Tennessee was no less divided during the years following the Civil War than it was during the conflict. The end to the war ushered in a period where former Unionists—now allied with the Radical Republicans in Congress—disenfranchised and otherwise marginalized former Confederates and others who had been sympathetic with the Southern cause.
They also pushed through laws that extended voting and other rights to the newly freed blacks, changes which led to a powerful backlash and the establishment of such shadowy groups as the Ku Klux Klan.
William G. “Parson” Brownlow of Knoxville , a vocal supporter of the Union, was elected governor of Tennessee in 1865. During the same year, the voters approved a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, making Tennessee the only seceded state to abolish slavery by its own act. Brownlow and his supporters bent laws and manipulated loyalties in order to secure ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the constitution, paving the way for Tennessee to be admitted back to the Union, the first Southern state to be readmitted following the war. Brownlow’s success ensured that Tennessee would not experience the Congressionally mandated Reconstruction that other former Confederate states did.
Recognizing that the unpopularity of his positions among Tennessee’s numerous former Confederates placed his political future in jeopardy, Brownlow and his supporters extended the right to vote to thousands of freedmen in February 1867. During the statewide vote a few months later, Brownlow and his followers were swept to victory, largely due to the support of black voters.
The quick rise to power of former enemies and the social changes caused by the end of slavery led some former Confederates to bitterness and frustration. In the summer of 1867, the Ku Klux Klan emerged as a political and terrorist movement to keep freedmen in their traditional place. Klan members initially concerned themselves principally with supporting former Confederates and their families, but they were soon known more for their attacks on black men and women. The KKK was strongest in Middle and West Tennessee, except for a small pocket near Bristol in East Tennessee.
Governor Brownlow responded strongly to the KKK’s activities, and in 1869 he declared martial law in nine counties where the organization was most active. But when Brownlow left Tennessee shortly thereafter to fill a seat in the U.S. Senate, the KKK’s Grand Wizard, former Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, declared the group’s mission accomplished and encouraged members to burn their robes. The KKK’s influence quickly faded, only to reemerge some 50 years later at Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Brownlow was replaced by Senate Speaker Dewitt C. Senter, who quickly struck a more moderate position than his predecessor by setting aside the law that had barred Confederate veterans from voting.
The greatest legacy of the Civil War was the emancipation of Tennessee’s slaves. Following the war, many freed blacks left the countryside and moved to cities, including Memphis , Nashville , Chattanooga, and Knoxville , where they worked as skilled laborers, domestics, and more. Other blacks remained in the countryside, working as wage laborers on farms or share-cropping in exchange for occupancy on part of a former large-scale plantation.
The Freedmen’s Bureau worked in Tennessee for a short period after the end of the war, and it succeeded in establishing schools for blacks. During this period the state’s first black colleges were established: Fisk , Tennessee Central, LeMoyne, Roger Williams, Lane, and Knoxville.
As in other states, blacks in Tennessee enjoyed short-lived political power during Reconstruction. The right to vote and the concentration of blacks in certain urban areas paved the way for blacks to be elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives, beginning with Sampson Keeble of Nashville  in 1872. In all, 13 blacks were elected as representatives between 1872 and 1887, including James C. Napier, Edward Shaw, and William Yardley, who also ran for governor.
Initially, these pioneers met mild acceptance from whites, but as time progressed whites became uncomfortable sharing political power with black people. By the 1890s, racist Jim Crow policies of segregation, poll taxes, secret ballots, literacy tests, and intimidation prevented blacks from holding elected office—and in many cases, voting—in Tennessee again until after the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
The social and political upheaval caused by the Civil War was matched or exceeded by the economic catastrophe that it represented for the state. Farms and industry were damaged or destroyed; public infrastructure was razed; schools were closed; and the system of slavery that underpinned most of the state’s economy was gone.
The economic setback was seen as an opportunity by those proponents of the “New South,” who advocated for an industrial and economic revival that would catapult the South to prosperity impossible under the agrarian and slavery-based antebellum economy. The New South movement was personified by carpetbagging Northern capitalists moved to Tennessee and set up industries that would benefit from cheap labor and abundant natural resources. Many Tennesseans welcomed these newcomers, and advocated for their fellow Tennesseans to put aside regional differences and welcome the Northern investors.
The result was an array of industries that were chartered during the years following the Civil War. Mining, foundries, machine shops, manufacturing, sawmills, gristmills, furniture factories, and textile industries were established. Knoxville  and Chattanooga improved quickly. Over the 10-year period from 1860 to 1870, Chattanooga’s industrial works grew from employing 214 men to more than 2,000.
Memphis and Nashville also worked to attract industries. Memphis  was on the cusp of a commercial and industrial boom in 1873 when yellow fever hit the city; the epidemic caused widespread death and hurt Memphis’s  economic recovery. In Nashville , new distilleries, sawmills, paper mills, stove factories, and an oil refinery led the way to industrialization.
Industry also settled in the small towns and countryside. The coal-rich region of the Cumberland Mountains were the site of major coal mining operations. Copper mines were opened in Cleveland, flouring mills in Jackson, and textile factories in Tullahoma and other parts of the state.
A revolution was brewing in agriculture too. Civil War veterans returned to small farms all over the state and resumed farming with implements largely unchanged for hundreds of years. Every task was achieved by hand, with the lone help of one or two farm animals.
But farm technology was beginning to change. Thirty years after the war, new labor-saving devices began to be put to use. These included early cotton pickers, reapers, and planters. Seed cleaners, corn-shellers, and improved plows were made available. In 1871 the state formed the Bureau of Agriculture, whose employees prepared soil maps and studied the state’s climate, population, and the prices of land. New methods such as crop diversification, crop rotation, cover crops, and the use of commercial fertilizers were introduced and farmers were encouraged to use them.
Meanwhile, farmers themselves established a strong grassroots movement in the state. The Patrons of Husbandry, or the Grange, was organized shortly after the war to encourage members to improve farming methods and enhance their economic influence. The Farmers’ Alliance and the Agricultural Wheel, both national organizations, grew in prominence in the 1880s and advocated currency reform, empowerment of farmers, and control of communication and transportation systems. The Alliance gave low-interest loans to farmers and encouraged cooperative selling. As the Alliance became more radical in its views, the support in Tennessee dwindled and by 1892 it had faded in many parts of the state.
While some blacks remained on farms as wage laborers or sharecroppers, many left for the cities, causing a labor shortage. Attempts to attract foreign or Northern immigrants to the state were unsuccessful. Tennessee’s poor whites filled this labor shortage, now able to own or rent land for the first time.
Despite popular attempts and pleas by some politicians for a sound education system, Tennessee lagged behind in public education during the post-war years. In 1873 the legislature passed a school law that set up a basic framework of school administration, but the state’s debt and financial problems crippled the new system. Private funds stepped in—the Peabody Fund contributed to Tennessee’s schools, including the old University of Nashville, renamed Peabody after its benefactor. Meanwhile, teachers’ institutes were established during the 1880s in order to raise the level of instruction at Tennessee’s public schools.