1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bell, John (political leader)

BELL, JOHN (1797–1869), American political leader, was born near Nashville, Tennessee, on the 15th of February 1797. He graduated at the university of Nashville in 1814, and in 1817 was elected to the state senate, but retiring after one term, he devoted himself for ten years to the study and the practice of the law. From 1827 until 1841 he was a member of the national House of Representatives, of which from June 1834 to March 1835 he was the speaker, and in which he was conspicuous as a debater and a conservative leader. Though he entered political life as a Democrat, he became estranged from his party’s leader, President Jackson, also a Tennessean, and after 1835 was one of the leaders of the Whig party in the South. In March 1841 he became the secretary of war in President Harrison’s cabinet, but in September, after the death of Harrison and the rupture between the Whig leaders and President Tyler, he resigned this position. From 1847 until 1859 he was a member of the United States Senate, and attracted attention by his ability in debate and his political independence, being one of two Southern senators to vote against the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854 and against the admission of Kansas with the Lecompton or pro-slavery constitution in 1858. Strongly conservative by temperament and devoted to the Union, he ardently desired to prevent the threatened secession of the Southern states in 1860, and was the candidate, for the presidency, of the Constitutional Union Party, often called from the names of its candidates for the presidency and the vice-presidency (Edward Everett) the “Bell and Everett Party,” which was made up largely of former Whigs and Southern “Know-Nothings,” opposed sectionalism, and strove to prevent the disruption of the union. The party adopted no platform, and discarding all other issues, resolved that “it is both the part of patriotism and of duty to recognize no political principle other than the constitution of the country, the union of the states, and the enforcement of the laws.” Bell was defeated, but received a popular vote of 587,830 (mostly cast in the Southern states), and obtained the electoral votes of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee—39 altogether, out of a total of 303. Bell tried earnestly to prevent the secession of his own state, but after the issue of President Lincoln’s proclamation of the 15th of April 1861 calling on the various states for volunteers, his efforts were unavailing, and when Tennessee joined the Confederacy Bell “went with his state.” He took no part in the Civil War, and died on the 10th of September 1869.