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Duncan Brown Cooper

Duncan Cooper, journalist, publisher, and leading figure in Tennessee's Democratic Party in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was born in Maury County. Cooper served in the Confederate army during the Civil War and was captured at Fort Donelson. After the war, he entered politics and served in both houses of the state legislature. He was also an accomplished journalist and publisher of the Nashville American, a conservative Democratic daily.

Cooper is best remembered, however, for his role in the shooting death of prohibitionist leader, Edward W. Carmack, a former friend of Cooper, who had served as editor of the American from 1888 until 1892. In the years after Carmack's departure, the friendship soured, and by 1908, when Carmack ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination against the incumbent Malcolm Patterson, the relationship between the two men had become openly hostile. Cooper acted as an advisor to the Patterson campaign and helped him secure a narrow victory over Carmack in a bitter and divisive contest.

Angered by his defeat, Carmack, now editor of the Nashville Tennessean, levied a barrage of libelous attacks against Cooper in the pages of his paper. Their fight soon escalated, and on November 9, 1908, Cooper and his son Robin encountered Carmack on a Nashville street. Fearing attack, Carmack fired on the pair, wounding Robin Cooper. The younger Cooper returned fire and killed Carmack.

Vilified by the temperance press, Duncan Cooper was unable to receive an impartial trial, and both he and his son were convicted of second-degree murder. Governor Patterson granted a controversial pardon to the elder Cooper and saved him from jail. A short time later, Robin Cooper was granted a new trial and released. Though a free man, Duncan Brown Cooper continued to be shunned by many Tennesseans. He died in 1922 in Nashville.

Suggested Reading

James Summerville, The Carmack-Cooper Shooting: Tennessee Politics Turns Violent, November 9, 1908 (1994).

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010