DE WITT CLINTON SENTER was born in McMinn County, Tennessee, and lived for much of his youth on a farm in Grainger County. After attending the Academy at Strawberry Plains, he read law on his own and was admitted to the Bar. He was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1857, serving until 1862. A staunch Unionist, he was arrested and held prisoner by the Confederate government for six months. When the Civil War ended he became president of the Cincinnati, Cumberland Gap and Charleston Railroad and was elected to two terms in the Tennessee State Senate. As Speaker during his second term, he became governor upon the resignation of William G. Brownlow and was soon after elected to a full term in his own right on a platform that sought to lift restrictions that had been placed on ex-Confederates by the Brownlow administration. Ultimately, Senter removed the majority of Brownlow's election commissioners and by his own appointments helped pave the way to restoring the vote to former Confederates, in turn attracting their support. Senter's administration was also responsible for calling a Constitutional Convention in 1870, and the new constitution that resulted still forms the basis for Tennessee law. After leaving office, Senter retired from politics to his farm near Morristown, where he died.
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