William G. Brownlow

Fighting Parson of the Southern Highlands

  • Author(s): Coulter, E. Murton
  • Series: Appalachian Echoes Non-fiction
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 1999-08-12
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $25.00 | Buy Now

“The ‘Fighting Parson’ has endured the passage of time and changing interpretation and remains an enduring and scholarly work.” —Tennessee Historical Quarterly

“We should know Parson Brownlow. The successes and failures of his radicalism can instruct us in more constructive ways for our own time.” —Knoxville News-Sentinel

Tennessee has had its share of outrageous characters over the years but none more outrageous than William G. Brownlow. A legend in his own time and a myth in times after, Parson Brownlow was a circuit-riding Methodist minister, upstart journalist, and political activist who wielded a vitriolic tongue and pen in defense of both slavery and the Union.

E. Merton Coulter’s 1937 biography of Brownlow remains the standard account of the Parson and his times. It traces his religious, journalistic, and political career and shows that wherever he went, Brownlow created a storm, becoming a hero to his admirers and the devil incarnate to his enemies. “If I have any talent in the world,” he once wrote, “it is that talent which consists in piling up one epithet upon another.”

Coulter drew on a wide range of sources and his own knowledge of Southern history to bring Parson Brownlow to life, and his lively prose captures the exaggerated rhetoric with which Brownlow assaulted all enemies—democrats, abolitionists, Presbyterians, and finally Rebels. Although Coulter’s interpretations were biased by racism, his vision of the American South included Appalachian inhabitants and African Americans at a time when most of his contemporaries ignored those groups.

Stephen V. Ash’s introduction brings Coulter’s biography in step with recent scholarship, noting discrepancies between Brownlow’s personal life and rhetoric and pointing out some of the limitations in Coulter’s account. The reputations of author and subject have made this book a milestone in Southern history, and this new edition conveys the passion of both men to a new generation of readers.

The Author: E. Merton Coulter was Regents Professor Emeritus of history at the University of Georgia and editor of the Georgia Historical Quarterly. He was the first president of the Southern Historical Association and the author or editor of nearly thirty books.

Stephen V. Ash was associate professor of history at the University of Tennessee and editor of the Journal of East Tennessee History.