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Sunday, September 20, 2015

History of Kentucky's Governors (1859-1871)

By Paul Whalen 

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.  

1859-1862 Term

Beriah Magoffin the son of an immigrant from Ireland was born in Harrodsburg in 1815.   He was a graduate of Centre College and the law school at Transylvania.

Prior to his election as governor in 1859, he practiced law and was active in Democratic politics at a time when Democrats were in the minority and Whigs were the majority party until the mid-1850s.  Magoffin was appointed Harrodsburg Police Judge in 1840 by Whig Governor Letcher.  Magoffin was elected to the Kentucky Senate in 1850.  He was the Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor in 1855 but lost to the “Know-Nothing” or American Party candidate.

Magoffin was elected Governor in 1859.  His views were similar to those of many southerners.  He accepted slavery and believed in the enforcement of the “Fugitive Slave Act”. In 1861, Kentucky’s legislature was comprised of Unionist majority.

Magoffin was elected in 1859.  His views were similar to those of many southerners.  He accepted slavery and believed in the enforcement of the “Fugitive Slave Act”.

In 1861, Kentucky’s legislature was comprised of Unionist majority.  They prevented him from calling a convention to consider succession.  In April, Magoffin refused Lincoln’s call for volunteers for the Union.  A week later, Magoffin rejected Jefferson Davis’ request for volunteers for the southern cause.

In September 1861, when opposing forces were in Kentucky violating the state’s neutrality, Magoffin the legislature passed legislation requiring him to order only Confederate forces out of Kentucky.  Magoffin vetoed the legislation.  Magoffin and the pro-union legislature continued to be at odds until the summer of 1862.  Magoffin opposed legislation which required the forfeiture of state citizenship to anyone who served in the civil or military service of the Confederacy, which was passed over his veto.

Due to his frustration with the legislature and the deadline between the governor and the legislature he offered to resign in August 1862.  However, the Lt. Governor Linn Boyd had died early in his term in 1859.  The next in line was the Speaker of the Senate, John F. Fisk who was not liked by Magoffin.    

As a result a deal was made where Magoffin’s preferred successor, Senator James F. Robinson was elected Speaker of the Senate after Fisk stepped aside on August 16, 1862.  Then on August 18, 1862 Beriah Magoffin resigned as governor of Kentucky and James Robinson became Governor of Kentucky.

After his resignation, Magoffin went back to his farm near Harrodsburg and practiced law and was a successful investor in Chicago real estate which made him wealthy.  He was elected to a term in the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1867-69.  He was on record in support of the ratification of the 13rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

He was married to a granddaughter of Isaac Shelby, Anna Nelson Shelby.  Together they had ten children who survived infancy.

Magoffin County was named in Governor Magoffin’s honor in 1860

1862-1863 Term

James Robinson became Kentucky Governor in August 1862 as a result of an arrangement or deal between Magoffin and the legislature to facilitate Governor Beriah Magoffin’s resignation.   As governor, Magoffin had pro southern sympathies and had a legislature that was overwhelmingly pro-Union, therefore state government was deadlocked.  Linn Boyd who had been elected Lt. Governor when Magoffin was elected government had died.  The next in line was the Speaker of the Senate—John Fisk.  Governor Magoffin did not want Fisk to become governor.  So, a deal was struck that Fisk would resign as Speaker of the Senate and Robinson would be elected Speaker of the Senate (President of the Senate) on August 16, 1862 and on August 18, 1862 Beriah Magoffin resigned as Governor of Kentucky and Robinson sworn in as Kentucky’s governor .

Within days of being sworn in, Governor Robinson faced the start of a major Confederate invasion of Kentucky with the Battle of Richmond on August 29-30, 1862, followed by the Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862.

In order to protect the citizens of Kentucky, Robinson had the legislature raise taxes in order to revive the militia which had been phased out in the previous decade.

In January 1863, Governor Robinson proudly noted that a divided Kentucky at that time had provided over 44,000 men to aid the Union.

Despite Robinson’s support for the Union he opposed President Lincoln’s policies of protecting run-a-way slaves and the Emancipation Proclamation.   He encouraged the legislature to accept the Lincoln Administration’s offer of federal aid to establish an agriculture and mechanical college.  This did not come to pass until 1865 under his successor Thomas Bramlette established the Kentucky Agriculture and Mechanical College which is now the University of Kentucky.

Robinson was born in Scott County in 1800.  He graduated from Transylvania University in 1818.  Upon graduation, he practiced law in Georgetown and in 1821 married the first of his three wives, Susan Mansell in 1821.  They had two children prior to her death in 1835.  In 1839, Robinson married Willina Herndon.  They had eight children, seven of whom survived to adulthood.  Willina died in 1861, the year before Robinson became governor.

Prior to becoming governor, Robinson had been elected twice to the Kentucky Senate.  He was elected to his first term in 1851 as a Whig.  He did not seek a second term until 1861, when he defeated James Beck (who later became a US Rep. and US Senator).

After his short time as governor, Robinson retired to his family farm “Cardome” in Scott County.  He supported the election of his successor, Democrat Thomas Bramlette.

In the Presidential Election of 1864, he supported George McClellan over Lincoln.  This was in part due to the Union’s imposition of martial law in the state and the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus.

James Robinson married his third wife, Caroline “Carrie” Hening in 1873.  She was a woman 39 years younger than Robinson.   He died in Scott County in 1882.

1863-1867 Term

Amidst the Civil War, Kentucky elected a Democrat who supported the Union cause.  Thomas Elliot Bramlette was born in 1817, in the part of Cumberland County which later was split off to become Clinton County .  He was the son of Colonel Ambrose Bramlette and Sarah Elliot Bramlette who had immigrated to Kentucky from Virginia.

After studying law, Bramlette was admitted to the practice of law in 1837 at age 20 in Louisville.  That same year he married Sallie Travis with whom he had two children, Corrinne and Thomas.

He returned to Clinton County and was elected in 1841 to the Kentucky House of Representatives.  In 1848, Governor Crittenden appointed him Commonwealth Attorney. He resigned that position in 1850 in order to resume the practice of law in Columbia.  In 1856, he was elected as a judge for Kentucky’s 8th Judicial Circuit a post he held until his resignation in 1861 when he accepted a commission in the Union Army as a colonel in the 3rd Kentucky Infantry.

Bramlette resigned his commission in the army to accept President Lincoln’s appointment to become the U.S. Attorney for the District of Kentucky in July 1862.  In that position, Bramlette enforced wartime laws against Confederates and Confederate sympathizers.

Bramlette’s opponent in the 1863 election was former Governor Charles “The Duke” Wickliffe.  There were complaints about the election as Union forces which occupied the state were said to have intimidated supporters of Wickliffe.  As a result, Bramlette won the election by a 4 to 1 margin.

Bramlette assumed office as a staunch supporter of the Union cause and President Lincoln even though he supported the institution of slavery.  His support of Lincoln changed with in a year of taking of becoming Governor due to the “reign of terror” of General Burbridge.

In February 1864, General Stephen Gano Burbridge was appointed commander of the Military District of Kentucky upon the recommendation of Governor Thomas Bramlette (which he soon regretted).  General Stephen Burbridge, a native of Georgetown, Kentucky, had been appointed temporary Commander of the Military District of Kentucky had been given the authority by General Henry Halleck to declare any part or all of the state of Kentucky under martial law.

Prior to making Burbridge’s appointment as commander permanent on August 7, 1864, President Lincoln suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus and declared martial law in Kentucky on July 5, 1864. Due to the ongoing guerilla warfare being waged by Confederate guerillas, Burbridge issued the infamous Order 59 on August 14, 1864.

With Order 59, Burbridge deported or arrested alleged Confederate sympathizers found to be living within five miles of a guerilla attack.   This resulted in many Kentuckians seeking refuge in Canada and an estimated 30,000 Kentuckians arrested and/or imprisoned.  This included the arrests of Kentucky’s Lt. Governor, Chief Justice and former and future Governor Helm.

Additionally, Burbridge seized the property of Confederate sympathizers to pay either the government or citizens for property damaged or destroyed by guerilla raiders.  Burbridge also decreed that whenever an unarmed Union citizen was murdered, four Confederates in the custody of the Union would be selected for execution at a public location near the site where the Union citizen was killed.  Captured guerillas, legitimate Confederate prisoners and loyal Union citizens who could not meet Burbridge’s loyalty test were summarily shot in Louisville, Williamstown, Maysville, Midway, Jeffersontown, Morganfield, Munfordville and Pleasureville as well as Brandenburg. The actions of Burbridge were said to have caused Bramlette to exclaimed, “the state was bloodily baptized into the Confederacy” by the Lincoln Administration.
In October 1864, due to the steep increase in prices for pigs and pork products, Burbridge ordered farmers or owners of hogs to sell them to the Union Army or specially selected meat packers in Louisville at below market prices.  Kentucky pork producers at the time would often market their hogs to markets in Cincinnati, just across the Ohio River from Covington and Newport, in order to take advantage of competitive prices for their pork.  Cincinnati at the time was the nation’s largest market for hogs and pork products.  Burbridge ordered soldiers from the Newport Barracks to guard the Ohio River against farmers and others from crossing the river in order to take their hogs to market in Cincinnati.
Governor Bramlette protested to Lincoln about Burbridge preventing Kentucky’s farmers from getting fair market price for their products.  By the end of November 1864, Burbridge’s order preventing farmers from taking their pigs to market in Cincinnati, but only after Kentucky pork producers lost as much as $300,000 as a result of what was known as the “Great Hog Swindle.”

The last incident of Burbridge’s “Reign of Terror” was his attempt in early 1865 to take over militia troops under the control of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and its Governor, Thomas Bramlette.  Burbridge ordered all state troops to deposit their weapons at the state armory in Frankfort.  This was the last straw for Governor Bramlette.  He wired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton:

“This unwarranted assumption of power by an imbecile commander is doubtless instigated by those who have long sought to provoke an issue with the State, and which I have prevented.” 

On February 10, 1865, Lincoln relieved Burbridge of his command and replaced him with Major General John M. Palmer of Illinois The Louisville –Journal in making the announcement said:  “Thank God and President Lincoln.” 
With the end of the war, Bramlette and the legislature petitioned President Andrew to end martial law in Kentucky, which Johnson did.  Bramlette pardoned most ex-Confederates.

Bramlette achievements include the establishment of the Agricultural and Mechanical College (later to become the University of Kentucky) and the construction of turnpikes financed by state bonds.

Following his term as Governor, he practiced law in Louisville.  After the death of his wife Sallie in 1872, he married Mary E. Graham Adams in 1874.  He died at age 58 on January 12, 1875.

It was noted in the January 16, 1875 “Louisville Courier-Journal”, “Among the mourners at his funeral was his aged and feeble mother, who is now in her 80th year”.

John White Stevenson

In the election of 1867, John White Stevenson was elected Lt. Governor on the Democratic ticket with Governor John Helm.  Helm who was John J. Crittenden’s Lt. Governor, served briefly as Governor from 1850 to 1851 when he became President Millard Fillmore’s Attorney General.  Helm was elected in his own right in 1867 but became sick during the campaign. Helm was so sick that he had to take the oath of office on his sick bed on September 3, 1867.  Helm died five days later on September 8, 1867.

Stevenson of Covington became Governor of Kentucky upon Governor Helm’s death on September 8, 1867.  He was elected in a special election of August 1868 to fill the remaining three years left in Helm’s term.

John White Stevenson was born in Richmond, Virginia.  His mother, Mary White Stevenson died while giving birth to him.  His father Andrew was a Virginia Congressman and Minister to Great Britain during Van Buren’s Administration.  He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1832.  After graduation he studied law and practiced briefly in Vicksburg, Mississippi prior to moving to Covington, Kentucky in 1841.

On June 15, 1843, Stevenson married Newport resident Sibella Winston.  They eventually had five children, three daughters and two sons.

Prior to his election as Governor, Stevenson was elected to two terms in the State House of Representatives and served as a delegate to the Kentucky Constitution Convention of 1850.  With Madison C. Johnson and James Harlan (father of US Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan), he served on the commission which revised Kentucky’s civil and criminal code from 1850 to 1854.  They produced the Code of Practise in Civil and Criminal Cases in   1854.

Stevenson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1856, where he served from 1857 to 1861.  He was defeated in the 1860 General Election as the Unionists won 9 of Kentucky’s 10 Congressional Seats.  Stevenson was defeated in that election by John W. Menzies.  During his two terms in Congress, Stevenson supported the admission of Kansas unde the pro-slavery LeCompton Constitution.

Mob violence was a problem is post-Civil War Kentucky.  Within a month of becoming Governor, Stevenson sent the state militia to Mercer County to quell the violence.  In 1869, he had to send the militia to Boyle, Garrard and Lincoln counties to put down mob violence.

In respect to supporting the rights of newly freed blacks, he was rather ambivalent.  He would warn that violence against blacks would not be tolerated, but would rely on local authorities to enforce the law.  He was silent when the legislature refused to ratify the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution and passed legislation that would not allow the testimony of a black person against a white person in the courts of the Commonwealth.

Stevenson was active in promoting public education.  He supported a successful referendum which raised additional taxes for school purposes on a segregated basis.  He also established a State Bureau of Education.

In 1871, he was elected by the legislature to represent Kentucky in the U.S. Senate after a bruising campaign.  He accused (some say slandered) incumbent Senator McCreary and US Rep. Thomas Jones of supporting the appointment of former General Stephen Burbridge (“the Butcher of Kentucky”) to a federal appointment by President Grant.  Congressman Jones who was seeking the Senate seat as well challenged Stevenson to a duel in Frankfort.  Stevenson refused Congressman Jones’ challenge.

As a U.S. Senator, Stevenson opposed the spending of federal dollars on internal improvements.  He only served one term.  After leaving the Senate in 1877, he returned to Covington where he practiced law  and taught at the University of Cincinnati Law School. He served as President of the American Bar Association from 1884 to 1885.

He died in 1886 and is buried in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery.

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