Reprinted from "Hon. James D. Porter" in The Peabody Record v10 n1 (October 1901): 2-4.
As is generally known in educational circles, Dr. William H. Payne resigned some months ago his positions as president of the Peabody Normal College and chancellor of the University of Nashville, which he had filled so ably for nearly fifteen years, to accept the chair of Science and Art of Teaching in the University of Michigan, where he began his career as a distinguished educator. As yet no announcement has been made of the selection of his permanent successor, but Hon. James Davis Porter, who has for many years been a member of the Peabody Board and president of the Board of Trustees of the University of Nashville, and who by virtue of these two offices has taken a deep interest in the Peabody Normal College and acquired an intimate knowledge of its affairs, has been appointed president pro tem., and is actively in discharge of his new duties. It is a source of the greatest satisfaction to every student and friend of the College that its guidance is, even though temporarily, intrusted[sic] to one who has been so thoroughly identified with its development, who has long rendered it such able service, who is so widely and so favorably known, and who under its roof received his education.
While Governor Porter has all his life been too actively engaged with public affairs to be a bookworm, he is a man of wide reading and scholarly tastes. He knows men rather than books, and his long experience in public life has developed in him executive ability of a high order. It is the fashion of the times to decry and vilify public men, but Governor Porter has, by the purity of a long official and private life, his keen sense of justice, and his exalted patriotism, kept himself beyond criticism.
In person Governor Porter is tall, of striking and prepossessing appearance, and by his erect bearing gives evidence of his military service. Though firm in his decisions, his courteous manner and his sympathetic nature have quickly endeared him to students.
Governor Porter was born in Paris, Tenn., in 1828, and is a descendant of a fine English family which came to America at an early day. He was graduated with honors from the University of Nashville. While a student he was a member of the Agatheridan Society, and was several times its president and representative in commencement exercises, there being then no contests between the College societies. Admitted to the bar, he practiced law until 1859, when he was elected to represent Henry County in the General Assembly. In 1861, war between the States seeming certain, he introduced in the Legislature the famous "Porter resolution," binding Tennessee to support the cause of the South in the event war was declared. When the "Volunteer State" sent her sons to the field, he aided in organizing the provisional forces as adjutant general of Gen. Frank Cheatham's Corps, and was in all the important battles -- Belmont, Shiloh, Chickamauga, Atlanta, Missionary Ridge, and Nashville -- with that gallant command. He practiced law at Paris from 1865 until 1870, when he was sent as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention, and served as a member of the Judiciary Committee of that body. During the same year he was, by a large majority, elected judge of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit of Tennessee, and, after occupying the bench for nearly four years, resigned. Shortly afterwards he received the Democratic nomination for the office of Governor, and was elected over Horace Maynard, the Republican candidate, by a majority of nearly 50,000 votes, and two years later he was reelected by a still larger majority. In 1880 he was elected president of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway, which he served efficiently for four years. When Grover Cleveland, the first Democratic President after the Civil War, was elected, Governor Porter was offered the position of Assistant Secretary of State, and he discharged the duties of this responsible place with credit to himself and to the country. When Mr. Cleveland was again elected President, Governor Porter, without suggestion by himself or his friends, was notified by telegram of his appointment as United States Minister to Chili; and during his term of service there he reestablished friendly relations between that government and the United States, which had been seriously endangered by the indiscretion of a former Minister. Governor Porter was chairman of the Tennessee delegation in the National Democratic Convention which nominated General Hancock for the presidency and in the convention which gave Mr. Cleveland his second nomination.
Of all the positions to which he has been called it is probable that Governor Porter most values his connection with the Peabody Board, not only because it is composed of the most distinguished men in America, but because it has permitted him to aid in accomplishing the purposes of George Peabody's great gift to Southern education. In our opinion, his most memorable service to his country and State was his participation in the foundation and development of the Peabody College. When Dr. Barnas Sears, then general agent of the Peabody Board, decided, in 1874, to locate the College at Nashville, it was due to the efforts of Governor Porter and the late Dr. J. Berrien Lindsley, more than to those of any other two men, that its organization was successfully accomplished, and from that time until the present he has been a stanch[sic] friend and a tireless worker for the College.