NEILL SMITH BROWN was born in Giles County, Tennessee. Largely self-educated, he attended the manual labor academy in Maury County, taught school for several years, and studied law. He was admitted to the Bar in 1834 and then served in the Seminole War of 1836. The following year he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives as a Whig. In 1843 he was narrowly defeated for a seat in Congress against incumbent Representative Aaron V. Brown (no relation). However, he defeated Brown in the gubernatorial race, becoming the youngest Tennessee governor to date. As governor he advocated the expansion of public education to ensure political republicanism and equality. He was defeated for a second term for lack of support by Whig leaders against the impressive war record of his Democratic opponent, William Trousdale. However, President Zachary Taylor soon appointed him U.S. Minister to Russia, a position in which he served until 1853. In 1855 he returned to the state House of Representatives, becoming Speaker. After serving as a member of the Tennessee Constitutional Convention of 1870, he returned to his law practice, from which he retired two years later. He died and was buried in Nashville.
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Brother of Tennessee Governor John Calvin Brown