Felix Grundy

Felix Grundy, congressman, U.S. senator, and Democratic leader, was born in Virginia but first rose to prominence in Kentucky politics. After his admission to that state's bar at age twenty, Grundy was elected to a state constitutional convention in 1799 and served in the legislature from 1800 to 1805. In 1806 Grundy was elevated to a seat on the Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals; soon afterward, at age twenty-nine, he became the state's chief justice. Dissatisfied with judicial work and its meager salary, he resigned the position after only a few months. In late 1807 Grundy moved to Nashville, where he quickly established himself as one of the West's most effective criminal lawyers.

Despite the success of his law practice, politics eventually lured Grundy back into the public arena. From 1811 through 1814 Grundy served in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he ardently advocated and supported the war against Great Britain. Five years after his resignation from the House, Grundy was elected to the first of three terms in the Tennessee General Assembly as a champion of public relief for those suffering from the financial Panic of 1819. As a legislator, Grundy introduced the bills that stayed the execution of debts and created the state-owned Bank of Tennessee. After serving on a commission to settle Tennessee's boundary with Kentucky, Grundy returned to the legislature to play an influential role in modifying Governor William Carroll's plan to compel Tennessee's banks to resume specie payments. In 1827 Grundy sought to return to Congress, but John Bell defeated him. Nevertheless, in 1829, the assembly elected Grundy to the U.S. Senate to fill the seat vacated by John Eaton's appointment to President Andrew Jackson's cabinet.

Although he and Jackson were never on intimate terms, Grundy quickly emerged as one of the president's principal defenders in the Senate. His states' rights sympathies and his friendship with John C. Calhoun initially led him to support Calhoun's theory of nullification, but he remained loyal to the president when he learned of Jackson's condemnation of the doctrine. Grundy strongly defended Jackson's “war” against the Bank of the United States, and by 1834 he was widely recognized, with James K. Polk, as a leader of Tennessee's Democratic Party. Grundy's prominence made him a particular target for the rival Whig Party. A Whig majority in the legislature in 1838 attempted to force Grundy's resignation, first by electing Ephraim H. Foster as his successor before the expiration of his term, and then by instructing him to oppose President Martin Van Buren's proposal to create an Independent Treasury System. Although Grundy at first refused to resign, he left the Senate later that year, when Van Buren appointed him to the cabinet as attorney general.

Grundy faithfully served Van Buren in the cabinet, primarily as a political advisor, but he anxiously returned to the Senate in December 1839 after a newly elected Democratic legislature forced Foster's resignation. Over the summer of 1840, he traversed East Tennessee speaking in favor of Van Buren's reelection. This tour severely strained his health, however, and he died in Nashville in December 1840.

Suggested Reading

Joseph H. Parks, Felix Grundy, Champion of Democracy (1940)

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Felix Grundy
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 23, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018