Neill S. Brown, governor, was born in Giles County on April 18, 1810, to Duncan and Margaret Smith Brown. He received his early education through self study and briefly attended a neighboring academy. To finance his college education, he taught school in Giles County for several years. In 1831 he entered Manual Labor Academy, later Jackson College, outside Spring Hill in Maury County. After a brief time in Texas, he returned to Giles County and began studying law at Pulaski. Admitted to the bar in 1834, he began practicing law in Giles County the next year. In 1836 he enlisted in the First Tennessee Mounted Volunteers for service in the Seminole War. After this conflict, in 1839, he married Mary Ann Trimble, and they had eight children.
Brown was one of the founders of the Whig Party, providing leadership throughout the 1830s and 1840s. He served as a presidential elector on the Whig ticket of Hugh Lawson White in the 1836 election. He represented Giles County in the Tennessee General Assembly from 1837 to 1839. In 1844 he again served as a presidential elector, this time on the Whig ticket of Henry Clay. In these contests he displayed a well-known talent for political rhetoric. In the 1847 gubernatorial election, Neill “Lean” Brown defeated the incumbent Democrat Aaron V. “Fat” Brown to become the second native son to hold the office. The major issue of this election was the Mexican War and President Polk's war policy, which Neill Brown and other congressional Whigs opposed. Neill Brown won by only one thousand votes, but the Whig Party gained a majority in both houses of the legislature. During Brown's administration, the legislature passed an act to establish public schools. Brown lost his bid for reelection in 1849 to William S. Trousdale, “the War-horse of Sumner County.”
In 1850 President Zachary Taylor appointed Brown Minister to Russia, a position he held until 1853. Brown returned to the general assembly (1855-57), representing Davidson County and the American, or Know-Nothing, Party, and serving as Speaker of the House. In 1856, he served as a presidential elector on the American Party ticket of Millard Fillmore and Andrew Jackson Donelson. In anticipation of the impending war, Governor Isham G. Harris appointed him as a member of the Military and Financial Board in 1861. In 1870 he became a member of the state's Constitutional Convention and served with his brother John Calvin Brown. Afterwards, he took no further part in politics although former Whigs continued to regard him as one of their greatest leaders. Brown died on January 30, 1886, and was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.
Joseph O. Baylen, “A Tennessee Politician in Imperial Russia, 1850-1853,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 14 (1955): 227-52