United States Senator Joseph Smith Fowler was born in Steubenville, Ohio, to James and Sarah Atkinson Fowler. After attending Grove Academy in Steubenville, he graduated from Franklin College in New Athens, Ohio, in 1843. He spent a year teaching school in Shelby County, Kentucky, before becoming a professor of mathematics at Franklin College in Davidson County, Tennessee, a position he held from 1845 to 1849. During this time, he began to study law and after admission to the bar, practiced in Tennessee until 1861. He also served as president of Howard Female College in Gallatin from 1856 to 1861.
Fowler strongly opposed slavery and secession, and in 1861 he moved his family to Springfield, Illinois. After military government was established in Tennessee in 1862, he returned to Nashville and was appointed Comptroller of the Treasury by Military Governor Andrew Johnson. He served in this position until 1865, when he was elected U.S. senator from Tennessee as a Union Republican. During his single Senate term (1866-71), Fowler made one of his strongest speeches in support of President Johnson during the impeachment proceedings against him. Despite much pressure to do otherwise, Fowler voted “not guilty” at Johnson's Senate trial. After choosing not to run for reelection, Fowler served as a presidential elector for the Democratic ticket of Greeley and Brown in 1872. He then resumed the practice of law in Washington, D.C., until his death on April 4, 1902. He is buried in Lexington, Kentucky.
Walter T. Durham, “How Say You, Senator Fowler?” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 42 (1983): 39-57