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Weekly 150: War of the Roses

Brothers for Governor

By Jason Martin
Posted 10/11/22

I figure by now most of our readers know that I have some of the most random recollects of history.

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Weekly 150: War of the Roses

Brothers for Governor

I figure by now most of our readers know that I have some of the most random recollects of history. This morning as I was thinking about a topic of interest I began recalling various Tennessee governors. Then randomly the War of the Roses popped and for a brief second I was afraid I was confusing the British title with something else, but the rusty cage held onto a story I remember from middle school.
The story begins with the election of 1886 with the nomination of brothers Alfred and Robert “Bob” Taylor for Tennessee governor. Natives of the Elizabethton (Johnson City area), Tennessee Alfred received the Republican nomination while Bob received the Democratic nomination. Their father, Nathaniel Green Taylor, was a Methodist minister and had served in Congress as a Whig. But their mother, Emaline Haynes Taylor, was the sister of a Democratic Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Landon Carter Haynes.
It is speculated Alfred received the nomination in hopes of forcing his brother into declining the Democratic nomination. The public wasn’t aware of the family’s history of division. When Bob declined to withdraw, the Memphis Appeal referred to the race as “grotesque and unnatural.” Alluding to England’s War of the Roses, it asserted: “If we are to have the house of Taylor, like that of York with its white rose, and Lancaster with blood red rose; let the brothers of our house lovingly exhale the fragrance of the same flower.”
After receiving the Democratic nomination, Bob opened the joint campaign with Alf in Madisonville on September 9. During his speech, he used the rose metaphor as a symbol of harmony: “The red rose and the white rose bloom together and shed their odors upon the same atmosphere, and gently struggling for supremacy, glorify the twilight hours.” Two days later, in Cleveland, supporters began wearing red and white roses.
The brothers thought it would be best if they campaigned together; often the pair shared a room. The Taylors sought to entertain crowds on the campaign trail with music and witty remarks, rather than confuse people with issues. Both played the fiddle. Alfred was rewarded as the better musician while Bob usually had the sharper wit.
On one occasion, Bob said that while they both were born of the same mother and nursed at the same breast, Alf’s milk soured on him and made him a Republican. 
In his last campaign speech at Blountville before the election, Alf told the crowd, “I say to you now that after all these eventful struggles I still love my brother as of old, with an undying affection – but politically, my friends, I despise him.” Bob was not to be outdone. In his rebuttal, he said, “I thank God that it has been reserved for Tennessee to declare to the world that politics cannot sever the tender relations of brotherhood. I love the man who has borne the Republican standard as dearly as in the old days long ago when we slept side by side in the same trundle bed and shared our youthful joys and griefs. I have never seen the hour that I would not willingly lay down my life to save him, nor the dawn of the day that I would not lay down my life to destroy his party!”
The Prohibition Party attempted to nominate their father to run against his sons but he declined. After being asked numerous times during the race about his choice for governor, Nathanial said he was for Alf and added that his son, Bob, was stubborn and the “mule” of the family. Bob replied, “Well you know what the father of a mule typically is?” All laughed hilariously. Bob turned serious and said “I love my dad. He’s the finest man in the world but he is for Alf because he is a Republican.”
Bob won by 13,000 votes. He went on to serve three terms as governor, from 1887-1891 and again in 1897-1899. In 1907, he defeated the incumbent Senator Edward W. Carmack in the primary, and Taylor was elected by the state legislature to the seat later that year. He served from 1907 until he died in 1912.
Alfred’s political career continued despite losing to his brother. He also served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1889 to 1895.  In 1910, Taylor sought the Republican nomination for governor but was defeated by Ben W. Hooper. Eight years after brother Bob’s death, the 71-year-old Taylor was nominated by Republicans for governor. 
His opponent was the Democratic incumbent, Albert H. Roberts, who had alienated a significant portion of his party by enacting unpopular tax reforms and helping ratify the 19th Amendment (which gave women the right to vote). On election day, he defeated Roberts, 229,143 votes to 185,890. It was the state’s first gubernatorial election in which women could vote.
Following his defeat in the 1922 governor’s race, Taylor returned to his farm near Johnson City, Tennessee. He died on November 25, 1931, and was buried in the city’s Monte Vista Cemetery.


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