tennessee, the Gulf Coastal Plain is divided into three sections that extend from the Tennessee River in the east to the Mississippi River in the west.

The easternmost section, about 10 miles (16 km) in width, consists of hilly land that runs along the western bank of the Tennessee River. To the west of this narrow strip of land is a wide area of rolling hills and streams that stretches all the way to the Mississippi River; this area is called the Tennessee Bottoms or bottom land. In Memphis, the Tennessee Bottoms end in steep bluffs overlooking the river. To the west of the Tennessee Bottoms is the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, less than 300 feet (91 m) above sea level. This area of lowlands, flood plains, and swamp land is sometimes referred to as the Delta region. Memphis is the economic center of West Tennessee.

Most of West Tennessee remained Indian land until the Chickasaw Cession of 1818, when the Chickasaw ceded their land between the Tennessee River and the Mississippi River. The portion of the Chickasaw Cession that lies in Kentucky is known today as the Jackson Purchase.

Public lands[edit]

View from atop Mount Le Conte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, April 2007

Areas under the control and management of the National Park Service include the following:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Fifty-four state parks, covering some 132,000 acres (530 km2) as well as parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee National Forest, and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park are in Tennessee. Sportsmen and visitors are attracted to Reelfoot Lake, originally formed by the 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes; stumps and other remains of a once dense forest, together with the lotus bed covering the shallow waters, give the lake an eerie beauty.


A map of Köppen climate types in Tennessee

Most of the state has a humid subtropical climate, with the exception of some of the higher elevations in the Appalachians, which are classified as having a mountain temperate or humid continental climate due to cooler temperatures.[39] The Gulf of Mexico is the dominant factor in the climate of Tennessee, with winds from the south being responsible for most of the state's annual precipitation. Generally, the state has hot summers and mild to cool winters with generous precipitation throughout the year, with highest average monthly precipitation generally in the winter and spring months, between December and April. The driest months, on average, are August to October. On average the state receives 50 inches (130 cm) of precipitation annually. Snowfall ranges from 5 inches (13 cm) in West Tennessee to over 80 inches (200 cm) in the highest mountains in East Tennessee.[40][41]

Summers in the state are generally hot and humid, with most of the state averaging a high of around 90 °F (32 °C) during the summer months. Winters tend to be mild to cool, increasing in coolness at higher elevations. Generally, for areas outside the highest mountains, the average overnight lows are near freezing for most of the state. The highest recorded temperature is 113 °F (45 °C) at Perryville on August 9, 1930, while the lowest recorded temperature is −32 °F (−36 °C) at Mountain City on December 30, 1917.

While the state is far enough from the coast to avoid any direct impact from a hurricane, the location of the state makes it likely to be hit by the remnants of tropical cyclones which weaken over land and can cause significant rainfall, such as Tropical Storm Chris in 1982 and Hurricane Opal in 1995.[42] The state averages about fifty days of thunderstorms per year, some of which can be severe with large hail and damaging winds. Tornadoes are possible throughout the state, with West and Middle Tennessee the most vulnerable. Occasionally, strong or violent tornadoes occur, such as the devastating April 2011 tornadoes that killed twenty people in North Georgia and Southeast Tennessee.[43] On average, the state has 15 tornadoes per year.[44] Tornadoes in Tennessee can be severe, and Tennessee leads the nation in the percentage of total tornadoes which have fatalities.[45] Winter storms are an occasional problem, such as the infamous Blizzard of 1993, although ice storms are a more likely occurrence. Fog is a persistent problem in parts of the state, especially in East Tennessee.

Monthly Normal High and Low Temperatures For Various Tennessee Cities (F)[46]
City Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Bristol 44/25 49/27 57/34 66/41 74/51 81/60 85/64 84/62 79/56 68/43 58/35 48/27
Chattanooga 50/31 54/33 63/40 72/47 79/56 86/65 90/69 89/68 82/62 72/48 61/40 52/33
Knoxville 47/30 52/33 61/40 71/48 78/57 85/65 88/69 87/68 81/62 71/50 60/41 50/34
Memphis 50/31 55/36 63/44 72/52 80/61 89/69 92/73 92/72 86/65 75/52 62/43 52/34
Nashville 47/28 52/31 61/39 70/47 78/57 85/65 89/70 89/69 82/61 71/49 59/40 49/32

Major cities[edit]

The capital and largest city is Nashville, though Knoxville, Kingston, and Murfreesboro have all served as state capitals in the past. Nashville's 13-county metropolitan area has been the state's largest since c. 1990. Memphis was the largest city in the state until 2018 when it was surpassed by Nashville. Chattanooga and Knoxville, both in the east near the Great Smoky Mountains, are about a third that size. The city of Clarksville is a fifth significant population center, 45 miles (72 km) northwest of Nashville. Murfreesboro is the sixth-largest city in Tennessee, consisting of 146,900 residents.


Early history[edit]

Reconstruction of Fort Loudon, the first British settlement in Tennessee

The area now known as Tennessee was first inhabited by Paleo-Indians nearly 12,000 years ago.[48] The names of the cultural groups who inhabited the area between first settlement and the time of European contact are unknown, but several distinct cultural phases have been named by archaeologists, including Archaic (8000–1000 BC), Woodland (1000 BC – 1000 AD), and Mississippian (1000–1600 AD), whose chiefdoms were the cultural predecessors of the Muscogee people who inhabited the Tennessee River Valley before Cherokee migration into the river's headwaters.

The first recorded European excursions into what is now called Tennessee were three expeditions led by Spanish explorers, namely Hernando de Soto in 1540, Tristan de Luna in 1559, and Juan Pardo in 1567. Pardo recorded the name "Tanasqui" from a local Indian village, which evolved to the state's current name. At that time, Tennessee was inhabited by tribes of Muscogee and Yuchi people. Possibly because of European diseases devastating the Indian tribes, which would have left a population vacuum, and also from expanding European settlement in the north, the Cherokee moved south from the area now called Virginia. As European colonists spread into the area, the Indian populations were forcibly displaced to the south and west, including all Muscogee and Yuchi peoples, the Chickasaw and Choctaw, and ultimately, the Cherokee in 1838.

In 1673, Abraham Wood, a British fur trader in Virginia, sent an expedition led by James Needham and Gabriel Arthur from Fort Henry in Virginia into Overhill Cherokee territory in modern-day Northeast Tennessee. Needham was killed during the expedition, but Arthur remained with the Cherokees for more than a year.[49] The same year, a French expedition led by missionary Jacques Marquette and trader Louis Jolliet explored the Mississippi River and became the first Europeans to map the Mississippi Valley. In 1682 an expedition led by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle constructed Fort Prudhomme on the Chickasaw Bluffs near the mouth of the Hatchie River in West Tennessee.[50] By the late 17th century, French traders also began to explore the Cumberland River valley. In 1714, a group of French traders under Charles Charleville's command established a fur trading post at the present location of downtown Nashville, which became known as French Lick. These settlers quickly established an extensive fur trading network with the local Native Americans, but by the 1740s the settlement had largely been abandoned.[51] In 1739, Fort Assumption was constructed by the French under Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville on the Mississippi River at the present-day location of Memphis, and used as a base against the Chickasaw during the 1739 Campaign of the Chickasaw Wars. It was abandoned the next year after the Chickasaw took French troops stationed at the fort hostage.[52]

In the 1750s and 1760s, long hunters from Virginia explored much of East and Middle Tennessee. The first British settlement in what is now Tennessee was built in 1756 by settlers from the colony of South Carolina at Fort Loudoun, near present-day Vonore. Fort Loudoun was the westernmost British outpost to that date. It was designed by John William Gerard de Brahm and constructed by forces under British Captain Raymond Demeré. After its completion, Demeré relinquished command on August 14, 1757, to his brother, Captain Paul Demeré. Hostilities erupted between the British and the neighboring Overhill Cherokees, and a siege of Fort Loudoun ended with its surrender on August 7, 1760. The next morning, Paul Demeré and a number of his men were killed in an ambush nearby, and most of the rest of the garrison was taken prisoner.[53] The first permanent European settlers began arriving in the northeastern part of the state in the late 1760s. The majority of 18th-century settlers were English or of primarily English descent but nearly 20% of them were also Scotch-Irish.[54] These settlers formed the Watauga Association, a community built on lands leased from the Cherokee.

In 1775, Daniel Boone blazed a trail from Fort Chiswell in Virginia through the Cumberland Gap, which became part of the Wilderness Road, a major thoroughfare for settlers into Tennessee and Kentucky. Later that year, Boone and William Bean passed through the gap at Clinch Mountain along a southern expansion of the Wilderness Road on a longhunting excursion after passing through the Cumberland Gap.[55] The next year, Bean received a 3,000 acres (12 km2) land grant in the area he previously surveyed for settlement during his excursion with Boone for his service in the American Revolutionary War.[55] He constructed a four-room cabin on the site, which served as his family's permanent home and an inn for prospective settlers, fur traders, and longhunters, thus establishing the first reported permanent settlement in Tennessee, which became known as Bean Station in present-day Grainger County.[56] The settlement was at the intersection of the Wilderness Road, which roughly followed present-day U.S. Route 25E, and the Great Indian Warpath, an east–west pathway that roughly followed what is now U.S. Route 11W.[57][58][59] This heavily trafficked crossroads made Bean Station an important stopover between Washington, D.C. and New Orleans for early American travelers and settlers entering Tennessee, with taverns and inns operating by the early 1800s.[57]

In 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, Dragging Canoe and his warring faction of Cherokee aligned with the British Loyalists attacked Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals (in present-day Elizabethton). Settlers called these renegade Cherokee the Chickamauga. They opposed North Carolina's annexation of the Washington District and the concurrent settling of the Transylvania Colony further north and west. Many settlers' lives were spared from the initial warrior attacks by the warnings of Dragging Canoe's cousin Nancy Ward. The frontier fort on the banks of the Watauga River later served as a 1780 staging area for the Overmountain Men in preparation to trek over the Appalachian Mountains, to engage and later defeat the British Army at the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina.

Three counties of the Washington District (now part of Tennessee) broke off from North Carolina in 1784 and formed the State of Franklin. Efforts to obtain admission to the Union failed, and the counties (now numbering eight) rejoined North Carolina by 1789. North Carolina ceded the area to the federal government in 1790, after which it was organized into the Southwest Territory. In an effort to encourage settlers to move west into the new territory, in 1787 North Carolina ordered a road to be cut to take settlers into the Cumberland Settlements—from the south end of Clinch Mountain (in East Tennessee) to French Lick (Nashville). The Trace was called the North Carolina Road, Avery's Trace, or The Wilderness Road (not to be confused with Daniel Boone's Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap).

Statehood and increasing settlement[edit]

Tennessee was admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796, as the 16th state. It was the first state created from territory under the jurisdiction of the U.S. federal government. Apart from the former Thirteen Colonies, only Vermont and Kentucky predate Tennessee's statehood, and neither was ever a federal territory.[60] The Constitution of the State of Tennessee, Article I, Section 31, states that the beginning point for identifying the boundary is the extreme height of the Stone Mountain, where the line of Virginia intersects it, and basically runs the extreme heights of mountain chains through the Appalachian Mountains separating North Carolina from Tennessee past the Native American towns Cowee and Old Chota, thence along the main ridge of Unicoi Mountain to the southern boundary of the state; all the territory, lands and waters lying west of said line are included in the boundaries and limits of Tennessee. Part of the provision also stated that Tennessee's limits and jurisdiction would include future land acquisition, referencing possible land trade with other states, or acquisition of territory from west of the Mississippi River.

As more white settlers moved into Tennessee, they came into increasing conflict with Native American tribes. In 1832, the Cherokee, who had established a national government modeled on the U.S. Constitution, moved their capital from Georgia to the Red Clay Council Grounds in the southeastern part of the state, due to new Georgia laws forcing them from their previous capital at New Echota.[61] During the administration of President Martin Van Buren, nearly 17,000 Cherokees and about 2,000 Black people enslaved by the Cherokees were uprooted from their homes between 1838 and 1839. U.S. troops forced them to march from "emigration depots" in Eastern Tennessee, such as Fort Cass, toward the more distant Indian Territory west of Arkansas, now in Oklahoma.[62] During this relocation an estimated 4,000 Cherokees died along the way.[63] In the Cherokee language, the event is called Nunna daul Isunyi, "the Trail Where We Cried". The Cherokees were not the only Native Americans forced to emigrate as a result of the U.S. Indian removal efforts, and so the phrase "Trail of Tears" sometimes refers to similar events endured by other American Indian peoples, especially among the "Five Civilized Tribes". It originated as a description of the earlier emigration of the Choctaw nation.

Civil War and Reconstruction[edit]

In February 1861, secessionists in Tennessee's state government, led by Governor Isham Harris, sought voter approval for a convention to sever ties with the United States, but Tennessee voters rejected the referendum by a 54–46% margin. The strongest opposition to secession came from East Tennessee, which later tried to form a separate Union-aligned state. Following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in April and Lincoln's call for troops from Tennessee and other states in response, Harris began military mobilization, submitted an ordinance of secession to the General Assembly, and made direct overtures to the Confederate government. The Tennessee legislature ratified an agreement to enter a military league with the Confederate States on May 7, 1861. On June 8, with people in Middle Tennessee having significantly changed their position, voters approved a second referendum on secession, becoming the last state to do so. But the Union-backing State of Scott was also established at this time and remained a de facto enclave of the United States throughout the war.

Many major battles of the American Civil War were fought in Tennessee—most of them Union victories. Ulysses S. Grant and the U.S. Navy captured control of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers in February 1862. They held off the Confederate counterattack at Shiloh in April. Memphis fell to the Union in June after a naval battle on the Mississippi River in front of the city. The capture of Memphis and Nashville gave the Union control of the western and middle sections. This control was confirmed at the Battle of Murfreesboro in January 1863 and the subsequent Tullahoma Campaign.

The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864

Despite the strength of Unionist sentiment in East Tennessee (with the exception of Sullivan County, which was heavily pro-Confederate), Confederates held the area. The Confederates, led by General James Longstreet, attacked General Burnside's Fort Sanders at Knoxville and lost. It was a big blow to East Tennessee Confederate momentum, but Longstreet won the Battle of Bean's Station a few weeks later. The Confederates besieged Chattanooga during the Chattanooga Campaign in early fall 1863 but were driven off by Grant in November. Many of the Confederate defeats can be attributed to the poor strategic vision of General Braxton Bragg, who led the Army of Tennessee from Perryville, Kentucky, to another Confederate defeat at Chattanooga.

The last major battles came when the Confederates invaded Middle Tennessee in November 1864 and were checked at Franklin, then completely dispersed by George Thomas at Nashville in December. Meanwhile, President Abraham Lincoln appointed displaced senator and native Tennessean Andrew Johnson military governor of the state.

When the Emancipation Proclamation was announced, Tennessee was largely held by Union forces and thus was not among the states enumerated in the proclamation, which freed no slaves there. Nonetheless, enslaved African Americans escaped to Union lines to gain freedom without waiting for official action. Old and young, men, women, and children camped near Union troops. Thousands of former slaves ended up fighting on the Union side, nearly 200,000 in total across the South.

Tennessee's legislature approved an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting slavery on February 22, 1865.[64] Voters in the state approved the amendment in March.[65] It ratified the Thirteenth Amendment (abolishing slavery in every state) on April 7, 1865.

In 1864, Andrew Johnson, a War Democrat from Tennessee, was elected Vice President under Lincoln. He became president after Lincoln's assassination in 1865. Under Johnson's lenient readmission policy, Tennessee was the first of the seceding states to have its elected members readmitted to Congress, on July 24, 1866. Because Tennessee had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, it was the only one of the formerly secessionist states that did not have a military governor during the Reconstruction period.

After the formal end of Reconstruction, the struggle over power in Southern society continued. Through violence and intimidation against freedmen and their allies, White Democrats regained political power in Tennessee and other states across the South in the late 1870s and 1880s. Over the next decade, the state legislature passed increasingly restrictive laws to control African Americans. In 1889 the General Assembly passed four laws described as electoral reform, with the cumulative effect of essentially disfranchising most African Americans in rural areas and small towns, as well as many poor Whites. Legislation included the implementation of a poll tax, timing of registration, and recording requirements. Tens of thousands of taxpaying citizens were without representation for decades into the 20th century.[16] Disfranchising legislation accompanied Jim Crow laws passed in the late 19th century, which imposed segregation. In 1900, African Americans made up nearly 24% of the state's population, numbering 480,430 citizens who lived mostly in central and western Tennessee.[66]

In 1897, Tennessee celebrated its centennial of statehood one year late with a great exposition in Nashville. A full-scale replica of the Parthenon was constructed for the celebration, in what is now Nashville's Centennial Park.

20th century[edit]

Workers at Norris Dam construction camp site, 1933

On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th and final state necessary to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. Disenfranchising voter registration requirements continued to keep most African Americans and many poor whites, both men and women, off the voter rolls.

The need to create work for the unemployed during the Great Depression, a desire for rural electrification, and the need to control annual spring flooding and improve shipping capacity on the Tennessee River were all factors that drove the federal creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933. Through the TVA, Tennessee quickly became the nation's largest public utility supplier.

During World War II, the availability of abundant TVA electrical power led the Manhattan Project to locate one of the principal sites for production and isolation of weapons-grade fissile material in East Tennessee. The planned community of Oak Ridge was built from scratch to provide accommodations for the facilities and workers. These sites are now Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Y-12 National Security Complex, and the East Tennessee Technology Park.

Despite recognized effects of limiting voting by poor whites, successive legislatures expanded the reach of the disfranchising laws until they covered the state. Political scientist V. O. Key, Jr. argued in 1949:

... the size of the poll tax did not inhibit voting as much as the inconvenience of paying it. County officers regulated the vote by providing opportunities to pay the tax (as they did in Knoxville), or conversely by making payment as difficult as possible. Such manipulation of the tax, and therefore the vote, created an opportunity for the rise of urban bosses and political machines. Urban politicians bought large blocks of poll tax receipts and distributed them to blacks and whites, who then voted as instructed.[16]

In 1953 state legislators amended the state constitution to remove the poll tax. In many areas, both blacks and poor whites still faced subjectively applied barriers to voter registration that did not end until after the passage of national civil rights legislation, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965.[16]

Tennessee celebrated its bicentennial in 1996. With a yearlong statewide celebration called "Tennessee 200", it opened a new state park, Bicentennial Mall, at the foot of Capitol Hill in Nashville.

The state has had major disasters, such as the Great Train Wreck of 1918, one of the worst train accidents in U.S. history,[67] and the Sultana explosion on the Mississippi River near Memphis, the deadliest maritime disaster in U.S. history.[68]

21st century[edit]

In 2002, businessman Phil Bredesen was elected Tennessee's 48th governor. Also in 2002, Tennessee amended its state constitution to establish a lottery. Tennessee's Bob Corker was the only freshman Republican elected to the U.S. Senate in the 2006 midterm elections. The state constitution was amended to reject same-sex marriage. In January 2007, Ron Ramsey became the first Republican elected Speaker of the State Senate since Reconstruction,[citation needed] as a result of the realignment of the Democratic and Republican parties in the South since the late 20th century, with Republicans now elected by conservative voters, who previously had supported Democrats.

In 2010, during the 2010 midterm elections, Bill Haslam was elected to succeed Bredesen, who was term-limited, to become the 49th governor of Tennessee. In April and May 2010, flooding in Middle Tennessee devastated Nashville and other parts of Middle Tennessee. In 2011, parts of East Tennessee, including Hamilton and Bradley counties, were devastated by the April 2011 tornado outbreak.

In 2018, Republican businessman Bill Lee was elected to succeed term-limited Haslam as Tennessee's 50th governor.


Historical population
Census Pop.
2020 (est.)6,886,8348.5%
Source: 1910–2010[69]
2019 estimate[5]

The United States Census Bureau estimates that Tennessee's population was 6,829,174 on July 1, 2019, an increase of 483,069 since the 2010 United States Census, or 7.61%.[5] This includes a natural increase since the last census of 124,385 (584,236 births minus 459,851 deaths), and an increase from net migration of 244,537 people into the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 66,412, and migration within the country produced a net increase of 178,125.[70]

Twenty percent of Tennesseans were born outside the South in 2008, compared to a figure of 13.5% in 1990.[71] In recent years, Tennessee has received an influx of people relocating from California, Florida, New York, New Jersey and the New England States due to the low cost of living, and the booming healthcare and automotive industries. Metropolitan Nashville is one of the fastest-growing areas in the country due in part to these factors.[72]

Tennessee's center of population is in Rutherford County, in Murfreesboro.[73]


Racial composition 1970[74] 1990[74] 2000[75] 2010[75] 2019 est.[76]
White 83.9% 83.0% 80.2% 77.6% 77.6%
Black 15.8% 16.0% 16.4% 16.7% 16.8%
Asian 0.1% 0.7% 1.0% 1.4% 1.8%
Native 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.3%
Native Hawaiian and
other Pacific Islander
- 0.1% 0.1%
Other race - 0.2% 1.0% 2.2% 1.4%
Two or more races - 1.1% 1.7% 2.2%

In 2010, 4.6% of the total population was of Hispanic or Latino origin (they may be of any race), up from 2.2% in 2000. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population in Tennessee grew by 134.2%, the third-highest rate of any state.[77] That same year Non-Hispanic whites were 75.6% of the population, compared to 63.7% of the population nationwide.[78]

In 2010, approximately 4.4% of Tennessee's population was foreign-born, an increase of about 118.5% since 2000. Of the foreign-born population, approximately 31.0% were naturalized citizens and 69.0% non-citizens. The foreign-born population consisted of approximately 49.9% from Latin America, 27.1% from Asia, 11.9% from Europe, 7.7% from Africa, 2.7% from Northern America, and 0.6% from Oceania.[79]

Population density as of 2010

In 2010, the five most common self-reported ethnic groups in the state were: American (26.5%), English (8.2%), Irish (6.6%), German (5.5%), and Scotch-Irish (2.7%).[80] Most Tennesseans who self-identify as having American ancestry are of English and Scotch-Irish ancestry. An estimated 21–24% of Tennesseans are of predominantly English ancestry.[81][82] In the 1980 census 1,435,147 Tennesseans claimed "English" or "mostly English" ancestry out of a state population of 3,221,354 making them 45% of the state at the time.[83]

According to the 2010 census, 6.4% of Tennessee's population were reported as under age 5, 23.6% under 18, and 13.4% were 65 or older.[84]

On June 19, 2010, the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs granted state recognition to six Native American tribes, which was later repealed by the state's Attorney General because the action by the commission was illegal. The tribes were as follows:

Birth data[edit]

As of 2011, 36.3% of Tennessee's population younger than age 1 were minorities.[86]

Note: Births in table do not add up, because Hispanics are counted both by their ethnicity and by their race, giving a higher overall number.

Live births by single race/ethnicity of mother
Race 2013[87] 2014[88] 2015[89] 2016[90] 2017[91] 2018[92] 2019[93]
White: 59,804 (74.7%) 61,391 (75.2%) 61,814 (75.7%) ... ... ... ...
> Non-Hispanic White 54,377 (68.0%) 55,499 (68.0%) 55,420 (67.8%) 53,866 (66.7%) 53,721 (66.3%) 53,256 (66.0%) 52,187 (64.9%)
Black 17,860 (22.3%) 17,791 (21.8%) 17,507 (21.4%) 15,889 (19.7%) 16,050 (19.8%) 15,921 (19.7%) 15,972 (19.9%)
Asian 2,097 (2.6%) 2,180 (2.7%) 2,153 (2.6%) 1,875 (2.3%) 1,905 (2.4%) 1,877 (2.3%) 1,811 (2.3%)
American Indian 231 (0.3%) 240 (0.3%) 211 (0.2%) 77 (0.1%) 150 (0.2%) 148 (0.2%) 161 (0.2%)
Hispanic (of any race) 6,854 (8.6%) 6,986 (8.6%) 7,264 (8.9%) 7,631 (9.4%) 7,684 (9.5%) 7,824 (9.7%) 8,437 (10.5%)
Total Tennessee 79,992 (100%) 81,602 (100%) 81,685 (100%) 80,807 (100%) 81,016 (100%) 80,751 (100%) 80,450 (100%)
  • Since 2016, data for births of White Hispanic origin are not collected, but included in one Hispanic group; persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.


Religious affiliation of Tennessee population as of 2014[94]

  Protestants (8%)
  Islam (1%)
  Jewish (1%)
  Non-religious (14%)
  Other (2%)

The religious affiliations of the people of Tennessee as of 2014:[94]

The largest denominations by number of adherents in 2010 were the Southern Baptist Convention with 1,483,356; the United Methodist Church with 375,693; the Roman Catholic Church with 222,343; and the Churches of Christ with 214,118.[95]

As of January 1, 2009, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) reported 43,179 members, 10 stakes, 92 Congregations (68 wards and 24 branches), two missions, and two temples in Tennessee.[96]

Tennessee is home to several Protestant denominations, such as the National Baptist Convention (headquartered in Nashville); the Church of God in Christ and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (both headquartered in Memphis); the Church of God and The Church of God of Prophecy (both headquartered in Cleveland). The Free Will Baptist denomination is headquartered in Antioch; its main Bible college is in Nashville. The Southern Baptist Convention maintains its general headquarters in Nashville. Nashville has publishing houses of several denominations.


A geomap showing the counties of Tennessee colored by the relative range of that county's median income. Source: 2014 American Community Survey five-year estimate report.
Chart showing poverty in Tennessee, by age and gender (red = female)

As of 2020, Tennessee had a gross state product of $364.5 billion.[97] In 2019, the state's per capita personal income was $29,859. The median household income was $53,320.[6] About 13.9% percent of the population was below the poverty line.[5] In 2018, the state reported a total employment of 2,683,214, and a total number of 138,269 employer establishments.[5]

For 2012, the state held an asset surplus of $533 million, one of only eight states in the nation to report a surplus.[98] Tennessee is a right to work state, as are most of its Southern neighbors. Unionization has historically been low and continues to decline as in most of the U.S. generally.


Tennessee has a reputation as low-tax state and is usually ranked as one of the five states with the lowest tax burden on residents.[99] It is one of nine states that do not have a general income tax; the sales tax is the primary means of funding the government.[100] The Hall income tax was a tax imposed on most dividends and interest. The tax rate was 6% from 1937 to 2016, but was completely phased out by January 1, 2021.[101] The first $1,250 of individual income and $2,500 of joint income was exempt from this tax.[102]

The state's sales and use tax rate for most items is 7%, the second-highest in the nation, along with Mississippi, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Indiana. Food is taxed at a lower rate of 4%, but candy, dietary supplements and prepared food are taxed at 7%.[103] Local sales taxes are collected in most jurisdictions at rates varying from 1.5% to 2.75%, bringing the total sales tax to between 8.5% and 9.75%, with an average rate of about 9.5%, the nation's highest average sales tax.[104] Intangible property tax is assessed on the shares of stock of stockholders of any loan, investment, insurance, or for-profit cemetery companies. The assessment ratio is 40% of the value times the jurisdiction's tax rate.[105] Since January 1, 2016, Tennessee has had no inheritance tax.[106]

While the sales tax remains the main source of state government funding, property taxes are the primary source of revenue for local governments.[105]


Tennessee has the eighth-most farms in the nation, which cover more than 40% of the state's land area, and have an average size of about 155 acres (0.63 km2).[107] Cash receipts for crops and livestock have an estimated annual value of $3.5 billion, and the agriculture sector has an estimated annual impact of $81 billion on the state's economy.[107]

Beef cattle is the state's largest agricultural commodity.[20] Tennessee ranks 12th in the nation for the number of heads of cattle, with more than half of the state's farmland dedicated to cattle grazing.[108][107] Soybeans are the most common crop produced in the state, followed by corn and cotton.[20] Most soybeans in Tennessee are grown in West and Middle Tennessee, especially in the northwestern corner of the state.[109] Broilers and poultry constitute the state's second most common livestock commodity.[20]

Although cotton was an early crop in Tennessee, large-scale cultivation of the fiber did not begin until the 1820s with the opening of West Tennessee for European settlement. The upper wedge of the Mississippi Delta extends into southwestern Tennessee, and it was in this fertile region that cotton took hold. Today, Tennessee ranks seventh overall in the nation in cotton production, most of which is still grown in the western part of the state.[110] Tennessee has been one of the top tobacco-producing states for most of its history, which is predominantly grown in the Ridge-and-Valley region of East Tennessee, and still ranks fourth nationwide.[111] The state is also the sixth-largest producer of tomatoes, with Grainger County being recognized as one of the top tomato-producing communities in the nation.[112][113] Other important cash crops raised in the state include hay, wheat, eggs, and snap beans.[107][111]

The Nashville Basin is a top equestrian region, due to soils that produce grass ideal for feeding horses. The Tennessee Walking Horse, first bred in the region in the late 18th century, is one of the most recognized horse breeds in the world.[114] The state also ranks second nationwide for mule breeding and the production of goat meat.[111]

Horticultural products are an important aspect of the economy of the Eastern Highland Rim, particularly in Warren County, which is nicknamed the "Nursery Capitol of the World".[115] Forests cover more than half of Tennessee's land area, but the state's timber industry is largely concentrated on the Cumberland Plateau, which ranks as one of the top producers of hardwood nationwide.[116]

Industry and manufacturing[edit]

Until World War II, Tennessee, like most Southern states, remained predominantly agrarian. But Chattanooga became one of the first industrial cities in the south in the decades following the Civil War, when many factories, including iron foundries, steel mills, and textile mills were constructed there.[117] Most of Tennessee's industrial growth, however, began with the federal investments in the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Manhattan Project in the 1930s and 1940s. The state's industrial and manufacturing sector continued to rapidly expand in the succeeding decades, and Tennessee is now home to more than 2,400 advanced manufacturing establishments, which produce a total of more than $29 billion worth of goods annually.[118]

Since 1980, Tennessee has emerged as a major hub for the automotive industry.[119] Four automobile manufacturers have factories in Tennessee: Nissan in Smyrna, General Motors in Spring Hill, Van Hool in Morristown, and Volkswagen in Chattanooga,[120][121] as well as a planned factory in Memphis.[122] In addition, the state is home to more than 900 automotive suppliers.[123] Nissan moved its North American corporate headquarters from California to Franklin in 2005,[124] and Mitsubishi Motors did the same in 2019.[125]

The chemical industry is also important in Tennessee. Kingsport is the headquarters of Eastman Chemical Company, which was founded there in 1920. Other important chemical manufacturers include Matheson in New Johnsonville, Wacker Chemie and Olin Corporation in Bradley County, Resolute Forest Products in Calhoun, and Hemlock Semiconductor in Clarksville.

Tennessee is also one of the top states where consumer electronics, electrical appliances, and other electrical equipment is produced, including brands such as Monogram Refrigeration, Whirlpool, Thomas & Betts, LG Electronics, and Electrolux. Food and drink production has also been an important industry in Tennessee since the late 19th century. The world's first Coca-Cola bottling plant opened in Chattanooga in 1899.[126] Other well-known brands produced in the state include Jack Daniel's,[127] George Dickel,[128] Mountain Dew,[129] Goo Goo Cluster,[130] Moon Pie,[131] Bush's Beans,[132] Little Debbie,[133] M&M's,[134] and Pringles.[135] Other major products manufactured in the state include nonelectrical machinery and metal products.[136]


Tennessee's commercial sector is dominated by a wide variety of companies, but its largest service industries include healthcare, transportation, entertainment, banking, and finance.

Large corporations with headquarters in Tennessee include FedEx, AutoZone, International Paper, and First Horizon Corporation, all based in Memphis; Pilot Corporation and Regal Entertainment Group in Knoxville; Hospital Corporation of America and Caterpillar Financial, based in Nashville; Unum in Chattanooga; Acadia Senior Living and Community Health Systems in Franklin; Dollar General in Goodlettsville, and LifePoint Health, Tractor Supply Company, and Delek US in Brentwood.[137][138]

Tennessee also has a small but growing technology industry.[139] In 2018 Amazon established its East Coast operations center in Nashville, and plans to eventually employ about 5,000.[140]

Energy and mineral production[edit]

Norris Dam, a hydroelectric dam operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority that was among the first projects the TVA performed as part of the New Deal in 1933.[141]

Tennessee's electric utilities are regulated monopolies, as in many other states.[142][143] As of 2020, the Tennessee Valley Authority owned over 90% of the state's generating capacity.[144] Nuclear power is Tennessee's largest source of electricity generation producing about 47.3% of its power in 2020. The same year, 20.2% of the power was produced from natural gas, 18.4% from coal, 13.4% from hydroelectric power, and 1.6% from other renewables. About 61.3% of the electricity generated in Tennessee produces no greenhouse gas emissions.[145] Tennessee is a net consumer of electricity, receiving power from other TVA facilities in neighboring states, such as the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in northern Alabama.[146]

Tennessee is home to the two newest civilian nuclear power reactors in the United States, at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Rhea County. Unit 1 began operation in 1996 and Unit 2 in 2016, making it the first and only new nuclear power reactor to begin operation in the United States in the 21st century.[147] As of 2020, officials at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the TVA are studying advancements in nuclear power as an energy source, including small modular reactors, in a joint effort.[148] Tennessee was also an early leader in hydroelectric power, first with the now defunct Chattanooga and Tennessee Electric Power Company; later, the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the TVA constructed several hydroelectric dams on Tennessee rivers.[149] Tennessee is the third-largest hydroelectric power-producing state east of the Rocky Mountains.[150]

Tennessee has very little petroleum and natural gas reserves, but is home to one oil refinery, in Memphis.[150] Bituminous coal is mined in small quantities in the Cumberland Plateau and Cumberland Mountains.[151] There are sizable reserves of lignite coal in West Tennessee that remain untapped.[151] Coal production in Tennessee peaked in 1972, and today less than 0.1% of coal production in the United States comes from Tennessee mines.[150]

Tennessee is the nation's leading producer of ball clay.[151] Other major mineral products produced in Tennessee include sand, gravel, crushed stone, Portland cement, marble, sandstone, common clay, lime, and zinc.[151][152] The Copper Basin, in Tennessee's southeastern corner in Polk County, was one of the nation's most productive copper mining districts between the 1840s and 1980s.[153] Mines in the basin supplied about 90% of the copper the Confederacy used during the Civil War,[154] and also marketed chemical byproducts of the mining, including sulfuric acid.[155] Mining activities in the basin resulted in a major environmental disaster, which left the landscape in the basin barren for more than a century.[156] Iron ore was another major mineral mined in Tennessee until the early 20th century.[157] Tennessee was also a top producer of phosphate until the early 1990s.[158]


The resort city of Gatlinburg borders Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the most visited national park in the United States as of 2019.[159]

Tourism contributes billions of dollars every year to the state's economy, and Tennessee is ranked among the Top 10 destinations in the nation.[160] In 2014 a record 100 million people visited the state resulting in $17.7 billion in tourism related spending within the state, an increase of 6.3% over 2013; tax revenue from tourism equaled $1.5 billion. Each county in Tennessee saw at least $1 million from tourism while 19 counties received at least $100 million (Davidson, Shelby, and Sevier counties were the top three). Tourism-generated jobs for the state reached 152,900, a 2.8% increase.[160] International travelers to Tennessee accounted for $533 million in spending.[161]

In 2013, tourism within the state from local citizens accounted for 39.9% of tourists. The second highest originating location for tourists to Tennessee is the state of Georgia, accounting for 8.4% of tourists.[162]:17 Forty-four percent of stays in the state were "day trips", 25% stayed one night, 15% stayed two nights, and 11% stayed four or more nights. The average stay was 2.16 nights, compared to 2.03 nights for the U.S. as a whole.[162]:40 The average person spent $118 per day: 29% on transportation, 24% on food, 17% on accommodation, and 28% on shopping and entertainment.[162]:44

Tennessee is home to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States. The park anchors a large tourism industry based primarily in nearby Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, which consists of such attractions as Dollywood, the most visited ticketed attraction in Tennessee, Ober Gatlinburg, and Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies.[127] Major attractions in Memphis include Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, Beale Street, the National Civil Rights Museum, the Memphis Zoo, and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.[163] Nashville contains many attractions related to its musical heritage, including Lower Broadway, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium, Grand Ole Opry, and the Gaylord Opryland Resort. Other major attractions in Nashville include the Tennessee State Museum, The Parthenon, and the Belle Meade Plantation.[164] Major attractions in Chattanooga include Lookout Mountain, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel, Ruby Falls, and the Tennessee Aquarium, the largest freshwater aquarium in the United States.[127] Other major attractions include the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, the Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Jack Daniel's Distillery in Lynchburg, and the Hiwassee and Ocoee rivers in Polk County.[127]

Tennessee is home to eight National Scenic Byways, including the Natchez Trace Parkway, the East Tennessee Crossing Byway, the Great River Road, the Norris Freeway, Cumberland National Scenic Byway, Sequatchie Valley Scenic Byway, The Trace, and the Cherohala Skyway.[165][166]

Four Civil War battlefields in Tennessee are preserved by the National Park Service: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Stones River National Battlefield, Shiloh National Military Park, and Fort Donelson National Battlefield.[167] Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is within the Cumberland Mountains in northeastern Tennessee. Major historical attractions preserved by the National Park Service include Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, and the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.[168]



The Grand Ole Opry, which was recorded in Nashville's Ryman Auditorium from 1943 to 1974, is the longest-running radio broadcast in US history.[169]

Tennessee has played a critical role in the development of many forms of American popular music, including rock and roll, blues, country, and rockabilly. Beale Street in Memphis is considered by many to be the birthplace of the blues, with musicians such as W. C. Handy performing in its clubs as early as 1909.[170] Memphis was historically home to Sun Records, where musicians such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Charlie Rich began their recording careers, and where rock and roll took shape in the 1950s.[171] The 1927 Victor recording sessions in Bristol generally mark the beginning of the country music genre and the rise of the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s helped make Nashville the center of the country music recording industry.[172][173] Multiple brick-and-mortar museums recognize Tennessee's role in nurturing various forms of popular music: the Memphis Rock N' Soul Museum, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, and the International Rock-A-Billy Museum in Jackson. Moreover, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, an online site recognizing the development of rockabilly in which Tennessee played a crucial role, is based in Nashville.


Notable writers with ties to Tennessee include Cormac McCarthy, Peter Taylor, James Agee, Francis Hodgson Burnett, Thomas S. Stribling, Ida B. Wells, Nikki Giovanni, Shelby Foote, Ann Patchett, Ishmael Reed, and Randall Jarrell.


Tennessee is home to four major professional sports franchises: the Tennessee Titans have played in the National Football League since 1997, the Memphis Grizzlies have played in the National Basketball Association since 2001, the Nashville Predators have played in the National Hockey League since 1998, and Nashville SC has played in Major League Soccer since 2020.

The state is also home to eight teams playing in minor leagues. Four Minor League Baseball teams call the state their home. The Memphis Redbirds and Nashville Sounds, each of the Triple-A East, compete at the Triple-A level, the highest before Major League Baseball. The Chattanooga Lookouts and Tennessee Smokies play in the Double-A classification Double-A South.

The Knoxville Ice Bears are a minor league ice hockey team of the Southern Professional Hockey League. Memphis 901 FC, a soccer team, joined the USL Championship in 2019.[174] Chattanooga Red Wolves SC became an inaugural member of the third-level USL League One in 2019. Chattanooga FC began play in the National Independent Soccer Association in 2020.

In Knoxville, the Tennessee Volunteers college team has played in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) of the National Collegiate Athletic Association since the conference was formed in 1932. The football team has won 13 SEC championships and 28 bowls, including four Sugar Bowls, three Cotton Bowls, an Orange Bowl and a Fiesta Bowl. Meanwhile, the men's basketball team has won four SEC championships and reached the NCAA Elite Eight in 2010. In addition, the women's basketball team has won a host of SEC regular-season and tournament titles along with eight national titles.

In Nashville, the Vanderbilt Commodores are also charter members of the SEC. The Tennessee–Vanderbilt football rivalry began in 1892, having since played more than a hundred times. In June 2014, the Vanderbilt Commodores baseball team won its first men's national championship by winning the 2014 College World Series.

The state is home to 10 other NCAA Division I programs. Two of these participate in the top level of college football, the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Memphis Tigers are members of the American Athletic Conference, and the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders from Murfreesboro play in Conference USA. In addition to the Commodores, Nashville is also home to the Belmont Bruins and Tennessee State Tigers, both members of the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC), and the Lipscomb Bisons, members of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Tennessee State plays football in Division I's second level, the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), while Belmont and Lipscomb do not have football teams. Belmont and Lipscomb have an intense rivalry in men's and women's basketball known as the Battle of the Boulevard, with both schools' men's and women's teams playing two games each season against each other (a rare feature among non-conference rivalries). The OVC also includes the Austin Peay Governors from Clarksville, the UT Martin Skyhawks from Martin, and the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles from Cookeville. These three schools, along with fellow OVC member Tennessee State, play each season in football for the Sgt. York Trophy. The Chattanooga Mocs and Johnson City's East Tennessee State Buccaneers are full members, including football, of the Southern Conference.

Tennessee is also home to Bristol Motor Speedway which features NASCAR Cup Series racing two weekends a year, routinely selling out more than 160,000 seats on each date; it also was the home of the Nashville Superspeedway, which held Nationwide and IndyCar races until it was shut down in 2012. Tennessee's only graded stakes horse race, the Iroquois Steeplechase, is also held in Nashville each May.

The FedEx St. Jude Classic is a PGA Tour golf tournament held at Memphis since 1958. The U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships has been held at Memphis since 1976 (men's) and 2002 (women's).

Sports teams[edit]

Club Sport League
Tennessee Titans American football National Football League
Memphis Grizzlies Basketball National Basketball Association
Nashville Predators Ice hockey National Hockey League
Nashville SC Soccer Major League Soccer
Memphis Redbirds Baseball Triple-A East
Nashville Sounds Baseball Triple-A East
Chattanooga Lookouts Baseball Double-A South
Tennessee Smokies Baseball Double-A South
Knoxville Ice Bears Ice hockey Southern Professional Hockey League
Memphis 901 FC Soccer USL Championship
Chattanooga Red Wolves SC Soccer USL League One
Chattanooga FC Soccer National Independent Soccer Association


Interstate highways[edit]

Interstate 40 crosses the state in an east–west orientation. Its branch interstate highways include I-240 in Memphis; I-440 in Nashville; I-840 around Nashville; I-140 from Knoxville to Alcoa; and I-640 in Knoxville. I-26, although technically an east–west interstate, runs from the North Carolina border below Johnson City to its terminus at Kingsport. I-24 is an east–west interstate that runs from Chattanooga to Clarksville. In a north–south orientation, are interstates 55, 65, 75, and 81. Interstate 65 crosses the state through Nashville, while Interstate 75 serves Chattanooga and Knoxville and Interstate 55 serves Memphis. Interstate 81 enters the state at Bristol and terminates at its junction with I-40 near Dandridge. I-155 is a branch highway from I-55. The only spur highway of I-75 in Tennessee is I-275, which is in Knoxville.[175] An extension of I-69 is proposed to travel through the western part of the state, from South Fulton to Memphis.[176] A branch interstate, I-269 also exists from Millington to Collierville.[175]


Major airports within the state include Memphis International Airport (MEM), Nashville International Airport (BNA), McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) outside of Knoxville in Blount County, Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport (CHA), Tri-Cities Regional Airport (TRI), and McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport (MKL), in Jackson. Because Memphis International Airport is the major hub for FedEx Corporation, it is the world's largest air cargo operation.


For passenger rail service, Memphis and Newbern, are served by the Amtrak City of New Orleans line on its run between Chicago, Illinois, and New Orleans, Louisiana. Nashville is served by the Music City Star commuter rail service.

Cargo services in Tennessee are primarily served by CSX Transportation, which has a hump yard in Nashville called Radnor Yard. Norfolk Southern Railway operates lines in East Tennessee, through cities including Knoxville and Chattanooga, and operates a classification yard near Knoxville, the John Sevier Yard. BNSF operates a major intermodal facility in Memphis.


Like the federal government, Tennessee's government has three parts. The executive branch is led by the governor, who holds office for a four-year term and may serve a maximum of two consecutive terms. The governor is the only official elected statewide. Unlike most states, Tennessee does not elect the lieutenant governor directly; the Tennessee Senate elects its speaker, who serves as lieutenant governor. The governor is supported by 22 cabinet-level departments, most headed by a commissioner who serves at the pleasure of the governor:

The Executive Branch also includes several agencies, boards and commissions, some of which are under the auspices of one of the cabinet-level departments.[177]

The bicameral legislative branch, known as the Tennessee General Assembly, consists of the 33-member Senate and the 99-member House of Representatives. Senators serve four-year terms, and House members serve two-year terms. Each chamber chooses its speaker. The speaker of the State Senate is also the lieutenant governor. Constitutional officials in the legislative branch are elected by a joint session of the legislature.

The highest court in Tennessee is the state Supreme Court. It has a chief justice and four associate justices. No more than two justices can be from the same Grand Division. The Supreme Court of Tennessee also appoints the Attorney General, a practice not found in any of the other 49 states. Both the Court of Appeals and the Court of Criminal Appeals have 12 judges.[178] A number of local, circuit, and federal courts provide judicial services.

Tennessee's constitution was adopted in 1870. The state had two earlier constitutions. The first was adopted in 1796, the year Tennessee joined the union, and the second in 1834. The 1870 Constitution outlaws martial law within its jurisdiction. This may be a result of the experience of Tennessee residents and other Southerners during the period of military control by Union (Northern) forces of the U.S. government after the American Civil War.


Presidential elections results
Year Republican Democratic
2020 60.66% 1,852,475 37.45% 1,143,711
2016 60.72% 1,522,925 34.72% 870,695
2012 59.42% 1,462,330 39.04% 960,709
2008 56.85% 1,479,178 41.79% 1,087,437
2004 56.80% 1,384,375 42.53% 1,036,477
2000 51.15% 1,061,949 47.28% 981,720
1996 45.59% 863,530 48.00% 909,146
1992 42.43% 841,300 47.08% 933,521
1988 57.89% 947,233 41.55% 679,794
1984 57.84% 990,212 41.57% 711,714
1980 48.70% 787,761 48.41% 783,051
1976 42.94% 633,969 55.94% 825,879
1972 67.70% 813,147 29.75% 357,293
1968 37.85% 472,592 28.13% 351,233
1964 44.49% 508,965 55.50% 634,947
1960 52.92% 556,577 45.77% 481,453

Tennessee politics, like that of most U.S. states, are dominated by the Republican and the Democratic parties. Historian Dewey W. Grantham traces divisions in the state to the period of the American Civil War; for decades afterward, the eastern third of the state was heavily Republican and the western two thirds mostly voted Democratic.[179] This division was related to the state's pattern of farming, plantations and slaveholding. The eastern section was made up of yeoman farmers, but Middle and West Tennessee farmers cultivated crops such as tobacco and cotton which were dependent on the use of slave labor. These areas became defined as Democratic after the war.

During Reconstruction, freedmen and former free people of color were granted the right to vote; most joined the Republican Party. Numerous African Americans were elected to local offices, and some to state office. Following Reconstruction, Tennessee continued to have competitive party politics, but in the 1880s, the white-dominated state government passed four laws, the last of which imposed a poll tax requirement for voter registration. These served to disenfranchise most African Americans, and their power in state and local politics was markedly reduced. In 1900 African Americans comprised 23.8 percent of the state's population, concentrated in Middle and West Tennessee.[66] In the early 1900s, the state legislature approved a form of commission government for cities based on at-large voting for a few positions on a Board of Commission; several cities adopted this as another means to limit African American political participation. In 1913 the state legislature enacted a bill enabling cities to adopt this structure without legislative approval.[180] By 1960 African Americans comprised 16.45% of the state's population. It was not until after the mid-1960s and passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that they were able to vote in full again.

Historically, Republicans had their greatest strength in East Tennessee before the 1960s. After the disenfranchisement of blacks, the Republican Party in Tennessee became a primarily white sectional party supported only in the eastern part of the state. Tennessee's 1st and 2nd congressional districts, based in the Tri-Cities and Knoxville, respectively, are among the few historically Republican districts in the South. Those districts' residents supported the Union over the Confederacy during the Civil War; they identified with the GOP after the war and have stayed with that party ever since. The first has been in Republican hands continuously since 1881, and Republicans (or their antecedents) have held it for all but four years since 1859. The second has been held continuously by Republicans or their antecedents since 1859. Between the end of Reconstruction and the mid-20th century, the state was part of the Democratic Solid South, except for two nationwide Republican landslides of the 1920s, when Tennessee narrowly supported Warren G. Harding over Ohio Governor James Cox in 1920, and more decisively voted for Herbert Hoover over New York Governor Al Smith in 1928. For most of the second half of the 20th century, Tennessee was a swing state in presidential elections. During this time, Democratic presidential nominees from Southern states, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton, tended to fare better in Tennessee than their Northern counterparts, especially among split-ticket voters outside the metropolitan areas. In the 1950s, Tennessee twice voted for Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, former Allied Commander of the Armed Forces during World War II. Howard Baker, first elected in 1966, became the first Republican U.S. Senator from Tennessee since Reconstruction. The elections of Winfield Dunn as governor and Bill Brock to the U.S. Senate in 1970 further helped make the Republican Party competitive among whites for the statewide victory. In the 2000 presidential election, Vice President Al Gore, who had previously served as a Democratic U.S. Senator from Tennessee, failed to carry his home state, an unusual occurrence but indicative of strengthening Republican support.

Beginning in the early 21st century, Republicans gained control of most of the state, especially in the more rural and suburban areas outside of the cities. Republican President George W. Bush received increased support in the 2004 election, with his margin of victory in the state increasing from 4% in 2000 to 14% in 2004.[181] Democratic strength is now mostly confined to the urban cores of the four major cities and is particularly strong in the cities of Nashville and Memphis, the latter of which contain large African American populations.[182] In the 2008 elections, the Republican party gained control of both houses of the Tennessee state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. Since 2016, Tennessee has been the most populous state to vote Republican by more than 60% in presidential elections.

Tennessee sends nine members to the U.S. House of Representatives, of whom there are seven Republicans and two Democrats. In 2008, some 30% of the state's electorate identified as independents.[183]

The Baker v. Carr (1962) decision of the U.S. Supreme Court established the principle of "one man, one vote", requiring state legislatures to redistrict to bring Congressional apportionment in line with decennial censuses. It also required both houses of state legislatures to be based on population for representation and not geographic districts such as counties. This case arose out of a lawsuit challenging the longstanding rural bias of apportionment of seats in the Tennessee legislature.[184][185][186] After decades in which urban populations had been underrepresented in many state legislatures, this significant ruling led to an increased (and proportional) prominence in state politics by urban and, eventually, suburban, legislators and statewide officeholders in relation to their population within the state. The ruling also applied to numerous other states long controlled by rural minorities, such as Alabama, Vermont, and Montana.

Law enforcement[edit]

State agencies[edit]

The state of Tennessee maintains four dedicated law enforcement entities: the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

The Highway Patrol is the primary law enforcement entity that concentrates on highway safety regulations and general non-wildlife state law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Department of Safety. The TWRA is an independent agency tasked with enforcing all wildlife, boating, and fisheries regulations outside of state parks. The TBI maintains state-of-the-art investigative facilities and is the primary state-level criminal investigative department. Tennessee State Park Rangers are responsible for all activities and law enforcement inside the Tennessee State Parks system.


Local law enforcement is divided between County Sheriff's Offices and Municipal Police Departments. Tennessee's Constitution requires that each County have an elected Sheriff. In 94 of the 95 counties, the Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the county and has jurisdiction over the county as a whole. Each Sheriff's Office is responsible for warrant service, court security, jail operations and primary law enforcement in the unincorporated areas of a county as well as providing support to the municipal police departments. Incorporated municipalities are required to maintain a police department to provide police services within their corporate limits.

The three counties in Tennessee to adopt metropolitan governments have taken different approaches to resolving the conflict that a Metro government presents to the requirement to have an elected Sheriff.

  • Nashville/Davidson County converted law enforcement duties entirely to the Metro Nashville Police Chief. In this instance, the Sheriff is no longer the chief law enforcement officer for Davidson County. The Davidson County Sheriff's duties focus on warrant service and jail operations. The Metropolitan Police Chief is the chief law enforcement officer and the Metropolitan Police Department provides primary law enforcement for the entire county.
  • Lynchburg/Moore County took a much simpler approach and abolished the Lynchburg Police Department when it consolidated and placed all law enforcement responsibility under the sheriff's office.
  • Hartsville/Trousdale County, although the smallest county in Tennessee, adopted a system similar to Nashville's, which retains the sheriff's office but also has a metropolitan police department.


Gun laws in Tennessee regulate the sale, possession, and use of firearms and ammunition. Concealed carry and open-carry of a handgun is permitted with a Tennessee handgun carry permit or an equivalent permit from a reciprocating state. As of July 1, 2014, a permit is no longer required to possess a loaded handgun in a motor vehicle.[187]

Capital punishment[edit]

Capital punishment has existed in Tennessee at various times since statehood. Before 1913, the method of execution was hanging. From 1913 to 1915, there was a hiatus on executions but they were reinstated in 1916 when electrocution became the new method. From 1972 to 1978, after the Supreme Court ruled (Furman v. Georgia) capital punishment unconstitutional, there were no further executions. Capital punishment was restarted in 1978, although those prisoners awaiting execution between 1960 and 1978 had their sentences mostly commuted to life in prison.[188] From 1916 to 1960 the state executed 125 inmates.[189] For a variety of reasons there were no further executions until 2000. Since 2000, Tennessee has executed seven prisoners. Tennessee has 59 prisoners on death row (as of October 2018).[190]

Lethal injection was approved by the legislature in 1998, though those who were sentenced to death before January 1, 1999, may request electrocution.[188] In May 2014, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a law allowing the use of the electric chair for death row executions when lethal injection drugs are not available.[191][192]


The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is the only federally recognized Native American Indian tribe in the state. It owns 79 acres (32 ha) in Henning, which was placed into federal trust by the tribe in 2012. This is governed directly by the tribe.[193][194]



Tennessee has a rich variety of public, private, charter, and specialized education facilities ranging from pre-school through university.

In 2015, state legislators began efforts on the "Drive to 55" movement, which plans to increase the number of college-educated residents to at least 55% of the state's population.[195] Then Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation that started the Tennessee Promise program.[195] Tennessee Promise, if students meet its requirements, allows in-state high school graduates to enroll in two-year post-secondary education programs such as associate's degrees and certificates at community colleges and trade schools in Tennessee tuition-free, funded by the state lottery.[195]

Colleges and universities[edit]

Public higher education is under the oversight of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission which provides guidance to two public university systems—the University of Tennessee system and the Tennessee Board of Regents. The state also has a number of private colleges and universities.

Local school districts[edit]

Public primary and secondary education systems are operated by county, city, or special school districts to provide education at the local level. These school districts operate under the direction of the Tennessee Department of Education. Private schools are found in many counties.

Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tennessee.


Tennessee has over 250 public and private museums, including the Brooks Museum, Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium, Country Music Hall of Fame, and Discovery Park of America.

State symbols[edit]

Tulip Poplar
Tulip Poplar

State symbols,[196] found in Tennessee Code Annotated; Title 4, Chapter 1, Part 3, include:

State cultivated flower: iris

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

Preceded by
List of U.S. states by date of admission to the Union
Admitted on June 1, 1796 (16th)
Succeeded by

36°N 86°W / 36°N 86°W / 36; -86