Tate began attending Vanderbilt University in 1918 where he met fellow poet Robert Penn Warren. Warren and Tate were invited to join a group of young Southern poets under the leadership of John Crowe Ransom known as the Fugitive Poets and later as the Southern Agrarians. Tate contributed to the group's magazine The Fugitive and to the agrarian manifesto I'll Take My Stand published in 1930.
1928 saw the publication of Tate's most famous poem Ode To the Confederate Dead and a biography Stonewall Jackson: The Good Warrior.
In 1929 Tate published a second biography Jefferson Davis: His Rise and Fall.
The 1930s found Tate back in Tennessee working on social commentary influenced by his agrarian philosophy. In addition to his work on I'll Take My Stand he published Who Owns America? which was a conservative response to Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. During this time Tate also became the de facto associate editor of The American Review, which was published and edited by the fascist Seward Collins. Tate saw The American Review as an organ for popularizing the work of the Southern Agrarians, but he objected to Collins's open support of Mussolini and Hitler and condemned fascism in an article in The New Republic in 1936.
In 1966 he divorced Gardner and married one of his former Minnesota students. During the 1960s he moved to Sewanee, Tennessee. One of his twin sons was killed there in 1968. In 1969 another son was born to the Tate family.