Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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BELL, John, statesman, born near Nashville, Tennessee, 15 February 1797; died at Cumberland Iron Works, Tennessee, 10 September 1869. His father was a farmer in fair circumstances. He was graduated at Cumberland College (now the University of Nashville) in 1814, studied law, settled at Franklin, Tennessee, and was elected to the state senate in 1817. Declining a re-election, he adhered to his profession until 1827, when, after an excited canvass, he was elected to congress over Felix Grundy, by a thousand majority, although Grundy had the support of General Jackson, then a presidential candidate. Bell was re-elected six times, serving in the House of Representatives until 1841, and for ten years he was chairman of the committee on Indian affairs. He was at first a free-trader, but changed his views and became an earnest protectionist. He was opposed to nullification, and, although voting against the bill to charter the United States bank in 1832, he protested against the removal of the deposits, and this course led to a breach between him and President Jackson. He was one of the founders of the Whig party. This change was marked by his election in 1834 to the speakership of the house, in opposition to James K. Polk, whom the democrats supported. He joined with Judge White in the anti-Van Buren movement in Tennessee, which completed his sins in the estimation of President Jackson, who could not, however, prevent his return to congress, as his popularity in his district remained unshaken. When petitions for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia were presented in the House of Representatives in 1836, Mr. Bell voted to receive them, and he also opposed the "Atherton gag" in 1838. In this course he was supported by his constituents, though assailed in his position. President Harrison made him secretary of war in 1841, but he resigned with the rest of the cabinet (Mr. Webster only excepted) when President Tyler separated from the Whig party. Declining the United States senatorship, offered him by the Tennessee legislature, he remained in retirement until 1847, when he was chosen to the state senate and immediately afterward to the national senate, where he remained until 3 March 1859. tie was prominent in his opposition to the policy of annexation. When the Kansas-Nebraska bill was brought forward, in 1854, Mr. Bell opposed its passage with all his power, not only as violating the Missouri compact, to which the honor of the south was pledged, but as unsettling the compromise of 1850, to which both the great parties had solemnly subscribed. Four years later he was equally earnest in his opposition to the Lecompton constitution that had been framed for Kansas. In 1860 Mr. Bell was nominated for the presidency by the "constitutional union " party, Edward Everett receiving the nomination for the vice-presidency. This ticket had no chance of success, but it was well supported, receiving the electoral votes of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. At the beginning of the civil war, Mr. Bell was one of those who condemned secession, but were also opposed to all "coercion." On 18 April 1861, with seven other citizens of Tennessee, he issued an address recommending his state to preserve an armed neutrality, and on 23 April in a speech at Nashville, he favored standing by the southern states.
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