The short-lived Southern Citizen was a pro-slavery newspaper in the heart of antislavery East Tennessee; its editor, an Irish nationalist hero of 1848, worked in the midst of anti-immigrant Know Nothings.
In October 1857 Knoxville mayor William Swan cofounded the newspaper with John Mitchel, a “Young Irelander” and editor of the United Irishmen, whose militancy and controversial opinions repeatedly challenged authorities in Ireland, England, and the United States. Though he was a talented journalist and dynamic speaker, Mitchel’s violent anti-British writings resulted in his 1848 arrest and exile first to Bermuda and later to Tasmania. Following his escape and arrival in New York, Mitchel edited the Citizen. His initial embrace by Irish-Americans cooled, however, when Mitchel (a Protestant) angered Archbishop Hughes with open attacks on papal authority. In 1855 Mitchel abandoned New York and moved his family to Tuckaleechee Cove in Blount County.
Bored with pastoral life, Mitchel moved to nearby Knoxville and with Swan’s backing began publishing the Southern Citizen. The newspaper’s editorial policies and selection of articles no doubt confused East Tennesseans as the paper vigorously embraced the notion of the enslavement of blacks in the South while simultaneously railing against British imperialism, racism, and enslavement of people in Ireland and India.
Mitchel stirred bitter opposition from Knoxville editors William G. “Parson” Brownlow (Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig) and John Fleming (Knoxville Register), and Brownlow gleefully reported the end of the Southern Citizen when Mitchel moved to Washington, D.C., in 1858. Mitchel died in Ireland in 1875.