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Pleasant Moorman Miller

One of the most influential figures in Tennessee politics and law during the first half of the nineteenth century, Pleasant M. Miller was born the son of a tavern owner in Lynchburg, Virginia. Miller studied law under Judge Archibald Stewart of Staunton before moving to Rogersville, Tennessee, in 1796. Following a move to Knoxville in 1800, Miller married Mary Louisa Blount, daughter of William Blount, was elected chairman of Knoxville's governing commission, and emerged as a leader of the Blount-Jackson political faction. Aided by immense oratorical skills and wit, he became known as one of the best criminal trial lawyers in Tennessee.

In 1808 Miller was elected from central East Tennessee to the U.S. House of Representatives, where, as an early and ardent expansionist, he became a spokesman for the Southwest and an ally of President James Madison. He achieved national prominence in 1810 with the publication of the "Miller letter." In this letter, Miller reported Madison's meeting with the Tennessee delegation in which he discussed the necessity of acquiring West Florida and control of the Mobile River. This report of Madison's views fanned the flames of expansion and helped to prepare the country for war. In 1811 he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives and secured the creation of the Bank of the State of Tennessee. He resigned in 1812 to serve in the first Seminole War and enlisted again in 1814 in the Creek Indian War.

Returning to the Tennessee House from 1817 to 1823, he assumed leadership of the East Tennessee delegation, defeated Felix Grundy's efforts to enact inflationary measures, emerged as a champion of squatter rights, secured passage of legislation stabilizing Tennessee banks and currency during the Depression of 1819, and sponsored major judicial reform. In 1822 he introduced the resolution nominating Andrew Jackson for the presidency.

Miller moved to the city of Jackson in 1824 in order to manage his extensive land holdings and law practice. In 1829 he broke from the Jackson camp, abandoned a campaign as Jackson's candidate against Congressman Davy Crockett, and became a tireless organizer of the Whig Party. Elected by the legislature as the first chancellor of West Tennessee in 1836, he served with great distinction until resigning in 1837 in order to campaign for Whig candidates. In 1847 he moved to Trenton in Gibson County, where he died in 1849.

Suggested Reading

Joshua W. Caldwell, Sketches of the Bench and Bar of Tennessee (1898).

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