Fort Thomas resident, Paul Whalen, continues his look into the history of Kentucky's Governor's that will take us up to present day.
By Paul Whalen
During the period 1812 through 1820, Kentucky faced unusual circumstances. In 1812, the nation officially went to war with Great Britain on June 18th. Support for this war (War of 1812) was spear-headed by the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Henry Clay of Kentucky. Kentuckians were concerned about incursions from Native Americans from the Northwest and control of inland waterways to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River and New Orleans. To a lesser extent, Kentuckians were concerned about American navigation of the Great Lakes.
Isaac Shelby’s 2nd Term
Agitation for war with Britain was in the background for Kentucky’s 1812 gubernatorial election. In the Congressional elections of 1810, Kentucky sent two “War Hawks” to the U.S. Congress—Henry Clay and Richard M. Johnson. Both wanted war with Britain not only to deal with British tyranny on the high seas, but to end the threat posed by Great Britain and its Indian Allies in the Old Northwest. Kentuckians were concerned about the threats posed by the Indian nations in the Northwest (present day Indiana, Illinois and Western Ohio), as well the British in Canada. At the time, Clay and Johnson advocated U.S. takeover of Canada.
Kentuckians wanted a proven warrior to serve as Governor and head of the militia during a time of war. Kentuckians elected the 62 year old Isaac Shelby to a second term as governor 16 years after leaving office as the Commonwealth’s first Governor.
The War of 1812 dominated Shelby’s 2nd term. Kentucky’s population of about 400,000 supplied over 24,000 men towards the war effort. Governor Shelby himself in the summer of 1813 met over 3,000 militia volunteers from Newport to take part in the war in northern Ohio and Canada.
Governor Shelby lead the United States in the “Battle of the Thames” (Chatham, Ontario); This was a decisive battle in which the British and their Native American Allies, including Shawnee Chief Tecumseh were defeated. Colonel Richard M. Johnson (the Congressman and later U.S. Vice President) is credited with the death of Tecumseh.
In recognition of his war time service, Congress awarded Shelby the Congressional Gold Medal for his role in the War of 1812.
Shelby returned to his home Traveler’s Rest in Lincoln County when his term was over in 1816. In 1818, he assisted General Andrew Jackson as a commissioner in the negotiations with the Chickasaw for the part of Kentucky now known as the Jackson Purchase.
Shelby died in 1826 at Traveler’s Rest. At the time of his death, he was the only settler living his original land claim from Virginia in Kentucky.
September 5, 1816 to October 14, 1816
Madison is best known for being the first Kentucky Governor to die in office. George Madison was ill when he was sworn into office while at Blue Licks on September 5, 1816 and died on October 14, 1816, a little over one month into his term of office. Madison’s only official action was to appoint Isaac Shelby’s son-in-law, Charles Todd, Secretary of State.
George Madison ran unopposed when he was elected Governor in 1816 after serving over 20 years as Kentucky’s State Auditor, having been originally appointed at the end of Isaac Shelby’s first term.
Madison was born in Virginia and was a second cousin to President James Madison. Prior to his election as governor, George Madison served with distinction in the Revolutionary War. He fought in the Indian wars in the Old Northwest, being severely wounded in the Battle of the Wabash in November 1791. He served in the War of 1812. After the Battle of Frenchtown (Canada), Madison was taken prisoner and held by the British for over a year. It has been thought that the poor conditions while being held as a POW in Canada contributed to his ill health and eventual death.
Madison Avenue in Covington, KY was named in his honor and was succeeded by his Lt. Governor Gabriel Slaughter.
October 14, 1816 to September 6, 1820
Gabriel Slaughter was the first Lt. Governor to become Governor upon the death of a Governor. Slaughter became Governor upon the death of Governor George Madison.
Slaughter had previously served as Lt. Governor under Governor Scott. He unsuccessfully ran for governor against Isaac Shelby in 1812 and beaten by a significant margin. In addition to Shelby’s popularity, Slaughter’s vote in the KY Senate against allowing banking privileges for the Lexington based Kentucky Insurance Company was also a factor against his election.
In 1813, Gabriel Slaughter answered Shelby’s call for volunteers. He served under General Andrew Jackson. He was decorated for his service in the Battle of New Orleans.
In 1816, he won election for the second time as Kentucky’s Lt. Governor as member of Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party.
With the death of Governor George Madison in October 1816, Slaughter assumed the office of KY Governor. Gabriel Slaughter got off to a bad start when he accepted the resignation or fired Governor Madison’s appointed Secretary of State Charles Todd, the son-in-law of Governor Isaac Shelby. Slaughter replaced Todd with the unpopular U.S. Senator John “One Arm” Pope. Pope was unpopular as he voted against the Declaration of War against Britain for the War of 1812. To show that he was politically tone deaf, to fill the vacancy due to U.S. Senator William Barry’s resignation to take a judicial position, he appointed Federalist Martin Hardin rather than a Jeffersonian Republican.
Slaughter’s work with the legislature was not successful. The General Assembly meeting in December 1816 and January 1817 following Slaughter’s accession to Governor attempted to set up an election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of George Madison. Many of the legislators considered Slaughter the “temporary or acting governor”. Slaughter’s efforts to establish public schools financed by lotteries never got out of the legislature.
After leaving the Governor’s Office in 1820, Slaughter went back to his Mercer County farm. He served a term in the KY House. He was an active Baptist. In 1829, he served on the first Board of Trustees of Georgetown College in Georgetown, KY.
He was married three times. He was widowed twice by wives named Sarah.