Last modified on May 18, 2023, at 03:24

Leonidas Houk

Leonidas C. Houk
Leonidas C. Houk.jpg
Former U.S. Representative from Tennessee's 2nd Congressional District
From: March 4, 1879 – May 25, 1891
Predecessor Jacob M. Thornbugh
Successor John C. Houk
Former State Representative
from Tennessee

From: 1873–1875
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Former Judge of the
Circuit Court of Tennessee

From: 1866–1870
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Party Republican
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Matilda Smith
(died 1879)[1]
Mary Bella Von Rosen[2]
Religion Methodist[3]
Military Service
Allegiance United States
Service Years 1861–1863
Rank • Private
• Quartermaster
Unit Third Regiment
Tennessee Volunteer Infantry
Battles/wars American Civil War

Leonidas Campbell Houk (June 8, 1836 – May 25, 1891) (pron. HOWK) was an Eastern Tennessee Unionist and Republican nationalist[3] who fought against Southern Confederates during the American Civil War and later represented the state's 2nd congressional district from 1879 until his death in 1891.


Houk was born in Boyds Creek, Sevier County, Tennessee. His father John died when he was young, leaving the family under impoverished circumstances.[3][4] He managed to survive and make a living as a Methodist preacher and cabinetmaker while studying law at night.

In 1859, Houk was admitted to the bar and proceeded to open an office in Clinton, Tennessee (located in Anderson County).[3][4]

Civil War, Eastern Tennessee resists secession and Confederacy

The Eastern portion of Tennessee, located within the Appalachian Mountains, were unsuitable for plantation farming and were a stronghold for anti-slavery forces in the South. Residents in the area maintained a strong sense of Unionism when the Civil War broke out, and Houk participated in the 1861 Union Convention.[3]

Organizing the First Tennessee Infantry, Houk served under several different ranks on the side of the Union.[3] He later left the military in 1863 due to poor health, and wrote articles for the press expressing pro-Union statements.

Political career

During the 1864 presidential election, Houk served as an elector for the Republican Party ticket.

Although he served in the Union and fought to defeat the Confederacy, Houk refused to hear cases of treason against Confederates as a circuit judge after the war on the grounds that Tennessee's status as a U.S. state ceased upon secession in 1861.[3] However, he backed the Radical Republican faction of the GOP and gave support to staunch abolitionist and civil rights advocate Ulysses S. Grant in the 1868 and 1872 presidential elections.[3]

Houk was a delegate to almost all Republican National Conventions in the post-war era and also belonged to the Southern Claims Commission.[3] He served for a term in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1873 to 1875, where he chaired a committee and sponsored statewide school law.

Initially, Houk strongly supported the policies of Tennessee Radical Republican governor William G. "Parson" Brownlow, who moved to harshly punish and disenfranchise Confederates.[4] However, he would withdraw his support for Brownlow in the late 1860s.

U.S. House of Representatives

Houk in 1865 challenged incumbent Republican congressman Horace Maynard in an effort to deny the latter renomination for the U.S. House, though lost.[4] After failing again in the 1868 elections against Maynard in both the primary[4] and the general election, where he ran as a Democrat and lost by a landslide,[5] Houk was victorious when running for the same seat a decade later in the 1878 midterms as a Republican,[6] and subsequently re-elected six times.[7]


Stalwart Republicans



Other members:

Related topics:

A member of the Stalwart faction in the House,[8] Houk supported Grant in his run for a third non-consecutive presidential term in 1880 election.[3] He also expressed sympathy for the struggles of poor farmers, reflecting a populist bent in his district due to the mountainous geographic nature stifling development and thus contributing to poverty.

Largely focusing on local as opposed to national issues, Houk emphasized constituents services and provided aid to veterans.[4] He managed to consolidate political power within the state GOP, subsequently gaining control of patronage. This ultimately led to an alliance with some Democrats in the state, which elicited substantial criticisms.[4]

Like nearly all Stalwarts, Houk ultimately caved into supporting civil service reform as a means of compromise in the 1880s, voting for the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in 1883 which ended the traditional spoils system Republicans utilized in the post-war Reconstruction period to safeguard the constitutional rights of newly freed blacks.[9]

Accidental death

In late May 1891, Houk visited a drug store[4] and mistook a bottle of toxic arsenic for a glass of ice water, which he drank.[10] He died in pain the next day,[4] which came as a shock to the district's constituents. Houk is interred at the Old Gray Cemetery.

See also

  • Roderick R. Butler, U.S. representative from Tennessee's 1st district
  • J. Will Taylor – later congressman from the 2nd district; similar to Houk, he prioritized control of patronage and was suspected of working with Democrats


  1. Leonidas C. and John Chiles Houk Papers.. Knox County Tennessee Public Library. Retrieved October 7, 2021.
  2. September 24, 1937. MRS. LEONIDAS C. HOUKK; Widow and Mother of Congressmen From Tennessee Is Dead. The New York Times. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Schlup, Leonard (October 8, 2017). Leonidas Campbell Houk. Tennessee Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Hill, Ray (October 6, 2013). Congressman Leonidas Campbell Houk. The Knoxville Focus. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  5. TN - District 02 Race - Nov 03, 1868. Our Campaigns. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  6. TN - District 02 Race - Nov 05, 1878. Our Campaigns. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  7. Candidate - Leonidas C. Houk. Our Campaigns. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  8. Lenoidas Houk. Prabook. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  9. TO PASS S. 133, A BILL REGULATING AND IMPROVING THE U. S. CIVIL SERVICE. (J.P. 163).. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  10. May 26, 1891. DEATH OF CONGRESSMAN HOUK.; TOOK ARSENIC BY MISTAKE FOR A GLASS OF ICE WATER.. The New York Times. Retrieved August 25, 2021.

External links

  • Profile at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Profile at Find a Grave