Benton County


Thoams Clarke Rye, ex-governor of Tennessee, is one of the states' most distinguished citizens. A self-made man, he toiled while others were seeking pleasure and prepared himself for a career, not half so splendid, perhaps, as he has really achieved. A contemporary writer has said of him: "His rise in life has been phenomenal. If there ever was a self-made man it is the present governonr of Tennessee."

Thomas Clarke Rye was born at Camden, Benton county, Tennessee, on the 2d of June 1863, a son of Wayne and Elizabeth (Atchison) Rye, likewise natives of this state. His father, who was born on the 25th of February, 1822, died on the 7th of February, 1904, and his mother died on the 4th of April, 1871, at the age of thirty-seven years. In the acquirement of his early education Thomas Clarke Rye attended the schools of his native county. While yet a youth he formed a penchant for the legal profession and, accordingly, in early manhood he studied law at Charlotte, Dickson county, under the preceptorship of his uncle, Colonel Tom Morris. Colonel Morris has long been known as one of the ablest and most popular lawyers of that section of the state and the tutoring Tom C. Rye received under this old-fashioned southern gentleman went a long way in moulding his pleasing and sturdy character. Some three years later, upon the completion of his law course under Colonel Morris, Mr. Rye returned to his native town to enter into the practice of law and he enjoyed an extensive and important practice at Camden. He was appointed circuit master of the Camden chancery court, from which position he resigned after about three years, and went to Washington, D. C., as chief of a division in the pension bureau, remaining there four years. In 1897 he returned to Tennessee and moved to Paris, in 1902 forming a law partnership with the Hon. W. W. Farquard. In 1908 he was elected attorney general for this, the thirteenth judicial district, and after serving four of the eight years of the term, resigned his office to accept the democratic nomination for governor of Tennessee. While active as attorney general Mr. Rye attracted the attention of lawyers throughout the state, being an efficient, brilliant and painstaking public official. He was a terror to the bootleggers and dispensers of whisky and had the reputation of being a more stringent law enforcer in his district than any other attorney general.

As before stated he resigned the office of attorney general to accept the democratic nomination for governor of the state. Prior to 1914, for over four years, the democratic party had been divided, disrupted and defeated but in that year began to look around for a popular candidate for governor. A contemporary writer has explained the situation fully: There were a number of favorite sons who had their hats in the ring, but Tom Rye did not aspire to the governorship. It was said of him that he wanted to run for [p.40] congress. But sentiment began to center on the Parisian as the Moses to lead the democratic party out of the wilderness, and accordingly on the 28th day of May, 1914, the Henry Countian was gloriously and unanimously chosen the standard bearer of democracy after one of the hottest fights in the history of democratic conventions. All through the convention there were indications of friction, but it terminated in a great love feast in which a grand and reunited democracy commenced the campaign that ended so triumphantly. In the November election that followed, the nominee was elected by a majority which exceeded the usual democratic vote.

Tom C. Rye was popular as a man, as an attorney general and as a candidate, but his popularity did not reach its zenith until he was inaugurated governor and showed the people the metal he was made of. Governor Rye proved to be a man of the people and gave them first consideration. He was a great law enforcement man and inaugurated many very popular reforms in the state government. From the beginning the governor attracted to him men of ability and high moral character. Upon the expiration of his term in the governor's chair, Tom Rye returned to private life but he was later elected chancery judge of what is now known as the eighth chancery division.

Although nobody has ever claimed that Tom C. Rye is an exceptionally eloquent orator, he has given voice to one passage that will go down in the literature of Tennessee as a masterpiece, fit to be placed beside the best of Bob Taylor, Ed Carmack, Ham Patterson, or that generation of statesmen that flourished when oratory was the most effective weapon of politics. This address was given at Memphis, prior to his election to the office of governor, and it is as follows: Two years ago I told you if you elected me I would enforce the law. I come now to tell you that I have tried to enforce the law.

Whether you agree with me or not, I tell you that my course was deliberately chosen, first, because the party platform directed it; and second, because I believed it was right. For these reasons I have pursued the course I have with no consideration or thought of the future, save to indulge the hope that because of my efforts some blessings might come to the state; some home heretofore shrouded in gloom because of this liquor demon we are fighting, and because of the laws neglected, some unhappy soul might enjoy God's sunshine again while happy children played about the door; that some innocent, injured and outraged human being, timidly knocking at the door of our legal tribunals, seeking redress of real wrongs, might be admitted into the portals of justice without money and without price, and that some man hitherto respected but now reeling and staggering to disgrace, degradation and ruin, might walk erect again and assume his proper place in the home, society and the business world. These are some of the things I have fondly hoped might follow respect for law enforcement. I care not for loss of revenue to the state, about which some complain; for what are a few paltry dollars to a great state like Tennessee, compared to a sober citizenship who obey and respect her laws. If blame is attached to anyone for conditions resulting from an effort to carry out these policies, let it fall upon me. I shall be glad to assume such blame, for I can truthfully say that while I regretted the necessity for action in some matters with which we have had to deal, yet I tell you that never, for a moment, has a thought of repentance obtruded itself upon me because of my course, and I have neither apology nor explanation to offer to any human being for my conduct.

I expect to be elected governor of Tennessee next Tuesday in spite of the activities of the liquor interests. You have in Memphis what is called a local option ticket. Some of the orators for this ticket sat in the convention which nominated me. They voted for the platform upon which I stand. These same men a few nights ago honored meI repeat itthey honored me when they attempted to repudiate me, and they discredited and disgraced John W. Overall when they endorsed him. Those words were the words of a courageous man, for none but the most conscientious, none but the cleanest of record, none but the truest to the mandates of the people could have made that declaration in Memphis upon the eve of an election, without the inspiring thought that he would call to arms the civic pride of the great city that for years bore an unenviable name as the abiding place of the last remnants of the liquor traffic. The Jackson Sun in its edition of November 6, 1916, said of the address: The eloquence of that declaration lies not alone in the choice and arrangements of its words, nor yet in the manner in which they were delivered, but in the circumstances surrounding his first appearance in a political campaign.

The people of Tennessee put their trust once in Tom Rye. His masterful declaration in Memphis, supported by a record of pledges fulfilled, convinces them that they may again have full faith in his ability and his purpose to remain the bulwark of democracy and the champion of law enforcement.

Mr. Rye has preserved in a scrapbook all of the proclamations and important messages from his pen and this book makes interesting reading and evinces the true character of the man.

At Camden on the 17th of June, 1887, was celebrated the marriage of Mr. Rye to Miss Bettie Arnold, a daughter of Aaron and Josephine (Hawley) Arnold, both natives of Tennessee and both deceased. To the union of Mr. and Mrs. Rye two children have been born: Nell, who is the wife of John F. Noland and resides in Nashville; and Paul Arnold, who is engaged in the lumber business in Nashville. He is unmarried. Socially Mr. Rye is connected with many of the leading clubs throughout the state and he is an active member of the Lions Club. His religious faith is manifest by his attendance at the Presbyterian church. Mr. Rye is a great student of the important questions and issues of the day and his aid in the furtherance of any movement for the development and improvement of the community is always available. His rise in life has been phenomenal. If there ever was a self-made man it is Tom C. Rye, attorney general, lawyer, jurist, statesman, gentleman and the Prince Imperial of a Reunited Democracy, who is one of the favorite sons of Henry and Benton counties, and is held in high esteem throughout the state, being recognized as one of the most efficient and brilliant governors any state in the Union has ever had.

Tennessee, The Volunteer State, 1769-1923, Vol. 3
Transcribed & Contributed by Christine Walters

Born in Benton County TN on June 2, 1863 of Irish descent; his parents were Wayne and Elizabeth Atchison Rye - his father was a merchant. His paternal grandparent was Joseph Rye and his maternal grandparents were Solomon and Kittie Wade Atchison. He was educated in the public schools of Benton County, is a member of the Presbyterian Church and a Democrat. Judge Rye was elected, Chancellor of the Eighth Chancery Div. of TN in 1922 which position he now holds (1938). Wherein he has made an admirable record, distinguishing himself as one of the state's outstanding jurists. Judge Rye was elected governor of TN in 1915 and re-elected in 1917; his administrations were noted for the improvement of the educational and public road systems of TN. He is the father of two children; Paul Rye and Mrs. John Nolan both of Nashville.

Tennessee and Tennesseans by Will T. Hale 1913