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)
 • Total6,916,897[5]
 • Rank16th
 • Density167.8/sq mi (64.8/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. 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 population as of the 2020 United States census is approximately 6.9 million.[11]

Tennessee is rooted in the Watauga Association, a 1772 frontier pact generally regarded as the first constitutional government west of the Appalachian Mountains.[12] The state's name is derived from "Tanasi", a Cherokee town in the eastern part of the state that existed before the first European American settlement.[13] Tennessee was initially part of North Carolina, and later part of the Southwest Territory, before its admission to the Union as the 16th state on June 1, 1796. It earned the nickname "The Volunteer State" early in its history due to a strong tradition of military service.[14] A slave state until the American Civil War, Tennessee was politically divided, with its western and middle parts supporting the 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 readmitted to the Union after the war.[15][16]

During the 20th century, Tennessee transitioned from a predominantly agrarian society to a more diversified economy. This was aided in part by massive federal investment in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the city of Oak Ridge, which was established just outside of Knoxville to house the Manhattan Project's uranium enrichment facilities. Oak Ridge was used to construct 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.[17] The state has also played a major role in the development of many forms of popular music, including country, blues, rock and roll, soul, and gospel.

Tennessee has diverse terrain and landforms, and from east to west, contains a mix of topographic features characteristic of Appalachia, the Upland South, and the Deep South. The Blue Ridge Mountains along the eastern border reach elevations above 6,000 feet (1,800 m), and the Cumberland Plateau contains many scenic valleys and waterfalls. The central part of the state is marked by cavernous bedrock and irregular rolling hills, and level, fertile plains define western Tennessee. The state is twice bisected by the Tennessee River, and the Mississippi River forms its western border. Its economy is dominated by the health care, music, automotive, chemical, electronics, banking, food, and tourism industries,[18] and cattle, soybeans, corn, poultry, and cotton are its primary agricultural products.[19] 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.[20]


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.[21]

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".[22][23] According to ethnographer James Mooney, the name "can not be analyzed" and its meaning is lost.[24]

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.


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 is in the Southeastern United States. Most of the state is considered part of the Upland South, and the eastern third is part of Appalachia.[25] Tennessee covers roughly 42,143 square miles (109,150 km2), of which 926 square miles (2,400 km2), or 2.2%, is water. It is the 16th smallest state in terms of land area. The state is about 440 miles (710 km) long from east to west and 112 miles (180 km) wide from north to south. Tennessee is geographically, culturally, economically, and legally divided into three Grand Divisions: East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee. As culturally and historically distinct regions, the Grand Divisions are sometimes called "The Three Tennessees". Tennessee borders eight other states: Kentucky and Virginia to the north, North Carolina to the east, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi on the south, and Arkansas and Missouri on the west. It is tied with Missouri as the state bordering the most other states. It is trisected by the Tennessee River, and its geographical center is in Murfreesboro, the state's sixth-largest city.

Tennessee's eastern boundary roughly follows the highest crests of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Mississippi River forms its western boundary. Due to flooding of the Mississippi River that has changed its path, the state's western boundary deviates from the river in some places.[26] Neither the northern nor the southern border of Tennessee follows a geographic feature. The northern border was originally defined as the parallel 36°30′ north and the Royal Colonial Boundary of 1665, but due to faulty surveys, the border begins north of this line in the east, and to the west, gradually veers north with multiple minute shifts. Once at the Tennessee River in the western part of the state, the border shifts south onto the actual 36°30′ parallel.[27] An 1818 survey erroneously placed the state's southern border 1 mile (1.6 km) south of the 35th parallel; Georgia legislators continue to dispute this placement, as it prevents Georgia from accessing the Tennessee River.[28]

Marked by a diversity of landforms and topographies, Tennessee features six principal physiographic provinces, from east to west, which are part of three larger regions: the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Appalachians, and the Cumberland Plateau, part of the Appalachian Mountains; the Highland Rim and Nashville Basin, part of the Interior Low Plateaus of the Interior Plains; and the East Gulf Coastal Plain, part of the Atlantic Plains.[29][30] Minor regions include the southern tip of the Cumberland Mountains, the Western Tennessee Valley, and the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. The state's highest point is Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet (2,025 m) above sea level.[31] 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's lowest point, 178 feet (54 m), is on the Mississippi River at the Mississippi state line in Memphis.[3] Tennessee is home to the most caves in the United States, with more than 10,000 documented.[32]


View from atop Mount Le Conte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the highest mountains east of the Mississippi River

The western Blue Ridge Mountains lie within Tennessee's eastern edge. This range is characterized by high mountains and rugged terrains, and is divided into several subranges, namely the Great Smoky Mountains, the Bald Mountains, the Unicoi Mountains, the Unaka Mountains, and the Iron Mountains. The average elevation of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Tennessee is 5,000 feet (1,500 m) above sea level. The state's border with North Carolina roughly follows the highest peaks of this range, including Clingmans Dome, the state's highest point. 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 Mountains for about 55 miles (89 km) are the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, also known as the Tennessee Valley[a] or Great Valley of East Tennessee. This area of Tennessee consists of numerous linear parallel ridges and valleys that trend northeast to southwest, the general direction of the entire Appalachian range.[33] Most of these ridges are low, but some of the higher ones are commonly called mountains.[33] Most of this province is coterminous with the Great Appalachian Valley, where the valleys become broader and the ridges lower. In this region are numerous towns and three of the state's urban areas: Knoxville and Chattanooga, the state's third and fourth-largest cities, respectively; and the Tri-Cities: Bristol, Johnson City, and Kingsport. Numerous tributaries join to form the Tennessee River in the Ridge and Valley Region.

Fall Creek Falls, the tallest waterfall in the eastern United States, is located on the Cumberland Plateau

The Cumberland Plateau rises to the west of the Tennessee Valley. This landform is part of the larger Appalachian Plateau, and is mostly covered by flat-topped tablelands. The elevation of the Cumberland Plateau ranges from 1,500 to about 2,000 feet (460 to about 610 m) above sea level. The Cumberland Mountains, with peaks above 3,000 feet (910 m), comprise the northeastern part of the Appalachian Plateau in Tennessee, and the southeastern part of the Cumberland Plateau is divided by the largely undeviating Sequatchie Valley.[34] The plateau's eastern edge is relatively distinct, but the western escarpment is irregular, containing several long, crooked stream valleys separated by rocky cliffs that contain numerous waterfalls.[34] The boundary between East and Middle Tennessee straddles the top of the Cumberland Plateau, as does the boundary between Eastern and Central Time.

West of the Cumberland Plateau is the Highland Rim, an elevated plain that surrounds the Nashville Basin.[35] Both of these physiographic provinces are part of the Interior Low Plateaus of the larger Interior Plains. The Highland Rim is Tennessee's largest geographic region, with an average elevation of over 1,000 feet (300 m), and is often divided into the Eastern and Western Highland Rim.[36] The Eastern Highland Rim is characterized by relatively level plains dotted by rolling hills.[37] The Western Highland Rim and western parts of the Nashville Basin are covered by uneven rounded knobs with steep ravines and meandering streams in between.[38] The Nashville Basin, surrounded by the Highland Rim, has rich, fertile farmland and a great diversity of natural wildlife.[39][40] Porous limestone bedrock underlies the Nashville Basin and Eastern Highland Rim very close to the surface, and as a result, the regions are covered with a karst landscape with many caves, sinkholes, depressions, and underground streams.[37] Nashville is in the northwestern corner of the Basin, and most of its suburbs radiate outward to the south, southeast, and east. Clarksville, the state's fifth largest city, sits in the northwestern Highland Rim.

To the west of the Highland Rim is a narrow region known as the Western Tennessee Valley, which consists of about 10 miles (16 km) in width of hilly land that runs along the banks of the Tennessee River.[b][41] The Tennessee River forms the boundary between Middle and West Tennessee here. West of this is the Gulf Coastal Plain, a broad area that begins at the Gulf of Mexico and extends northward into southern Illinois, gradually losing elevation westward.[42] In Tennessee, this plain includes the Mississippi embayment, and consists of two distinct sections.[c][43] From the east, the plain begins with low rolling hills and wide stream valleys, known as the West Tennessee Uplands, and gradually levels out to the west.[43] The western parts of the plain contain thick and fertile loess, and end at steep bluffs overlooking the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, the westernmost physiographic division of Tennessee.[44] This flat strip, commonly known as the Mississippi Bottoms, ranges from 10 to 14 miles (16 to 23 km) wide, and has an elevation of less than 300 feet (91 m).[45] It consists of lowlands, floodplains, and swamplands, and is sometimes considered part of the Mississippi Delta region.[45] Memphis is in the southwestern corner of the Gulf Coastal Plain, and is West Tennessee's most populous city. All of West Tennessee is part of the Jackson Purchase historical region, and it is the least populated of the state's Grand Divisions.


The state is drained by three major rivers, the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Mississippi. The Tennessee River begins at the juncture of the Holston and French Broad rivers in Knoxville, flows southwest to Chattanooga, and exits into Alabama before reemerging in the western part of the state and flowing north into Kentucky.[46] Major tributaries of the Tennessee River include the Clinch, Little Tennessse, Hiwassee, Sequatchie, Elk, Beech, Buffalo, Duck, and Big Sandy rivers.[46] The Cumberland River flows through the north-central part of the state, emerging in the northeastern Highland Rim, passing through Nashville and the northern part of the Nashville Basin before turning northwest to Clarksville and entering Kentucky west of the Tennessee River.[47] Its principal branches in Tennessee are the Obey, Caney Fork, Stones, Harpeth, and Red rivers.[47] The Mississippi River forms the state's western boundary, where Memphis lies.[48] Its tributaries are the Obion, Forked Deer, Hatchie, Loosahatchie, and Wolf rivers.[48] The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operate many hydroelectric dams on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers and their tributaries. These dams form many large reservoirs throughout the state.[49]

About half the state's land area is in the Tennessee Valley drainage basin of the Tennessee River.[46] The Cumberland River basin covers the northern half of Middle Tennessee and a small portion of East Tennessee.[47] A small part of north-central Tennessee in Sumner, Macon, and Clay Counties is in the Green River watershed.[50] All three of these basins are tributaries of the Ohio River watershed. Most of West Tennessee is in the Lower Mississippi River watershed.[48] The entirety of the state is in the Mississippi River watershed, except for a small sliver in Bradley and Polk Counties traversed by the Conasauga River, which is part of the Mobile Bay watershed.[51]


Tennessee is within a temperate deciduous forest biome commonly known as the Eastern Deciduous Forest.[52] It has eight ecoregions: the Blue Ridge, Ridge and Valley, Central Appalachian, Southwestern Appalachian, Interior Low Plateaus, Southeastern Plains, Mississippi Valley Loess Plains, and Mississippi Alluvial Plain regions.[53] Forests cover about 52% of the state's land area, with oak–hickory the dominant type.[54] Appalachian oak–pine and cove hardwood forests are found in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Cumberland Plateau, and bottomland hardwood forests are common throughout the Gulf Coastal Plain.[55] Pine forests are also found throughout the state.[55] Some of the last remaining large American chestnut trees grow in the Nashville Basin. They are being used to help breed blight-resistant trees.

Due to its wide variety of terrains and ecosystems, Tennessee is the most biodiverse inland state.[56] The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most biodiverse national park,[57][58] and the state's Duck River is the most biologically diverse waterway in North America.[59] The state is home to 340 species of birds, 325 freshwater fish species, 89 mammals, 77 amphibians, and 61 reptiles.[57]

Common mammals found throughout Tennessee include white-tailed deer, red and gray foxes, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, wild turkeys, rabbits, and squirrels. Black bears are found in the Blue Ridge Mountains and on the Cumberland Plateau in Eastern Tennessee. Tennessee has the third-highest number of amphibian species, and is especially known for its salamanders, with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park dubbed the "Salamander Capital of the World".[60] The state also ranks second in the nation for the diversity of its freshwater fish species.[61] Middle Tennessee is home to many unusual ecosystems known as cedar glades, which occur in areas with shallow bedrock and little soil and contain many endemic plant species.[62]


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.[63] 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.[64][65]

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.[66] 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.[67] On average, the state has 15 tornadoes per year.[68] Tornadoes in Tennessee can be severe, and Tennessee leads the nation in the percentage of total tornadoes which have fatalities.[69] 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.[70]

Monthly Normal High and Low Temperatures For Various Tennessee Cities (F)[71]
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

Cities, towns, and counties[edit]

Tennessee is divided into 95 counties, each of which has a county seat.[72] The state has 340 municipalities in total.[73] The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) designates ten metropolitan areas in Tennessee, four of which extend into neighboring states.[74]

Nashville is the state capital and largest city, with about 670,000 residents.[75] Its 13-county metropolitan area has been the state's largest since the early 1990s, and is one of the nation's fastest-growing metropolitan areas, with about 2 million residents.[76] Memphis, with about 650,000 inhabitants, was the largest city in the state until 2016, when Nashville surpassed it.[77] It is in Shelby County, the state's largest county in both population and land area.[78] Knoxville, with about 190,000 inhabitants, and Chattanooga, with about 180,000 residents, are the third- and fourth-largest cities, respectively.[75] Clarksville is a significant population center, with a population of about 160,000.[75] Murfreesboro is the sixth-largest city and Nashville's largest suburb, with about 150,000 residents.[75] In addition to the major cities, the Tri-Cities of Kingsport, Bristol, and Johnson City are considered the sixth major population center.[79]


Pre-European era[edit]

The area now known as Tennessee was first inhabited by Paleo-Indians about 12,000 years ago at the end of the Last Glacial Period. Archaeological excavations have indicated that the lower Tennessee Valley was heavily populated with Ice Age hunter-gatherers, and what is now Middle Tennessee is believed to have been rich with game animals such as mastodons.[80] The names of the cultural groups who inhabited the area between first settlements and the time of European contact are unknown, but archaeologists have named several distinct cultural phases, including the Archaic period (8000–1000 BC), Woodland (1000 BC–1000 AD), and the Mississippian period (1000–1600 AD).

The Archaic peoples first domesticated dogs and created the first villages in the state, but were largely hunter-gatherers confined to smaller territories than their predecessors.[81] During the Woodland period, Natives first grew such plants as squash, corn, gourds, and sunflowers, created pottery, and established the first organized agricultural civilizations.[82] Later generations of Woodland peoples constructed the first mounds in the state.[82] The most rapid civilizational development occurred during the Mississippian period, when Indigenous peoples developed more complex organized complex chiefdoms such as Mound Bottom near Nashville and Toqua and Citico in East Tennessee, and constructed numerous mounds and other ceremonial structures throughout the state.[83] Spanish conquistadors who explored the state in the 16th century encountered some of these Native peoples, including the Muscogee Creek, Yuchi, and the Shawnee.[83][84]

By the early 18th century, most Natives in Tennessee had disappeared, most likely wiped out by diseases introduced by the Spaniards, leaving a population vacuum.[83] The Cherokee began migrating into what is now eastern Tennessee from what is now Virginia in the latter 17th century, possibly to escape expanding European settlement and diseases in the north.[85] They forced the Creek, Yuchi, and Shawnee out of the state in the early 18th century.[85][86] The Chickasaw remained confined to West Tennessee, and the middle part of the state contained few Native Americans, although both the Cherokee and the Shawnee claimed the region as their hunting ground.[87] Cherokee peoples in Tennessee were known by European settlers as the Overhill Cherokee because they lived west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.[88] Overhill settlements grew along the rivers in East Tennessee in the early 18th century, and the Chickasaw were largely confined to West Tennessee during this time.[89]

Exploration and colonization[edit]

The first recorded European excursions into what is now called Tennessee were three expeditions led by Spanish explorers: Hernando de Soto in 1540–1541, Tristan de Luna in 1559, and Juan Pardo in 1566–1567.[90][91][92] Pardo recorded the name "Tanasqui" from a local Native American village, which evolved into the state's current name.[21] In 1673, Abraham Wood, a British fur trader, sent an expedition led by James Needham and Gabriel Arthur from Fort Henry in Virginia into Overhill Cherokee territory in modern-day northeastern Tennessee.[93] Needham was killed during the expedition and Arthur taken prisoner for more than a year.[94][95] That 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.[94][93] In 1682 an expedition led by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle constructed Fort Prudhomme on the Chickasaw Bluffs in West Tennessee.[96] By the late 17th century, French traders also began to explore the Cumberland River valley.[97] In 1714, a group of French traders under Charles Charleville's command established a settlement at the present location of downtown Nashville, which became known as French Lick.[97] These settlers quickly established an extensive fur trading network with the local Native Americans, but by the 1740s the settlement had largely been abandoned.[98] In 1739, the French constructed Fort Assumption under Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville on the Mississippi River at the present-day location of Memphis, which they 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 hostage French troops stationed at the fort.[99]

Reconstruction of Fort Loudoun, the first British settlement in Tennessee

In the 1750s and 1760s, long hunters from Virginia explored much of East and Middle Tennessee.[100] In 1756, settlers from the colony of South Carolina at Fort Loudoun, near present-day Vonore, built the first British settlement in what is now Tennessee.[101] Fort Loudoun was the westernmost British outpost to that date, and was designed by John William Gerard de Brahm and constructed by forces under British Captain Raymond Demeré.[102] Shortly after its completion, Demeré relinquished command of the fort to his brother, Captain Paul Demeré.[103] Hostilities erupted between the British and the Overhill Cherokees, and a siege of the fort ended with its surrender in 1760.[104] 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.[105] After the end of the French and Indian War, Britain issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which forbade settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains in an effort to reduce conflicts with the Natives.[106] Despite this proclamation, migration across the mountains continued, and the first permanent European settlers began arriving in the northeastern part of the state in the late 1760s.[107][108] William Bean, a long hunter who settled in the region in 1769, is traditionally accepted as the first permanent European settler in Tennessee.[109][110] Most 18th-century settlers were English or of primarily English descent but nearly 20% of them were Scotch-Irish.[111] These settlers formed the Watauga Association in 1772, a community built on lands leased from the Cherokee.[112] Three years later, a group of citizens petitioned the government of North Carolina to annex the settlements into the Washington District to support the cause of the American Revolutionary War, which had begun months before, and provide protection from Native American attacks.[113]

In 1775, Richard Henderson negotiated a series of treaties with the Cherokee to sell the lands of the Watauga settlements at Sycamore Shoals on the banks of the Watauga River in present-day Elizabethton. An agreement to sell land for the Transylvania Colony, which included the territory in modern-day Tennessee north of the Cumberland River, was also signed. Later that year, Daniel Boone, under Henderson's employment, 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.[114] In 1776, Dragging Canoe and his warring Cherokee faction aligned with British loyalists attacked Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals.[115] Settlers called these renegade Cherokee the Chickamauga.[116] They opposed North Carolina's annexation of the Washington District and the concurrent settling of the Transylvania Colony.[117] The warnings of Dragging Canoe's cousin Nancy Ward spared many settlers' lives from the initial warrior attacks.[117] The frontier fort 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.

In 1779, James Robertson and John Donelson led two groups of settlers from the Watauga Association to the French Lick along the Cumberland River.[118] These settlers constructed Fort Nashborough, which they named for Francis Nash, a brigadier general of the Continental Army.[119] The next year, the settlers signed the Cumberland Compact, which established a representative form of government for the colony based on the Watauga Association.[120] This settlement later grew into the city of Nashville.[121] 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. The trail was called the North Carolina Road, Avery's Trace, or The Wilderness Road (not to be confused with the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap).

The Southwest Territory in 1790

Three counties of the Washington District broke off from North Carolina in 1784 and formed the State of Franklin.[122] Efforts to obtain admission to the Union failed, and the counties (now numbering eight) rejoined North Carolina by 1789.[123] North Carolina ceded the area to the federal government in 1790, after which it was organized into the Southwest Territory on May 26 of that year.[124] The act established a government, similar to the Northwest Ordinance, when the population reached 5,000 and allowed the territory to petition for statehood once the population was 60,000.[124] Administration of the territory was divided between the Washington District in northeast Tennessee, and the Mero District, which consisted of the Cumberland settlements in Middle Tennessee, named for Spanish territorial governor Esteban Rodríguez Miró.[125] President George Washington appointed William Blount as territorial governor.[126] The Southwest Territory recorded a population of 35,691 in the first United States census that year, including 3,417 slaves.[127]

Statehood and antebellum era[edit]

Surveyor Daniel Smith's "Map of the Tennassee State" (1796)

As support for statehood grew among the settlers, Governor Blount called for elections, which were held in December 1793.[128] The territorial House of Representatives, which consisted of 13 members, first convened in Knoxville on February 24, 1794, to select ten members for the legislature's upper house, known as the council.[128] The full legislature convened on August 25, 1794, enacting the territory's first laws.[129] In June 1795, the legislature conducted a census of the territory and a poll of the settlers on the question of statehood.[130] The census recorded a population of 77,263, including 10,613 slaves, and the poll showed 6,504 in favor of statehood and 2,562 against, with most the inhabitants of the Cumberland settlements against statehood.[130][131] Elections for a constitutional convention were held in December 1795, and the delegates convened in Knoxville on January 17, 1796, to begin drafting a state constitution.[132] During this convention, the delegates chose the name Tennessee for the new state.[133] The constitution was completed on February 6, which authorized elections for the proposed state's new legislature, the Tennessee General Assembly.[134][135] The legislature convened on March 28, 1796, and the next day, John Sevier was announced as the state's first governor.[134][135] After months of debate in Congress, Tennessee was admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796, as the 16th state.[136][137] 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.[138]

Tennessee reportedly earned the nickname "The Volunteer State" during the War of 1812 when 3,500 men enthusiastically answered a recruitment call by the General Assembly for the war effort.[139] These soldiers, under Andrew Jackson's command, played a major role in the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, the last major battle of the war.[139] A number of Tennesseans took part in the Texas Revolution of 183536, including Governor Sam Houston and Congressman and frontiersman Davy Crockett, who was killed at the Battle of the Alamo.[140] The state's nickname was solidified during the Mexican–American War when President James K. Polk issued a call for 2,800 soldiers from the state and more than 30,000 volunteered.[141] Many Tennesseans were reportedly motivated to serve in response to Crockett's death.[141]

As more white settlers moved into Tennessee, they came into increasing conflict with Native tribes. Several additional land cessions were negotiated with the Cherokee, who had established a national government modeled on the U.S. Constitution between the 1790s and 1820s.[142] In 1818, Jackson and Kentucky governor Isaac Shelby reached an agreement with the Chickasaw to sell the land between the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers to the United States, which included all of West Tennessee and western Kentucky. This became known as the "Jackson Purchase" and the "Western District" for many years afterward.[143] The next year, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun negotiated an agreement with the Cherokee Nation to cede their land between the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers.[144]

In 1832, the Cherokee moved their capital from Georgia to the Red Clay Council Grounds in southeastern Tennessee, due to new state laws forcing them from their previous capital at New Echota.[145] In 1838 and 1839, U.S. troops forcibly removed nearly 17,000 Cherokee and about 2,000 black people the Cherokee enslaved from their homes in southeastern Tennessee, and forced them to march to the Indian Territory in modern-day Oklahoma. An estimated 4,000 died along the way.[146] The operation was orchestrated from Fort Cass in Charleston, which was constructed on the site of the Indian agency.[147] In the Cherokee language, the event is called Nunna daul Isunyi, meaning "the Trail Where We Cried", and it is commonly known as the Trail of Tears.[146]

As settlers pushed west of the Cumberland Plateau, a slavery-based agrarian economy took hold in these regions.[148] Cotton planters extensively utilized slave labor on large plantations in the fertile and flat terrains of West Tennessee after the Jackson Purchase.[149] Cotton also took hold in the Nashville Basin during this time.[149] Entrepreneurs such as Montgomery Bell used slaves in the production of iron in the Western Highland Rim, and slaves also cultivated such crops as tobacco and corn throughout the Highland Rim, but to a lesser extent than cotton in the Basin.[148] East Tennessee's geography did not allow for large plantations as in the middle and western parts of the state, and as a result slavery became increasingly rare in the region.[150] A strong abolition movement also developed in East Tennessee, beginning as early as 1797, and in 1819 Elihu Embree of Jonesborough began publishing the Manumission Intelligencier (later The Emancipator), the nation's first exclusively anti-slavery newspaper.[151] This movement largely dissolved by the 1840s, as most abolitionists in the state had left by then.[152]

Civil War[edit]

At the onset of the Civil War, Tennesseans were divided in their allegiances between the North and the South.[153] This was primarily due to the distribution of slavery throughout the state; most Middle and West Tennesseans favored secession in order to preserve the slavery-based economy in those regions, while in East Tennessee, where slavery was rare, most favored remaining in the Union.[154] In 1860, slaves composed about 25% of the population of Tennessee, the lowest share of the states that joined the Confederacy. Of the state's entire slave population, nearly 40% of West Tennesseeans and about 20% of Middle Tennesseeans were enslaved, but in East Tennesse, slaves made up only 8% of the population.[150] The state provided more Union troops than any other Confederate state, more than 51,000 soldiers, more than 20,000 of whom were Black.[155] The state provided about 135,000 Confederate troops, the second-highest number after Virginia. Due to its central location, Tennessee was a crucial state during the war, and saw more military engagements than any other except Virginia.

After Abraham Lincoln's election as president in 1860, secessionists in the state government, led by Governor Isham Harris, sought voter approval for a convention to sever ties with the United States.[153] Tennessee voters rejected this referendum by a 54–46% margin in February 1861.[156] After 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.[157] The Tennessee legislature ratified an agreement to enter a military league with the Confederate States on May 7, 1861.[153] On June 8, with people in Middle Tennessee having significantly changed their position, voters approved a second referendum on secession by a 69–31% margin, becoming the last state to do so.[158] In response, East Tennessee Unionists organized a convention in Knoxville with the goal of splitting East Tennessee from the state to form a separate state loyal to the Union.[159] 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. In the fall of 1861, Unionist guerrillas in East Tennessee burned bridges and attacked Confederate sympathizers, causing the Confederacy to invoke martial law in parts of the region.[160] In March 1862, Lincoln appointed native Tennessean and War Democrat Andrew Johnson as military governor of the state.[161]

Many major battles of the American Civil War were fought in Tennessee—most of them Union victories. General Ulysses S. Grant and the U.S. Navy captured control of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers in February 1862 at the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, giving the Union control of Middle Tennessee.[162] Grant then proceeded south to Pittsburg Landing and held off a Confederate counterattack at Shiloh in April in what was at the time the bloodiest battle of the war.[163] Memphis fell to the Union in June after a naval battle on the Mississippi River in front of the city, giving the Union control of West Tennessee.[164] Union strength in Middle Tennessee was tested in a series of Confederate offensives beginning in the summer of 1862, which culminated in General William Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland routing General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee at Stones River, another of the war's costliest engagements.[165] The next summer, Rosecrans's Tullahoma campaign forced Bragg's remaining troops in Middle Tennessee to retreat to Chattanooga with little fighting.[166]

The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864

Rosecrans lured Bragg's troops out of Chattanooga in August 1863, but was defeated one month later at Chickamauga a few miles to the south in Georgia, and subsequently retreated to Chattanooga.[167] During the Chattanooga campaign, Confederates attempted to besiege the Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga into surrendering, but reinforcements from the Army of the Tennessee under the command of Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Joseph Hooker arrived.[168] The Confederates were driven from the city at the battles of Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain in November 1863.[169] These defeats have been attributed to Bragg's poor strategic vision.

Despite the strength of Unionist sentiment in East Tennessee (with the exception of Sullivan County, which was heavily pro-Confederate), Confederates held the area for most of the war. A few days after the fall of Chattanooga, Confederates led by General James Longstreet attacked General Ambrose Burnside's Fort Sanders at Knoxville and lost.[170] It was a major blow to East Tennessee Confederate momentum, but Longstreet won the Battle of Bean's Station a few weeks later.[171] The capture of Chattanooga allowed Sherman to launch the Atlanta campaign from the city in May 1864. The last major battles in the state came when Army of Tennessee regiments under General John Bell Hood invaded Middle Tennessee in the fall of 1864 in the Franklin–Nashville campaign in an effort to draw Sherman back. They were checked at Franklin in November, then completely dispersed by George Thomas at Nashville in December.[172]

On April 27, 1865, the worst maritime disaster in American history occurred when the overloaded Sultana steamboat exploded in the Mississippi River north of Memphis, killing 1,168 people.[173] The disaster occurred weeks after Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, and most of the ship's passengers were recently freed Union prisoners of war.[174][175]

When the Emancipation Proclamation was announced, Tennessee was largely held by Union forces and thus not among the states enumerated in the proclamation, so it freed no slaves in the state.[176] Nonetheless, enslaved African Americans escaped to Union lines to gain freedom without waiting for official action. Andrew Johnson declared all slaves in Tennessee free on October 24, 1864.[176] On February 22, 1865, Tennessee's legislature approved an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting slavery, the only Southern state to do so.[177] Voters in the state approved the amendment the next month.[178] Tennessee ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in every state, on April 7, 1865.[179] The state ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship and equal protection under the law to former slaves, on July 18, 1866.[180] Johnson became vice president when Lincoln was reelected, and president after Lincoln's assassination in May 1865.[161] Under Johnson's lenient readmission policy, Tennessee became the first Confederate state to have its elected members readmitted to Congress on July 24, 1866.[181]

Reconstruction and late 19th century[edit]

The years following the Civil War were characterized by tension and unrest between former Confederates and Blacks and their White allies, the worst of which occurred in Memphis in 1866. Because Tennessee had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment before its readmission to the Union, it was the only former secessionist state that did not have a military governor during Reconstruction.[180] The Radical Republicans gained control of the state government toward the end of the war, and appointed William G. "Parson" Brownlow governor, who served from 1865 to 1869. Under Brownlow's administration, the state enacted legislation allowing African American men to vote, disenfranchised former Confederates, and took action against violence perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan, which had been founded in December 1865 in Pulaski as a vigilante group to advance former Confederates' interests.[182]

In 1870, Southern Democrats regained control of the state legislature, amended the constitution to allow the General Assembly to institute a poll tax for all voters, and reversed many of the reforms of the Brownlow administration.[183] Over the next two decades, the General Assembly passed a series of Jim Crow laws to control African Americans and enforce racial segregation.[184] Four laws passed in 1889 were described as electoral reform, but had the cumulative effect of essentially disfranchising most African Americans in rural areas and small towns, as well as many poor Whites.[185] These laws were a poll tax, required early voter registration, allowed secret ballots, and required separate ballot boxes for state and federal elections.[185] Tens of thousands of taxpaying citizens were without representation for decades into the 20th century.[186]

After the Civil War, agriculture continued to dominate Tennessee's economy, and most large plantations were divided into smaller farms.[187] The majority of freed slaves were forced into sharecropping during this time, and many others worked as agricultural wage laborers.[188] With the help of Northern investors, Chattanooga grew into one of the first industrialized cities in the South during this time, and several other Tennessee cities saw modest growth in the mining and manufacturing sectors. Memphis became known as the "Cotton Capital of the World" during the late 19th century, and Nashville, Knoxville, and several other smaller cities received new factories.[189] Many Blacks in rural areas relocated to the larger cities, and a small number migrated to Kansas as part of the Exodusters.[190]

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.

Earlier 20th century[edit]

Workers at the Norris Dam construction camp site in 1933

On July 9, 1918, Tennessee suffered the worst rail accident in U.S. history when two passenger trains collided head on in Nashville, killing 101 and injuring 171.[191]

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.[192]

In 1925, John T. Scopes, a high school teacher in Dayton, was tried and convicted for teaching evolution in violation of the state's recently passed Butler Act.[193] Scopes was prosecuted by former Secretary of State and former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and defended by attorney Clarence Darrow. The case was intentionally publicized,[194] and highlighted the creationism-evolution controversy among religious groups.[195]

By the early 20th century, decades of logging and clearcutting had devastated the environment of the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. An effort to preserve the land ensued, and in 1926 Congress authorized the establishment of a national park. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established in 1934 and dedicated in 1940.[196]

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.

Calutron operators at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project

During World War II, East Tennessee was chosen for the production of weapons-grade fissile enriched uranium as part of the Manhattan Project, a research and development undertaking led by the United States to produce the world's first atomic bombs. The planned community of Oak Ridge was built from scratch to provide accommodations for the facilities and workers, and the site was chosen due to the abundancy of electrical power generated by TVA, low population density, the geography of the region, which allowed for natural separation of the facilities, and the inland location, which made the site less vulnerable to enemy attack.[197][198] The Clinton Engineer Works was established as the production arm of the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, which produced enriched uranium at three major sites, which was used in the production of the world's first three atomic bombs. The first of these bombs was detonated in New Mexico in a test code-named Trinity, and the others, nicknamed "Little Boy" and "Fat Man", were dropped on Imperial Japan at the end of World War II.[199] After the war, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory became an institution for scientific and technological research.

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.[186]

Mid-20th century to present[edit]

In the years following World War II, Tennessee's economy continued to industrialize, and demand for energy grew faster than ever before. TVA built additional dams and coal-fired power plants in the state during the postwar years.[200][201]

In 1953, voters approved eight amendments to the state constitution, which extended the governor's term from two to four years, prohibiting two successive terms, and outlawed the state's poll tax.[202] 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.[186]

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Oak Ridge High School in 1955 became the first school in the state to be integrated.[203] The next year, public schools in nearby Clinton High School was integrated, and Tennessee National Guard troops were sent in after pro-segregationists threatened violence.[203] Between February and May 1960, a series of sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville organized by the Nashville Student Movement resulted in the desegregation of facilities in the city.[204] On April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis.[205] King had traveled there to support striking African American sanitation workers.[206][207]

In 1977, a state constitutional convention was held that recommended 13 amendments to the state's constitution, 12 of which votes approved the next year. The changes allowed governors to serve two consecutive terms, required the General Assembly to balance the state's annual budget, reformed county legislative bodies, and removed provisions that had been invalidated by federal legislation and court cases during the Civil Rights Movement.[208]

In 1978, the TVA's construction of the Tellico Dam in Loudon County became the subject of national controversy when the endangered snail darter fish was reported to be affected by the project. After lawsuits by environmentalist groups, the debate was decided by the Supreme Court case Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill, leading to amendments of the Endangered Species Act the same year.[209]

The 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville

The 1982 World's Fair was held in Knoxville.[210] Also known as the Knoxville International Energy Exposition, the fair's theme was "Energy Turns the World". The exposition was one of the most successful, and the last world's fair to be held in the United States as of 2021.[211]

Tennessee celebrated its bicentennial in 1996. With a yearlong statewide celebration called "Tennessee 200", a new state park, Bicentennial Mall, opened at the foot of Capitol Hill in Nashville that traces the state's history.[212]

In 2002, Tennessee amended its constitution to establish a lottery. In 2006, the state constitution was amended to outlaw same-sex marriage. This amendment was invalidated by the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court Case Obergefell v. Hodges.[213] On December 23, 2008, the largest industrial waste spill in United States history occurred at TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant when more than 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry was accidentally released into the Emory and Clinch Rivers.[214][215] The cleanup cost more than $1 billion, and was not completed until 2015.[216]

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Tennessee transitioned from a strong two-party state to a solidly Republican state, primarily due to rural white Democrats, who rejected the Democratic Party's increasing social and economic liberalism.[217][218] In 2007, Ron Ramsey became the first Republican elected Speaker of the State Senate since Reconstruction,[219] and the next year, Republicans gained control of both houses of the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.[220] Republicans have since gained supermajorities in both chambers.[218]

In April and May 2010, flooding in Middle Tennessee devastated Nashville and other parts of Middle Tennessee.[221] In April 2011, parts of East Tennessee, including Hamilton and Bradley counties, were devastated by the 2011 Super Outbreak, the largest and costliest tornado outbreak in history.[222]

During the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Tennessee recorded its first case on March 5, 2020, in Williamson County.[223] The first death was reported 15 days later in Nashville.[224] As of May 2021, the state has had more than 830,000 cases and more than 12,000 deaths, with 35% of the eligible population receiving at least one vaccination and 25% fully vaccinated.[225]


Historical population
Census Pop.
Source: 1910–2020[226]

The 2020 United States census reported Tennessee's population at 6,910,840, an increase of 564,735 since the 2010 United States Census, or 8.90%.[5] Between 2010 and 2019, the state received a natural increase 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 U.S. resulted in a net increase of 66,412, and migration within the country produced a net increase of 178,125.[227]

According to the 2010 census, 6.4% of Tennessee's population were under age 5, 23.6% under 18, and 13.4% 65 or older.[228] Twenty percent of Tennesseans were born outside the South in 2008, compared to 13.5% in 1990.[229] In recent years, Tennessee has received an influx of people relocating from California, Florida, New York, New Jersey and New England due to the low cost of living and the booming healthcare and automotive industries. Metropolitan Nashville is one of the country's fastest-growing areas due in part to these factors.[230] In 2010, about 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.[231]

Tennessee's center of population is in Murfreesboro in Rutherford County.[232]


Racial composition 1940[233] 1970[233] 1990[233] 2000[234] 2010[234] 2019 est.[235]
White 82.5% 83.9% 83.0% 80.2% 77.6% 77.6%
Black 17.4% 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.[236] That same year Non-Hispanic whites were 75.6% of the population, compared to 63.7% of the population nationwide.[237]

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%).[238] 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.[239][240] 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.[241]

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]

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[243] 2014[244] 2015[245] 2016[246] 2017[247] 2018[248] 2019[249]
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[250]

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

Tennessee has always been, and remains, predominantly Christian. About 81% of the population identify as Christian, with Protestants making up 73% of the population. Of the Protestants in state, Evangelical Protestants compose 52% of the population, Mainline Protestants 13%, and Historically Black Protestant denominations at 8%. Roman Catholics make up 6%, Mormons 1%, and Orthodox Christians less than 1%.[250] The largest denominations by number of adherents are the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Churches of Christ.[251] Muslims and Jews each make up about 1% of the population, and adherents of other religions make up about 3% of the population. About 14% of Tennesseeans are non-religions, with 11% identifying as "Nothing in particular", 3% as agnostics, and 1% as atheists.[250]

Tennessee is included in most definitions of the Bible Belt, and is ranked as one of the nation's most religious states.[252] It is home to several Protestant denominations, including the National Baptist Convention (headquartered in Nashville); the Church of God in Christ and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (both headquartered in Memphis); and 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.[253] 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.[254] 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.[255] 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.[256] 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.[257] The first $1,250 of individual income and $2,500 of joint income was exempt from this tax.[258]

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%.[259] 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.[260] 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.[261] Since January 1, 2016, Tennessee has had no inheritance tax.[262]

While the sales tax remains the main source of state government funding, property taxes are the primary source of revenue for local governments.[261]


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).[263] 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.[263]

Beef cattle is the state's largest agricultural commodity.[19] 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.[264][263] Soybeans are the most common crop produced in the state, followed by corn and cotton.[19] Most soybeans in Tennessee are grown in West and Middle Tennessee, especially in the northwestern corner of the state.[265] Broilers and poultry constitute the state's second most common livestock commodity.[19]

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.[149] The upper wedge of the Mississippi Delta extends into southwestern Tennessee, and it was in this fertile region that cotton took hold.[149] Today, Tennessee ranks seventh overall in the nation in cotton production, most of which is still grown in the western part of the state.[266] 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.[267] 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.[268][269] Other important cash crops raised in the state include hay, wheat, eggs, and snap beans.[263][267]

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.[270] The state also ranks second nationwide for mule breeding and the production of goat meat.[267]

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".[271] 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.[272]

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.[189] 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.[273]

Since 1980, Tennessee has emerged as a major hub for the automotive industry.[274] Four automobile manufacturers have factories in Tennessee: Nissan in Smyrna, General Motors in Spring Hill, Van Hool in Morristown, and Volkswagen in Chattanooga,[275][276] as well as a planned factory in Memphis.[277] In addition, the state is home to more than 900 automotive suppliers.[278] Nissan moved its North American corporate headquarters from California to Franklin in 2005,[279] and Mitsubishi Motors did the same in 2019.[280]

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 historically have been produced, including brands such as Monogram Refrigeration, Whirlpool, Thomas & Betts, LG Electronics, Magnavox, and Electrolux.[281] 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.[282] Other well-known brands produced in the state include Jack Daniel's,[283] George Dickel,[284] Mountain Dew,[285] Goo Goo Cluster,[286] Moon Pie,[287] Bush's Beans,[288] Little Debbie,[289] M&M's,[290] and Pringles.[291] Other major products manufactured in the state include nonelectrical machinery and metal products.[292]


Tennessee's commercial sector is dominated by a wide variety of companies, but its largest service industries include health care, transportation, music and 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.[293][294]

The technology sector is a rapidly growing major employer in Middle Tennessee, particularly in the Nashville metropolitan area.[295] In 2018 Amazon established its East Coast operations center in Nashville, and plans to eventually employ about 5,000.[296]

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.[297]

Tennessee's electric utilities are regulated monopolies, as in many other states.[298][299] As of 2020, the Tennessee Valley Authority owned over 90% of the state's generating capacity.[300] 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.[301] 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.[302]

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.[303] 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.[304] 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.[305] Tennessee is the third-largest hydroelectric power-producing state east of the Rocky Mountains.[306]

Tennessee has very little petroleum and natural gas reserves, but is home to one oil refinery, in Memphis.[306] Bituminous coal is mined in small quantities in the Cumberland Plateau and Cumberland Mountains.[307] There are sizable reserves of lignite coal in West Tennessee that remain untapped.[307] Coal production in Tennessee peaked in 1972, and today less than 0.1% of coal production in the United States comes from Tennessee mines.[306]

Tennessee is the nation's leading producer of ball clay.[307] Other major mineral products produced in Tennessee include sand, gravel, crushed stone, Portland cement, marble, sandstone, common clay, lime, and zinc.[307][308] 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.[309] Mines in the basin supplied about 90% of the copper the Confederacy used during the Civil War,[310] and also marketed chemical byproducts of the mining, including sulfuric acid.[311] Mining activities in the basin resulted in a major environmental disaster, which left the landscape in the basin barren for more than a century.[312] Iron ore was another major mineral mined in Tennessee until the early 20th century.[313] Tennessee was also a top producer of phosphate until the early 1990s.[314]


The resort city of Gatlinburg borders Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the most visited national park in the United States.[315]

Tourism contributes billions of dollars every year to Tennessee's economy, and it is the 11th-most visited state in the nation.[316] In 2019 a record 126 million people visited the state, up from 119 million the previous year.[317][318] This resulted in $23.3 billion of tourism-related spending in the state, approximately $1.1 billion of which came from international travelers.[319] Tax revenue from tourism totaled $1.92 billion.[320] Each Tennessee county saw at least a $1 million economic impact from tourism, while 21 counties received at least $100 million, and five (Davidson, Shelby, Sevier, Knox, and Hamilton) more than $1 billion.[319] Tourism-related jobs in the state reached 195,000.[320]

Tennessee is home to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the U.S., with more than 12 million visitors annually.[315] 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.[283] 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.[321] 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.[322] 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.[283] Other 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.[283]

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.[323] Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is within the Cumberland Mountains in northeastern Tennessee. Other major historical attractions preserved by the National Park Service include Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, and the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.[324] 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.[325][326] Tennessee maintains 45 state parks, covering some 132,000 acres (530 km2). Sportsmen and visitors are attracted to Reelfoot Lake, originally formed by the 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes, which has stumps and other remains of a once dense forest with the lotus bed covering shallow waters. Many reservoirs the TVA created to generate electricity have also created water-based tourist attractions and real estate development with an estimated $12 billion economic impact based on a 2016 study by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.[327]


A culturally diverse state, Tennessee blends Appalachian and Southern flavors, originating from its English, Scotch-Irish, and African roots and evolving as the state grew. The state's Grand Divisions also manifest into distinct cultural regions, with East Tennessee commonly associated with Southern Appalachia, and Middle and West Tennessee commonly associated with Upland Southern culture. Parts of West Tennessee, especially Memphis, are sometimes considered part of the Deep South.[328]

Tennessee is perhaps best culturally known for its deep musical heritage and the role the state has played in the development of many forms of popular music.[329][330] Notable authors 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. The state's well-known contributions to Southern cuisine include Memphis-style barbecue, Nashville hot chicken, and Tennessee whiskey.


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.[331]

Tennessee has played a critical role in the development of many forms of American popular music, including rock and roll, blues, country, rockabilly, soul, Contemporary Christian, and gospel. Many consider Memphis's Beale Street the birthplace of the blues, with musicians such as W. C. Handy performing in its clubs as early as 1909.[329] 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.[329] 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.[332][333]

Multiple museums recognize Tennessee's role in nurturing various forms of popular music, including the Memphis Rock N' Soul Museum, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, and National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, the International Rock-A-Billy Museum in Jackson, and the Mountain Music Museum in Kingsport.[334] Moreover, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, an online site recognizing the development of rockabilly, is based in Nashville. A number of annual music festivals take place throughout the state, the largest of which are the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis, the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Bonnaroo in Manchester, and Riverbend in Chattanooga.[335]


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.[336][337]

The state is also home to eight minor-league teams. Four Minor League Baseball teams call the state 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.[337] 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.[338] Chattanooga Red Wolves SC became an inaugural member of the third-level USL League One in 2019.[339] Founded in 2009, the Chattanooga FC began playing in the National Independent Soccer Association in 2020.[340]

In Knoxville, the Tennessee Volunteers college teams have played in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) since the conference was formed in 1932. The football team has won six national championships, 13 SEC championships and 28 bowls, including four Sugar Bowls, three Cotton Bowls, an Orange Bowl and a Fiesta Bowl.[341][342] The men's basketball team has won four SEC championships and reached the NCAA Elite Eight in 2010.[343] The women's basketball team has won a host of SEC regular-season and tournament titles, and eight national titles.[344] 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 100 times.[345] In 2014, the Vanderbilt Commodores baseball team won its first men's national championship by winning the 2014 College World Series.[346]

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. 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 ASUN 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 against each other each season, a rarity among non-conference rivalries.[347] 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 the Bristol Motor Speedway, which features NASCAR Cup Series racing two weekends a year, routinely selling out more than 160,000 seats on each date;[348] it is the home of the Nashville Superspeedway, which held Nationwide and IndyCar races until it was shut down in 2012; NASCAR plans reopen the track in 2021.[349] Tennessee's only graded stakes horserace, the Iroquois Steeplechase, is held in Nashville each May.[350] The WGC Invitational is a PGA Tour golf tournament that has been held in Memphis since 1958.[351]


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.[352] An extension of I-69 is proposed to travel through the western part of the state, from South Fulton to Memphis.[353] A branch interstate, I-269 also exists from Millington to Collierville.[352]


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.

Law and government[edit]

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.

Since 1826, Nashville has been the capital of Tennessee. The capital was previously in three other cities.[354] Knoxville was the capital from statehood in 1796 until 1812,[354] except for September 21, 1807, when the legislature met in Kingston for a day.[355] The capital was relocated to Nashville in 1812, where it remained until it was relocated back to Knoxville in 1817. The next year, the capital was moved to Murfreesboro, where remained until 1826. Nashville was officially named the permanent capital in 1843.[354]

Executive and legislative branches[edit]

Like the federal government, Tennessee's government has three branches. 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.[356] The governor is the only official elected statewide. The current governor is Bill Lee, a Republican. The governor is supported by 22 cabinet-level departments, most headed by a commissioner the governor appoints. The executive branch also includes several agencies, boards, and commissions, some of which are under the auspices of one of the cabinet-level departments.[357]

The bicameral legislative branch, known as the Tennessee General Assembly, consists of the 33-member Senate and the 99-member House of Representatives.[358] Senators serve four-year terms and House members serve two-year terms.[359] Each chamber chooses a Speaker, who is elected by a joint session of the legislature.[360] The Speaker of the Senate also serves as the lieutenant governor, a practice found only in one other state, and the House Speaker is third in line for the governorship.[356] The legislature can override a veto by a simple majority, and the state has no "pocket veto".[356] The legislature convenes at noon on the second Tuesday in January and meets for a total of 90 days over two sessions, usually adjourning in late April or early May.[359] Special sessions may be called by the governor or by two thirds of the members of both chambers.[361]

Judicial system[edit]

Tennessee's highest court is the state Supreme Court.[362] It has a chief justice and four associate justices.[362] No more than two justices can be from the same Grand Division.[362] The Supreme Court of Tennessee appoints the state's Attorney General, a practice only found in Tennessee.[363] Both the Court of Appeals and the Court of Criminal Appeals have 12 judges.[364] Under the Tennessee Plan, the governor appoints justices on all three courts to eight-year terms; they must be retained by the voters during the first general election after appointment and at the end of their term.[365] Tennessee is divided into 31 judicial districts, each with a circuit and chancery court, and a district attorney and judges elected to eight-year terms.[366] Separate criminal courts serve 13 of the 31 judicial districts; circuit courts handle criminal cases in the remaining districts.[366] Local courts include general sessions, juvenile and domestic, and municipal courts.

Tennessee maintains four dedicated law enforcement entities: the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP), 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. It is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Safety. The TWRA is an independent agency tasked with enforcing all wildlife, boating, and fisheries regulations outside of state parks, and TDEC enforces state environmental laws and regulations. The TBI is the primary state-level criminal investigative department. State park rangers are responsible for all activities and law enforcement inside the Tennessee State Parks system. Capital punishment is legal in Tennessee, and has existed at various times since statehood.[367][368] Lethal injection is the primary means of execution, but electrocution is also allowed.[369][370]


Tennessee is divided into 95 counties, with 92 county governments that use a county commission legislative body and a separately elected county executive. The governments of Davidson (Nashville), Moore (Lynchburg), and Trousdale (Hartsville) are consolidated with their county seats. Each county elects a sheriff, property assessor, trustee, register of deeds, and county clerk.[371] Tennessee has more than 340 municipalities. Most cities and towns use the weak mayor-councol, strong-mayor council, city commission, or council–manager forms of government. Local law enforcement is divided between county sheriff's offices and municipal police departments. In every county except Davidson, the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer.


Tennessee sends nine representatives to the United States House of Representatives. The current delegation consists of seven Republicans and two Democrats. Its U.S. senators are Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty. Federal courts are divided into three district courts: the Eastern, Middle, and Western districts. Tennessee is under the jurisdiction of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.


The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is Tennessee's only federally recognized Native American tribe. It owns 79 acres (32 ha) in Henning, which the tribe placed into federal trust in 2012. This is governed directly by the tribe.[372][373]


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. Between the end of the Civil War and the mid-20th century, the state was part of the Democratic Solid South, but had the largest Republican minority of any former Confederate state.[374] During this time, the eastern third of the state was heavily Republican and the western two thirds mostly voted Democratic, with the latter dominating the state.[375] This division was related to the state's pattern of farming, plantations, and slaveholding. The eastern section was made up of yeoman farmers and had very few slaves, but Middle and West Tennessee farmers cultivated crops, such as tobacco and cotton, that depended on slave labor.

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 Jim Crow 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 the early 1900s, the state legislature approved a form of commission government for cities based on at-large voting; 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.[376] It was not until after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that African Americans were able to vote in full again.

After the disenfranchisement of blacks, the Republican Party became a primarily white sectional party supported mostly 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. 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 voted consistently Democratic in Presidential elections, except for two nationwide Republican landslides of the 1920s, when Tennessee narrowly supported Warren G. Harding over Ohio Governor James Cox in 1920,[377] and more decisively voted for Herbert Hoover over New York Governor Al Smith in 1928.[378] 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.[379] Howard Baker, first elected in 1966, became the first Republican U.S. Senator from Tennessee since Reconstruction.[380] 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.[381] 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.[382]

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.[383] 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.[384] In the 2008 elections, the Republican party gained control of both houses of the Tennessee state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.[220] 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.[385]

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.[386][387][388] 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.


Offices of The Tennessean in Nashville

Tennessee is home to more than 120 newspapers. The most-circulated paid newspapers in the state include The Tennessean in Nashville, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and The Leaf-Chronicle in Clarksville, The Jackson Sun, and The Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro. All of these except the Times Free Press are owned by Gannett.[389]

Six television media markets—Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Tri-Cities, and Jackson—are based in Tennessee. The Nashville market is the third-largest in the Upland South and the ninth-largest in the southeastern United States, according to Nielsen Media Research. Small sections of the Huntsville, Alabama and Paducah, Kentucky-Cape Girardeau, Missouri-Harrisburg, Illinois markets also extend into the state.[390] Tennessee has 43 full-power and 41 low-power television stations[391] and more than 450 Federal Communications Commission (FCC)-licensed radio stations.[392] The Grand Ole Opry, based in Nashville, is the longest-running radio show in the country, having broadcast continuously since 1925.[331]


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.[393] Then Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation that started the Tennessee Promise program.[393] 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 degrees and certificates at community colleges and trade schools in Tennessee tuition-free, funded by the state lottery.[393]

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

State cultivated flower: iris

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Not to be confused with the Tennessee Valley, the drainage basin of the Tennessee River, which covers most of this region
  2. ^ Most geographers do not include this region as a major physiographic province of Tennessee. Some maps place the portion of this region west of the Tennessee River as part of the Gulf Coastal Plain; however this is inaccurate, as it is not part of the drainage basin of the Mississippi River.
  3. ^ Many maps of the state do not divide this physiographic province into subregions.


  1. ^ "Tennessee adopts 'The Volunteer State' as official nickname". NewsChannel 5. Associated Press. February 10, 2020. Retrieved October 5, 2020.
  2. ^ McKenzie, Kevin (May 25, 2017). "Nashville overtakes Memphis as Tennessee's largest city". The Tennessean.
  3. ^ a b c "Elevations and Distances in the United States". United States Geological Survey. 2001. Archived from the original on October 15, 2011. Retrieved October 24, 2011.
  4. ^ a b Elevation adjusted to North American Vertical Datum of 1988.
  5. ^ a b c d "QuickFacts Tennessee; UNITED STATES". quickfacts.census.gov. United States Census Bureau, Population Division. February 6, 2019. Archived from the original on February 2, 2019. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  6. ^ a b "Median Annual Household Income". The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2017. Archived from the original on December 20, 2016. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  7. ^ "Languages in Tennessee (State)". Statistical Atlas. Archived from the original on April 28, 2019. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  8. ^ "Definition of 'Tennessee'". Webster's New World College Dictionary (4th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2010. Archived from the original on July 3, 2018. Retrieved July 2, 2018 – via Collinsdictionary.com.
  9. ^ "Tennessee". Oxford Advanced American Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2018. Archived from the original on July 3, 2018. Retrieved July 2, 2018.
  10. ^ Jones, Daniel (2011). Roach, Peter; Setter, Jane; Esling, John (eds.). "Tennessee". Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary (18th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 488. ISBN 978-0-521-15255-6.
  11. ^ "City and Town Population Totals: 2010–2019". 2019 Population Estimates. United States Census Bureau, Population Division. Retrieved June 16, 2020.
  12. ^ Finger 2001, pp. 46–47.
  13. ^ Bales, Stephen Lyn (2007). Natural Histories: Stories from the Tennessee Valley. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. pp. 85–86. ISBN 978-1572335615.
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