Interestingly, the GOP-controlled seat that gave Trump his smallest head start was the one that has not elected a Democrat since 1852before the Republican Party was even formed, though it was still a long way off: Rep. Tim Burchett’s 2nd Ward around Knoxville supported Trump 64-34, just a tad less than his 65-30 performance against Hillary Clinton.
In the heart of Ward 2 is Knox County, which was actually represented by a member of the Nativist Know Nothing Party More recently a Democrat, with William Henry Sneed during the 1854 halftime of President Franklin Pierce. Sneed was replaced two years later by his colleague Know Nothing Horace Maynard, who, like many anti-secession politicians in the years before and during the Civil War, identified with a number of different political labels.
Sneed’s East Tennessee base remained loyal to the Union during the conflict, although he temporarily left Congress in 1863 when he was appointed attorney general by Military Governor Andrew Johnson. Sneed returned in 1866 when Tennessee was re-admitted to the Union after Johnson was named president after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, this time as a full member of the Republican Party.
After the federal government abandoned reconstruction, Republicans quickly found themselves with little influence across the south. Knox County, however, remained a permanent exception: the GOP continue to represent the area in Congress throughout the era of democratic dominance known as “Solid South,” and it stayed in power as the rest of Tennessee and neighboring states began their wider migration to the Republican Party Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”.
Democrats lasted longer in Tennessee than any other corner of the south, but those days are long gone. Republicans took control of redistribution for the first time since rebuilding in 2010 and will once again rule on the new congressional card.