Poster, “Tennessee, Our State, Our Future, The Bredesen Inauguration 2007 (Tennessee State Museum collection, 2007.13.2)
By Richard White
Governor Bill Lee’s inauguration to a second term as Tennessee’s governor will take place on January 21, 2023. “Tennessee: Leading the Nation” is the theme for the event, which will include a worship service, ceremony, dinner, and inaugural ball over the course of the day. Inaugurations have long been a time to celebrate the accomplishments of an incoming governor, look to the future of the state, and acknowledge the voters who elected the individual. The Tennessee State Museum has a robust collection related to political figures in Tennessee, especially the governors.
John Sevier by Charles Willson Peale, 1791 (Tennessee State Museum collection, 1.849)
John Sevier's Pocket Watch, 1796 (Tennessee State Museum collection, 78.19.48A)
Tennessee’s first governor, John Sevier was heavily involved in the events that resulted in the creation of Tennessee as the 16th state. This pocket watch was presented to Sevier by William Blount, governor of the Territory South of the Ohio River, in commemoration of Sevier’s elevation to governor. The inscription on the back reads, “To my esteemed and trusted friend John Sevier.”
Silk Broadside, “Governor Polk’s Inaugural Address,” (Tennessee State Museum collection, 4.184)
By the time of James K. Polk’s election as the 9th governor of Tennessee, the Democratic party’s dominance in the state, originating during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, was waning. Polk campaigned on Democratic politics, defeating incumbent Whig, Newton Cannon. Constituents were interested in the direct words, actions, and ideas of political candidates. This large silk screen printing features Polk’s inaugural speech, delivered to both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly on October 14, 1839.
Waistcoat with Tails, 1865, (Tennessee State Museum collection, 1996.81.8A)
Carte-de-visite, William G. Brownlow, 1865 (Tennessee State Museum collection, 2022.44)
William G. Brownlow served as Tennessee’s 7th governor from 1865-1869. Brownlow was elected near the end of the contentious and violent Civil War period, but it did not preclude him from “putting on the ritz” in this black wool tailcoat at his inauguration on April 5, 1865.
Program, Ecumenical Prayer Service for Governor-elect Phil Bredesen, 2003 (Tennessee State Museum collection, 2003.12.1)
On the day of the inauguration, it has long been a tradition for the governor-elect to attend a morning worship and prayer service. Governor Bill Lee’s is planned for the morning of the inauguration at the Ryman Auditorium. The document shown here is from the service that was held on January 18, 2003, when Phil Bredesen was inaugurated as Tennessee’s 48th governor.
Lamar Alexander Inauguration Packet, 1982 (Tennessee State Museum collection, 83.44.8B)
Souvenir Playing Cards, Bill Haslam Inauguration, 2010 (Tennessee State Museum collection, 2011.321.2)
Program, Inauguration of Frank Clement, 1963 (2009.1.365)
While the inauguration is a celebration of the incoming governor, it is also about the people of the state and their participation in the events and ceremonies regarding their chief executive. Promotional material and invitations help make the public aware of the events and encourage attendance and participation. Invited attendees often receive formal invitations and various gifts to commemorate the special occasion.
Richard White is the Tennessee State Museum Chief Curator.