Milton Brown, chancellor, congressman, and railroad president, migrated to Nashville from his home in Ohio in 1823 and studied law in the office of Felix Grundy. Upon admission to the bar, he practiced law in Paris, Tennessee, and in 1832 relocated to Jackson, where he became active in the temperance and internal improvement movements and earned fame as an orator.
In 1834 Brown was appointed to represent the legendary criminal John Murrell, known as “the Western Land Pirate” due to his wide-ranging criminal exploits. Although he was convicted, Murrell escaped the death penalty, and Brown won recognition as one of the best lawyers in the state.
Governor Newton Cannon appointed Brown Chancellor of West Tennessee in 1837 following the resignation of Chancellor Pleasant Miller. In 1839 Brown resigned and ran as a Whig nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives. Winning the contest, Brown emerged in Congress as a leader of the southern Whigs and a champion of the Whig program of high tariffs, internal improvements, and the Bankruptcy Act of 1841. His ceaseless attacks on Democratic leaders in Congress and in Tennessee provided endless frustration to his opponents. In 1843 James K. Polk confronted Brown in a colorful debate in Jackson on the issues separating the parties. However, Brown is best remembered for his 1845 deadlock-breaking resolution to admit Texas to the Union.
After leaving Congress in 1847, Brown was often promoted for high office, including the Tennessee Supreme Court and the U.S. Senate, but such efforts failed to interest him. Instead, he turned his attention to transportation and remained a tireless promoter and manager of railroads during his tenure as president of the Mississippi Central and Tennessee (1854-56) and the Mobile and Ohio (1856-71). He is credited with doing more to cover West Tennessee in rails than any other man.
Brown, among Tennessee's most charitable Methodist lay leaders, was also instrumental in the founding of Union, Lambuth, and Vanderbilt Universities. He died one of the wealthiest men in Tennessee in 1883.