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Sunday, August 30, 2015

History of Kentucky's Governor's (1832-1840)

2015 is a Gubernatorial election year, with Republican candidate Matt Bevin set to take on Democratic candidate and current Kentucky Attorney General, Jack Conway. 

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 
1832-1834 (Term)

Kentucky's tenth governor and first Democrat, John Breathitt won a close election in 1832 in which there were many allegations of fraud. For example, John Breathitt won 162% of the vote in Oldham County.

Breathitt ran for Governor while he served as the Democratic Lt. Governor under Governor Stone Hammer Metcalfe (a Whig).   Breathitt was a native of Virginia and served as Deputy Surveyor of Illinois Territory prior to his election as a State Representative from Logan County.

John Breathitt became a national figure in 1833 when he denounced South Carolina's nullification of the Tariff Acts of 1828 and 1832.  This Democratic Governor sent resolutions to the Whig dominated General Assembly denouncing the actions of South Carolina as one which could lead the disunion of the Union and civil war. The General Assembly passed the resolutions which were sent to governors and legislatures throughout the nation.  Breathitt gave leadership to the growing sense of union in Kentucky, leading Kentucky to stay in the Union thirty (30) years later.  In his January 1, 1834 State of the Commonwealth Message, Breathitt reported that governors from New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, Alabama and Pennsylvania responded positively to the resolutions.

Breathitt was a supporter of temperance or prohibition. He blamed the large number of murders being committed in Kentucky on the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

In 1834, the Commonwealth of Kentucky owned stock in several turnpikes, including the Maysville, Washington, Paris and Lexington Turnpike (the one which went by Governor Metcalfe's farm in Nicholas County) and the Shelby and Franklin Turnpike which was valued at $134,384.00.

Breathitt has the unfortunate distinction of being the second Kentucky Governor to die in office.  On February 21, 1834, John Breathitt died of tuberculosis at the Governor's Mansion in Frankfort at age 47.  He was preceded in death by two wives.

Breathitt County in Eastern Kentucky was named in his honor.

1834-1836 (Term)

The first native born Kentuckian to serve as Governor, was Lt. Governor John Turner Morehead.  Morehead assumed the office upon the death of Governor John Breathitt.  Unlike Breathitt (a Democrat), Morehead was a member of the dominate Whig Party (the party of Henry Clay).

Morehead was born in 1797 near Shepherdsville in Bullitt County.   Soon after he was born, his family moved to Logan County where he spent his childhood.  He attended Transylvania University and practiced law in Bowling Green.

As governor, he favored internal improvements in accordance with the Whig Platform.  As governor legislation was passed with his support to map all of Kentucky's rivers and streams. He also paid lip service to improvements of Kentucky's common or public schools.

Morehead hosted the first Kentucky State Whig Convention in July 1834 in Frankfort.  At that event, an estimated 5,000 people from 45 counties attended.

Though he was eligible to seek a full term on his own, factionalism within the Whig prevented him from seeking a full four year term.

Morehead was elected by the General Assembly to serve in the U.S. Senate from 1841 to 1847.  As an U.S. Senator, he chaired the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.  He voted against the annexation of Texas.  But unlike many Congressional Whigs, he voted to declare war on Mexico.

Upon leaving the U.S. Senate in 1847, he practiced law in Covington until his death in December 1854.

The City of Morehead, Kentucky was named in his honor.

1836-1839 (Term)

James Clark was the second of six members of the Whig Party (the party of Henry Clay) to serve between 1834 and 1851.   Prior to his election as Governor in 1836, Clark had served as a Court of Appeals Judge, Circuit Judge, State Senator and in the U.S. Representative.

Clark a native of Virginia grew up near Winchester in Clark County.

He was appointed to the KY Court of Appeals in 1810 and served until his election to the U.S. Congress in 1813.  He resigned from Congress to become a Circuit Judge for Clark and Bourbon Counties.  A post in which he rendered the controversial decision in Williams v. Blair which declared a law which allowed debtors to be relieved of their debts by a moratorium on debt repayments.  This legislation had been passed by the KY legislature in response to the "Panic of 1819".  Because of his decision, the legislature voted 59 to 35 for his removal as Circuit Judge.  However, as there was not a two-thirds majority in favor of removal Clark was able to stay on as judge.

When Henry Clay resigned his House seat in 1825 to become Secretary of State in the administration of John Quincy Adams, James Clark ran in the special election and was again elected to Congress where he served until 1831. It has been said that Clark's service in the U.S. Congress was unremarkable.

In 1832, Clark was elected to the Kentucky State Senate where he did serve with some distinction.  He chaired the Committee on Internal Improvements which was involved in stimulating road building in Kentucky.  In 1835, he became "speaker" of the Senate when Lt. Gov. Morehead became governor.

As Governor, Clark supported legislation during the first session of his term which created a state board of education, a state superintendent of public instruction and public schools in each county of the Commonwealth.

During the second session of the legislature in 1838, he supported a law which added a second (2nd) auditor to the State Auditor's office.  He also proposed legislation which would have prohibited the distribution of abolitionist "writings" within the state.   This legislation was defeated as being an infringement on "freedom of speech".  The legislature passed laws providing penalties for harboring fugitive or runaway slaves.  One such law made it illegal for stage coach drivers to carry fugitive slaves.

Clark died on August 27, 1839 with less than a year on his term.  He had survived two wives--Susan Forsythe with whom he had four children; they were married in July 1809 and she died in 1825.  In 1829, he married Margaret Buckner Thornton a widow while in Washington.  She died in August 1836, within days of Clark's election as Governor.

1839-1840 Term

Lt. Governor Charles Anderson Wickliffe was Lt. Governor when Gov. James Clark died in August 1839.  Wickliffe carried the nickname "Duke" due to his aristocratic bearing.

Wickliffe was born in a log cabin near Springfield, Washington County, Kentucky in 1788.  Prior to his election on the Whig ticket as Lt. Governor in 1836, he practiced law in Bardstown and served in the War of 1812.  He served in the Kentucky House of Representatives prior to serving in the U.S. Congress from 1823 to 1832 as a Jacksonian Democrat.  Upon leaving Congress he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives becoming Speaker in 1835.

As governor, he proposed increasing property taxes in order to pay off the annual deficit of $42,000.  In keeping with the Whig philosophy of promoting "internal improvements" Wickliffe supported increased spending for river improvements, the state archives and education.

After stepping down as governor, Charles Wickliffe was appointed by President John Tyler as the 11th Postmaster General of the United States.  Wickliffe and Tyler were roommates when Wickliffe served in Congress.  During his tenure as Postmaster General, he was wounded in an assassination attempt.  He was stabbed in the chest by a man who was later found to be insane.

Wickliffe married Margaret Cripps in 1813 and they contracted with John Rogers who had built Bardstown's Proto- Cathedral to build their home Wickland (photo above).  It became home to three governors, Wickliffe, their son Robert who became governor of Louisiana and their grandson J.C.W. Beckham who served as Kentucky governor from 1900 to 1907. Charles and Margaret Wickliffe had three sons and five daughters.

He was again elected to the U.S. Congress in 1860 as a Unionist and later became "Peace Democrat".  In 1863, ran for a full term as governor as a "Peace Democrat" but was defeated by "Regular Democrat” Thomas Bramlette.  There were many irregularities during that election due in part to General Ambrose Burnside's interference in the election.  Burnside was accused of keeping Wickliffe's voters from the polls due to his southern sympathies.   According to Collins' 1873 History of Kentucky, a Union Colonel attempted to stop Wickliffe himself from going to the polls.

Just prior to his run for governor in 1863, Wickliffe was thrown from a carriage and became permanently crippled.  He later became blind.  Despite these health issues, Wickliffe continued to practice law until his death in 1869.  Just prior to his death, he made a two hour speech on behalf of a client before the Kentucky Court of Appeals.   He died during the summer of 1869 while visiting a daughter in Maryland.

During World War II, an American "Liberty" ship was named in his honor.

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