The eastern Tennessee seismic zone (ETSZ) experiences the second highest rates of natural seismicity in the central and eastern United States (CEUS), following the New Madrid area, yet the cause of elevated earthquake rates is unknown. We probe the origin of ETSZ seismicity using geomechanically constrained stress inversions of earthquake focal mechanisms from 57 earthquakes, including 24 newly derived here and five from the recent events not used in the previous stress studies. Highly oblique northwest–southeast (NW–SE) extension that is unique in the CEUS dominates the ETSZ—central Alabama to southeastern Kentucky—and preferentially reactivates normal to strike‐slip faults in the northeast (NE) and southwest (SW) quadrants (strikes 018°–086° or 196°–272° and dips 55°–90°). This extension cannot be explained by the compressive tectonic plate‐boundary tractions that cause oblique NE–SW contraction elsewhere in the CEUS. Although our analyses do not uniquely determine the origin of the anomalous stress, we favor isostatic disequilibrium, due to anything from surface processes to crust–mantle interactions, as the possible cause. Increased long‐term seismic hazard in the ETSZ may be controlled by and confined to the spatial extent of this anomalous seismotectonic state.

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