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History of Kentucky 



Author of "Eastern Kentucky Papers" 


E. M. COULTER, Ph. D. 
Department of History, University of Georgia 





W1W! a, ft 

Copyright, 1922 



History of Kentucky 



Peace was thus secured between Americans and British; but an in- 
cident at the battle of New Orleans produced a war of words that em- 
bittered those who deserved a better fate than to nurse grievances and 
misunderstandings over so glorious a victory. The unfortunate flight 
of the troops on the right bank of the Mississippi was participated in by 
the 500 Louisiana troops as well as by the 170 ill-armed Kentuckians, 
but the latter alone received the blame for the defeat. Commodore 
Patterson, who commanded a battery on the Mississippi, declared that 
the Kentuckians began the flight and that this disgraceful example "was 
soon followed by the whole of General Morgan's command, notwith- 
standing that every exertion was made by him, his staff and several 
officers of the city militia, to keep them to their post.* * * This 
flight of the Kentuckians perilized their exertions and produced a re- 
treat which could not be checked. * * *" He furthermore stated 
that, "General Morgan's right wing, composed * * * of the Ken- 
tucky militia, commanded by Major Davis, abandoned their breastworks, 
flying in a most shameful and dastardly manner, almost without a 
shot." ! In his official report dated the day following the battle and 
made from information conveyed by the officers who commanded on the 
right bank, General Jackson declared of these Kentuckians: "What is 
strange and difficult to account for, at the very moment when the entire 
discomfiture of the enemy was looked for with a confidence amounting 
to certainty, the Kentucky re-enforcements, in whom so much reliance 
had been placed, ingloriously fled, drawing after them, by their example, 
the remainder of the forces, and thus yielding to the enemy that most 
formidable position." 2 In an address he bitterly arraigned them to their 
faces: "To what cause, was the abandonment of your lines owing? To 
fear? No! You are the countrymen, the friends, the brothers of those 
who have secured to themselves by their courage the gratitude of their 
country, who have been prodigal of its blood in its defence, and who 
are strangers to any other fear than that of disgrace. To disaffection 
to our glorious cause? No! my countrymen; your general does justice 
to the pure sentiment by which you are inspired. How then could brave 
men, firm in the cause in which they are enrolled, neglect their first 
duty, and abandon the post committed to their care?" He answered 
that the reasons must be attributed "to the want of discipline, disregard 
to obedience, and a spirit of insubordination, not less destructive than 
cowardice itself." 3 

Of all human frailties, cowardice on the battlefield was the one 
among Kentuckians most detested and despised. They prided them- 

1 Quoted in McElroy, Kentucky in the Nation's History, 356, 370. 

2 Gayarre, History of Louisiana, IV, 486. 

3 Gayarre, History of Louisiana, IV, 490. 


fol. II— 1 


selves on the fact that they had been cradled in the Revolution, and 
that Indian wars for years thereafter had perpetuated the military quali- 
ties. Therefore to be accused of cowardice openly and in the official 
report of the commanding general was well-nigh unbearable to the Ken- 
tuckians so charged and was deeply resented by them as well as their 
fellow-citizens. The accused Kentuckians answered Jackson's reproof 
in a communication in which they gave reasons for what happened. It 
follows in part : "We were ill-armed, we had been on our feet for 
twenty-four hours, during which time we had hardly tasted food ; the 
cartridges we had were too large for our pieces ; on our arrival before 
day, after a hard march of several miles, partly through mud, without 
being allowed a moment's rest, we were ordered to advance a mile fur- 
ther. Having obeyed without a murmur, we found ourselves within 
view of the enemy, on whom we fired several volleys, maintaining that 
position, which was none of the best, until, being outflanked on our right, 
and cannonaded with grape-shot from the brakes on our left, we were 
forced to retreat on Morgan's line, where we were ordered to take a 
position along a canal, uncovered and extended on a front of 300 yards, 
our left separated from the other troops by an unguarded space of 
ground, and our right covered by a paltry detachment of sixteen men, 
stationed 200 yards from us ; a vast plain, offering no manner of shelter, 
lying in our rear. We were turned on the right and cut off on the left. 
In so precarious a situation, how could we avoid giving way?" 4 

A court of inquiry met on the 9th of February to investigate the 
circumstances and causes of the retreat. It made its report the follow- 
ing day, in which the following decision was announced: "The court, 
after mature deliberation, is of opinion that the conduct of those gen- 
tlemen in the action aforesaid and retreat on the 8th of January on 
the west bank of the Mississippi, is not reprehensible — the cause of the 
retreat, the court attributed to the shameful flight of the command of 
Major Arno, sent to oppose the landing of the enemy. The retreat of 
the Kentucky militia, which, considering their position, the deficiency 
of their arms, and other causes, may be excusable, and the panic and 
confusion introduced into every part of the line thereby occasioning the 
retreat and confusion of the Orleans and Louisiana militia; whilst the 
court find much to applaud in the zeal and gallantry of the officers im- 
mediately commanding, they believe that a further reason of the re- 
treat may be found in the manner in which the forces were posted on 
the line, which they considered exceptional. The command of Cols. 
Dijon, Cavallier, Desflett, commanding 500 men, supported by three pieces 
of artillery, having in front a strong breastwork occuping only a space 
of 200 yards — whilst the Kentucky militia, composing Colonel Davis' 
command, 170 strong, without artillery, occupied more than 300 yards, 
covered by a small ditch only." The report closed with this significant 
and important statement: "The major-general approves the proceedings 
of the court of inquiry, which is dissolved." 5 

Jackson undoubtedly saw after a fuller investigation of the retreat 
on the right bank that his words of censure of the Kentuckians was 
unduly harsh, made in the excitement of a victory otherwise unmarred 
and on the report of officers who could escape a certain amount of de- 
served censure only by shifting the blame on others. But Jackson was a 
man of decided opinions and convictions, and when arrived at, stub- 
bornly maintained, even in the face of extenuating circumstances. A 
piece of popular satire of the day made him say: "It has always bin 
my way, when I git a notion, to stick to it till it dies a natural death ; 
and the more folks talk agin my notions, the more I stick to 'em." 
Jackson, therefore, refused to make a public retraction of his charges 

4 Gayarre, History of Louisiana, IV, 487. 

£ Niles' Register, Vol. 8, p. 124; Gayarre, History of Louisiana, IV, 506. 


against the Kentuckians, but he did all he could to allay their wounded 
feelings short of this. Undoubtedly he would never "have made the 
charges had he been in possession of information he later received. In 
his general order dismissing the troops under his command in the fol- 
lowing March, he endeavored to relieve the wounded susceptibilities of 
the Kentuckians, as far as his own pride permitted him. Shortly after- 
wards he said : "I hope my general address to my army has shown my 
impartiality of my mind to every corps and description of troops com- 
posing my command." ° He thus began his general address : "The 
major-general is at length enabled to perform the pleasing task of re- 
storing to Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana and the Territory of the Mis- 
sissippi the brave troops who have acted such a distinguished part in the 
war which has just terminated." He then expressed his feelings of 
gratitude and praise: "In parting with those brave men whose destinies 
have been so long united with his own, and in whose labors and glories 
it is his happiness and his boast to have participated, the commanding 
general can neither suppress his feelings nor give utterance to them as 
he ought. In what terms can he bestow suitable praise on merit so 
extraordinary, so unparalleled ! Let him in outburst of joy, gratitude 
and exultation exclaim : 'These are the saviours of their country — these 
the patriot soldiers who triumphed over the invincibles of Wellington and 
conquered the conquerors of Europe!' With patience did you submit 
to privations — with what fortitude did you endure fatigue — what valor 
did you display in the day of battle! You have secured to America a 
proud name among the nations of the earth — a glory which will never 

"Possessing those dispositions, which equally adorn the citizen and 
the soldier, the expectations of your country will be met in peace as 
her wishes have been gratified in war. Go then, my brave companions, 
to your homes ; to those tender connexions and those blissful scenes 
which render life so dear — full of honor and crowned with laurels which 
will never fade. With what happiness will you not, when participating 
in the bosoms of your families the enjoyment of peaceful life, look back 
to the toils you have borne — to the dangers you have encountered ? How 
will all your past exposures be converted into sources of inexpressible 
delight? Who, that never experienced your sufferings, will be able to 
appreciate your joys? The man who slumbered ingloriously at home, 
during your painful marches, your nights of watchfulness and your days 
of toil, will envy you the happiness which these recollections will afford 
— still more will he envy the gratitude of that country which you hava 
so eminently contributed to save." 7 

Not only the 170 Kentuckians who participated in the fight on the 
right bank of the river felt outraged at Jackson's charges, but Ken- 
tuckians in general considered themselves slandered. Just as Jackson 
was guilty of too much obstinacy, so were Kentuckians too quick to 
impute a general slander on their state. John Adair, who had led the 
Kentuckians in the main attack on the left bank, took up the defense 
of his fellow-Kentuckians, carrying on a long and acrimonious corre- 
spondence with Jackson. Although the general had approved the de- 
cision of the court of inquiry absolving the Kentuckians of blame and 
although he had used unbounded praise for all of his troops in his 
farewell address to them — not even alluding to the unpleasantness with 
the Kentuckians — still Adair refused to be satisfied with less than a 
full and direct retraction. In a letter to Jackson on March 20 he laid 
the case before the general : "The court of inquiry ordered to investi- 
gate the affair on the west side of the river have, by their report, acquitted 

6 Letter to John Adair, April 2, 1815, in Niles' Register, Vol. 8, Supplement, 

p. 158. 

7 Niles" Register, Vol. 8, pp. 124, 125. This address was made March 14. 


Colonel Davis of all blame or censure and have said the retreat of the 
Kentuckians may be excusable from their position, want of arms, &c. 
The language in which this opinion is couched, to which I refer you, is 
not such as can satisfy the pride of a soldier who, having done his duty 
faithfully, has been slandered by those who have been more to blame 
than himself. At the request of my fellow soldiers from Kentucky, who 
have had the honor of serving and, we trust, of having done their duty 
under your command in this last perilous but most glorious campaign 
of the war, I have been induced to make this appeal to your justice for 
a more explicit approval of their conduct, and, if they are entitled to 
it, for such a one as will enable them to meet their fellow soldiers in 
Kentucky without a blush." 8 Jackson answered that nothing would 
give him more pain "than the belief that I had done injustice to any 
portion of the troops under my command, so nothing, in such an event, 
would afford me greater satisfaction than to make reparation," but he 
refused to do more than reiterate his great satisfaction over the report 
of the court of inquiry. 9 

Adair also charged that Jackson had deliberately belittled the accom- 
plishments of the Kentuckians who had fought in the main engagement, 
by referring to them as a division of the Kentucky militia. According 
to Adair, "This, taken with other parts of that communication, in which 
the Kentucky troops are mentioned, has given rise to an opinion in 
many parts of the Union that but few of the Kentucky men fought on 
the lines on the morning of the 8th." Adair declared that, instead of 
550 Kentuckians, as stated in the account, there were "fully 1,000 men" 
who fought in the battle on the morning of the eighth. But again Jackson 
refused to be convinced by Adair's statements and reasoning. "Thus, 
sir," answered Jackson, "although the Kentucky force in the action of 
that day has been stated at 550, I have been induced to think, from the 
best means I have had of judging, that it was even less." Such positive 
statements were not calculated to sooth the feelings of Adair and his 
Kentuckians. However, Jackson did say, "On the left, it gives me great 
happiness to state that the Kentuckians who acted immediately under 
your command sustained the honor of their state and of our common 
country." 10 Jackson also stated in a letter to the Secretary of War his 
appreciation of the bravery of the troops that General Adair led: "Gen- 
eral Adair, who, owing to the indisposition of General Thomas, brought 
up the Kentucky militia, has shown that troops will always be valiant 
when their leaders are so. No men ever displayed a more gallant spirit 
than these under that most valuable officer. His country is under obliga- 
tion to him." u Thus again he paid tribute to the Kentuckians on the 
left bank of the river and at the same time intimated that those on the 
right bank would have been equally brave had their leaders been so. 

Jackson, in his efforts to placate the irate Kentuckians without at 
the same time receding from his own position, sought to convince them 
that they were trying to make a mole hill into a mountain. Just because 
he had said uncomplimentary things about the 170 Kentuckians on the 
right bank, did not argue at all than any slur was cast on the bravery of 
all other Kentuckians. He wrote Adair: "You state that the reputed 
conduct of those troops was calculated to stain the proud military char- 
acter of a large and patriotic state. As well might it be said that the 
disgraceful flight of my rear guard on the 24th of January, 1814. at 

8 Miles' Register, Vol. 8, Supplement, pp. 157. 158. 

9 Ibid, 158. Letter dated April 2, 1815. On this point he said : "The court of 
inquiry, greatly to my satisfaction, have acquitted Colonel Davis of any conduct 
deserving censure, on the right bank of the river; on the left, it gives me great 
happiness to state, that the Kentuckians who acted immediately under your command, 
sustained the honor of their state and of our common country." 

10 For this correspondence see Miles' Register, Vol. 8, Supplement, 156-158. 

11 Gayarre, History of Louisiana, IV, 503, 504. 


Enotochopeo, had stained the proud military character of the State of 
Tennessee. The cases were similar — I witnessed both. And could any- 
one ever think that the disgraceful flight of a few, whilst others of the 
same corps fought bravely and sustained the honor of the country, could 
attach disgrace to a state ? Surely not. The fact is that the Kentuckians, 
like all other good materials, have and ever will cover themselves with 
glory when well officered and gallantly led; but, like all other troops, 
when badly officered and timidly led, will be covered with disgrace." 12 
Here the case rested for a time. 

This contest had been closely followed by the state, and when in 
1816 it appeared that the discussion had died, the Legislature extended 
to Adair its highest approbation and thanks and particularly commended 
him for "the deep interest he took in vindicating a respectable portion 
of the troops of Kentucky from the inappropriate imputation of cow- 
ardice most unjustly thrown upon them" by General Jackson. 13 

But this unfortunate contention, so needlessly begun and so persist- 
ently carried on, had not yet come to a definite end. Conceived in mis- 
understandings, the struggle was destined to burst forth again through 
the same element and continue to feed upon it. The secretary of General 
Thomas, one of the Kentucky officers, on sending an official copy of the 
report of the court of inquiry to the governor of Kentucky, added the 
following postscript : "The general is impressed with a belief that the 
conduct of the detachment of Kentucky militia composing Colonel Davis' 
command on the 8th of January has been misrepresented, andthat their 
retreat was not only excusable, but absolutely justifiable, owing to the 
unfortunate position in which they were placed." As no signature or 
initials followed, it was immediately seized by the people of Kentucky 
as meaning that General Jackson had retracted by this method his former 
charges, when, as a matter of fact, General Thomas was meant. This 
postscript and explanation, though published extensively in Kentucky, 
escaped the notice of Jackson. 14 

In 1817, R. B. McAfee's History of the Late War in the Western 
Country was published, in which the supposed postscript retraction of 
Jackson was repeated, with the addition of certain sarcastic cotnments 
on the tardy admission of the general "in a dry, reluctant sense of justifi- 
cation" that he had been wrong. The Kentucky Reporter, in announcing 
the appearance of McAfee's history quoted this comment, and in this 
way Jackson was first made acquainted with the situation. He promptly 
and indignantly denied that he had ever written the words attributed to him 
and that this was "a forgery of the blackest kind," "wicked, willful and 
corrupt," and that the author was a villain. He demanded that the editor 
of the Reporter should publish completely all correspondence between 
himself and Adair. The editor refused on the ground that it had already 
been published once and he did not want to encumber his paper with it 
again. In a second letter Jackson insisted on publishing the correspond- 
ence as the only way of settling the question. But, as if misunderstand- 
ings and unfortunate mistakes had not yet been sufficiently numerous, 
in addition to Jackson's lately acquired quarrel with the editor of the 
Reporter, the latter, through a typographical error in printing Jackson's 
letter, reopened the old contest with Adair. Jackson, in his letter, said 
that Adair had furnished McAfee with the forged paper, but the Reporter 
made him say that Adair had forged the forged letter. Adair was nat- 
urally incensed at what he believed to be charged against himself by 
Jackson, and replied to him in a very cutting and sarcastic manner. This 
provoked a long letter trom Jackson, who had thus been goaded, in 
which he assumed a more uncompromising attitude toward the Kentucky 

12 James Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson (New York, i860), II, 396. 

is Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 28. 

14 Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson, II, 383, 384. 


troops. "You well know, sir," he said, "that your misrepresentations 
and falsehoods, combined with those of your colleague and the editors 
of a newspaper, have been disturbing the tranquillity of the public mind, 
by endeavoring to cast a stigma on the well-earned fame of brave and 
meritorious officers and seeking to convince the world that men were 
heroes who ingloriously fled from the enemy." Jackson was tempted 
into other fields to attack Adair. He used veiled charges against him 
as to the part he played in the Burr episode, and accused him of using 
the present embrogolio for political purposes, to further his chances of 
obtaining a seat in the United States Senate or of being elected governor 
of the state. Adair dismissed the latter accusation with contemptuous 
sarcasm, and as for the former, in thinly veiled satire, he remarked 
that "Whatever were the intentions of Colonel Burr, I neither organized 
troops at that time, nor did I superintend the building of boats for him, 
nor did I write confidential letters recommending him to my friends, nor 
ili 1 I think it necessary after his failure was universally known to save 
myself by turning informer or state witness." 15 

After the heat of the occasion had cooled and both had had time to 
examine the real issue and to see the misapprehensions and misunder- 
standings both were laboring under, they buried their enmity and became 
good friends thereafter. But this did not alter the fact with many Ken- 
tuckians that Jackson had accused Kentucky troops of cowardice, and 
long after everybody had ceased to think about or care primarily what 
Jackson had said this episode continued to be a bone of contention, not 
now between Jackson and Adair, but in Kentucky politics. The conflict 
was always precipitated by the customary resolution of the Legislature 
to fire a salute on January 8th in honor of Jackson and his brave troops 
at the battle of New Orleans. A lively discussion always immediately 
followed, in which the participants did not fight over again the battle of 
New Orleans (for all good Kentuckians were agreed), but the Jackson 
party and the Clay party were striving for advantage. Sometimes this 
resolution was passed, other times it failed ; but always the vote on it 
was a perfect barometer of the strength of the political parties in Ken- 
tucky. ' The further effect and importance of this episode will appear 
when the political history of the state is taken up. 

Kentucky characteristics of prowess in war and military ardor and 
strong feelings of nationalism and patriotism stand out in bold relief in 
this war. From being a backwoods settlement, despised by the ruling 
powers in the East and hence discontented, even intriguing with foreign 
agents, with their scurvy propositions and ambitions, Kentucky was now 
the leading power in the West — a people who had at times assumed in 
the West an almost complete direction of a war which they had willed 
and done much to produce, and who were actuated with a feeling that 
they had an important part and responsibility in the direction of na- 
tional affairs and that this was duly recognized and appreciated by the 
rest of the country. 

The patriotism and feeling of responsibility in Kentucky was not 
only shown in her appointment of Harrison and the hurriedly raising of 
an army after the defeat of Hull, but it was especially evident in her 
movements to beat the British back from lower Louisiana. She felt par- 
ticularly interested in this expedition, for if the British were successful, 

15 For extracts of this correspondence see Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson, 
II. 383-391. In maintaining his position Jackson stated this rule of life he had 
(aid down for himself: "Justice and truth are my polar stars, from which I 
never have, nor ever will knowingly depart ; and permit me to add, that neither 
wealth, power, or any other consideration, can ever draw from me a falsehood, or 
prevent my doing justice. Whenever I could be operated upon by such ignoble 
feelings as either flattering or fear to do an ungenerous act, I should loathe myself 
and wish to close my mortal career." Ibid., 387. 


Kentucky, herself, might lie in the path of invasion and fall a prey to 
permanent conquest. But, if the ambitions of the British were not so 
extended, still their occupation of the lower Mississippi Valley would 
put Kentucky in the position commercially she had occupied a quarter 
of a century ago. Governor Shelby had this very fear that it would be 
in their power "entirely to shut up our commerce down the river, or 
to shackle it by restrictions and duties little short of absolute prohibition. 
Its effect upon the Western country are too obvious to need comment." 1G 
The shades of nightmares which all had hoped were gone forever arose. 
Although Shelby had hurriedly dispatched troops to Jackson as soon as 
the call came, still it appeared to him that many more would be needed 
before the British could be expelled. Without waiting for calls from the 
Secretary of War or from General Jackson, Governor Shelby, in a spe- 
cial message to the Legislature on January 25, 1815 (the news of the 
victory at New Orleans had not yet reached Kentucky), called upon that 
body to enact legislation for organizing 10,000 men "to hold themselves 
in readiness to march when required." "We have too deep an interest 
at stake," he declared, "to rest our sole reliance upon the general Govern- 
ment. A lengthy session of Congress is drawing to a close, and no 
adequate provision has been made for raising forces for the defence of 
the country. Whilst they are disputing about the details of a bill, the 
time for acting may pass away, not again to return." 17 The following 
day a bill was introduced providing for the raising of the 10,000 troops 
recommended and also placing at the disposal of the governor $100,000 
to be used in equipping them and supplying them with proper transporta- 
tion facilities by land or water to any place he might direct. The news 
of the victory at New Orleans put a stop to further preparation, and 
the Legislature, in the joys of the occasion, passed a resolution of thanks- 
giving and prayer and of gratitude to General Jackson and his men. 18 

The military prowess of Kentuckians individually and collectively 
was attested by friend and enemy alike in this war. In its spectacular 
and dramatic " effect the traditional action in single combat between 
colonel Johnson and Tecumseh was long held out as typical of the indi- 
vidual bravery of Kentuckians. The description by a British officer of 
a Kentucky rifleman at the battle of New Orleans was true to the 
popular estimation in which he was held. His rather spectacular account 
follows: "We marched in solid column in a direct line upon the Ameri- 
can defenses. I belonged to the staff and, as we advanced, we watched 
through our glasses the position of the enemy with that intensity an 
officer only feels when marching into the jaws of death. It was a strange 
sight, the breastwork, with the crowds of beings behind, their heads only 
visible above the line of defence. We could distinctly see their long 
rifles lying on the works, and the batteries in our front, with their great 
mouths gaping towards us. 

"We could also see the position of General Jackson, with his staff 
around him. But what attracted our attention most was the figure of 
a tall man standing on the breastworks, dressed in linsey-woolsey, with 
buckskin leggins and a broad-brimmed felt hat that fell around the face, 
almost concealing the features. He was standing in one of those pic- 
turesque, graceful attitudes peculiar to those natural men dwelling in 
forests. The body rested on the left leg and swayed with a curved line 
upward. The right arm was extended, the hand grasping the rifle near 
the muzzle, the butt of which rested near the toe of his right foot. With 
the left hand he raised the rim of the hat from his eyes and seemed gaz- 

16 Niks' Register, Vol. 8, p. 31. Shelby's message to the Legislature January 

25, 1815. 

17 Niles" Register, Vol. 8, p. 31. 

18 Acts of Kentucky, 1814. 


ing intently on our advancing column. The cannon of the enemy had 
opened on us and tore through our works [ranks] with dreadful slaugh- 
ter, but we continued to advance, unwavering and cool, as if nothing 
threatened our progress. 

"The roar of cannon had no effect upon the figure before us ; he seemed 
fixed and motionless as a statue. At last he moved, threw back his hat- 
rim over the crown with his left hand, raised the rifle to the shoulder, 
and took aim at our group. 

"Our eyes were riveted upon him; at whom had he leveled his piece? 
But the distance was so great that we looked at each other and smiled. 
We saw the rifle flash and very rightly conjectured that his aim was in 
the direction of our party. My right-hand companion, as noble a fellow 
as ever rode at the head of a regiment, fell from his saddle. 

"The hunter paused a few moments without moving his gun from 
his shoulder. Then he reloaded and assumed his former attitude. Throw- 
ing the hat-rim over his eyes and again holding it up with the left hand, 
he fixed his piercing gaze upon us, as if hunting out another victim. 
Once more the hat-rim was thrown back and the gun raised to his 
shoulder. This time we did not smile, but cast glances at each other, to 
see which of us must die. 

"When again the rifle flashed another one of our party dropped to the 
earth. There was something most awful in this marching on to certain 
death. The cannon and thousands of musket balls playing upon our 
ranks we cared not for, for there was a chance of escaping them. Most 
of us had walked as cooly on batteries more destructive without quailing, 
but to know that every time that rifle was leveled toward us and its 
bullet sprang from the barrel one of us must surely fall; to see it rest 
motionless, as if poised on a rock, and know when the hammer came 
down, that the messenger of death drove unerringly to its goal; to 
know this and still march on was awful. I could see nothing but the tall 
figure standing on the breast-works; he seemed to grow, phantom-like, 
higher and higher, assuming through the smoke the supernatural ap- 
pearance of some great spirit of death. Again did he reload and dis- 
charge and reload and discharge his rifle with the same unfailing aim 
and the same unfailing result, and it was with indescribable pleasure that 
I beheld, as we neared the American lines, the sulphurous cloud gather- 
ing around us and shutting that spectral hunter from our gaze. We lost 
the battle, and to my mind the Kentucky rifleman contributed more to 
our defeat than anything else, for while he remained in our sight our 
attention was drawn from our duties, and when, at last, he became en- 
shrouded in the smoke, the work was complete ; we were in utter con- 
fusion and unable, in the extremity, to restore order sufficient to make 
any successful attack. The battle was lost." 10 

' Brave in battle, Kentuckians were honorable warriors who were gen- 
erous to a fallen foe. They had seen and felt savage cruelty vented on 
the helpless. The massacre at the River Raisin gave them stern reso- 
lution and a bold determination to carry on the war with redoubled 
vigor, but it did not implant in them the spirit of vengeance and retri- 
bution, except as it could be carried out in an honorable way — never upon 
the fallen and helpless. Commodore Perry, who had used some Ken- 
tuckv militia on his little fleet in the battle of Lake Erie, spoke of them 
in high terms. "He represented them as courageous, even to imprudence, 
and as liberal, generous and humane almost to a fault." 20 And, in the 
opinion of the Albany Argus, "Although justice would have sanctioned 
the most dreadful retaliation upon the enemy for the cruelty inflicted 
upon their brethren, yet we have not heard of a single act of retaliation, 

19 Durrett MSS. quoted in McElroy, Kentucky in the Nation's History, 362-365. 

20 Albany Argus, quoted in Nilcs' Register, Vol. 8, Supplement, 178. 


of cruelty, of pillage or insult, inflicted by them upon the fallen foe. 
They twice conquered — first by their arms and then by their humanity. 
What magnanimity! What a lesson to the enemy. We know not what 
effect such greatness of soul will produce upon the Christian foe, but it 
produced the most unbounded submission and confidence in their savage 
allies." 21 

The London Quarterly Review carried an entirely different story. In 
a rather bizarre fashion it made some amusing charges against the Ken- 
tucky troops. It gravely stated that "Every man who has served in that 
country can attest the fact that the Kentuckians invariably carried the 
tomahawk and scalping knife into action, and are dexterous in using 
them. It is .well authenticated that the first scalp taken in the late war 
was torn from the head of a lifeless Indian by the teeth of a captain in 
the American service. This wretch, whose name was McCulloch, was 
killed in a skirmish on the 5th of August, 1812, and in his pocket was 
found a letter to his wife, boasting that on the 15th of the preceding 
month, a few days after the opening of the war, when an Indian had 
been killed on the River Canard and was found scalped, he had per- 
formed the exploit." 22 The North American Reviezv defended Kentucky 
against such groundless and wild charges. "The character of the Ken- 
tuckians," it said, "is beyond the reach of tirades like this. We know 
them well. They are generous, hospitable, high spirited and patriotic, 
fearing nothing and regarding nothing in the heat of battle, but kind 
and humane when the battle is over." 23 The American Government 
charged Great Britain with the seeming intention of giving "to this war 
every degree of savage barbarity and cruelty which it may be able to 
inflict." Especially had she been guilty of imprisoning Americans as 
felons awaiting trial for treason. The Secretary of State, therefore, 
wrote the governor of Kentucky requesting permission to confine a like 
number of British in the penitentiary in Frankford, "which is represented 
to be a building affording the twofold advantage of good and safe ac- 
commodation." 24 Kentucky at once set aside space for them. 

The patriotic ardor and nationalist feelings of Kentucky stood out 
with great prominence in this war and very strongly impressed itself 
on the other parts of the country and on the East in particular. The 
narrow-minded rivalry and scurvy jealousies the East had held out 
against the West fast melted away in the face of the record Kentucky 
made in the war. The Albany Argus, in the midst of the war, was led 

21 Quoted in Niks' Register, Vol. 8, Supplement, 178. 

22 Quoted in The North American Review, XXIV (New Series, XV), 436, 437. 

23 Ibid, 437. It continued : "Every hunter or woodsman carries a knife, when- 
ever his occupations lead him into the forest. It is as necessary to him as his 
rifle and blanket. Without it, he could not skin and dress his game, nor strike 
his fire, nor cut a stick, nor prepare for encampment, nor divide his victuals, nor 
perform the thousand offices, where such an instrument is required. But this 
writer probably supposed that every night, a comfortable table, with its knives 
and forks, and other apparatus, is spread for the citizen soldier who mounts his 
horse at the summons of his country, and is soon lost to all but himself and his 
companions, in the everlasting solitude of pathless forests. Here, his roof is the 
heavens, his pillow a saddle, his bed a blanket, a pointed stick his only culinary 
utensil, and his knife the only manual instrument. And how long is it, since 
similar instruments were carried by the Highlanders, and since 'the clanking of 
knives and forks, lifted from the table, above the salt, and drawn from the sheath, 
below it,' was heard at Highland dinners? And these hardy mountaineers, and we 
speak it seriously, were as likely to scalp their living companions, as the Kentuckians 
to inflict outrages upon a dead or dying savage. It may be, that such gross violations 
of decency and humanity were committed. Individual passion cannot always be 
restrained, but the man and the deed would be reprobated, as generally and as 
vehemently in Kentucky as in London." 

24 Niks' Register, Vol. 5, p. 306. Letter dates, November 27, 1813. On De- 
cember 8, 1813, a resolution was passed by the Legislature providing for the 
necessary accommodations. Acts of Kentucky, 1813, 220. 


to comment on the situation in a manner very favorable to Kentucky. 
It said : "The interested views of ambitious demagogues have deceived 
one-half our nation as to the views of the other half and made our North- 
ern federalists look upon the inhabitants of the Western country as a set 
of most selfish, jealous beings under heaven, intently bent on destroying 
the commerce and influence of the eastern states, when in truth there 
are no people on the globe who have evinced more national feeling, more 
disinterested patriotism, or displayed a more noble enthusiasm to defend 
the honor and rights of their common country than the people of the 
western states. Comparatively speaking, they are but trivially affected 
by the fluctuations of the commercial world, and even a state of war 
presents nothing alarming to a state like Kentucky, wholly removed from 
the scenes of its operations and beyond the reach of its evils. Possessing 
the most inviting climate and a soil which yields all the necessaries and 
many of the luxuries of life with little labor, the inhabitants of Kentucky, 
were they actuated, as the enemies of our welfare would insinuate, by 
selfish, mercenary or vicious motives, might enjoy the tranquility of their 
homes in undisturbed security — see the billows of war break harmless 
at their feet and view the conflicting interests of the commercial world 
with stoic indifference. Situated many hundred miles from the ocean 
and separated from the Indian frontiers by Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and 
the Mississippi territory, the people of Kentucky could feel no appre- 
hension of invasion. And yet what have they done ? They have done 
more to bring about an honorable peace, by giving energy to the war, 
than all the New England states put together. They have sent 17,000 
volunteers to protect the inhabitants of other states and to avenge the 
nation's wrongs ; and disaster, instead of disheartening, has only tended 
to redouble their exertions." 25 

But even the strongholds of federalism and hostility toward the West 
were stormed by the patriotism Kentucky had showed in the war. A 
federalist merchant from Boston was in Kentucky during the fall of 
1813, while Shelby was preparing to lead his volunteers against the 
British in Canada, and observed with utter amazement the patriotic zeal 
of the people. In a letter to a Boston friend he declared that "they are 
the most patriotic people I have ever seen or heard of. When Governor 
Shelby issued his late proclamation for volunteers, a proportion of those 
who marched were respectable fanners with large possessions — many 
entered entirely independent in property, leaving large and respectable 
families; and some at the age of fifty years, and a great many at forty, 
with no expectations of benefit or pay, finding their own horses and 
equipment. This singular patriotism is singular and astonishing. Many 
men of the first character have in former campaigns volunteered, and 
some have lost their lives. These things to a New Englandman look like 
madness — here it is considered glorious, as it really is. With such ardor 
and patriotism, should it pervade all ranks of the United States, our 
country could war successfully against all the foes England and France 
could bring against us. Here are few opposers to the war. but no 
enemies to the country; we have a few that are termed federalists, but 
not like those of New England." 20 

The Albany Argus compared with deadly effect the war feeling in 
Kentucky and in the New England states: "What is the conduct of the 
venerable Shelby? Does he, like Strong, interpose constitutional scruples 
and chill the patriotism and devotion of his countrymen by denying the 
national authority and limiting them to their own state? No. He gives 
new luster to his character, already bright upon the historic page of our 
revolution — he hastens to obev the national will — acts as a stimulant to 

25 Quoted in Niles' Register, Vol. 8, Supplement, 178. 

26 Quoted in Niles' Register, Vol. 8, Supplement, 178, 179. 


his constituents and worthy of a free people — he enrolls his name at the 
head of a volunteer list, although sixty-six years of age, and invites 
them to march with him to a distant province — to encounter with him 
the hardships, the privations and the dangers of a sanguinary campaign. 
And how is the invitation received? Do the brave militia of that young 
state imitate the example of some of its elder sisters? Do they wait to 
be drafted — or, when drafted or detached, ignobly shrink from their 
duty and pitifully seek to avoid the penalties of law? We lack words 
to express a just admiration of their noble conduct. In fifteen days 
4,000 voluntarily hastened to the standard of their chief, mounted and 
equipped at their own expense— undergo a march of 600 or 700 miles 
— and when they reached the boundary line that separates their own 
from their enemy's country, they put to shame the miserable subterfuge 
of cowards — they seek the enemy in his strongholds — fight and conquer 
him and his province — and return to their homes laden with honor and 
rich in the admiration of the American nation and of the world. 

"Such, Citizens of New York, has been the genuine, the wonderful 
patriotism of a people whom you have been instructed to regard with 
jealousy and suspicion and whose interests you have been told are at 
variance with your own !" 2 ~ 

The recent war meant much for Kentucky. She had not only com- 
pletely found herself, her resources spiritually and materially, but she 
had compelled the rest of the country to take note of her and accord 
her her proper place in the councils of the nation. Her statesmen were 
attaining positions of prominence, and their statesmanship was not devoid 
of Western aspirations and influence. In conjunction with the rest of 
the West, Kentucky comes to play a bigger part in shaping national 
policies. In fine, the West emerged from the war with peculiar prob- 
lems and a growing power and influence to formulate and enforce their 

Quoted in Niles' Register, Vol. 8, Supplement, 179. 




The late war was followed in Kentucky by marked political and 
economic manifestations and developments. Just as the people in war 
had been pronounced and vigorous in their reactions to the problems and 
difficulties of the day, so they in peace were no less positive and daring. 
Their great interest in and special adaptation to political disputation had 
been noted by early travellers. The war intensified these traits. Amos 
Kendall, who came to Kentucky about this time to make for himself a 
career, bore striking testimony to the vigor with which the people served 
their politics. He believed the road to preferment could best be started 
in this way : "I have, I think, learnt the way to be popular in Kentucky, 
but do not as yet put it in practice. Drink whiskey and talk loud, with 
the fullest confidence, and you will hardly fail of being called a clever 
fellow." ! 

Political divisions were almost swallowed up and lost in the first few 
months following the end of the war, in the general acclaim of those who 
had played so glorious a part in state and nation in a military, political, 
or diplomatic way. The momentary disappointment that came to some 
on the announcement of peace soon vanished on more mature delibera- 
tion, and those who made the treaty were given due praise. It was an 
especial joy that one of the most prominent of the Ghent commissioners 
was a Kentuckian, who had upheld in a masterful manner the interests 
and aspirations of Kentucky and the West. Therefore when Clay re- 
turned he was received by his fellow Kentuckians with great cordiality 
and respect. According to an account of the day he was "almost daily 
receiving some new evidence of their love and respect." 2 His home- 
city, Lexington, gave him an official welcome. The Board of Trustees 
in a resolution participated "in the general joy felt at the return of our 
distinguished fellow citizen, Henry Clay," and expressed their high 
appreciation of the course he and his colleagues had followed at Ghent, 
stating that they had "discharged the important duties confided to them 
in a manner highly honorable to themselves and satisfactory to the gov- 
ernment and people of the United States." Clay replied that the "unin- 
terrupted favor and affection" shown for him by his townsmen for many 
years was "peculiarly gratifying;" but as for any great honor due on 
account of the recent peace negotiations, he would have them remember 
that the chief work there consisted in peremptorily rejecting "the inad- 
missible terms proposed by the ministers of Great Britain." "The time 
will never arrive," he continued, "when any American minister can justly 
acquire honor for performing a duty so obvious, as that always must be, 
of refusing to subscribe to disgraceful conditions of peace." 3 A public 
dinner was given to him where many toasts were drunk to his honor. 
Here again he expressed the feeling that little honor was due the Ameri- 

1 Autobiography of Amos Kendall, Wm. Stickney, editor, 126. 

2 Niks' Register, Vol. 9, p. 151. 
*lbid, 150. 



can commissioners for the work they did, but that he was no less apprecia- 
tive of Lexington's reception. But he gloried in the fact that the war 
had taught Europe to respect Americans ; that the reputation of the 
United States was now firmly established abroad. 4 

Kentucky's satisfaction with the outcome of the war as well as with 
the general conduct of affairs by the national administration was ex- 
pressed by the Legislature in an address to President Madison on his re- 
tirement from the presidency. His services in upholding the constitu- 
tion, in conducting his high office "with correct policy," in steering the 
nation through "a just and necessary, but a tempestuous and boisterous 
war, difficult on account of the power of the enemy, but rendered more 
dangerous by faction at home" — his services along all these lines, "de- 
mand of us an unequivocal declaration of your title to the lasting gratitude 
of the people of Kentucky; and while we contemplate with delight the 
elevated attitude of this nation among the civilized governments of the 
age, we will cherish with pleasure the memory of the man, whose talents 
and services have so eminently contributed to his country's character and 
unsullied honor." An attempt by Rowan in the House to temper this 
praise in certain particulars was defeated by a vote of 68 to 15, and in 
the Senate it failed by a unanimous vote. 5 

The crystallization of the people around national figures in their 
political affiliations had not yet advanced far enough in Kentucky to 
cause much opposition to Clay ; nor had Jackson yet emerged as a national 
political leader sufficiently to have a strong following in the state or to 
have raised up bitter political enemies. His memory was, however, un- 
savory with many on account of military reasons. Therefore, when 
Kentuckians, proud of their record at New Orleans, expressed their 
appreciation of their fellow citizens who fought there, they conspicuously 
failed to mention by name or even refer to "Old Hickory," the hero of 
New Orleans. These resolutions of 1817, which were yet more patriotic 
than political, show the vigorous and somewhat boisterous feeling of the 
people : "Resolved, By the legislature of the commonwealth, That the re- 
currence of this day is calculated to awaken in every American bosom 
sensations of joy and gratulation. The eighth day of January, one thou- 
sand eight hundred and fifteen, was destinguished by a victory the more 
splendid as it was achieved by the proud votaries of civil liberty, over 
the disciplined vassals of an ambitious monarch. New Orleans, and this 
day, form a combination of time and place alike humiliating to England 
and gratifying to America. On this memorable day Britain was van- 
quished and driven from the land of freedom; while she trembles, let us 
rejoice; and that we may evince the proud sensations connected with 
the day and the valor of our brave officers and soldiers — 

"Resolved, That our venerable acting governor [Slaughter] (who is 
himself respectfully remembered in connection with the day and subject) 
be requested to cause the artillery company of the town of Frankfort 
forthwith to parade on the public square near the capitol, and there to 
discharge nineteen rounds of canon, a round for each state in our happy 
union, in commemoration of the achievements of our arms on that glori- 
ous day." 6 

Although in national politics the so-called "Era of Good Feeling" 
had set in and Kentucky was doing her part to perpetuate ; in state affairs 
events so transpired that within two years after peace had been pro- 
claimed the people were arrayed against each other in a bitter contest, 
senseless though it might seem to outsiders. Governor Shelby, who had 
guided the state through the period of warfare just ended, reached the 

* Nibs' Register, Vol. 9, 196. 
5 Ibid, Vol. 12, pp. 42, 43. 
"Niks' Register, Vol. 11, p. 407. 


end of his term of office in 1816. In his final message to the legislature 
in December, 1815, he commended the state on its record in the late war, 
and saw a further development in the high sense of honor and duty that 
had always characterized the people. War was terrible ; but still it had 
its compensations. It developed noble emotions. "The spirit of the 
nation which lay dormant, not extinguished, was no sooner roused into 
action, than it burst upon the heads of our enemies, and struck terror 
and consternation through their ranks." "No longer is our character 
obscured by our forbearance, and our love of peace." He would, there- 
fore, have the state and nation prepared hereafter. He recommended a 
program for military preparation by the state and suggested that the 
nation help. Rich in honors and the affections of his fellow citizens, 
Shelby took this party leave: "I cannot take my leave of the general 
assembly without expressing to them the grateful sense I shall aways 
entertain for the favorable light in which my countrymen have viewed 
my public conduct, and offering to the Divine Disposer of all human 
affairs, my devout acknowledgement for his many favours extended to 
our country, and my fervent prayers that his protecting arm, may long 
preside over its destinies." 7 The legislature replied in a spirit of deep 
appreciation and respect. Believing it improbable that they shall ever act 
again in official concert due to the Governor's advanced age, the General 
Assembly desired to express "their respect and gratitude for the services 
rendered by their venerable chief magistrate to their common country. 
Those services will form a part of the history of the nation, and will 
transmit his name honorably to posterity. They implore the blessings of 
heaven upon his declining age, and bid a painful, but affectionate adieu." 8 
The canvass was soon on for the election which was to take place in 
August, 181 6. Gubernatorial elections as a rule had not been hard 
fought; opinion generally crystallized around some outstanding figure 
who soon overshadowed opponents to such an extent that they either 
withdrew or ran a poor race in the election. In the latter part of 181 5, 
two candidates appeared — Major George Madison and Lieut.-Col. James 
Johnson. They were, both, men of military reputation, which was 
eminently fitting and in keeping with the spirit of their electorate. At 
this time it would have been sheer madness for a man without a military 
record to have stood as a candidate. Madison had been closely identified 
with every war his state and nation had ever been engaged in. Although 
under age, he had fought in the Revolution ; in the Indian wars of the 
Northwest, he was conspicuous for bravery; and in the War of 1812, he 
had fought with courage being captured at the battle of the River Raisin. 
Colonel Johnson was a much younger man; but in the late war, he had 
upheld the name of his state, having engaged in the battle of the Thames. 
A news account said both were "gentlemen of fine talents and high 
minds, ardently devoted to the republic." "It is unfortunate," it added, 
"that two men so highly esteemed by the partiots of that state should 
be opposed. We wish that both might be honored as they deserve." ° 
But the superior age and military experience of Madison was destined 
easily to control the situation. Public opinion soon set in so strongly 
for him that Johnson retired early in the race, declaring that it would 
be futile to run against a man so universally popular. In the election 
in August, 1816, Madison was, therefore, elected unanimously. For 
lieutenant governor, there was less unanimity of opinion. Three men 
were voted for, Gabriel Slaughter, R. Hickman, and James Garrard, the 

7 Niles' Register, Vol. 9, pp. 318, 319- 

8 Ibid., Vol. 10, p. 128. 

Niles" Register, Vol. 9, p. 151. 


first named received over 7,000 majority over the other two combined in 
a total vote of about 46,ooo. 10 

On October 14, 1816, Madison died and on the 21st was succeeded in 
office by Lieutenant-Governor Slaughter. Charles S. Todd who had been 
appointed secretary of state by Governor Madison immediately on the 
death of his chief, entered into a correspondence with the new governor 
concerning that office. He felt that as the secretary of state was inti- 
mately associated with the governor the latter should have no one filling 
that office who was not in perfect sympathy with and acceptable to him. 
Realizing that the situation had a certain element of delicacy in it, Todd 
on October 19th wrote Slaughter that if he wanted to make a different 
appointment to the office of secretary of state, "I pray you to consider 
me as offering no obstruction to the execution of such an intention, if 
you should wish to carry it into effect." Todd did not wish to appear 
in the light of handing in a resignation; for he desired to keep the office 
— his only wish was to relieve Slaughter from embarrassment, if he 
wanted to make a change. He was careful, therefore, not to word his 
letter in such a way as to be considered a resignation or conveying the 
desire to resign. He said, "at the same time I wish to be distinctly under- 
stood as having no objection to co-operate with your excellency in that 
office, in the advancement of the interests of our common country, should 
it be your pleasure that I should retain it." Two days later Slaughter 
replied saying, "Your note of the 19th instant, tendering your resignation 
of the appointment of Secretary of State is before me;" and in a very 
polite and obliging manner accepted it. 11 This was a surprise and a 
disappointment to Todd and his friends. But there was occasion for 
more surprise and wider spread, when Slaughter announced he had 
appointed John Pope to the vacancy. 

Pope had not been in good standing with the dominant element in the 
state since the days when he had stirred up such bitter opposition in advo- 
cating the United States Bank and voting against the declaration of war 
against Great Britain. Since then he had won few political friends ; but 
on the contrary had made many enemies. He had been gradually assum- 
ing the leadership of that element opposed to Henry Clay, and had very 
recently been defeated for Congress by Clay. It was, therefore, rather 
dangerous politics to play in the appointment of Pope. An opponent of 
Pope addressed an open letter to the governor in which he said, "You 
have commenced your career by giving it the stamp and mark of federal- 
ism." He declared Slaughter had thwarted the voice of the people and 
that in the person of both him and Pope the minority had been enthroned 
in the government. "No matter in what manner the subject strikes my 
mind," he said, "it becomes the most mortifying circumstance that has 
transpired since the formation of our state government." He declared 
that Pope was in fact a federalist, and the whole administration must be 
held as approaching the same limit on the points in which it had registered 
so far. Had the federalists won the election, no one should have a right 
to complain — but to be robbed of a victory in such a manner was not to 
be tolerated. 12 

Soon after this Governor Slaughter made another move that added 
to his unpopularity. Supposedly on the advice and at the instigation of 
Benjamin Hardin, he appointed Gen. M. D. Hardin to fill out the un- 
expired term of William T. Barry in the United States Senate made 
vacant by his resignation. This appointment was to hold only until the 
Legislature should meet in December, when according to law it should 

10 The vote was as follows: Slaughter, 26,888; Hickman, 11,733; and Garrard, 
7,723. Nile? Register, Vol. 10, p. 431 ; Vol. 11, p. 31. 

11 Kentucky Gazette, August 9, 1817; Ibid, October 28, 1816. 

12 Kentucky Gazette, November 8, 1816. 


elect a successor. As Hardin was held by many Kentuckians to be a 
federalist, Slaughter was bitterly denounced for this fresh evidence of 
his detested federalism. Despite the fact that Hardin was later elected 
by the Legislature for the remainder of Barry's term, Slaughter was still 
denounced as in fact responsible. 13 

Thus when the Legislature met in December, 1816, many of the 
people were in no happy frame of mind nor in a mood to receive the 
governor with equanimity. His message to the Legislature should have 
dispelled the opposition and built up for him a host of sturdy followers ; 
for it was a remarkable document. With a becoming humility and regard 
for others views it suggested a constructive program for the state. He 
advocated internal improvements, the proper training of the militia, and 
other defence measures for the state ; but most commendable and remark- 
able of all was his bold stand for the education of the citizenship of the 
state. "Knowledge and virtue," he said, "are every where the surest 
basis of public happiness ; the strongest barriers against oppression ; a 
powerful check to maladministration, by rendering it necessary for those 
in power to secure not the blind, but the enlightened confidence of the 
people." lie announced the state's responsibility in this matter: "Every 
child born in the state should be considered a child of the republic, and 
educated at the public expence, where the parents are unable to do it." 
He also counselled stern political morality and honesty. 

He paid a tribute to his lamented predecessor, "first in the confidence 
and affections of the people." "lie was a true patriot; a brave and gen- 
erous soldier, and blessed with every noble and amiable quality which can 
adorn the human character. In his death the state has sustained an 
irreparable loss, which, in common with my fellow citizens, I sincerely 
lament." Mindful of the opposition that had already grown up against 
him, he stated that he felt "unequal to the high and important duties of 
chief magistrate of this commonwealth" and that he "would most cheer- 
fully have declined the post which the constitution has assigned me, had 
this deplorable visitation of Providence and the partiality of my country- 
men left me this alternative; But duty commands me to meet the respon- 
sibility thus devolved; from which relying on support from a kind Provi- 
dence, I could not, I will not shrink." He answered the criticisms that 
had been levelled against him not in kind but with consideration and 
respect: "I commence my executive duties fully persuaded that I shall 
frequently err from want of information and defect of judgment; and 
that my conduct, when correct, will be often censured from prejudice 
and mistake. To you, however, and my constituents, who have given 
me so many proofs of their confidence and affection, I pledge myself 
fairly and faithfully to administer the Government according to the re- 
publican spirit and principles of our free constitution. I will do every- 
thing in my power to satisfy those who have bestowed on uie their 
suffrages; by a fair and just course to reconcile others, and to advance 
the freedom and happiness of all." 

He sought in this message to build up a sentiment against violent 
party spirit or partisanship. He had been attacked as a federalist, and a 
minority office-holder. He hoped to silence this outcry by honesty of 
purpose and efficiency in office. He promised to "discourage party spirit, 
which so often generates dangerous and corrupt factions, destroys social 
happiness, distracts the public councils, and deprives the people of the 
united efforts of the wise and good to promote the public welfare. 
Party spirit, although sometimes unavoidable, is at all times unpleasant, 
and often mischievous. Parties too often lose sight of the causes and 
principles which gave them birth; organize factions, who frequently sub- 
stitute their will for the will of the people, and by an artful and active 

1 3 Kentucky Gazette, November 18, 1816. 


course contrive to give tone to public opinion and public affairs/' He 
sought to answer his critics and at the same time score a point for the 
public good, by imitating Washington in calling for union of efforts in- 
stead of party division. He would be the governor of no party, but of all 
the people; and he hoped to unite the state behind him. "From long 
observation and experience, I have been led to conclude that true and 
practical republicanism under our government, consists in an honest and 
faithful discharge of duty according to the spirit and principles of the 
constitution; and that although factions may unhappily divide and dis- 
tress a country, a chief magistrate ought to pursue the union of his 
fellow citizens, and the good of the state independently of all parties. Be- 
lieving that under government based on the moral feelings and moral 
power of the people, a just and impartial administration will insure the 
best and most firm support, I must rest my claim to public approbation, 
on the integrity of my course, and the good sense and justice of my 
fellow citizens. Animated by these views, I do in the sincerity of my 
heart, invite a cordial and united effort for the good of our common 
country." 14 

Instead of silencing criticism, Slaughter laid himself open to further 
charges by his political opponents, who now declared they were certain 
he was a federalist and that he was councelling the abandonment of party 
lines to cloak his position. The editor of the Kentucky Gazette said, "He 
has proved that no party can safely confide in him; he has convinced us 
that he pretended to belong to the republican party, merely to acquire 
office and honor; his practice has been at variance with his professions. 
He will, we hope, be permitted soon, to exclaim, in the language of 
Napoleon,_ 'my political life is at an end.' " 15 Slaughter undoubtedly felt 
that if his opponents were able to connect him with federalism, his 
political career was at an end. The Kentucky Gazette stated about this 
time that, "In no instance, within our knowledge, did an avowed federal- 
ist ever succeed in obtaining the confidence of the people, in Kentucky." 16 
The term federalism to a Kentuckian meant the New England kind with 
ideas of aristocracy and perhaps monarchism, and the stigma of oppo- 
sition to the late war. A traveller through the state about this time, 
characterized the Kentuckian thus : "He is hospitable, but rather ostenta- 
tious, plain in his manners, and rather grave; a great politician, rather 
apt to censure than to praise, and a rather bigoted republican. It is said 
by enemies, that were a person to travel through Kentucky and openly 
approve of Monarchical principles, he would be stabbed. This is not 
true ; but it is true that they are irascible, to a great degree, and it would 
not be wise for any man to preach up even federal, that is tory, principles 
in this state." 1T 

This growing opposition to Slaughter soon expressed itself in a very 
concrete and tangible program. If he be a federalist and, therefore, 
objectionable, he should not be tolerated in the high office he occupied. 
The cry was raised that he was in actuality not properly the governor of 
the state ; that he had been elected to the office of lieutenant-governor 
and had never been intended for governor. The state should be rid of 
him ; and the orderly method of accomplishing this was to call a new 
election. Matthew Lyon who had already had a long career of advocacy 
of extreme democracy and who had edited a newspaper before migrating 
to Kentucky called The Scourge of Aristocracy and Repository of Im- 

11 Message of December 3, 1816 in Kentucky Gazette, December 9, 1816; Niles' 
Register, Vol. 11, pp. 391, 392. 

15 June 21, 1817. 

16 August S, 1816. 

17 E. P. Fordham, Personal Narrative of Travel in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsyl- 
vania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky; and of a Residence in the Illinois Territory: 
1817-1818 (Cleveland, 1906). Edited by F. A. Ogg. 

Vol. II— 2 


portant Political Truth, early set upon Slaughter with some of the old 
vigor that had brought a fine and jail sentence from the federalists upon 
him in 1798. In the Kentucky Gazette he poured out his argument week 
after week. He said there must be a new election for governor, as the 
people had never elected Slaughter to that office. In his zeal for striking 
arguments, Lyon conjured up the possibility of the governor holding office 
for life by a hide-and-seek arrangement between the office of governor 
and lieutenant governor, despite the provision of the constitution which 
declared that the "governor shall be ineligible for the succeeding seven 
years, after the expiration of the time for which he shall have been 
elected." Lyon reasoned that by succeeding from the lieutenant gov- 
ernorship to the governorship through the pre-arranged plan for the 
elected governor to resign, the lieutenant governor, who would not be the 
governor but merely the "acting governor," would be able to perpetuate 
himself in the governor's office, by this "political farcical juggle." 18 

Joseph Cabell Breckinridge, who was a member of the Legislature, 
entered into a long and minute constitutional argument to show that 
Slaughter was not entitled to fill the unexpired term of Madison. The 
constitutional provision concerning the gubernatorial succession follows: 
"In case of the impeachment of the governor, his removal from office, 
death, refusal to qualify, resignation, or absence from the state, the 
lieutenant governor shall exercise all the power and authority appertain- 
ing to the office of governor, until another be duly qualified, or the gov- 
ernor, absent or impeached, shall return or be acquitted." 19 The phrase, 
"until another be duly qualified," was capable of two interpretations, and 
it was on this that the whole question hinged. Did it mean that the lieu- 
tenant governor succeeded to the remaining term of the governor, or did 
it mean that he should serve as governor only until a governor could be 
elected by a special election? Breckinridge summed up his position in 
the statement that, "Though the constitution is not so full and clear on 
the subject as could be wished yet from its general import, from the 
general intention of its framers, and from the many absurdities which a 
contrary doctrine would involve, we are justified in the conclusion that 
it was the intentions of the framers of that instrument that there should 
be a new election." -" 

The supporters of Slaughter, the more conservative element, argued 
with much logic and reason that the constitution should be interpreted 
in the ordinary light in which such documents were viewed, and not in 
the distorted and prejudiced manner which characterize those who wanted 
to oust Slaughter — and that mostly for political reasons. Their fight 
against Slaughter was not born of a respect and concern for that docu- 
ment; in fact only after Slaughter had done certain political acts dis- 
pleasing to that group did they suddenly discover that the constitution 
was being violate dand that it was left to them to uphold that sacred 
instrument. Slaughter's supporters pointed to the fact that in every other 
state in the union the interpretation given to the gubernatorial succession 
clause made the lieutenant governor fill out the whole unexpired term of 
the governor. So was it also true in the case of the nation; no one 
questioned the right as well as duty of the vice president to fill out the 
unexpired part of the president's term in case of his death. 

Arguments gave way to action when on January 21, 1817, the House 
voted on a bill "to enquire into the Constitutionality of authorizing by 
law. an election for Governor, at the next annual election." This 
measure was defeated by considerable majorities in both House and 

** Kentucky Gazette, January 27, 1817. 

19 Article III, section 18. 

20 Kentucky Gazette, February 24, 1817. 


Senate. 21 To the opponents of Slaughter, this defeat meant only that 
the people throughout the state were not sufficiently informed on the 
dangers that were hanging over the commonwealth in the person of an 
unconstitutional governor ; therefore, a campaign of enlightenment must 
be instituted for the direct purpose of influencing the people to return in 
the coming August election only those candidates who stood for a new 
gubernatorial election and the purging of the state government of its 
self-appointed chief magistrate. 

The stage was early set for the contest and the state was thoroughly 
upset and agog for many months to come. Some of the most prominent 
men of the commonwealth came out for the new election doctrine. Among 
these were John J. Crittenden, destined to play a prominent part in the 
affairs of the nation, Joseph Cabell Breckinridge, whose family had 
already given leaders to the state and was destined to make even greater 
contributions ; William T. Barry, lawyer, diplomat, soldier, cabinet mem- 
ber; George M. Bibb, justice of the highest state court. United States 
Senator, cabinet member, and Jesse Bledsoe, United States Senator, 
judge, orator. Henry Clay had graduated beyond the politics in a great 
measure ; yet his influence here was not small. He, therefore, entered 
into the new election contest very little — and designedly so, for he saw 
in it the possibility of party differences and political enmities which he 
did not care to be connected with. His friends for the most part were 
for the new election, especially as John Pope, his chief political rival, 
was identified with the Slaughter administration. The general impression 
throughout the state, however, was that Clay stood for a new election. 22 
Aided not only by such men, famous or yet to become so, and the out- 
standing leaders of the state, the new election cause was also championed 
by the most powerful and influential newspapers. The Kentucky Gazette, 
the Reporter, the Argus, and many others filled their columns week after 
week with arguments and appeals calling upon the people to be wary 
lest they cease to rule at all, when a usurper occupied high place. Those 
who were foremost in the support of Slaughter were George Robertson, 
the eminent jurist, and John Pope, the secretary of state. 

The argument in the preceding legislative debate of the past winter 
were reproduced in this campaign, so vigorously fought for the control 
of the Legislature. Spurious reasoning and dangerous fallacies and 
sophisms were employed, playing upon the ignorance and passions of the 
people. The winds were being sown, only to harvest the whirlwinds a 
few years later. The strong passions of the people already so firmly im- 
planted in them that they alone were in the last instance the supreme 
authority were greatly inflamed in the campaign. Again they were asked 
if they intended to submit to a high official whom they did not elect. They 
alone were the source of all political power, and they alone should be the 
final judges as to whether the constitution had been disobeyed in 
Slaughter's assuming the permanent post of governor. If the constitu- 
tion was not clear on the gubernatorial succession let the people decide ; 
they alone should rule. Who could there be so distrustful of the people 
as to doubt ''that it would be anti-republican, contrary to the spirit and 
genius of our government to submit to be governed by a mere subaltern?" 
It was even argued that in a last analysis the constitution itself must bow 
to the superior sanctity of the inalienable right of the people to rule. The 
rights of man in a state of nature and the social compact on which all 
legitimate government was formed should be the final rule. There was 

21 The vote in the House was 63 to 28, and in the Senate, 28 to 3. George 
Robertson, Scrap Book on Lazv and Politics, Men and Times (Lexington, 1855), 1-3; 
Kentucky Gazette, January 27, 1817; Niles' Register, Vol. 12, p. 42. 

22 See Public Advertiser (Louisville), October 13, 1818; Kentucky Gazette, 
March 3, 1817. 


thus a law higher even than the constitution. Thus was that instrument 
superseded by a return to the old doctrines that had been used in bringing 
on the American Revolution. 23 George Robertson said, "Under false 
colors they have without a solitary argument, but merely by flattery and 
pretty names, induced many honest, unsuspecting men to join them in 
their unholy crusade against the constitution." 2i Slaughter, himself, was 
not attacked to any great extent. His ability and conspicuously progres- 
sive and sound course during the time he had occupied the governorship 
had made a favorable impression on many people and had made it very 
difficult for his political enemies to attack his record or character. It was 
for this reason, then, that his opponents confined their campaign princi- 
pally to abstractions on constitutional and "higher law" arguments. 

Slaughter's defenders beat back with doctrines and arguments worthy 
of the higher regard for the stability of government assumed by them. 
Pope was very active in the campaign. He sent numerous personal letters 
to prominent people throughout the commonwealth, counselling them to 
work for the defeat of the new election scheme. This propaganda was 
assailed by his opponents as affording all necessary proof of the secret 
and covert designs of those who were actively engaged in thwarting the 
will of the people. 25 The Slaughter supporters pointed out how futile 
all government was if the constitution might be set aside at will by design- 
ing demagogues and scheming politicians. Again they argued the perfect 
constitutionality of Slaughter's position, and sought to call the people 
back to a sense of the sanctity of constitutional government, warning them 
of the ultimate anarchy that would inevitably follow in any other course. 
George Robertson plead : "Oh ! my country, art thou, with all thy noble 
and exalted destinies, quivering on this awful precipice ! Have we come 
to this that a few men may sack the constitution when they please, with 
impunity?" Robertson declared that if a new election were ordered in- 
stead of settling anything, new and more profoundly perplexing difficul- 
ties would be raised up. Instead of having one governor, two would be 
found attempting to rule. No course could be designed better calculated 
to lead to anarchy and utter ruin. But it was argued that the Court of 
Appeals would force Slaughter out. Robertson said this was assuming 
more than would likely happen, and if so, then what. Force the court to 
so rule, declared the Slaughter opponents. In the words of Robertson, 
"The advocates of a new election admit that we have not a right to change 
the constitution in any other way than therein prescribed, but some of 
them still have the affrontery to say that we can force the courts to give 
it what construction we please. * * * Will you then, people of Ken- 
tucky, permit yourselves to be duped and cheated out of your constitution 
by those candidates for power? Think for yourselves, and act like men 
who deserve to be free ; and coolly, deliberately, and wisely." 20 

The passions of the people had been aroused ; and it seemed that no 
amount of reason and logic could allay them. In the August election the 
new election supporters were victorious. The Kentucky Gazette, directly 
following the election, estimated the majority in the House to be from 
ten to twenty, representing an overturn of the adverse majority of thirty- 
five in the preceding Legislature. As later determined, the actual ma- 
jority of the new election men was twenty-six. As only one-fourth of 
the Senate was elected each year, it was impossible to capture that body 
immediately by the election method. However, the one-fourth elected at 
this time were almost unanimously for the new gubernatorial election. 27 

23 See Robertson, Scrap-Book, 17; Autobiography of Amos Kendall, 184-198; 
Kentucky Gazette, June 16, 1817, passim. 

24 Robertson, Scrap-Book, 5. 

25 A copy of one of these letters is in the Kentucky Gazette, July 19, 1817. 

26 Robertson, Scrap Book, 18, 19. 

** Kentucky Gazette, August 9, 1817. 


The people had spoken ; a mighty power had been awakened ; what of 
the future? A legislature had been elected, backed by the people on any 
raid on the constitution it should feel impelled to make. Robert Wick- 
liffe explained and characterized it later: "The war had thrown upon 
society a mass of sixty days' Majors, aids-de-camps to military 
generals & some of whom from having worn swords, and all of whom 
from having eaten public beef, were qualified for the Legislature. You 
had too, Sir, a goodly number of lawyers, lacking clients, who had time, 
and who felt as if they had talents, to legislate for you. They also be- 
came your Legislators : and being homogeneous with the offal of the war 
formed the basis of the Legislature of 1817. They proclaimed the 
doctrine of vox populi, vox Dei — that the people could do everything and 
that they themselves were the people — that it was absurd to say that the 
constitution could or ought to control the voice of the people as expressed 
by their representatives — that the constitution was the creature, and the 
people the Creator, and to suppose it to be the supreme law was to make 
the creature control the Creator." 2S 

Governor Slaughter did not participate in the arguments and debates 
of the August campaign ; but on the assembling of the Legislature in 
December he sent to that body in his annual message a document far 
above the average for the governors of American states. He not only 
reiterated his former recommendations for the development of the state 
along all important lines — and of absolutely commanding and first im- 
portance the building up of a school system; but he also gave valuable 
advice on the science and workings of government and politics. With- 
out mentioning specifically the past campaign, he clearly showed that it 
was this development that had called forth his comments. Government 
in America was a departure from simple democracy where the people 
acted in the first instance, but it was nevertheless "government of the 
people, instituted for their benefit, and essentially dependent on their 
will." The beauty of the American system was that the final and de- 
liberate will of the people always carried, while momentary passions and 
prejudices were prevented from destroying the fabric. "It is true," he 
said, "that every excitement of popular feeling and passion is not to be 
considered the will of the community; but the deliberate sense of the 
people cannot, ought not, to be resisted. The American statesmen, who 
have formed our system of government, warned by the fate of the tumult- 
uous democracies of antiquity long since buried beneath the despotism of 
the old world, have wisely constructed the vessel of state so as to prevent 
its being driven by every popular blast from its proper course, by interpos- 
ing checks and balances, to stay the intemperance and rashness of the 
moment, and to give time for sober reason of the community to be exer- 
cised. To protect the weak against the strong, the minority against the 
majority, and to secure all and every one against violence, injustice and 
oppression, the people in their highest sovereign character assembled in 
convention for that special purpose, have by a written constitution estab- 
lished certain rules and principles, and barriers, they have solemnly 
pledged their faith to each other to observe inviolable, until the constitu- 
tion itself shall be altered or abolished." The three departments of 
government were so dexterously arranged and balanced among each 
other, that no single branch could gain complete ascendancy. "These 
several bodies of magistracy are so many pillars or corner stones of the 
temple of freedom, the constitutional strength and independence of each 
one of which are essential to its preservation." They were protections 
against sudden bursts of unreasoning passion. "Every man who will 
examine himself, must confess that he is often led by passion and preju- 
dice into errors the most gross and extravagant ; we acknowledge too that 

28 Lafayette to the People, 50, 51. 


neighborhoods, counties, and nations are liable to err for a moment, from 
the same cause. If every impulse of any community was to be carried 
into full effect, there would be in such a state, neither confidence nor 

A despotism, he declared, need not rest in one person in order to exist ; 
and as Jefferson said, the concentrating of all power of government into 
the same hands was precisely the definition of a despotic government — 
173 despots would be as oppressive as one. It was not an elective des- 
potism that Americans fought for in the Revolution ; but rather for a 
government where the departments were so balanced among themselves 
as that no one could transcend its limits without being checked by another. 
Slaughter intimated that the personal distressing uproar among the people 
was due in part to their inability or refusal to understand the principles 
on which American liberties were based. From this angle he approached 
his recommendations for a school system : "When we reflect how much 
the very existence of our government depends on the virtue and intelli- 
gence of the people, and for how many ages the friends of freedom, and 
human happiness have been struggling to devise some form of govern- 
ment alike secure against tyranny and anarchy, how indispensable is it to 
diffuse information, and qualify those who are to succeed us, to under- 
stand the plan and principles of government, furnished us by our revolu- 
tionary sages. Without intelligence the people never can be safe against 
the delusions to which they are exposed from the violence of party spirit, 
and the arts and intrigues of designing ambition." 

Again he called upon his fellow citizens to abate their party violence 
and differences. Discord should have no place in a system of equal rights 
and equal justice. Mindful of the so-called "Era of Good Feeling," elu- 
sive and ephemeral as it was, that was apparent in President Monroe's 
administration, Slaughter reminded his fellow Kentuckians that "Every 
honest and liberal man must rejoice at the prospect of a political jubilee, 
in the deliverance from the despotism of party names and feuds, which 
have so long distracted the public councils, and poisoned social inter- 
course." Let Kentuckians remember that the United States was the only 
republic on the globe "and that a union among ourselves is necessary 
to insure success to our system. Let us therefore obliterate party spirit 
and unite our efforts to give strength and maturity to our republican 
institutions." True enough there must be differences of opinion on all 
great questions but that should not be made a ground "for eternal pro- 
scription or party division." Shall reasoning men, citizens of a free state, 
"be divided by the mere magic of unmeaning names and terms?" A 
party organized under any particular name merely for party or personal 
objects is dangerous in our republic, and its spirit is despotism. In order 
to observe the accountability of public men, a fundamental principle of 
a free government, it is necessary that the people should be in a situation 
to pass an impartial judgment upon public measures, and the conduct of 
public men." 29 Again Slaughter was charged with merely attempting 
to allay criticism against himself by calling for a cessation of party spirit. 

Immediately the Legislature began the chief work it considered 
itself elected to perform. A bill was introduced providing for a new 
gubernatorial election and was soon rushed through the House by a vote 
of fifty-six to thirty. The Senate, only one-fourth of which had been 
elected in the preceding August, debated the measure with much spirit 
and then defeated it by a vote of eighteen to fourteen. 30 The Senate 
had long been the most effective conservative force in the government, 

29 A copy of Slaughter's message may be found in Niles' Register Vol. 13, pp. 
386-389; also see Kentucky Gazette, December 13, 1817. 

30 Robertson, Scrap Book, 1-3 ; Kentucky Gazette, December 17, 1817; Niles' 
Register, Vol. 13, 321 gives the yeas and nays. 


and it had often been bitterly assailed because it had cheated the people 
of their momentary whims. In the present crisis it had sought to find a 
solution by advocating a constitutional convention to define more clearly 
the manner of the gubernatorial succession. This bill actually passed the 
Senate by a vote of twenty to twelve; it was, however, assailed by the 
new election forces as a move made by that body to allay the opposition 
to Slaughter and save him, for it was argued that before a constitutional 
convention could be called and anything accomplished by it, Slaughter 
would have served out the four year period.' 11 

The high tide of popular passion had all but succeeded ; and thanks 
were due to the Senate alone that it had been defeated. The only con- 
cession to the popular feeling against Slaughter that was ever secured 
was the title given him. In all official documents and communications of 
the Legislature, he was referred to as "Lieutenant Governor and Acting 
Governor." Nothing else was left to the people except resignation to 
their fate, which gave them Slaughter for a governor. The editor of the 
Argus said, "We shall, therefore, quietly submit to our present rulers in 
the executive department for two years more, as becomes good republi- 
cans, confidently trusting, that the people will then put the reins into 
abler hands." 32 Seeing the futility of further agitation in this political 
heresy, the people soon forgot the evils and disadvantages of living under 
a governor whom they did not elect or want. In the elections of August, 
1818, the question was hardly mentioned; in fact many of the Slaughter 
opponents were willing to forgive and forget. But it was not so with the 
Slaughter supporters. They had been villified and maligned as federalists 
and tories, and they were not disposed to unite or associate with their 
erstwhile accusers. 33 

But the political wounds that had been inflicted on the body politic 
were not deep or lasting. Old election and new election divisions were 
soon forgotten ; they represented no permanent interests on which parties 
could be built. But they did point with great force to a condition in the 
make-up of the public mind and conscience which might develop new 
divisions on new subjects but along the self-same old lines of intensive 
popular passions fed on the old heresies that the will of the majority is 
supreme and transcendent and of reasoning conservatism guided by fixed 
rules which should control until changed by a method previously agreed 
upon. The final contest between these two opposing forces was not 
abanoned ; it was destined to soon break out with great vigor for a final 

31 Kentucky Gazette, December 13, 1817. 

32 Quoted in Public Advertiser, August 18, 1818. 

33 See communication to Public Advertiser, September 1, 1818. 



The intrepid spirit and vigorous energy that had carried the state 
forward so successfully in fighting the late war, was not lost when peace 
came. It was merely transferred from the fields of warfare to the fields 
of industry. The people had never despaired of victory in their gloomiest 
defeats, for they were fighting for a union they loved. As strong and 
unalloyed as their patriotism was, still it was assisted by the economic 
prosperity that was accompanying the struggle. A traveller from Boston, 
who visited Lexington in 1813, after praising in unstinted terms the 
loyalty and boundless patriotism of the people, said that the war was 
after all "making the greater portion of them rich," and that to this 
"you may attribute a part of their patriotism, although to do them justice, 
they are the most patriotic people I have ever seen or heard of." 1 The 
state furnished a considerable amount of powder used in the Western 
campaigns, and other munitions of war and food products were obtained 
here for the army. 2 The output of nitre was far beyond that of any 
other state. In 1812, 301,937 pounds was produced, as compared to the 
next two highest states, Virginia with 48,175 pounds and Massachusetts 
with 23,600 pounds. 3 

This industrial activity which had existed before the war, but which 
had been stimulated by it, remained after peace was declared and was 
intensified. As noted, the quality of leadership and daring initiative, which 
had been so prominently displayed during the war, were now turned into 
the pursuits of peace. Progress in agriculture was evident on all sides 
with the varied crops that indicated a sound and lasting prosperity. In- 
stead of basing her prosperity on one product as most of the other 
Southern states were coming to do, Kentucky had at least two major 
money crops, tobacco and hemp, and numerous minor products as wheat, 
rye, maize, oats, barley, buckwheat, flax, and Irish potatoes, together 
j with such fruits as apples, pears, peaches, cherries and plums. 4 A river 
I commerce with New Orleans and the South had existed since the days of 
Tames Wilkinson and his tobacco trade, and was now on the verge of 
developing undreamed-of proportions with the coming of the steamboats. 
Emigrants were still finding many attractions in the state, despite the 
virgin lands to the north and west. There was yet much unappropriated 
land in the state and within a few years the Chickasaws were destined 
to cede their lands east of the Mississippi, which included the portion 
of the state west of the Tennessee River. This treaty of cession was 
concluded in 1818, by Andrew Jackson and Isaac Shelby on the part 
of the United States. 5 The settlement of this region was so rapid that 

1 Niles' Register, Vol. 8, Supplement, p. 178. 

2 McMaster, History of the People of the United States, III, 557. 
s Niles 3 Register, Vol. 2, p. 227. 

4 For an economic description of Kentucky at this time, see William Darby, 
The Emigrant's Guide to the Western and Southwestern States and Territories 
(New York, 1818), 205-208. 

See Indian Treaties and Laws and Regulations Relating to Indian Affairs 
(Washington, 1826), 184-187. 



within five years after the land had been opened, four counties of the 
eight that now constitute it, were laid off. 8 

Outside of this so-called Jackson Purchase, however, the state had 
no great amount of land that equalled the rich Blue Grass regions. An 
"Emigrant's Guide," published in 1818 said, "Kentucky has passed the 
era of rapid increase from emigration. The best lands are sold and 
have become expensive." However, with characteristic Western opti- 
mism it stated that "The state will continue to possess the advantage of 
its local position; and when the population of the western preponderate 
over the eastern and northern states, the seat of general government will 
probably be removed into this central state." 7 The older portions of the 
state and especially the Blue Grass area had developed into a respectable 
landed aristocracy. A description of the country lying immediately 
around Lexington states that "The farms in the neighborhood are well 
cultivated, and the farmers are generally rich and opulent, and many of 
them have coaches and carriages, made at Lexington, that cost one 
thousand dollars." 8 

Manufactories were progressing with the promise that had set them 
going so strongly a decade earlier. Almost every town had its industries, 
active and thriving. Embargoes, non-importation acts, and war itself, 
had, all, operated in favor of the manufacturing industries. British 
goods and all others were kept out with the home field free to America 
only. Isaac Shelby in his last message to the Legislature believed "We 
should extend the fostering care of government to our infant manu- 
factories." 10 But there was a stimulus to industry and to the level of 
prices that was unsubstantial and dangerous. Specie money had become 
scarce during the period of the war, and specie payment had finally been 
suspended, for a time. A certain amount of paper money issued by vari- 
ous state banks soon appeared to take its place. One of the very first 
results was the depreciation of it, and the consequent rise in prices. It 
became easy to obtain credit, and a period of speculation soon set in. 
The price of land rapidly advanced as speculators and the land-hungry 
with plenty of money became active. It was stated by one authority 
that "Land is as dear around Lexington as it is in the oldest settlement 
on the seaboard, whole farms have sold for $100 an acre; and small 
parcels for a far greater sum ; town lots are exorbitantly high." : x In 
speaking of Lexington, another authority stated that "It is with delight 
we note the great prosperity and rapidly rising importance of the future 
metropolis of the West ; where town lots sell nearly as high as in Boston, 
New York, Philadelphia or Baltimore, which shows that it is not a place 
in the wilderness, as some people suppose it to be!" 12 This booming 
condition of town lots was not peculiar to Lexington. During the same 
period, land sold in the corporate limits of Louisville for $30,000 an 
acre. 13 Speculators aided by a cheap and easy currency were responsible 
in a large measure for these high prices. And at this time the situation 

6 These counties in the order of their formation were Hickman, 1821, Calloway, 
1822, Graves, 1823, and McCracken, 1824. 

7 Darby, Emigrant's Guide, 207. It states further, "It will be seen by a review 
of the several states and territories, given in this treatise, that as in any new 
settlement, the best lands and those near navigable water-courses are transferred 
to private individuals, the flood of migration must begin to subside. From this 
sole cause arises the less comparative increase of inhabitants, in periods distant 
from the original settlement. Tennessee, Kentucky, and indeed all establishments 
on the valley of Ohio, are examples." Ibid. 

* Niles' Register, Vol. 7, p. 340. 

8 Brown, Gazetteer, 91-106. 

10 Niles' Register, Vol. 9, p. 319. 

11 Brown, Gazetteer, 94, 95. 

12 Niles" Register, Vol. 7, p. 340. 

13 John Bradbury, "Travels in the Interior of America in the Years 1809, 1810, 
and 181 1" in Thwaites, Early Western Travels, V, 320. 


that was growing up was being strongly deprecated by some. An account 
of the day declared, "The monster speculation, has fixed his eager grasp 
on some of the best tracts of land, to the great injury of the state, and 
with flagrant injustice to the poor. I must confess I felt indignant, when, 
after passing an extensive and fertile tract of beautiful land, of many 
thousand acres, and surrounded by rich and flourishing settlements. I 
enquired the cause why it was not settled, and received for answer, that 
it belonged to a rich gentleman in Virginia, or to some other opulent, non- 
resident land-jobber, who would not sell it for less than $30 an acre." 14 

This movement carried with it a corresponding rise in prices along 
other lines. Farm products and labor commanded heretofore unheard-of 
prices, with sufficient amounts of the latter impossible to obtain at any 
price. Common wool sold at 50c the pound, while the best grades of 
Merino sold for $2.00. Hemp was $80 the ton and flax $15 the 
hundred pounds. There was a great scarcity of artisans "of all classes, 
especially smiths, carpenters and joiners, brick makers and layers, painters 
and glaziers, cotton and wool machine makers, fullers and clothiers, up- 
holsterers, &c." I5 

Immediately on the conclusion of peace, England started for America 
the immense surplus of her manufactured articles that had been accumu- 
lating for years past, bent upon disposing of them by any method possible 
and at any price. As a result of this systematic campaign for a market, 
American merchants were led by long credit and easy payments to greatly 
over-stock themselves with English goods. A lawyer, who came to Ken- 
tucky in 1818, said that "almost every man who was able to buy for money 
or on credit, was clothed with European fabrics. * * *"io The 
mania for buying English-made goods was, perhaps more widespread 
in Kentucky than in any other state, and lasted longer, greatly to the 
detriment of the home manufactories. Hezekiah Niles gave a graphic 
description of the course of events here : "Thousands of persons forsook 
their farms and their workshops to become merchants. Whoever could 
raise a few hundred dollars in cash, hastened to expend it in the eastern 
cities, as well as to exhaust all the credit that he could obtain, in ill-advised 
purchases of foreign goods. These were hurried into the interior with as 
much promptitude as if every day's delay on the road was the loss of a 
little fortune — and so the cost of transportation was doubled, to be added 
to the originally imprudent expenditure. As the goods were bought on 
credit, they could be sold on credit — and who would wear an old coat 
when he could so easily obtain a new one at the 'store?' — he could get 
credit, and pay 'when convenient.' The hum of the spinning wheel was 
banished from the evening's fireside, and the sound of the shuttle no 
longer disturbed speculative minds. There was a plenty of everything, 
because there was a plenty of credit ! The needless debts thus created 
amounted to millions." 1T A committee of the Legislature characterized 
the situation in the statement that "a vast amount of eastern debt had 
been created soon after the close of the late war, by extraordinary im- 
portations of merchandise. * * *" 18 

Going with this speculation and boom times was a constant draining 
away of the always meager amounts of specie to be found in the state. 
Paper notes of doubtful value were floating around, but instead of aiding 
trade and ministering to prosperity, they were a distinct hindrance. The 

14 Brown, Gazetteer, III, 112. 

16 Niles' Register, Vol. 7, pp. 339, 340. 

16 Ibid, Vol. 23, p. 258. 

17 Niles' Register, Vol. 28, p. 81. 

18 Ibid., Vol. 23. p. 235. Governor Desha in his message to the Legislature in 
October, 1821, said, "Successful industry laid the foundation of unlimited credit, 
and impatient cravings for excessible gain, precipitated the adventurous into 
[in] discriminate speculation." Ibid., Vol. 21, 185. 


Bank of Kentucky with its branches was refusing to redeem its notes in 
specie, giving as an excuse that the rest of the western country and as 
far as it could determine, many of the eastern states were still suspending 
specie payment, and, that therefore, it would be manifestly unfair and 
ruinous for it alone to pay out its gold and silver. 10 To relieve the coun- 
try from the confused and ruinous state of the currency everywhere, due 
to the almost worthless paper money of numerous state banks, Congress 
established in 1816, the Second Bank of the United States, and early in 
iS 1 7 established two branches in Kentucky, one in Lexington and the 
other in Louisville. By issuing a uniform currency throughout the 
United States, it was hoped that the dangerous situation everywhere 
would be speedily relieved. As was stated by Governor Adair, "The 
depreciated currency of the states was regarded as an evil of dangerous 
tendency — and the more so, as it was one which the states could not 
speedily eradicate. A national bank, with a capital sufficient to furnish 
a national currency, was proposed and adopted as a prompt and efficient 
remedy." 20 

But the operation of the United States Bank and its branches had 
the direct effect of forcing out of circulation the notes of those banks 
which could not redeem them in specie, and instead of increasing the 
circulating medium virtually destroyed it, poor as it was. And the safe 
currency issued by the United States Bank, in the providing of which 
was seen one of the important reasons for the establishing of the bank, 
was entirely inadequate. Governor Adair inquired, "Has it answered 
the proposed end? Does it afford a circulating medium for the union? 
Whilst it crushes beneath its ponderous weight, every feeble corporation, 
and displaces the notes of the specie paying banks within the sphere of 
its operations, are its notes anywhere to be found except in the great 
emporiums of trade, or in discharging the silent and impoverishing opera- 
tions of exchange?" 21 The branches also served to drain from the state 
the remaining specie. As a legislative committee declared, "These 
powerful institutions immediately opened the arteries of the country 
through which our precious metals flowed in an unremitting stream." '-'- 

Relief was soon demanded by the people throughout the state. They 
not only needed money for the ordinary transactions of business; but 
the time to pay for the numerous purchases made directly following the 
late war, and to redeem many mortgages and notes was at hand. The 
more money in existence, the easier it would be to obtain it and, there- 
fore, the easier to pay debts. There had long been a lively desire on the 
part of many to engage in the banking business, chiefly for the gains to 
be made from the issuing of notes. As heretofore stated, a law had been 
passed against private banking. Legalized banking was largely taken 
care of by the Bank of Kentucky and its branches. But this did not pre- 
vent frequent attempts of private businesses to secure banking privileges 
in their charters of incorporation. Such efforts were not actuated wholly 
by the primary gains through banking but by the feeling that the banking 
facilities of the state were not sufficient. In 1S14, a group of Lexington 

19 Robert Alexander, President of the Bank of Kentucky, wrote on January 5, 
1817, William H. Crawford, Secretary of the Treasury, "but, however, anxious 
we may be to see the legal currency of the United States restored to circulation, 
and however desirous of promoting its accomplishments, you must be sensible, 
as well as ourselves, that our single efforts would be worse than unavailing; they 
would be ruinous to ourselves and useless to the community. I am directed to 
inform you that as soon as the adoption of this measure by a sufficient number 
of banks in the eastern states shall render it safe for the Bank of Kentucky, that 
bank and its branches will resume the payment of specie." American State Papers, 
Finance, IV, 708. . 

20 In message to Legislature October 16, 1821 in Niles" Register, Vol. 21, p. 185. 

21 In message to Legislature October 16, 1821 in Niles' Register, Vol. 21, p. 185. 
™Niles' Register, Vol. 23, p. 234. 


business men sought to obtain a charter of incorporation from the Legis- 
lature for the double purpose of manufacturing and banking. The capi- 
tal was to be $1,000,000 of which two-fifths was to be used for manu- 
facturing purposes and the remainder for banking. 23 Even before the 
baleful effects of the saternalia of extravagance made easy by long credit 
were apparent, efforts were becoming more persistent and more wide- 
spread for additional banks. Politics and sectional considerations were 
beginning to appear to sorely beset the state in controlling where economic 
laws and reason should have been paramount. In 1815, a movement in 
the Green River region had started for more banks, and for banks to 
be located in that section. They also had the feeling that the Bank of 
Kentucky was becoming too powerful and that it was exercising its power 
in an unbecoming way in the Legislature. As a remedy, it would have 
a rival bank set up. 24 This growing hostility to the Bank of Kentucky, 
and increasing tendency to make banks footballs of politics, was echoed 
in a speech by a member of the legislature in 1815, when a bill was up 
for increasing the capital of the Bank of Kentucky. He stated that "If 
this bill be passed, there is no further use for us here ; the directors of 
the State bank, and not we, the representatives of the people will be the 
legislators of the state — a monied aristocracy will govern every thing." 25 
With a smouldering and at time active hostility to the Bank of Ken- 
tucky, coupled with the fact that this institution did not supply sufficient 
amounts of circulating medium, the time was becoming ripe for more 
banks and more money. Hezekiah Niles summed it up thus, "In this 
state of things, it was found out that the zchole difficulty was caused by 
the want of money ! A 'circulating medium' was required. Banks must 
be established — and there was nothing wanting for them but acts of in- 
corporations and paper mills !" 2U The forces intent on more money 
were let loose in the 1817-1818 session of the Legislature, and with such 
fury that in January of 1818, an act was passed after strong opposition, 
which provided for the chartering of forty-six independent banks with 
an aggregate capitalization of $8,720,000. These banks were scattered 
over the state for the direct purpose of ministering to the monetary wants 
of the people according to sections and needs. The capital stock varied 
from $1,000,000 in Lexington and Louisville to $100,000 in Lebanon, 
Mount Sterling and twenty-one other towns of this class. 27 Notes might 
be issued to the amount of not over three times the capital stock less in- 
debtedness. Thus, at one throw, there was let loose on the state, institu- 
tions that had permission to grind out over $26,000,000 in bank notes— 
an amount equal almost to a third of the total valuation of property in 
the state in 1815. No one could now reproach the state for not providing 
money in sufficient quantities to pay all debts that had been contracted. 
Not only would such a gigantic and unheard of inflation of money tend 
to the complete upset of all legitimate business in time, but the money 
itself, over and beyond the militating effect of the quantity, was not to be 

"Crittenden MSS., Vol. 2, No. 278. This is the correspondence of John J. 
Crittenden in the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress at Washington. 
Letter from John Breathitt to Crittenden January 22, 1814. 

24 Kentucky Gazette, September 25, 1815. 

2» Ibid., October 2, 1815. 

"Niles 1 Register, Vol. 28, p. 81. 

2' The location and capital of the banks follows: Lexington and Louisville, 
$1,000,000; Frankfort, $500,000; Bowling Green, Georgetown, Maysville, and Paris, 
$300,000; Bardstown, Glasgow, Hopkinsville, Newport, Russellville, Richmond, 
Shelbyville, Versailles, and Winchester, $200,000; Danville, Flemingsburg, Harrods- 
burg, Henderson, Springfield, and Stanford, $150,000; Cynthiana, $120,000; and 
Augusta, Barbourville, Burksville, Burlington, Carlisle, Columbia, Elizabethtown, 
Greensburg, Greenville, Hardinsburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, Millersburg, Monticello, 
Morgantown, Mount Sterling, New Castle, Nicholasville, Owingsville, Petersburg, 
Port William, Shepherdsville, and Somerest, $100,000. 


redeemed in specie but rather in the notes of the Bank of Kentucky or of 
the United States Bank. 28 

The conservative sound money men attacked this action as equivalent 
to a raid on the prosperity of the state. A Kentuckian wrote John J. 
Crittenden a few days after the act had been passed that it was highly 
problematical whether any ultimate good could come out of these banks. 
He was sure that this legislation would "afford facilities to commerce 
and increase the nominal value of real estate ; but that it will deluge the 
state with too much paper money, increase the thirst for speculation, 
which is already too eager in our country and envolve many of our most 
useful and enterprising citizens in ruin and bankruptcy, [I] entertain 
the most fearful apprehensions." 20 Robert Wickliffe was severe in his 
condemnation : "By the grant of these forty-eight charters, you em- 
phatically granted away the suffrage of the people, and laid the founda- 
tion of a tyranny as corrupt as it was strong. Sir, I wish to be understood 
— I say that the tyranny which you founded with these banks, was as 
corrupt as it was burthensome, and that the extent of its corruption was 
only ascertainable by its duration." 30 

The state, indeed, was sorely beset by the banks. Including the Bank 
of Kentucky with its branches and the two branch banks of the Bank of 
the United States, there were in all fifty-nine such institutions in the 
state. In some of the towns where the independent banks were set up, 
there were not a hundred people, as for instance in Greenville and Bar- 
bourville. In at least eight there were less than two hundred souls. It 
was estimated by one authority that it would require 826 officers to run 
the banks, dispersed as follows : 59 presidents, 59 cashiers, and 708 
directors and that the salaries of the officers of each bank added to 
the other expenses of the establishment would average $9,000. To this, 
would he add the salaries of fifty-nine notaries "to protest notes" at 
$200 salary each, and in all there would result a total of $552,800 for 
expenses. "And," he declared, "five hundred and fifty-tivo thousand 
eight hundred dollars are to be paid by the laboring classes of that state 
every year, for services that will not add one cent per annum to the 
wealth of the country." Counting in the additional expenses the state 
would undergo in the inevitable depreciation of the currency, he said 
"From the whole it appears that the banking system in the state may cost 
the people nearly tivo million per awn.; and which must be exclusively 
paid, in the ultimate, by those who labor, for they only create any 
value." 31 

The printing presses were soon set to work producing volumes of 
crisp new paper notes, causing the eyes of many a debtor to sparkle as 
he beheld the miracle money. The banks were truly the institutions de- 
signed to make the poor rich, so why should not all hasten to get in debt 
for only in that way could they become rich and escape the ruin that 
came with old debts. The (Louisville) Public Advertiser said: "We 
are now, it seems, to become wealthy by manufacturing paper money. 
Our wise legislators have authorized the issuing of paper on paper; but 
in this, as in the other instance, they appear to have been ignorant or 
regardless of future consequences — of the miseries and perplexities they 
were entailing upon their constituents." 32 Large volumes of this money 

™ Acts of Kentucky, 1817; John C. Doolan, "The Old Court— New Court 
Controversy" in The Green Bag, Vol. 11 (1899), 179; Collins, History of Kentucky, 
I, 28. 

29 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 2, Nos. 189, 190. Letter from J. H. Todd February 
4, 1818. 

30 Lafayette to the People, 53. (Pamphlet written by a Kentuckian under name 
of "Lafayette.") 

* 1 Niles' Register, Vol. 14, pp. 109, no. 
82 July 21, 1818. 


were soon flowing from the springs of a half a hundred banks and were 
being loaned to the thirsty debtors and speculators on doubtful or worth- 
less security. Before the day of payment and repentance came joy was 
great and the time buoyant. As long as the paper money was flowing 
outward from the banks, no one had a care ; but when the notes were 
drifting back again and loans were being called in, then confusion re- 
sulted in the medium of exchange and distress among the debtors became 
evident. So lax were the rules regulating the management of the banks 
and the issuance of notes, and so varied was the degrees of their enforce- 
ment that there came to be almost as many values for notes as there were 
banks. Some remained for a time near par while others depreciated 
sharply. This state of affairs led the Kentucky Gazette to throw out 
this advice: "It is now extremely difficult to know when safety exists 
in taking bank paper in the ordinary transactions of life. We would 
recommend to farmers, and other country gentlemen, who have not an 
opportunity of witnessing the fluctuations, to be very cautious in receiv- 
ing money — lest it might remain on their hands as trash." 33 

•Professional brokers or "shavers" as they were called sprang up on 
all sides who afforded specie or money of recognized value and standing 
in return for the various Kentucky notes, accepting them only at a heavy 
discount. An observer described the situation thus : "The people called 
for banks, and banks were made ; they loaned money freely, and, for 'a 
little season,' the oppressed, having, by new credits, paid off some part 
of their old debts, rejoiced at the 'relief afforded. A fig for the old- 
fashioned way of doing business, said they — there is nothing like credit. 
But this did not last long. The bills of most of the new-made banks 
would not 'pass' — it was discovered that they were paper — mere paper; 
and then there was the very 'mischief to pay.' Brokers and shavers 
jumped up like mushrooms, and they gave 'relief,' out of sheer kindness 
to a suffering people. They began at 10 per cent discount and ended at 
95 ! — shaving away the greater portion of the little means that were left 
for the honest payment of debts. The banks, by this time, had obtained 
judgments — the sheriffs were as busy as 'Old Nick in a gale of wind,' 
and a general sweep of ruin was threatened. * * *" 34 

These bundles of paper notes soon came to be outlawed in almost 
every kind of business transaction. The banks themselves lost faith 
among each other and refused to receive the notes of certain other banks. 
The branches of the United States Bank in Kentucky refused in most 
instances to accept the Kentucky bank notes or have any business deal- 
ings with the "Forty Thieves" as the independent banks were sometimes 
called. The butchers of Lexington in a meeting held to protect them- 
selves from worthless paper, decided to refuse any paper money which 
was not acceptable to the Lexington banks, for they could not use such 
money in buying cattle. 35 The tavern-keepers and merchants of Frank- 
fort declared they would not receive or give currency to any bills of any 
bank whatsoever, under the denomination of one dollar, for apart from 
the stability of the bank, there was the additional danger of the note 
being counterfeit. In fact not only were small bills counterfeited but 
larger ones also ; and as charged by some this practice was kept up until 
the cost of counterfeiting became greater than the current value of the 
note. In this period of rumors and suspicions the people came to lose 
faith in all banks and the good ones found great difficulty in proving and 
maintaining their positions. Notices were frequently inserted in the 
newspapers denying reports that the conditions of certain banks were 
bad and that their notes were dangerous. 30 Even the notes of the Ken- 

33 July 16, 1819. 

si Niles' Register, Vol. 28, p. 81. 

35 Kentucky Gazette, July 16, Aug. 19, 1819. 

30 For instance Kentucky Gazette, Sept. 10, 1819. 


tucky Insurance Company were refused, an institution which had, al- 
though gaining banking privileges by deception, used sound principles 
in its business. A person returned some of these notes to his creditor 
in 1818, declaring that "nobody will receive [them] here." 37 

Kentucky was fast becoming the storm center of a world-wide mone- 
tary and business disturbance, the Panic of 1819. For various reasons, 
many of which were not peculiar to this panic but rather common to all, 
world conditions were out of joint; but it seemed that in Kentucky there 
had been causes of a local nature almost sufficient to produce a panic. 
The prices of everything offered for sale came down almost to the van- 
ishing point when compared to the high levels of a few years previously. 
It was reported in 1820 corn was selling in some parts of the state for 
10 cents a bushel and wheat at 20 cents. 3s A traveller stated that land 
around Lexington and Frankfort was selling for only one-sixth as much 
as it was bringing a few years earlier. 30 The Kentucky Gazette said, 
"The price of property is exceedingly depressed. Real estate will not 
sell for one-fourth of its value." An example of the hard times result- 
ing in forced sales was the case of a factory near Lexington costing 
$150,000 which with other valuable buildings and about one hundred 
acres of land was sold for $21,000 — and on credit at that. 40 A writer 
to the Kentucky Gazette gave this further dismal picture of the times: 
"Slaves which sold some time ago, could command the most ready money, 
have fallen to an inadequate value. A slave which hires for $80 or $100 
per annum, may be purchased for $300 or $400. A house and lot on 
Limestone Street, for which $15,000 had been offered some time past, 
sold under the officer's hammer, for $1,300. A house and lot, which I 
am informed was bought for $10,000, after $6,000 had been paid by 
the purchaser, was sold under a mortgage for $1,500, leaving the original 
purchaser (besides his advances) $3,500 in debt. A number of sales, 
which excited at the same time astonishment and pity, have occurred in 
this town. Comparisons of local sufferings should not be indulged in, 
but I am told that Lexington is less afflicted than almost any part of the 
state." « 

With the prices of everything reversed from what obtained a few 
years earlier, labor conditions speedily changed. Instead of high wages 
and a scarcity of workmen, now men went begging for jobs. An ob- 
server speaking of the Ohio Valley in general said, "Labourers and 
mechanics are in want of employment. I think I have seen upwards 
of 1,500 men in quest of w-ork within eleven months past, and many of 
these declared that they had no money." Governor Adair urged the 
beginning of important internal improvements at this time, not only be- 
cause rivers should be made navigable and roads be constructed, but 
provisions were cheap and labor low — and this would help to solve the 
unemployment situation. 42 During this period of depression, the state 
finances were in a healthy state. In 1818 there was a balance in the 
treasury of over $17,000, in 1819 nearlv $^4,000. and in 1820 about 
$jo,ooo. 43 

One of the most important and far-reaching results of the saturnalia 
of extravagance and speculation with the consequent hard times was the 
virtual destruction of the thriving manufactories of the state from which 

37 Breckinridge MSS (1818). David Castleman to Joseph C. Breckinridge, Tan. 
8, 1818. 

38 Niles' Register, Vol. 19, p. 16. 

39 Adlard Welby, "A Visit to North America and the English Settlements in 
Illinois" in Thwaites, Early Western Travels, XII, 147-341. 

40 May 7, 1819. 

41 Quoted in Niles' Register, Vol. 17, p. 85. 

42 Message of October 16, 1821 in Niks' Register, Vol. 21, p. 187. 

43 Niles" Register, Vol. 17, p. 340, Vol. 19, p. 176. 


recovery was never completely made. Immediately after the war, when 
England began to dump her immense surpluses of manufactured articles 
on the American shores, an almost universal cry went up for protection 
to the infant American industries from the ruinous English competition. 
As a result the Tariff Act of 1816 was speedily passed. But relief was 
not instant nor complete. English competition had already done a great 
amount of harm to the rather unstable manufactures in Kentucky where 
labor was not concentrated and from which markets were far distant 
and transportation facilities lacking. These conditions, coupled with the 
pestilences of the times, was something more than these manufactories 
could endure. However, heroic efforts were made by the Kentucky cap- 
tains of industry to save their industrial fabric. In 1817 the "Kentucky 
Society for the Encouragement of Domestic Manufacture" was organ- 
ized with the direct purpose of combating foreign importations. It was 
recommended that every member dress in fabrics of home manufacture 
as soon as possible. In a short time, the sixty-five members that com- 
posed the society appeared in a meeting "in home-manufactured vestures, 
demonstrative, by their cheapness and elegance." Branches of this society 
were scattered over the state within a year. 44 For a time the promoters 
of manufacturing felt buoyant. One of the largest factories in Lexing- 
ton which had been forced to close down on account of English com- 
petition opened up again in 1819. 45 The Kentucky Gazette- had strong 
hopes and expectations for a revival. It said, "The spirit and pride of 
our citizens will not sleep, even amid the agonizing pressure of the 
times." 40 A paper mill in Barren County reported "good demand" for 
its product; a bar iron factory in Bath County stated in its report "Con- 
dition and demand good ;" a cotton yarn factory in Bourbon declared 
that "Condition never better;" a beer, porter, and ale establishment in 
Fayette reported conditions "Good ;" while a chewing tobacco, cigar, and 
snuff factory in the same county declared "Demand for chewing tobacco 
and cigars limited ; for snuff good." 

But as heretofore noted, the manufacturers were destined to lose, 
and the story is vividly told in these terse reports : A factory manufac- 
turing bagging for cotton said, "Formerly the bagging establishments 
were eight in Lexington, in Fayette County, and made 480,000 yards. 
At present this is the only one, and does but a small business." A Lex- 
ington factory manufacturing bridle bits, plated stirrups, and brass and 
iron castings for machinery stated that it had been "Reduced to four 
men and $2,000 for raw materials by foreign importation." A Lexing- 
ton manufactory of cloths, superfine, and course flannels, blankets, and 
paper reported, "This establishment is said to be the largest and best 
supplied with machinery of any in the United States. It ceased opera- 
tion in 1818 in consequence of foreign importations." A cordage, rope, 
yarn, twine, and bagging factory reported "Discontinued in 1819," while 
a coach and chariot factory said it was "Rapidly declining. No de- 
mand." Numerous other factories reported that they had discontinued 
in 1818 and 1819. A mill making flour and meal reported "markets 
dull," a hat factory said it had "Declined one-half since 1817," and a 
soap and candle manufactory "Ceased operations in 1816." A factory 
making "white lead, dry and in oil, floated lead, red lead, litharge, and 
sugar of lead" reported a "dull demand" and a continued operation only 
on hopes in the future. A Harrison County factory making thread, 
shirtings, and plaids declared that "Foreign importations have put down 

44 Kentucky Gazette, Aug. 23, 1817, March 27, 1818. 

45 Kentucky Gazette, Nov. 26, 1819. This was the large Saunders cotton factory, 
which now was reopened under the control of Postlethwait, Brand and Company. 

46 Quoted in Commons and Phillips, Documentary History of American Indus- 
trial Society, II, 301, 302. 


this establishment." But foreign importations were not responsible for 
all failures. A cotton yarn factory in Mercer County stated that "The 
want of a good circulating medium prevents the full operation of this 
establishment." Other factories reported sales "particularly in barter." 
One factory making cotton yarn in the inaccessible regions of the upper 
Cumberland in Wayne County said, "This establishment, being in the 
interior of the country and free from foreign importations, does a good 
business." 47 

Foreign importations and hard times were not solely responsible for 
the decline of manufacturing. Other causes previously alluded to such 
as distance from markets, lack of proper transportation, and sparcity of 
population played their part. Another cause elusive and hard to deter- 
mine was the presence in the state of the institution of slavery. Imme- 
diate as well as ultimate results of this institution were inimical to the 
development of a successful industrialism. Paradoxical as it may seem, 
one result of the hard times tended to solve in a very slight degree this 
very situation. Migrations from the state by well-to-do farmers with 
their slaves reached at times alarming proportions. Concerning this, 
Hezekiah Niles said: "Kentucky is a grain-growing state, and feels as 
much the necessity of a home-market as any other in the nation. By 
the prostration of her manufacturing establishments and the want of a 
demand for her products, slave-labor, if ever profitable therein, became 
unprofitable, and many possessed of such persons emigrated to the cot- 
ton-growing states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and some to 
Missouri. The ravages of the 'independent banks,' together with the 
want of employment, drove off tens of thousands of the laboring classes 
of white people into Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. On the whole, it is 
probable that the account current of emigration, as to this state, is nearly 
balanced for the last ten years. These things were not to have been 
expected, and we sincerely regret that they have come to pass. When 
the government of the United States shall adopt a system of legislation 
and support and rely upon things at home, for home prosperity, Ken- 
tucky will again revive, and go on to gather strength rapidly. And, as 
the black population is pressed south, its place will be supplied by the 
sinews of every nation, which are its free laborers." 4S 

As time went on there appeared little evidence that conditions were 
becoming better. The people began to look about to discover some per- 
son or thing on which to lay the blame for all their woes so sorely be- 
setting them. Many of the sounder and more conservative citizens had 
long known that the deluge of "paper mills" otherwise referred to as 
banks was responsible for the hard times, and had been opposing them 
from the beginning. To the outsider and the casual observer the same 
cause was held to account for the trials and tribulations of the Ken- 
tuckians. An Illinois well-wisher gave a dismal picture of the operations 
of the independent banks and the results they had produced in the latter 
state : "It has always been my opinion, that of all evils that can be 
inflicted upon a free state, banking establishments are the most alarm- 
ing. They are the vultures that prey upon the vitals of the constitution 
and rob the body politic of its life blood. Look now at Kentucky! What 
a spectacle does she present! Nothing is to be seen but a boundless 
expanse of desolation! — Wealth empoverished, enterprise checked, com- 
merce at a stand, the currencv depreciated, all that was promotive of 
individual wealth, and all that was indicative of state prosperity and 
advancement, plunged into the great vortex of irremediable involvement. 

"American State Papers, Finance, IV, 178-183, 294-297. These reports were 

made in 1823. 

« Niles' Register, Vol. 20, p. 49. . 

"What incentive, now, has the farmer to industry and exertion? 

Vol. II— 3 


How fruitless would be the effort of the merchant, to rouse from their 
torpidity, the fallen energies of the state? A meeting of the Legislature 
has been loudly and vehemently spoken of, as the only means which can 
recover it from its death-like stupor. That ruddy complexion and vivid 
glow, which is the best evidence of the health and vigor of a constitu- 
tion, and the best indication of the advancement of a state to happiness 
and refinement (and which once so peculiarly distinguished Kentucky) 
had faded away, and has been succeeded by a paleness, prognostic of all 
the terrors of a decline. I may be told that all these consequences may 
be traced to the wanton profusion and extravagance of our citizens, and 
the introduction of the habits of luxury. These things, I admit, may 
have had their due tendency — but the profound and impartial politician, 
who is aloof from the influence of individual gain, and who has been in 
the habit of reasoning accurately from the tendency of every political 
measure to its necessary consequence, will give you a different account. 
He will refer you to a bank here, and a bank there, and a bank every- 
where, and he will read you an instructing lesson upon their policy and 
expediency, in the devastation which surrounds them." 40 

The people were indeed reaping the full harvest of their bank and 
money mania. Warrants, writs, and executions were reported to be 
almost as common as the bank notes themselves. Should the remedy be 
still more money, with the hope that conditions might be improved or 
should the paper age be definitely and forever abandoned. An observer 
from afar offered this advice: "There will be no peace for the people 
until the quantity of the banks are reduced, and those that remain are 
compelled to recollect that they cannot do what they please. The paper 
age must pass away, and speculation must fail. At present, the command 
of what passes for money is not in those who hold property, but in such 
as are directors of banks, or who hold shares in them. Real wealth has 
little to do with the circulation of money, at this time, because the priests 
of Mammon want it for — themselves. We allude chiefly, to the modern 
money-shops. Many of the old banks are yet highly honorable and emi- 
nently useful institutions." 50 The banks, themselves, were beginning 
to feel the pinch of hard times. The day of reckoning was coming for 
them even as for the ordinary debtor throughout the land. The notes 
which they had been so eagerly printing and calling money were drifting 
back to their sources again for redemption; and the two branch banks 
of the United States Bank were steadily assisting this process by pre- 
senting for redemption these notes as fast as they came into their pos- 
session. Thereby they incurred great enmity which helped the state right 
feeling soon to develop so vigorously against the Federal Government. 

The people soon came to discuss the perils of the times and the reme- 
dies that ought to be adopted in dozens of meetings held throughout the 
state. Almost every county held one or more meetings to take the will 
of the people and their advice, with the result that the state was agitated 
as profoundly as by any political campaign for many years. The gen- 
eral opinion of the day was that "those who think that the banks should 
pay their debts, or shut up shop, like individuals, have a large majority." 
It was advised that "Now is the time — 'now or never,' for the honest 
people of Kentucky to relieve themselves, for the future, of the evils 
intended to have been entailed upon them, by the late legislative litter 
of banks." 51 Pressure brought to bear upon the independent banks was 
steadily producing results. They were gradually dropping off and clos- 
ing their door. It was reported in the summer of 1819 that it was con- 
sidered unsafe even in Kentucky to receive the notes of more than two 

<» Niks' Register, Vol. 17, p. 19- 

50 Nile/ Register, Vol. 16, p. 180. 

51 Ibid., p. 311. 


or three of the independent banks. "Many of them," an account said, 
"have forfeited their charters, and others are wisely preparing to wind 
up their affairs. It will require many years of industry and economy 
to repair the depredation which these institutions have caused in Ken- 
tucky — but the severe lesson received, may give future safety to the 
people. Experience is a dear school." 52 The stockholders of the inde- 
pendent bank designated for Richmond held a meeting in the summer 
of this same year and decided that it was inexpedient to carry the insti- 
tution into operation. They voted to withdraw their stocks and dissolve 
the charter. 53 In August, 1819, sixteen independent banks were reported 
in the doubtful column with the statement that "Public confidence seems 
to have been almost entirely withdrawn from the independent banks." 
The only banks at this time whose notes were receivable by the Lexing- 
ton banks were the Lancaster Exporting Company, Louisville Commercial 
Bank, and the independent establishments at Frankfort, Versailles, 
Bardstown and Flemingsburg. Shortly afterwards two more of the in- 
dependent banks dropped by the way-side and another announced it 
would redeem its notes in Bank of Kentucky paper to be payable one 
year after date. This led Hezekiah Niles, who worked hard to lead 
Kentucky out of the wilderness of money heresy, to remark that "they 
may be as legally issued payable at one hundred years hence, as at any 
other time. Only three of the whole litter of independent banks are said 
to pay their debts at all." 54 About the same time the stockholders of 
the bank at Winchester by a vote of 300 to 220 decided to close their 
affairs and give up their charter. 55 

In the word of a parody of the day: 

"But their glory is gone ! ev'ry dog has his day — 

Yet their fame (such as 'tis) shall abide in my songs; 
Not e'en in the hour when my heart is most gay, 

Will I cease to remember their notes and their wrongs. 
The stranger in passing each village will say, 

(As he eyes the sad spot, with hand on his breast) 
there once stood a bank ! but unable to pay, 

It suspended itself, and thank G — d is at rest." 

But regardless of the dishonesty of banks and the precarious posi- 
tion into which they had run, the people of the state were heavily obli- 
gated to them. It was conservatively estimated that debts in the state 
due the various banks were at least $10,000,000, of which $5,000,000 
was due the Bank of Kentucky and its branches, $3,000,000 to the two 
branches of the United States Bank, and $2,000,000 to the independent 
banks. Over and above this indebtedness was a balance of about $4,000,- 
000 due from the merchants to Eastern establishments. 56 The county 
meetings suggested various remedies. There was expressed almost every- 
where the fear that the property of the state would fall into the hands 

" Niles" Register, Vol. 17, p. 84. 

88 Ibid., Vol. 16, p. 311. It was reported about this time that nearly all of the 
independent banks had stopped. It was also reported how the dishonest officials of 
a bank sent out an agent with $30,000 of their notes to exchange them for Tennessee 
notes or other current paper and a few days later closed their doors. The news 
account continued, "The agent had passed off most of the paper, and the last account 
of him was, that those he had swindled were in pursuit of him, determined to 
intercept him and take the law in their own hands, breathing vengeance for the 
trick played upon them. Yet the directors who sent out this agent are called 
honorable men. Verily, verily, Mr. Niles, you have oftentimes told us that cor- 
porations have no souls." Ibid., Vol. 17, p. 335. 

64 Niles" Register, Vol. 17, p. 139; also see pp. 19, 20. 

M Ibid., Vol. 16, p. 359- 

06 Kentucky Gazette, May 21, 1819; Niles" Register, Vol. 16, p. 261. 


of a few moneyed men and the great mass of the people become their 
virtual slaves. 57 Before the end of 1818, while the banks were yet much 
less than a year old, representatives from ten of them met in Glasgow 
and unanimously resolved to "recommend to their respective institutions, 
to suspend the payment of specie, notes on the bank of the United States 
and its branches, notes on the Bank of Kentucky and its branches, until 
otherwise ordered by said institutions, or the decision of the legislature." 
However, a majority of the banks represented refused to ratify these 
recommendations at that time."' 8 In the summer of 1819 the movement 
for suspension of specie payment gained considerable headway. 50 A 
meeting of the citizens of Franklin County was held in a church in 
Frankfort to devise means to avert the "impending distress." The banks 
were blamed for the hard times and it was recommended that they sus- 
pend specie payment at once. This was an immediate palliative, which, 
however, did not strike the fundamental cause. As a final resort and 
definite remedy they believed "That a prudent and rigid economy ought 
to be observed ; the consumption of foreign articles of luxury and man- 
ufactures diminished ; home manufactures encouraged, the annual ex- 
penditures of individuals lessened, so as to enable them by industry and 
frugality to pay off old arrearages without accumulating new debts." 60 
A meeting of Bullitt County citizens declared with only two dissenting 
voices that, "It is confidently believed that the suspension of specie pay- 
ment by the Bank of Kentucky and its branches, will tend to ameliorate 
(in a considerable degree) the embarrassments by which the people are 
at present circumvented ; a suspension is therefore recommended." 61 

Counsels were divided on this method of procedure as a remedy. A 
meeting was held in Washington of Mason County people which passed 
a long series of resolutions against such a program by the banks. 02 In 
Jefferson County the voice of the people was taken at three separate 
times in a systematic way at the election precincts and resulted the last 
time in a majority of about three to one against suspension. 03 A num- 
ber of the most important banks met in Frankfort in May, 1819, "for 
the purpose of taking into consideration the distressed state of the coun- 
try, and of devising some plan for the relief of the people." It was the 
opinion of the meeting that "the circulating medium may be increased 
and considerable relief afforded to the people by a good understanding 
and co-operation among the said banks, without suspending specie pay- 
ment." They resolved to "render all the aid in their power to individ- 
uals, by loans or otherwise, to avert the public pressure now experienced" 
and furthermore agreed to "continue to pay their notes in gold and sil- 
ver." 04 This meeting was of doubtful benefit, as all the banks repre- 
sented refused to carry into effect the recommendations. 63 

Out of all this agitation of the masses of the people and banks in 
meetings and assemblies, there stood out three definite programs, viz. : 
the suspension of specie payment, the issuance of more paper money, 
and the calling of an extra session of the Legislature. It was widely heid 
that the Legislature should devise ways of relief and that it should meet 
in an extra session as soon as possible to consider them. 00 It was also 

57 See Kentucky Gazette, May 29. 1819. 

58 Miles' Register, Vol. 15, pp. 290, 361. 

59 This, of course, concerned the Bank of Kentucky and its branches as the 
independent banks were not required by their charters to pay their notes in specie. 

60 Niles' Register, Vol. 16, pp. 260, 261; Supplement, 16, 17. 

61 Ibid., p. 434; also see p. 421. 

62 Ibid., p. 274; Supplement, 17, 18. 

63 Ibid., p. 434. 

64 American State Papers, Finance, IV, 883, 884; Niles' Register, Vol. 16, p. 261. 

65 Niles' Register, Vol. 16, p. 292. 

66 For instance see Kentucky Gazette, June II, 1819. 


generally held that the banks were largely responsible for the crash that 
had come. A majority would keep banking institutions as a necessary 
adjunct to the industrial and commercial development of the state, but 
would make them conform to fixed rules and principles. There were 
some, however, who unreasoningly took a violent hatred and antipathy 
to all banks as parasites, reaping where they had not sown, and devel- 
oping into instruments of tyranny and autocracy. The position of this 
group was well set forth in a series of resolutions which were introduced 
in the Legislature in January, 1819. As an example of a remarkable re- 
action of the mind toward a given set of conditions, they are given here : 

"1. Rcsohrd by the general assembly of the commonwealth of Ken- 
tucky, That the establishment of a monied monopoly, is hostile to repub- 
lican liberty. 

"2. Resolved, That banks are such a monopoly, and do not depend 
for their profits upon the correct employment of the products of industry, 

"3. Resolved, That as the products of the labor of a nation are the 
only genuine sources of national wealth, any corporation or institution 
which tends to substitute speculation, instead of the proper and valuable 
fruits of this labor, must be pernicious and ought to be abolished. 

"4. Resolved, That any corporation not promotive of, or essential to, 
public good ought not to exist. 

"5. Resolved, That all banks wherein individuals are interested, are 
monied monopolies, tending to make profit to those who do not labor, 
out of the means of those who do ; not tending to increase the means of 
industry, but to profit of those means unjustly; tending to tax the many 
for the benefit of a few; tending to create a privileged order, unuseful 
and pernicious to society ; tending to destroy liberty and create a power 
unfriendly to human happiness ; tending inevitably to an unfeeling monied 
aristocracy more to be deprecated than monarchy itself ; tending to the 
destruction of the best hopes of man here and hereafter. 

"6. Resolved, That it becomes the duty of the general government, 
and of every individual state composing it (gradually if necessary, but 
ultimately and certainly) to abolish all banks and monied monopolies, 
and if a paper medium is necessary, to substitute the impartial and dis- 
interested medium of the credit of the nation or of the states. 

"7. Resolved, That copies of the foregoing resolutions be transmitted 
by the acting governor of this state to the President of the United States, 
and to each of the senators and representatives in congress from this 
state, as an evidence of the sense of the people of this state, to be sub- 
mitted to congress." 07 These resolutions represented the opinion of a 
considerable body of citizens, men of conservative thought. In fact it 
was an extreme reaction of this class. Governor Slaughter went so far 
as to advocate an amendment to the United States Constitution making 
it unlawful for any incorporated bank to exist within the nation's limits; 
for. he argued, money was power and when collected within a few hands, 
and those of private persons, it would be used tyrannically. 138 

Efforts had already been made to amend the law incorporating the 
independent banks in order to make the president and directors of the 
banks liable out of their individual estates for all bills issued after a 
certain designated time and all stockholders also liable to the amount of 
their individual holdings. A bill introduced in the Legislature and em- 
bracing these principles was introduced in the early part of 1819, but 
failed to pass. At the next meeting of the Legislature, in the latter part 
of this year, Governor Slaughter recommended the same amendments. 
But the feelings against the independent banks had become so strong 
throughout the state as well as among the members of the Legislature, 

67 Nitcs' Register, Vol. 15, p. 417. 
88 Public Advertiser, Dec. 15, 1818. 


that instead of amending the law, it was repealed. This happened on 
February 10, 1820. Thus, was the question of the independent banks 
now and forever settled. 69 There still remained the Bank of Kentucky 
with its thirteen branches and the two branches of the United States 
Bank. The former institution had been managed with care and con- 
servatism ; and had, thus, not abused banking privileges. Therefore, the 
Legislature, instead of repealing its charter, extended it to 1841. The 
relatively sound state of this bank at this time appears in the following 
facts: Its capital stock amounted to $2,726,100 of which the state owned 
$586,400. Its notes in circulation were $666,422.56 face value, and its 
specie on hand was $270,325.53. The widespread obligations it held on 
the people amounted to nearly three and a half million dollars. 70 But 
conditions in the state were far from solved or settled; the repeal of the 
charters of the independent banks did not give the people money with 
which to pay their debts, nor a circulating medium in which the people 
could have faith. The Bank of Kentucky suspended specie payment 
about this time, thereby risking the loss of its charter. They hoped, 
however, to receive the sanction of the Legislature. To this body the 
banks as well as the people were not looking for salvation. 

69 Doolan, "Old Court — New Court Controversy" in Green Bag, XI, 180 ; Collins, 
History of Kentucky, I, 29. 

70 Miles' Register, Vol. 17, p. 448. 



By the action of the last Legislature the supply of money, worthless 
as it was, was sharply curtailed by the destruction of the independent 
banks. This procedure was, therefore, a step apparently away from the 
relief of debtors, for without money how could they be expected to pay 
their debts ? But it was through a general popular clamor that the Legis- 
lature had so acted; the people had seen that institutions like the in- 
dependent banks were worse than useless. The steady march of hard 
times was unimpeded, debts were falling due, property was being sold 
in fulfillment of mortgage obligations, and it looked as if the great mass 
of the people would, indeed, become the slaves and bondsmen of the 
moneyed class. "An Old Resident" pessimistically pictured the situation 
of many an individual: "He must be taken by order of the relentless 
creditor and shut up in prison, until he pays the uttermost farthing, or 
give up his little hard earned property to be sacrificed, at perhaps one 
fiftieth part of its real intrinsic value, leave his helpless family to suffer 
with hunger, cold and nakedness, and finally take the oath of insolvency. 
Nine tenths of his creditors yet unpaid, he loses all hope of ever being 
able to discharge his just debts, and his family ruined. He languishes, 
takes to drink, and dies at a miserable death." 1 The day of reckoning 
seemed to be fast approaching, when the logical results of promiscuous 
borrowing and consequent speculation would come home to many Ken- 
tuckians, who a few years before had held out visions of great wealth. 
The woes of the people were set forth by a pamphlet of the times : "The 
course of business was disorganized, creditors became clamorous and 
more pressing, and the dockets of our courts were choked full with suits 
and executions. 

"Lawyers, clerks, sheriffs, constables made great crops ; but the 
most of their stocks did not grow big, the most of those of the people 
were diminished. 

"Agriculture, commerce, and all sorts of acts were discouraged; 
shaving did raise its hideous head, and you could not hear of anything 
but misery." 2 

It was, therefore, only natural that the people should turn to a 
remedy which had been used by themselves and other people often times 
before, a remedy which, if it did not finally avert the evil days, would 
postpone them and give time a chance to work out a solution. Replevin 
and stay laws were now embraced again. The legislation of the state 
in the past along these lines had left a feeling among the people that as 
a last resort, laws should be made to interfere in the relations of debtor 
and creditor when the public good as they understood it should warrant 
it. This development had made a dangerous weapon respectable with 
far too large a number of people and had left them to believe that the 

1 Kentucky Gazette, May 21, 1819. 

2 Considerations on Some of the Matters to be noted on * * * at the Next 
Session of the General Assembly of Kentucky. * * * (Louisville, 1824), Pam- 
phlet, p. 8. 



principle could be almost indefinitely extended under extraordinary cir- 
cumstances. While Kentucky was yet a district of Virginia she had seen 
the mother state use the very same principle which she, herself, was now 
about to adopt in a rather aggravated form. And one of the first laws 
passed by the daughter, the willing pupil of the mother in this respect, 
provided that in the case where land was under execution in the payment 
of a debt, if the price offered did not amount to three-fourths of the 
estimated value, the defendant might replevy the debt for three months 
by giving good security to pay it at the end of that time. 3 In 1808, the 
debtors were relieved from immediate executions on their property by 
a law which allowed a stay of one year, upon the defendant giving bond 
or good security to pay the debt within the year, and upon his failure 
to give bond or security the sale was to take place immediately on a 
year's credit. 4 Near the end of the War of 1812, when much money of 
doubtful value was floating over the state and creditors were loath to 
accept it, the Legislature in order to stabilize and give confidence to the 
notes of the Bank of Kentucky as well as to offer aid to the debtors, 
passed a law allowing twelve months replevin on all executions unless 
notes of the Bank of Kentucky would be accepted. 5 Thus it was that 
the legislative history of the state was punctuated throughout with 
debtor laws — and, indeed, the operation or influence of these laws had 
never been completely eradicated at any time. Her statesmen, eminent 
lawyers, judges of the highest courts, and the masses of the people had 
upheld the principle. 

The campaign for the election of a legislature in 1819 had raged for 
the most part around the question of enacting replevin laws. The 
opposition was spirited but restricted ; the relief supporters won an over- 
whelming victory. This Legislature, the same that repealed the inde- 
pendent bank charters, busied itself with relief measures among its first 
labors. Before even destroying the discredited banks it passed an 
emergency replevin law to tide over the debtors until a well-designed 
law could be formulated. On December 16, 1819, it passed a law granting 
a stay of sixty days on all executions. Governor Slaughter refused to 
sign the measure on the ground that the permanent welfare of the state 
should not be endangered by the delay or denial of complete justice. But 
the Legislature promptly passed the bill over his veto, and it became the 
law of the land. Leave was also given to bring in a bill to make void 
any execution made in favor of the United States Bank, an institution 
which had already aroused the bitterest hostility from Kentuckians. 6 
On February 11, 1820, the day after the independent banks had been 
destroyed, the finished replevin law was enacted. This carried the 
principle far beyond any law heretofore passed and laid the beginnings 
of a train of consequences that was destined to shake the political and 
economic foundations of the state to their very center. Hereafter when 
any execution should issue from any court in the state, from the justice 
of the peace to the Court of Appeals, the plaintiff might endorse the bill, 
by writing on it the words, "Notes of the Bank of Kentucky or its 
branches will be accepted in discharge of this execution," whereupon 
twelve months' stay would be allowed on the debt ; but should the plaintiff 
refuse to endorse the note, the defendant might replevy for two years." 
The effect of this Legislature was to delay the payment of all debts at 

3 This law was passed in 1792. Marshall, History of Kentucky, II, 71, 72. 
* Ibid., 464. 

5 Doolan, "Old Court — New Court Controversy" in Green Bag, XI, 178, 179. 

6 Doolan, "Old Court — New Court Controversy" in Green Bay, XI, 180 ; Niks' 
Register, Vol. 17, p. 365; McMaster, History of the People of the United States, 
IV, 508. 

7 Doolan, "Old Court — New Court Controversy" in Green Bag, XI, 180; Mc- 
Master, History of the People of the United States, IV, 508. 


least one year and to bolster up the notes of the Bank of Kentucky and 
make them in fact a legal tender. 

Just as the road to cheap money was easy to travel, so was the way to 
the postponement of debts. And having traveled the former recently 
the state had forgotten the rough places and jolts and only remembered 
the joys; and so again it decided to journey by that route. Delay was 
only a part of the program; when the days of grace should be used up, 
then, with what should the people pay? The situation was likely to be 
as aggravated as ever. Therefore, the relief laws unaided by other 
agencies must be a failure. A committee of the Legislature stated the 
case thus : "The balance of trade being against us to a great amount, 
when the year 1819 commenced, many began to see and feel that they 
had been deluded by appearances ; and such was the universal pressure 
over the whole United States, that even the Bank of the United States, 
with all its power and influence, was almost driven to the brink of ruin, 
and was only saved by the fortunate arrival of $250,000 in specie from 
the states of Kentucky and Ohio, at a moment when every other resource 
had failed, as acknowledged by the president of that bank, in his last 
report. In this state the pressure was unprecedented in every quarter 
of the country ; alarm and distrust prevaded every class of our citizens, 
it was evident to every reflecting and humane mind that widespread ruin 
and desolation would soon overwhelm thousands of our best citizens, 
unless some expedient could be resorted to, for the purpose of saving 
the country. A twelve months' replevin law was resorted to, in the first 
instance, which only dammed up the current for a time to again break 
loose with redoubled fury. As the hopes and expectations for that year 
were cut off for the want of a market, because it cannot be forgotten, 
that in the spring and summer of the year 1820, the products of the 
country had fallen to prices far below what was ever known before, and 
although abundance and plenty smiled around the husbandman, his debts 
were increasing, and a fearful looking-out for the day of execution and 
ruin, met the unfortunate in every direction. These are stubborn facts 
which cannot be denied, and are now fresh in the recollection of all. 
Under these circumstances the Legislature of 1820 assembled. — What can 
be done to save the country? was the universal inquiry. The resources 
and funds of the state were known to be ample and it was determined 
to draw upon her as the safest expedient. - 

Governor Adair in his message to the Legislature in October (1820) 
forecast some sort of action that would have to be undertaken by the 
state to relieve the besetting hard times. "It will be admitted by all," 
he said, "that the people of this state feel, at this time, a severe and 
universal pressure, in their monied transactions. To relieve them in 
some measure, is, I trust, the wish of all. Different views will be enter- 
tained as to the best means of effecting so desirable an object, by members 
from different parts of the state." y The rumor soon started that the 
additional relief demanded would be in the establishment of an immense 
banking institution to have a capitalization of 4,000,000 to turn out 
paper money without limit which should not be redeemed in specie. 
Hezekiah Niles said, "It is regarded by some as the sovereign remedy 
for the diseases of the times, and by others considered as a mammouth 
to consume what the 'independent banks' left undestroyed." 10 After 
much opposition from the conservative sound money men, the Legislature 
on November 29, 1820, chartered the Bank of the Commonwealth wholly 
as a state institution for the direct purpose of relieving hard times. There 
was to be a president and twelve directors, all chosen by the two houses 

s Miles' Register, Vol. 23, pp. 234, 235. 

9 Niles' Register, Vol. 19, p. 170. 

10 Ibid., 208. 


of the Legislature on joint ballot. The capital stock was the amount to 
$2,000,000 and all to be owned by the state. It was to issue notes to 
the amount of $3,000,000, which in theory should be redeemable in gold 
and silver, but in fact not. The notes were to be in denominations rang- 
ing from $1 to $100. " As one of the main functions of the bank was 
to issue the notes to relieve hard times, among the first concerns of the 
authorities in charge was to arrange the artistic designs for the different 
denominations and order the printing presses to begin work. Francis P. 
Blair, a rising young politician in Frankfort at this time, addressed a 
communication to John J. Crittenden in which he stated that he had 
worked out an elaborate system of designs for the different denominations 
taken from Greek mythology. He wanted to know Crittenden's opinion 
of the scheme — he also expected to consult the "knowing-ones" in Phil- 
adelphia. "If you don't like my heathenish designs," he continued, "I'll 
give you the Christian parable of the prodigal son on the different stages 
of his progress on the different denominations of notes. He shall set off 
in high snuff on $ioo's & pass through the eventful scenes of his life on 
the rest, till he returns to his father's house in wretchedness & drops on 
the $1 denominations, without a dollar in his pocket. The moral of it 
will be to make every man hold to the dollar that he has, lest he should 
be in the same fix— and the whole of the denomination together would 
be no bad history of the causes which produced them." 12 

The experience of the state recently with the independent banks, the 
so-called "Forty Thieves," had caused it to lose faith in the integrity 
and ability of private individuals to do banking business. It was there- 
fore by studied and conscious design that no individual could hold stock 
in the Bank of the Commonwealth. Governor Adair declared that past 
happenings had by no means strengthened the country's confidence "in 
the stability and safety of monied corporations, in the control of which, 
the integrity of their directors is left at the mercy of their avarice." He 
believed that no private bank could be honest and make a profit at the 
same time. Its resources could not be made sufficiently ample for this. 
It was only in a state, then, that stability and strength lay. After all he 
thought that paper money was only a temporary makeshift, but absolutely 
necessary in certain crises. Now was a time, he thought, when the frozen 
assets of the state, which were ample for all purposes, should be made 
liquid through the issuance of paper money with which the people might 
lift themselves out of the financial and economic depression. The capital 
of the bank, which stood as security for the notes issued, was made up 
of all money paid into the treasury for vacant lands, from the purchase 
of land warrants, and from the sale of the lands west of the Tennessee 
River, and of the state's stocks in the Bank of Kentucky amounting to 
over $500,000. According to Governor Adair, "to withhold from the 
solemn and binding pledges of an entire community rich in resources, 
and stained by no single act of dishonor, that willing credence which is 
yielded to each and every one of its individual members, is irrational in 
the extreme. Why shall not a state as well as individuals, anticipate 
their resources? To the Bank of the Commonwealth it cannot with fair- 
ness be objected that the foundations of its credit are insufficient." 13 

The relief features of the bank stood out in almost every part of its 
charter. In order to best serve the people the parent bank, situated at 
Frankfort, had twelve branches scattered over the state according to 

11 Acts of Kentucky, 1820; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 29; Doolan, "Old 
Court— New Court Controversy" in Green Bag, XI, 180; Reports of the Decisions 
of the Supreme Court of the United States (Boston, 1870), B. R. Curtis, editor, 
XII 423 424. 11 Peters 257. A supplementary act was passed December 22. 

^Crittenden MSS, Vol. 2, Nos. 366, 367. Letter dated Jan. 6, 1821. 

^Niles" Register, Vol. 21, pp. 186, 187. 


judicial districts. 14 The notes were to be loaned on mortgages or other 
good security and the amounts were to be apportioned over the state 
according to population. In the beginning the loans had to be used for 
the specific purposes of paying debts, or buying stock or produce ; and 
the further restriction was made that no single individual should be 
allowed to borrow over $2,000. By these methods it was hoped that 
extravagance and speculation could be prevented. The bank, itself, was 
not permitted to run into debt more than twice the amount of its capital. 
The people eagerly entered into these loans, with some sections of the 
state feeling that they had been slighted in the munificence at the hands 
of the state. A citizen of Henderson said, "In a sectional point of view 
I think the Henderson people are now entitled to a small share of the 
loaves and fishes from the Mother Bank, as she has not extended to us 
one of her Branches, and very limited accommodation heretofore." 15 

In the summer of 1821 the money began to make its appearance in 
great quantities and to gladden the hearts of the people once more. 
Within a short time (by November of 1821) the bank had lent its credit 
to the people to the extent of almost $2,400,000 and had issued more 
than $2,300,000 in paper notes. 10 The joyful intelligence had soon spread 
"that a waggon load, or less, of curiously marked and stamped paper 
had arrived * * * and was just about to issue as money, from the 
shops established in virtue of a late act of the Legislature for chartering 
the bank of the commonwealth; — on which, it seems as if many honest 
farmers had their nags already saddled, to proceed post haste to some 
neighboring village, to execute liens on their lands and obtain some part 
of this magical stuff — which, like a mighty genii, is to relieve the dis- 
tresses of the people and spread happiness over the land." "These things 
are really laughable" said Hezekiah Niles, "if one could be allowed to 
laugh at a proceeding which must terminate in unbounded misery. 
Gallant Kentucky could easier resist the force and eradicate the effects 
of an invasion by the most numerous and best appointed army that ever 
appeared in America, then combat with the wide destruction which 
her paper system will bring upon her." What he predicted about the 
results of the independent banks was too sadly true, as all Kentuckians 
now knew. "The money-shops have disappeared, but their slough re- 
mains to poison the prospects and paralize the efforts of a noble com- 
munity: and relief is sought for in another application of the same kind 
of stuff that caused the distress ! — It is just as if a person intoxicated 
with strong beer, should expect to sober himself by pouring down French 
brandy! A state of insensibility might thus be easily produced; or, if 
a sense of feeling remained, the patient might be independent of the 
consideration whether he was drunk or not, — but such a procedure would 
not be regarded by a sane man as the best method of managing the 
disease ! 

"This similitude applies directly, in my opinion, to the state of things 
in Kentucky — and I venture boldly to say, that the day on which this 
bank is put into operation will be the blackest in the calendar of that 
state. The act for it ought to have been entitled an act to encourage the 
people to ruin themselves. Then its title would have conveyed a just idea 
of the effects which the unhappy law must produce, unless, indeed, like 
causes shall fail to be followed by like effects. But if in this case I shall 
turn out to be a false prophet, and the people are relieved — I will gladly 
surrender up any assumption of prescience to a knowledge of the fact, 

14 The branches were located at the following places, Bowling Green, Falmouth, 
Flemingsburg, Greensburg, Harrodsburg, Hartford, Lexington, Louisville, Mount 
Sterling, Princeton, Somerset, and Winchester. 

15 Breckinridge MSS. (1821). N. C. Hardly to Joseph C. Breckinridge, Feb. 
1, 1821. 

™ Niks' Register, Vol. 21, p. 178. 


and heartily rejoice that Kentucky has been benefited by the procedure 
in question, being deeply interested in the prosperity of the good people 
of that state.'' 

Niles said he had recently been led to believe that Kentucky was 
on the road to recovery, when she had abolished her independent banks, 
and when by the force of economy and the sheer want of means to pur- 
chase and the lack of credit to run into debt she had been forced to do 
without those things that could be dispensed with. He had hoped "that 
a few years more of suffering and privation would afford relief and 
establish a system of abstinance and retrenchment which would neces- 
sarily result in future ease and independence. This is not a pleasant 
operation, but no other, of a domestic nature, can relieve a people so 
situated ; and though the progress of the remedy is slow, its effect is 
certain as well as permanent. But now the fiend Speculation has been 
let loose again — something that will pass for money will be bor- 
rowed, and wild extravagance will rage for a season. Every thing will 
be apparently prosperous for a short time — the farmers will purchase 
coats for which they will pay as much or more than twenty barrels of 
flour will fetch them, and their wives have gowns more costly than the 
whole surplusses of their dairies will bring them in a year. Some will 
be building palaces, and many more be engaged in building castles in the 
air, like adventurers in lotteries. Who will want money when he can get 
it for only signing his name to a piece of paper, by virtue of which his 
wife and children may be driven into the woods by soul-less persons 
vested with the management of some neighboring bank? The price of 
land will rise, and there will be much buying and selling — a great bustle 
and appearance of business. But the paper money thus put afloat will 
not, in the first instance, relieve those kinds of debts that bear most 
heavily on the people of Kentucky — I mean those due to merchants on the 
sea-board through their own shop-keepers and traders : the first dollar 
bill issued will, perhaps, be not less than thirty per cent worse than 
gold or silver, or the bill of any specie bank, before it is one day old — 
yet the depreciated currency thus borrowed, must finally be redeemed 
with something that will command gold and silver, and pay-day will come. 
When that day arrives, and it will be upon them before the people are 
aware of it — a scene of distress will be presented such as Kentucky has 
never yet witnessed. A few knowing ones will build up great fortunes 
for themselves by getting off the trash for things of value and imperish- 
able in their nature; but the mass will be engulfed in bankruptcy — and 
thousands that now live comfortably will be reduced to beggary. This 
is but a faint picture of what I believe will surely come to pass — and if 
these remarks shall cause one honest man in the state to preserve his 
independence, by refusing to have any thing to do with the bank, in 
signing or endorsing notes, there will be one person to bear honorable 
testimony of me — to join me in saying that all attempts to legislate a 
people out of debt are null and void — unwise or wicked ; that they in- 
evitably add to the miseries which it is pretended they are to relieve." 17 
Regardless of opposition and friendly advice within the state and 
without, the program that had been entered upon was followed up with no 
relenting. Shortly after the Bank of the Commonwealth had been 
chartered, the final cap-stone was laid on the relief edifice that had been 
building. A replevin law was passed on Christmas Day (1820), doubt- 
less by conscious design so timed as to convey to the people the idea of an 
inestimable prize for the day and the period to come, which was designed 
to help the bank directly, and hence the people indirectly and finally. 

17 Xiles' Register, Vol. 2, pp. 180, 181. This postscript is added: "Later papers 
inform us that in several places all the 'money' that was apportioned to be loaned 
had been borrowed, and the demand not half supplied." 


By this law a stay of two years was allowed on executions unless the 
plaintiff should endorse the note with the acceptance of notes of the Bank 
of Kentucky or of the Bank of the Commonwealth. If he accepted the 
notes of the Bank of Kentucky only, then he was forced to wait twelve 
months for his payment; but if he should accept the notes of the Bank 
of the Commonwealth, he should have to wait only three months. 1 s 
Here was a clear and invidious distinction between the two banks. This 
was a bold effort to force the notes of the latter in preference to the 
former. The Bank of Kentucky had long been under the ban of the 
radical relief party. To. them it was a monster which sought to kill the 
effects of the relief measures at every step. It was in fact managed by 
conservative men who sought to confine its activities to sound banking 
principles. It had been bitterly attacked in the campaign before the 
establishment of the Bank of the Commonwealth. The relief men claimed 
that it would execute loans only to certain privileged persons and that it 
was a dangerous influence in politics. 10 When the Commonwealth Bank- 
was chartered it was expected that the Bank of Kentucky would fall 
in line with the policy and principles of this relief bank. But disillusion- 
ment soon came. It began to restrict its loans and call in some of its 
notes, all of which tended to hurt the Bank of the Commonwealth. 2 " A 
report from Frankfort in February, 1821, stated that "The twelve months 
replevin bonds are expiring daily, and the executions going out on them : 
and, on these things, the money must come, if it can be had — but 'there's 
the rub:' for I do not think there is money enough in the county to pay 
one-fourth of the debts ! The bank of Kentucky has, in a few days past, 
determined to sue all her debtors, who have failed to pay the discounts 
and calls on them ; and, in this single county, she has commenced, within 
the last two days, two hundred and seventy-five suits, and the sum for 
amounts to 887,154 dollars." 21 

The outcry against this bank became more widespread and persistent. 
Governor Adair in his message of October, 1822, advocated the complete 
severance of the state from further interest or participation in the Bank 
of Kentucky. He believed that there were outstanding evils in this 
divided government of the bank by the state and private stockholders. 
He was not, however, hostile to the bank ; nor did he believe the resump- 
tion of specie payment by it would be injurious to the Bank of the 
Commonwealth. On the contrary, with the resumption of specie payment 
by it, its notes would rise and tend to carry along upward the notes of the 
Bank of the Commonwealth. A committee of the Legislature appointed 
to invesitgate the question of the currency, advised that the state should 
not immediately withdraw its stock from the bank and thereby lose its 
voice in its affairs. But the Legislature was controlled by the relief party 
who saw this bank foreclosing mortgages and selling people out of their 
homes. That was enough to condemn it! On December 5 (1822) it 
pleased the people by repealing the charter of the only sound banking in- 
stitution in the state, which it could control, giving it seven years to wind 
up its affairs. 22 

The state was now left with its replevin laws and relief bank free 
to continue its mad plunge toward economic and financial ruin. The 

18 Doolan, "Old Court — New Court Controversy" in Green Bag, XI, 180; Niles' 
Register, Vol. 24, p. 391. 

19 See Kentucky Gazette, Mar. 17, 1820, et passim. 

20 Ibid., Oct. 11, 1821. 

21 Dispatch in Richmond Enquirer, March 30, 1821, quoted in Niles' Register. 
Vol. 20, p. 85. Niles adds that this is a per capita debt for the county of about 
$400. He asks, "What then is the amount of all the debts owing? Such, are the 
results of glorious banking — such the fruits that the tree of speculation bears ! 
And legislation to pay debts is worse than either. It is the abomination of abomina- 
tions ! For one honest man that is relieved by such legislation, fifty men are victims." 

22 Kentucky Gazette, Dec. 12, 1822 ; also see Niles" Register, Vol. 23, pp. 171, 235. 


rights of debtors and the obligations of contracts were further infringed 
by exempting altogether from sale for debt a number of implements and 
personal belongings, among which were one horse, one plough, one axe, 
one hoe, and all the necessary tools of mechanics. 23 Between replevin 
laws and relief banks it was consciously designed and confidently ex- 
pected that all the ills of the debtor class would be speedily cured. The 
Bank of the Commonwealth was designed to relieve a very numerous 
class of small debtors whose debts amounted to more than $2,000,000, 
"all of which were under judgment and execution, and the property 
ready to be sacrificed, in most cases, for little more than the officer's 
fees." Of the success in this respect, Governor Adair said, "It cannot 
be doubted by any, that such an amount of property, exposed by the 
officers at the same time, or in a short period, would not have brought 
a tenth, perhaps, not a twentieth of its value. This numerous, and I will 
venture to say, this class of honest debtors, have been relieved by loans 
by the bank ; their creditors have been satisfied ; and thus, allowed 
sufficient time to raise the money by adopting the very sage advice which 
we have all read in our almanacs since the days of poor Job, and may 
yet read from most public documents and newspapers, of industry and 
economy, an advice always good in itself, but when given to a man whose 
whole property, the labor of many years, is in the hands of an officer, 
and about to be torn from him, for one-tenth of its value, in a few days, 
a week or month, it is then little better than insult." The other class of 
debtors, which were to be relieved by the replevin laws, was made up of 
those whose debts were so large that the bank could give them little aid 
with its limited means. The only help the Legislature could extend to 
them was to grant delay on their payments. In defense of the whole 
system of relief laws, Governor Adair said that "notwithstanding the 
abuse that has been heaped upon them by the designing and ignorant, 
I have not a doubt but that, from the then situation of the country, they 
were essentially necessary, and better calculated to do moral justice 
between creditor and debtor, than any other course in the power of the 
Legislature." 24 

In line with the various relief measures and actuated largely by the 
same causes and conditions came the abolition of imprisonment for debt. 
This practice of throwing people into prison who were unable to pay their 
debts, a strange survival for so late a time, was common throughout the 
country. Its evils were so patent and its effects so inhuman, that the 
conscience of the country was beginning to be awakened, one evidence 
of which was seen in the establishing of the Society for the Relief of 
the Distressed. Hard times in Kentucky served to draw the public at- 
tention more forcibly to this besetting evil, and finally caused its complete 
abolition. In 1820 a beginning was made by exempting women from 
imprisonment for debt, and men were practically relieved by a curious 
law which extended the limits of the jail for such purposes to the boun- 
daries of the county. In the following year a law was enacted which, 
without further circumlocutions, specifically abolished all imprisonment 
for those who did not or were unable to pay their debts. 25 The Kentucky 
Gazette commented on the triumph for humanity that had been secured : 
"This may be considered a real triumph over the deep rooted aristocratic 
principles that have continued to obstruct the progress of republican 

23 Niles' Register, Vol. 19, p. 416. 

24 Niles' Register, Vol. 25, p. 204. Message to legislature of November, 1823. 
Also see Kentucky Gazette, Nov. 16, 1820. 

25 For text of law see Niles" Register, Vol. 23, Supplement, 160, 161. This act 
was approved December 17, 1821. If an affidavit should be filed with the clerk of 
the court stating that the plaintiff believed the person against whom the process 
was about to issue would leave the state or move his property away before judgment 
could be rendered, then the clerk might require bail. 


doctrine in this, as well as most of the states of the union. * * * 
The poor may consider it particularly favorable to their situation, and a 
severe wound inflicted on tyranny." 20 

This action primarily affected the law and procedure in state courts. 
Some fear was felt that Federal courts, which had lately won for them- 
selves an unsavory reputation in the stale, might refuse to be governed 
in their procedure and processes by state law, and would, therefore, con- 
tinue to throw into prison such persons as came within their power. To 
guard against such a contingency, a law was enacted increasing the prison 
bounds in cases of imprisonment for debt, to extend to the limits of the 
state. As the Federal courts used state prisons, it was thought that 
they would have to regard and use as such any arrangement the state 
should set up. 27 The fears that the Federal courts might not recognize 
the state law as bearing on themselves were soon justified. In the summer 
of 1822, the United States Bank, that unwelcomed "money monster," 
sought in the Federal Court in Lexington the writ to imprison a de- 
fendant who was indebted to the bank. Henry Clay, who was retained 
by the bank, argued that the Federal courts were regulated in their 
processes by Congress, and that that body had so exercised its authority. 
The defense maintained that the state has as much power and right to 
regulate personal liberty and locomotion and stated that Congress had 
never regulated the processes of the Federal courts differently from the 
rules set up by state law for the State courts. The court refused to grant 
the writ on the ground that the Federal courts had always followed the 
rules set down for State courts on the subject of processes and execu- 
tions. 28 Thus Kentucky's law successfully abolished imprisonment for 
debt in State as well as Federal courts, throughout the commonwealth. 

The notes of the Bank of the Commonwealth, "most splendidly en- 
graved and beautifully printed on superfine paper, being as good-looking 
notes as were ever manufactured any where," immediately on their 
issuing depreciated to about 70 cents on the dollar in United States Bank 
notes or good notes from the Atlantic States. 29 Getting a bad start in 
the very beginning, they never circulated at par with the notes of the 
specie-paying banks. A year later they had dropped in some places to 
the level where $205 worth of them was required to purchase $100 in 
specie or United States Bank notes. 30 They became so plentiful and 
worthless as to draw the remark that "One good thing may come out of 
this — such notes will not be counterfeited, 'that's flat' — because they will 
not pay the cost and hazard of their fabrication." 31 One person on 
paying a debt of $5 with a $10 Virginia note was surprised to receive 
back in change three $5 bills of the Bank of the Commonwealth. 32 Other 
people refused to accept the Kentucky notes at any price. It was reported 
that the stock raisers, hemp and tobacco growers, and commission mer- 
chants flatly refused to have any transactions in which this money was 
used ; and a stage driver refused to accept it as fare. 33 An order issued 
by the Bank of Kentucky, casting some doubts upon its acceptance of the 
new Commonwealth notes, provoked one of its debtors to threats of 
violence. This irate customer inserted a notice in the Russellville Weekly 
Messenger in which he announced that he was a debtor of the bank and 

28 December 5, 1821. These remarks were occasioned by the passage of the 
law in the Senate, which was done by a vote of 26 to 10. 

27 Niks' Register, Vol. 21, p. 381; Vol. 22, p. 273. 
2i Niks' Register, Vol. 22, p. 291, 292. 

29 Niks' Register, Vol. 20, p. 225. 

30 See Ibid., Vol. 21, p. 278; Vol. 22, p. 97; Vol. 23, p. 96; Vol. 24, p. 16. 

81 Ibid., Vol. 20, p. 225. 

82 Ibid., Vol. 23, p. 148. 

* 3 Ibid., Vol. 22, 116; Breckinridge MSS. (1821). Letter from B. B. Stith to 
Joseph C. Breckinridge, Aug. 25, 1821. 


was willing to pay what he owed "'provided you agree to take the currency 
of the country, such money as the state has made for the payment of 
debts : but so long as your present order exists I most solemnly declare, 
that I will not pay you one dollar, not even the interest, and thus publicly 
give notice to all sheriffs, constables, bailiffs, marshals, and their deputies, 
that if they do serve any precept on me, preparatory to coercion, that I 
will as soon thereafter as I can, put a period to their earthly career — - 
for I hold it as a right undeniable, that all improper, oppressive, or im- 
practicable orders ought to be repelled with force." 3i 

The City of Louisville in order to relieve itself from the uncertainties 
and hazards of this circulating medium, which some believed might soon 
cease to circulate at all, issued a city currency to the amount of $40,000 
in denominations of 6% cents to Si. The city taxes and property were 
pledged in payment of them, and they were made receivable for all city 
taxes and other debts due the corporation. But being made receivable 
for city taxes and redeemable in the same medium, it was soon evident 
that the notes were in fact then redeemable in themselves — a vicious circle 
which soon sent them down to zero as a limit of their value. 35 

In more than one way the impossibility of using the Commonwealth 
Bank notes with any great degree of satisfaction in the ordinary money 
transactions stood out. According to the postal regulations, uniform for 
the whole country, postage was required to be paid in specie or other 
national currency. The Kentucky currency was. therefore, not receivable 
at the postoffice. As this so-called ''rag money" made up the great bulk 
of the currency in the state, and as many of the citizens were "denied the 
privilege of the post office, by requiring of them round specie in pay- 
ment for postage." the legislature called upon the National Government 
to amend the rules of the postoffice so as ''to enable the citizens of this 
commonwealth to avail themselves of the privelege of conveying their 
letters by mail." 30 

As a necessary part of the relief system and a direct outcome of the 
depreciated Commonwealth Bank notes, the so-called "scaling system" 
grew up. This consisted in juries giving their verdicts for damages, exe- 
cutions, and claims in specie rating rather than in the Commonwealth 
paper — "scaling verdicts" as they came to be called. According to the 
Lexington Reporter, "Those who have not experienced the operations of 
the scaling law. will find, on inquiry, that it is a wonderful expedient for 
the benefit of a debtor. It is just the thing that deserves a patent." Under 
this system some very fantastic results ensued. The following case was 
reported : — A poor man was sued on a note of S12 on the back of which 
was credited a payment of $6. As there was no proof that the $6 had 
not been paid in specie, the magistrate assumed that it had, and as the 
ratio of Commonwealth paper to specie was two to one, he decided that 
the whole amount of the note had been paid, and therefore gave a judg- 
ment for costs against the plaintiff. This led the Lexington Reporter to 
comment: "Into what absurdities are we plunged by the relief system." 
What a mockery to talk of justice and freedom and happiness, when the 
Constitution is brought to the level of such legislative acts as have been 
adopted by the relief party! We have here in Kentucky, a code of such 
relief laws : a code intended to suit the case of every man who is disposed 
to wrong his neighbor ; a code which invites all men to break their con- 
tracts. If a trespass be committed, and property destroyed or taken 
away, damages for one half the amount of injury only, can be obtained; 
and that half payable in paper worth 50 cents on the dollar! If a man 

34 Quoted in Kiles' Register, Vol. 24, p. 2. 

33 R. T. Durrett, The Centenary of Louisville (Louisville, 1893), Filson Club 
Publication, No. 8, pp. 90-92. 

36 Acts * * * of the Thirteenth General Assembly for the Commonwealth 
of Kentucky, 1821, p. 451 ; Nile/ Register, Vol. 21, p. 212. 


refuses to pay his bond, judgment can be obtained against him for one 
half only, and thus he clears fifty per cent, by being sued. If he prefers 
not paying even one half of his just debt, in commonwealth paper, he 
can replevy two years ; and, at the expiration of two years, he may send 
his creditors to seek wild land — provided the relief legislators hold 


By the advocates of the relief system, the depreciated currency was 
declared to be a blessing in disguise. True it was that the Commonwealth 
notes would not be accepted outside of the state ; and by that very fact 
Kentuckians were forced to buy home productions. This was bound to 
lead, they argued, to the rejuvenation of home manufactories. These 
notes would also not be accepted by the Federal Government in payment 
for public lands. This was also a blessing; for there was no need for 
good Kentuckians migrating to other states or to the territories. The 
Kentucky Gazette said, "At present our money is certainly protecting 
every class except the purchases of foreign articles. * * * Take 
from this state the present currency, and there is not an article made 
of leather, wool, cotton, flax, hemp, or iron but will be imported till the 
last cent is drained from us and carried away." 38 As there was cer- 
tainly little specie in the state with which to make outside purchases; 
there was in fact some cogency in these contentions. It was a question, 
however, as to whether this was the best way to encourage manufactories. 
Would not the economic detriment to the state outweigh and outlast 
any aid that might result for home production? On October 26, 1822, 
the Bank of the Commonwealth had only $2,633.25 in specie. 39 

But the very originators of the relief system soon saw there was a 
limit to the amount of notes that should be issued and also a limit to the 
time during which they should circulate; for in fact the bank had not been 
set up as a permanent financial institution any more than it was expected 
that hard times would be permanent. Governor Adair in his message to 
the Legislature in October, 1822, favored the gradual retirement of the 
Commonwealth Bank notes. This course, he said, would "silence the 
clamors of those who have depreciated the credit of the paper by impeach- 
ing the credit of the public faith, and inspire the community with increased 
confidence in the final redemption of the notes." 40 A legislative committee 
appointed to investigate the question raised in this part of the message 
seriously regretted that the notes of the Bank of the Commonwealth and 
of the Bank of Kentucky "have depreciated during the present year, and 
it can only be accounted for, on the ground of a redundancy of the paper 
of these banks, because it must be acknowledged by all, that the resources 
of the state are ample for the redemption of all the paper of both insti- 
tions. * * *" It recommended that a sum not exceeding $1,000,000 
each of the two banks be called in and burnt, one-half as soon as possible 
and the remainder in six and twelve months. It also recommended that 
only twelve months, instead of two years, be allowed in cases where the 
plaintiff failed to take advantage of the endorsement law. 41 This policy 
of retiring the currency of the banks and burning it was adopted and soon 
the bonfires were illuminating Frankfort. On January 8, 1823, $71,000 
of the notes of the Bank of the Commonwealth were consigned to the 
flames. Of this Hezekiah Niles said, "What an excellent fire it must 
have made ! It is a good beginning." 42 Exactly one week later $700,000 
of Commonwealth Bank paper was burned "in the presence of suitable 
persons duly appointed to see that the conflagration was properly made." 

37 Quoted in Niles' Register, Vol. 24, p. 391. 

38 May 9, 1822. Also see May 21. 

39 Niles" Register, Vol. 23, p. 181. 
i0 Ibid., 171. 

41 Niles" Register, Vol. 23, pp. 235, 236. 

42 Ibid.. 321. 

Vol. II— 4 


"A few more good fires like this," Niles added, "and we shall begin to 
expect remittances from our friends in Kentucky — whose arrears amount 
to a distressing aggregate at this time." 4S The work of gathering up the 
money and burning it went steadily on. In June the (Frankfort) Argus 
announced that "$109,000 of Commonwealth's paper was committed to 
the flames, in obedience to the act of the last general assembly. Original 
cost about $22." 44 The notes of the Bank of Kentucky were also being 
steadily called in and burned. Niks' Register reported in June, 1823. 
that "Kentucky is going on nobly in the work of burning paper 
money. There was lately another great purification of the currency by 
fire — $1,400,000 in notes of the Bank of Kentucky, besides the conflagra- 
tions of the paper of the Bank of the Commonwealth, have been com- 
mitted to the flames." 45 It was later provided that all the outstanding 
notes of the Bank of Kentucky should be called in at the rate of one per 
cent per month and boxed up, instead of being burned. 40 This bank was 
well on its way now to a final winding up of its affairs preparatory to 
going out of business. The Bank of the Commonwealth was also getting 
on a sounder basis. On October 10, 1825, there was outstanding about 
a million and a half of notes out of a grand total of nearly three millions. 
For the redemption of these notes it had almost $2,500,000 in various 
forms. The notes, under these circumstances, were gradually approach- 
ing par, much to the joy of most of the people of the state who longed 
for a sound circulating medium. 47 There was a movement on the part 
of some before the appreciation began, to retire the notes on the basis 
of 50 cents on the dollar. This was, however, not adopted as it would 
have further impugned the credit of the state. 4S 

When the notes began to rise in value the inflationist relief men im- 
mediately took fright. They began to cry out that money was be- 
coming scarce again and that it was an injustice for them to pay back 
to the bank their loans from it dollar for dollar, since every day made 
the dollars they were paying back dearer and harder to get. When they 
borrowed the money from the bank, $2 of the paper was worth $1 in 
specie, now it had so advanced in value that $1.50 equalled $1 in specie. 
More money was the only remedy, in their estimation. Said a corre- 
spondent to the Washington (Kentucky) Union: "Justice forbids it [the 
payment in dear money of debts contracted in cheap money] — the spirit 
of the relief system (from which the country has derived so much 
benefit) forbids it — and I call upon the friends of the system to rally 
around it, and boldly to demand a moderate additional emission of the 
not created as an instrument of oppression, and the true friends of it 
will not be driven from their stand in its favor. The pretence of wind- 
ing up, has only been resorted to as a means of conciliating the anti- 
relief's, and is at best, but a kind of half-way measure. I say there- 
fore speak out boldly, and stick close together, all you who are really in 
favor of relief." 49 Others would take advantage of the appreciation 
of the currency for other purposes. As the money became more valuable. 
Governor Desha in 1825 urged the advisability of paring down the salaries 
of state officials and other public expenditures. "It should be the object 
of a republican government," he said, "to give only that compensation to 
public officers which will purchase the faithful performance of their 

43 Ibid., 355- 

44 Quoted in Niles' Register, Vol. 24, p. 260. 

45 Vol. 23, p. 387. 

46 Niles" Register, Vol. 25, p. 368. 

paper of the bank, sufficient to prevent the shavers and money grippers 
from speculating upon the necessities of the debtors of the bank — It was 

47 For a statement of the bank see Niles" Register, Vol. 29, p. 229. 

48 Ibid., 4. 

49 Quoted in Niles" Register, Vol. 28, p. 342. 


respective duties. Above all things our government should avoid sinecure 
offices." He called special attention to the salaries of the officers of the 
Commonwealth Bank and suggested that the various branches of the bank- 
might be completely discontinued and the remaining duties be performed 
by resident agents. 50 

As heretofore indicated, this whole relief system of banks and replevin 
laws was bitterly assailed from the very beginning, and it increased as 
time went on. In a bewailing letter a Kentuckian summed up the in- 
famies the state had been guilty of during the past few years : "I dis- 
cover that I have lived too long. I have lived to see this country rise 
from a howling wilderness to a rich, populous and respectable state. I 
have lived to see the savages driven far away, and the sons of Kentucky 
step forward to vindicate their country's rights — but also, after a residence 
of forty-two years, I have lived to see my country in disgrace at home 
and abroad. I have lived to see it cursed with forty independent banks. 
I have lived to see the lands of non-residents and residents confiscated 
under what is here called the 'occuping claimant's law.' I have lived to 
see the charters of the independent banks repealed ; but I have lived to 
see fifteen more established in violation of the constitution of the United 
States : and, worse than all, I have lived to see two successive legislatures 
of Kentucky guilty of the ridiculous folly of attempting to legislate the 
people of the state out of debt. I have lived to see the measures of gov- 
ernment much influenced by bankrupts. I zvish to live to see my state 
regain her former standing." 51 

The replevin laws and the bank were severally and collectively at- 
tached ; but the latter seemed to be singled out for some of the bitterest 
thrusts. In describing its blighting effect on the "state a correspondent to 
Niles' Register, said : "It has nearly destroyed all commerce or trade, 
extinguished personal credit, broken down confidence between man 
and man, as well as dampened and depressed the industry of the state- 
but thank God, the people are beginning to get tired of its blessings, and 
its paper mill will soon cease working ; leaving a debt, however, due to 
it from the poorest of the people, to the amount of 2j4 or three million 
of dollars." 52 An effort was made by the enemies of the institution in 
1822 to repeal the charter but it failed by a vote in the House of sixty 
to thirty. 53 It was early argued that this bank was unconstitutional for 
"It is impossible to believe that the paper of this bank can be forced upon 
any one in the payment of debts — for no state can pass a law impairing 
the obligation of contracts. This is forbidden, and wisely, by the consti- 
tution of the United States." 54 The question was soon raised in the state 
courts in a regular law suit. The Bank of Commonwealth brought suit 
in the Adair County Circuit Court against one Benjamin Lampton and 
others on a note for money loaned by the branch at Greenupsburg. The 
defendants maintained in their answer that the paper they had received 
from the bank was illegal and void, for the bank in issuing it had violated 
the Constitution of the United States, which declared specifically that no 
state shall "emit bills of credit." 55 The court sustained the right of the 
bank to issue the notes, and the case was appealed to the Court of Ap- 
peals, which sustained the judgment of the lower court. 56 

This question was finally settled in 1837 in the celebrated decision of 
the Supreme Court in the case of John Briscoe and others v. The Presi- 
dent and Directors of the Bank of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. John 

5° Message of November 25, 1825, in Niles' Register, Vol. 29, p. 223. 
51 Niles" Register, Vol. 20, p. 52. 
62 Vol. 23, p. 337. 

53 Niles' Register, Vol. 22, p. 240. 

54 Ibid., Vol. 20, p. 225. 

55 Art. I, sec 10. 

le Niles 3 Register, Vol. 23, p. 371. 


Briscoe borrowed $2,048.37 from the Bank of the Commonwealth and 
received payment in its notes. Later he refused to settle this debt, as 
he maintained the consideration illegal and void. In so holding, the plain- 
tiff in error argued that the bank had no right to issue money, as it was 
an instrument of the state and in practical effect amounted to the state 
emitting bills of credit, which was specifically forbidden by the Federal 
Constitution. In the minds of many people this very question had been 
settled in the case of Craig v. The State of Missouri, the opinion in which 
had been delivered by John Marshall ; and if that were true, there seemed 
little question that the case would go against the Kentucky bank. Henry 
Clay and Benjamin Hardin were retained as counsel for the state. The 
outstanding point in their argument was that the bank was not the state, 
but merely a corporation created by the state for a specific purpose, viz. : 
to do banking. Their contentions carried with the court, and the emission 
of notes by the states through a state-owned bank continued until the 
days of the Civil war, when a tax of ten per cent was imposed on all such 
emissions, which effectively put a stop to them. In its decision the court 
held that a bill of credit must be issued by a state, must involve the faith 
of a state, and must be designed to circulate as money on the credit of 
the state. In the case of the notes in question, there was no promise on 
the part of the state involved. Moreover, when a state became a stock- 
holder in a bank it imparted none of its attributes of sovereignty to the 
institution, and it exercised no powers different from those exercised by 
private holders of stock to the same amount. 57 

The Commonwealth Bank was defended and praised as the salvation 
of the people generally. Governor Adair declared in 1821 that he had 
sensed during the year the gradual return of prosperity and that the bank 
was largely responsible for it. "The wisdom of the policy which gave 
birth to that institution, has received the decided conformation of a short 
experience; and the important benefits it has conferred on the distressed 
portion of our population, have strongly endeared it to the people. Its 
favors have been general — equal — and, for the most part, adequate to the 
pressure of the times." 5S In his message to the Legislature the follow- 
ing year he reiterated his conviction that the bank was justified by the 
conditions and that it had been successful in accomplishing what it had 
been set up for. "If the legislature of Kentucky has been compelled to 
yield for a season to the imperious nature of causes which it could not 
subdue, in devising measures requisite to insure the general welfare; has 
sanctioned means heretofore not usually employed, let it never be for- 
gotten, that the measures adopted have completely realized their proposed 
ends; that an agitated and endangered population of a half a million souls 
has been tranquillized and secured without the infliction of legal injustice 
or the example of violated morality. I rejoice that the hour is near at 
hand, when we may change, without fear or injury, our precautionary 
attitude, and, mingling freely in the emulative pursuits of nations, with 
increased vigor urge onward our career of wealth, of power and of 
fame." B0 

The bank in particular as well as the whole system of relief legisla- 
tion in general, was opposed by many people on the principle that it was 
no concern of the state that private individuals were in debt, and that it 
was no concern of the state to get private individuals out of debt. It was 
argued that thrift, industry, and economy were the only remedies, and 
that any intervention on the part of the state would only aggravate con- 
ditions in the long run. Governments, they said, were not made for such 

57 II Peters 257; Reports of the Supreme Court, B. R. Curtis, editor, XII, 419- 
456; North American Review, Vol. 46 (1838), 142-156; Calvin Colton The Life and 
Times of Henry Clay (New York, 1846), I, 82, 83. 

68 Message to the legislature, October 16, 1821 in Niles' Register, Vol. 21, p. 185. 

69 Message of October 22, 1822 in Niles" Register, Vol. 23, p. 171. 


purposes, and laws could do no permanent good. Amos Kendall, who 
had come to Kentucky as a boy and was now editor of the Argus, said 
the people might cry relief! relief! "Alas ! we know the futility of such 
efforts and the wickedness of exciting hopes which must be disappointed. 
We might as well cry silence to the thunder, and bid the tempest cease. 
Things will take their course in the moral as well as the natural world. 
When men raise their feeble arms and build their weak barriers, the flood 
is stayed but to accumulate a greater force and whelm the deeper in the 
furious waves. To parry, to palliate, is all that man can do. They may 
delay, may give facilities, but they cannot relieve. The people must 
pay their own debts at last. This truth should be impressed upon them, 
their eyes should be turned from banks and the Legislature to themselves, 
— their own power and resources. Few need despair. Industry never 
died with hunger. Economy never went without its reward. The Legis- 
lature can do little, — the people can do much. Let both do what they 
can, and our country will soon be easy and tranquil, if not prosperous 
and contented." 00 

The relief men answered with much impatience the argument that the 
people themselves must work their salvation and do so without the aid of 
the Government. What, they asked, was a Government for, if it was 
not to relieve the people in their distress? A legislative committee said: 
"Our people had a right to expect relief, and to effect which, they com- 
menced a system of economy and retrenchment; but this alone was too 
slow for those who were already struggling with the storm, and we are 
happy in the belief that this bank saved many worthy citizens in an im- 
portant crisis. — The commonwealth, like a wise and beneficent parent, 
gave to her children bread in time of need. To conduct prudently, and 
not abuse this institution, ought to be the object of all." Continuing, it 
declared : "Your committee have always believed that republican govern- 
ments were instituted for the happiness and safety of their people, and, 
although the bank of the commonwealth has been deprecated by many 
as unconstitutional, which cannot be admitted according to a just con- 
struction of that instrument, but which we consider as founded upon 
sound wisdom ; yet the better feelings of the human heart cannot avoid 
responding with a noble pride, that it has been able to carry joy and glad- 
ness to the homes of the distressed, the unfortunate and enterprising 
mechanic, farmer and merchant whose all would have been sacrificed 
perhaps at one tenth of its value. Your committee believe that moral 
principle would as much oppose one citizen taking the property of an- 
other for one tenth or twentieth part of its value, under sanction of law, 
as if it was taken without lazv. The bold and intrepid robber, who takes 
our property by violence, cannot have a worse conscience than the man 
who coolly and deliberately deprives his neighbor of his home, without 
any consideration, under pretext of justice. Moral principle and honest 
feeling equally forbid both." el 

As heretofore intimated the replevin laws were strongly assailed as 
being nothing less than the virtual repudiation of contracts. Niles de- 
clared that he has always "entertaining an opinion that proceedings of 
this nature must needs operate for the benefit of a designing few at the 
cost of the honest many — and, that for one deserving person whom they 
really assist or preserve, they break down and destroy at least twenty 
others, as well entitled to the public concern as that favored one." 62 At 
a Fourth of July dinner in 1822, Isaac Shelby, now beyond the alloted 
years of man, gave this toast: "The relief measures are demoralizing, 
impolitic and unconstitutional — may they be crushed." 63 But the relief 

00 Autobiography of Amos Kendall, 246. 

61 Niles' Register, Vol. 23, p. 235. 

62 Niles' Register, Vol. 22, p. 386. 
83 Ibid. 


men seemed to think that they should be praised for their forbearance 
in not having all private debts repudiated outright. By one it was stated : 
"In times not worse than these, the legislator of Athens, Solon, abolished 
the debts; but the Kentuckians were too magnanimous to think of such 
a measure ; all that the debtors were looking for was time to pay." 64 

The replevin laws were more difficult to defend than the bank, and 
they were designed from their very nature for a shorter duration. In 
January of 1824 these laws were abolished and there was substituted in 
their place as a gradual departure from the whole principle a law requir- 
ing that all property taken in executions should be valued in gold or 
silver and that it must bring at least three-fourths of this value. In 
November, 1825, Governor Desha stated that their operation had almost 
ceased to be felt in the courts of the land. 65 

/This period of hard times and relief remedies agitated the state to its 
very center. Questions arose which called not for mere theoretical dis- 
cussion; they concerned vitally every person in the state who was either 
creditor or debtor. Private property was at stake, the accumulations of 
a lifetime. There was no wonder then that two parties should arise, in- 
tensely hostile and aggressive. Relief meant the salvation of the debtor, 
but the ruination of the creditor. It was only natural that the more con- 
servative people, who had steered away from the orgy of speculation and 
consequent debts, and the more fortunate who had emerged as creditors 
through chance or sharp practices, should band together in solid opposition 
to measures which meant ruin to themselves. The debtors for like rea- 
sons — and they were a majority of the people — would use every agency 
in their power to secure relief from their improvidence and misfortune. 
The state thus found itself arrayed in two new divisions based on new 
principles and conditions, commonly known as the Relief and Anti-Relief 
parties. The former was led by such men as Rowan, Barry, Bibb, 
Kendall, Sharp. Desha, and Adair, men of great ability who were yet to 
win many honors in state and nation,- — the first three of whom were 
characterized by a critic of the times as "men of Talent" and by repute 
"irredeemably Insolent." The leaders of the Anti-Relief party were such 
men as George Wickliffe, Ben Hardin, George Robinson, John J. Critten- 
den, Flournoy, Green, John Pope, and John J. Marshall, also men of 
renown present and future and according to the same critics, "men of in- 
tegrity, talent and patriotism." ° 6 With two parties led by two groups 
of men equally talented and aggressive, and with the clevage based on 
principles so fundamental and vital as those embraced in the relief sys- 
tem, the state was destined to go through with a contest which at times 
approached Civil war and threatened the very organization of society 
itself. / 

64 , 


1 Liberty Saved (A contemporary pamphlet, propaganda for relief), 8. 

° 5 Message of November 7, 1825 in Niles' Register, Vol. 29, p. 221. 

60 Letters on the Conditions of Kentucky in 1825 (Reprinted from the Richmond 
Enquirer; author unknown; edited by E. G. Swem, 1916), 10, II, See also Doolan, 
"Old Court— New Court Controversy" in Green Bag, XI, 184; Lafayette to the 
People, 9, 10. 




Doubt had been felt by some from the time when the replevin laws 
were first introduced in the Legislature that they were unconstitutional. 
Their direct intention was to make the remedy more difficult for carry- 
ing out the obligations of a contract, and their practical result was to 
satisfy and cancel debts with actually a less value than was stipulated 
in the contract. And it was not infrequent that through the mutations of 
time and fortune the contract was never carried out at all. The whole 
relief system was indeed questioned and challenged, but the Bank of the 
Commonwealth, as before noted, was able to finally win out on the point 
of constitutionality in the United States Supreme Court; however not 
without many people disagreeing. 1 A case involving the replevin laws 
soon arose in the state courts. One Williams brought suit against one Blair 
in the Bourbon County Circuit Court to force the payment of $219.67^ 
immediately, instead of waiting the two years allowed by the replevin 
law. The plaintiff claimed that the two years' stay of execution was in 
violation of the Constitution of the United States as well as of the State 
of Kentucky, and was, therefore, null and void. Judge James Clark 
who occupied the bench at this time, delivered the opinion. He pro- 
ceeded with much hesitancy and diffidence mindful of the "heavy re- 
sponsibility he must incur" ; but it was clearly his duty to dispose of the 
points involved, even to the extent of judging of the constitutionality of 
acts of the Legislature. He cited the clause in the Federal Constitution 
which declared that no state should have the right of making a law 
"impairing the obligation of contracts," and said that the states in accept- 
ing the Constitution had agreed to that provision. Not only had Ken- 
tucky accepted this principle by her entry into the Union, but she had 
specifically incorporated it in her own constitution by stating that "no 
ex post facto law, nor any law impairing contracts, shall be made." 2 
He then stated the principle of law, which has since become well-estab- 
lished, "that a law to release one party without the consent of the other, 
in whole or in part, from the payment of a sum of money which he has 
stipulated to pay, or a law to change the day of payment to a shorter, or 
a more distant day, would impair the obligation of the contract. It is 
equally clear that if one party, without the consent of the other, is per- 
mitted to do the thing in a different manner, or at a different time from 
that agreed upon, and thereby mitigate at his own will and pleasure the 
terms of the contract, the obligation is not preserved." With equally con- 
vincing argument Judge Clark dealt with other points involved. He 
stated, in closing his decision. "The opinion I have expressed on this 

1 George Robertson, for many years chief justice of the Court of Appeals of 
Kentucky, said, "There is much reason for doubting the correctness of these de- 
cisions by the national judiciary — and, if they be maintained, there is good cause 
for apprehending that the beneficent policy of the interdiction of State bills of 
credit may be entirely frustrated, and the constitutional prohibition altogether para- 
lysed or eluded." "Sketch of the Court of Appeals" in Collins, History of Kentucky, 

I, 495- 

2 Art. 10, sec. 18. 



subject, I am aware, is different from that entertained by some of the 
most intelligent and patriotic citizens of this state," but he felt it was 
his duty to interpret the laws and the constitution as he understood 
them. 3 

This decision had an electrical effect on the relief supporters. They 
were chagrined and alarmed — chagrined because a mere circuit court 
judge had interposed his supposed authority against the will of the 
people expressed in their legislature, alarmed because it pointed to a 
branch of the government which was beyond their reach in elections and 
which might seek to completely undo the relief laws. Judge Clark would 
be made to answer at the first opportunity for his bold course which 
smacked almost of impertinence. As it happened a special session of the 
Legislature was called for May, 1822, for the purpose of re-arranging the 
congressional districts of the state preparatory to the addition of two 
additional representatives in Congress, and action could, thus, be taken 
six months earlier than ordinarily. Soon after the Legislature met a 
resolution was introduced, stating that as Judge Clark had "given a de- 
cision in contravention of the laws of this commonwealth, called the 
endorsement and replevin laws, and therein has grossly transcended his 
judicial authority and disregarded the constitutional powers of the 
legislature of this commonwealth : Therefore, 

"Resolved, That a committee be appointed to inquire into the decision 
of the said judge, and report thereon to this house." 4 Three days later 
the committee reported that "The principles and doctrines assumed in 
this opinion are, in the opinion of your committee, incompatible with 
the constitutional powers of the legislative department of this govern- 
ment, subversive of the best interests of the people, and calculated in 
their consequences to disturb the tranquillity of the country, and to shake 
public confidence in their institutions and measures of the government, 
called for by the condition and the necessities of the people." Sensing 
the danger of a rising judicial tyranny, it stated that it was not prepared 
to admit "That the judicial department has a power, beyond control, to 
defeat the general policy of the state, deliberately adopted by the repre- 
sentatives of the people." As a remedy it recommended the following 
resolution: "Resolved by the general assembly of the commonwealth of 
Kentucky, (two-thirds of each branch thereof concurring), that the Hon. 
James Clark, one of the circuit judges of this commonwealth, ought to 
be removed from office. * * *" By a vote of sixty-three to thirty- 
two an order was issued citing Judge Clark to appear before the bar 
of the House and show cause why he should not be dismissed. Shortly 
thereafter, instead of appearing in person, Clark sent an extended letter 
justifying his course. 5 

Clark's defense was scholarly and convincing. He boldly, at the out- 
set, took a strong position, absolutely eschewing any truckling excuses 
or mitigating circumstances. He said his decision had been given "after 
the most mature deliberation which I was able to bestow, and from a 
firm conviction of the correctness of the principles there mentioned; 
and I must have been not only faithless to my own conscience, but to 
the Constitution of the United States and the dignity due to the judicial 
office, had I expressed any other opinion, under the conviction I had 
upon the subject." He then entered into a long discussion of the right 
of a judge to declare a law unconstitutional, reasoning not only from 
logic, but also quoting the more direct statement from the Kentucky 

3 This was the case of Williams v. Blair, which is given in full in Niks' Register, 
Vol. 23, Supplement, pp. 153-155. 

4 Niks' Register, Vol. 23, Supplement, p. 155. 

5 "Response of Judge James Clark, to the charges exhibited against him in 
! the house of representatives, at their extra session in May, 1822" in Niks' Register, 

Vol. 23, Supplement, pp. 156-160. 


constitution: "To guard against the transgression of these high powers, 
which we have delegated, we declare that every thing in this article [bill 
of rights in Article ten] is excepted out of the powers of the general 
government, and shall ever remain inviolate ; and that all laws contrary 
thereto, or contrary to this constitution, shall be void." Not only had 
the Federal judges declared laws of Congress unconstitutional in numer- 
ous instances, but the judges of the Kentucky courts had judged like- 
wise laws of the Legislature. "I may here ask why it is," he continued, 
"if, since the organization of our government few years have elapsed 
without some of the laws passed by the Legislature being declared un- 
constitutional, no instance is to be found in which the general assembly 
have been asked by any member to exercise this power of removing a 
judge from office, for their judicial encroachment, as it is now termed? 
Have our statesmen, heretofore, been less vigilant, less wise, and less 
devoted to the interests of our country, than those of the present day? 
Shall those men who assisted in forming our constitutions, those whom 
we have heretofore boasted of as the pride of our state, and patterns for 
emulation, be cast in the shade by the doctrines advanced by this occa- 
sion?" It had not only, then, been a common practice among the judges 
of the Court of Appeals of the state to declare acts of the Legislature 
unconstitutional and, therefore, null and void, but it had been equally 
common among the judges of the inferior courts. And even more than 
that, the very replevin laws, themselves, had been held unconstitutional, 
so that if the Legislature wished to "make an example of the first judge 
who dared to differ from them in opinion," it might take cognizance of a 
decision of Judge Booker in the Hardin County Circuit Court in 1821, 
or of Judge Oldham in the Jefferson County Circuit Court of the same 
year, or even of Judge Broadnax in the Union County Circuit Court. 
"Those decisions have not only been given on a branch of the same 
system of laws," he declared, "but upon a different section of the same 
law brought before me in the case I decided. These decisions were 
publicly given, have been generally known, and the records containing 
them, seen by many. I cannot, therefore, persuade myself that I am to 
be made the first victim, for pursuing doctrines so long in use, so 
matured by experience, and so entirely incorporated in our constitutions 
and in the political and judicial histories of our country." There was 
no hinting at corruption or arraigning of motives, and if it was to be a 
case of running a race of opinions, Judge Clark gave a timely and 
prophetic warning that "If for a difference of opinions between the 
general assembly and the judges, where there motives cannot be im- 
peached, they are to be removed from office, is it not to be apprehended 
that they will, in future times, become the subservient creatures of the 
predominant party in the general assembly, and their decisions upon con- 
stitutional law become as fluctuating and changeable as the verying 
temper of the times?" 

A lively debate arose after the reading of Clark's defense, which 
occupied the whole day. The Judge's defenders not only reiterated and 
amplified the doctrines and arguments he had expounded but also used 
with strong effect the point that the opinion of the judge of a Circuit 
Court could not be final, and that in the present instance the case had 
already been appealed to the Court of Appeals where the final disposition 
would have to rest. The resolution to present an address to the governor 
for his removal was then voted upon. It resulted in fifty-nine being in 
favor of removing Clark with thirty-five opposed. As the required two- 
thirds was lacking the resolution failed. It was said that a majority in 
the senate were against his removal. The removal of a judge by address 
(requiring a two-thirds majority of both houses) was a constitutional 
method of getting rid of a judge "for any reasonable cause which shall 


not be sufficient cause for impeachment," and had won the hearty praise 
and support of the Virginia statesman, John Taylor of Carolina. It 
was not a settled principle as to what a "reasonable cause" insufficient 
for impeachment should be ; but it would not be a far-fetched interpreta- 
tion to assume that it was designed for such cases as the present one. 
However impolitic or dangerous such a procedure might be, it at least 
could not be called clearly unconstitutional; and had the required two- 
thirds majority vote been forth-coming, no other course could have been 
left to Judge Clark but to bow to the inevitable. But as argued by the 
Tudge, the judicial independence of the courts would have been destroyed. 
The defense of Clark was excluded from the Journals of the Legislature, 
either through the fear of its effect on the relief cause, or through petty 
spite. When chided for this action, the legislative leaders declared it 
would receive all necessary publicity in the newspapers. 6 

In their first attempt to control the courts, the Legislature thus 
failed. One of the arguments that had caused some members who were 
in favor of the relief laws to vote against addressing Clark out of office 
was that the highest court of the state had not yet acted on the question, 
and that no permanent damage could be done to the cause until that 
happened. But this argument soon vanished, for in the early part of 
October of the next year (1823) the Court of Appeals re-affirmed the 
decision in the main of Clark. Two of the judges held that the relief 
laws were constitutional as to the transactions made subsequent to the 
passage of the laws, but void in all prior cases, while the third maintained 
that the laws were unconstitutional in every respect, in transactions be- 
fore the passage of the laws as well as afterwards. The three judges, 
who composed the court, Boyle, Owsley and Mills, handed down separate 
opinions; but the substance of their argument, dispensing with much 
theoretical reasoning and logic was: that the obligations of contracts 
consisted of the law and usage of the place and time where and when 
they were made, and that any subsequent legislation that impaired the 
legal remedy for maintaining or enforcing the contract, impaired its obli- 
gations just to that extent, that if the retroactive extension of replevin 
to two years did not impair the obligations of a contract, then its exten- 
sion to 100 years would not, and that if this did not, then the denial of 
all legal remedy for all time could not. 7 

To the Relief Party, the overt act had been committed. The highest 
court of the state had confirmed their worst fears ; the whole system of 
relief was to be torn down by three men who had never been elected 
by the people, in contravention of a program set going by the people's 
representatives. Governor Desha said later: "The legislature and the 
country were startled at this decision. It declared void a course of 
legislation which had been practiced, as of unquestioned authority, from 
the origin of our government. It wrested from the representatives of 
the people the power to suspend the operation of the laws in any case 
of contract, even in time of insurrection, war, pestilence or famine. It 
denied to this government a power which, it is believed, has been exer- 
cised by every government of every civilized nation, as well as by every 
state in the union, and which is sometimes essential to nation existence. 
If our humble and industrious population is called out in martial array 
to suppress an insurrection, which is desolating the country, is it not 
necessary that the coercive hand of the law shall be suspended while they 
are engaged in the service? If they volunteer or are drafted and sent to 
repel an invading enemy, is there no power in the government which com- 

« Kentucky Gazette, June 6, 1822. t 

1 Doolan "Old Court— New Court Controversy in Green Bag, XI, 181 ; Ntles 
Register, Vol. 25, p. 147; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 495, 496. "here were 
two cases in point, viz. : Blair v. Williams and Lapsley v. Brasher. 


pels them to march, to suspend the operation of the laws and prevent 
the sacrifice of their property in their absence? By the decision of our 
courts, these benign and just powers are denied to the state legislature, 
and the rigid enforcement of contracts is deemed of more importance 
than justice to the absent debtor or the safety of the republic." 8 

The handing down of these decisions stirred up and lashed to a fury 
the passions of the people, and according to George Robertson, "No 
popular controversy, waged without bloodshed, was ever more absorbing 
and acrimonious than that which raged, like a hurricane, over Kentucky 
for about three years succeeding the promulgation of those judicial 
decisions." 9 When the Legislature met, feeling waxed high against the 
court. A set of resolutions supported by a long drawn out argument was 
passed in December denouncing the court as an intolerable tyranny and 
bitterly arraigning it for thwarting the will of the people so clearly ex- 
pressed through the Legislature. It made bold to inform the judges 
that "the legislature cannot, ought not, and will not furnish any facilities 
for its enforcement, and as for the relief laws, "whether they were or 
were not expedient, are believed to be constitutional and valid ; and which 
should, when it shall be thought to be expedient to do so, be repealed by 
the Legislature, and not by the Appellate Court." These resolutions 
were adopted by the House fifty-six to forty. 10 An address to the 
governor was contained in the document, calling upon him to remove the 
obnoxious judges from office. But again due to the lack of a two-thirds 
majority the effort failed. 11 The judges replied in a long and logical 
defense of their actions. Again they declared that the replevin laws 
violated the obligations of contracts and that the court had the right to 
declare a law uncostitutional. They also warned the Legislature and the 
people of the serious consequences that would follow if the court's de- 
cisions were resisted. The state would soon find itself in a condition of 
anarchy, and another Shay's rebellion would be enacted. The Federal 
courts, it was declared, would uphold the Kentucky courts in carrying 
out the remedy protecting the obligations of a contract, for such remedy 
was protected as much by the Federal Constitution as by the State Con- 
stitution. And as for being a judicial tyranny, the courts were so con- 
stituted in the framework of government that they could never become 
such through themselves alone, but only by being manipulated as a tool 
for the Legislature or the executive. "The ambitious man, who meditates 
supreme sway over his country's destinies," they said, "never mounts 
the Bench. He mounts the 'stump' and winds himself into public favor, 
by flattering the prejudicies and passions of the majority, as the serpent 
decoyed Eve. * * * No country was ever legislated out of debt, 
nor ever will be." 12 

A general feeling had been growing up against the state judiciary 
from the first days of the relief program. It was charged that the judges 
formed a class apart from the rest of the Government, that they were 
not amenable to the people, being appointed and holding office for life 
or through good behavior. A Kentuckian styling himself, "Gracchus" 
said, "If a body thus constituted and organized, possessing all these 
powers, advantages, and emoluments, and an identity of interests, be 
not a most rank and flourishing aristocracy, it is difficult to say what an 
aristocracy is." 13 The judges in certain instances had made themselves 
obnoxious by taking too prominent a part in the political campaigns. It 

8 Message to the legislature, November 7, 1825 in Niks' Register, Vol. 29, p. 221. ' 

9 Robertson, Scrap Book, 49. 

™Ibid., 49, 50; Acts of Kentucky, 1823, pp. 488-516. 
" Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 496. 

"Robertson, Scrap Book, 51-74. 

" Kentucky Gazette, Jan. 24, 1822. He also included the sheriffs in this state- 


seems some members of the judiciary made themselves very conspicuous 
in the gubernatorial election of 1820, a condition which provoked "Mar- 
cellus" in the Kentucky Gazette to say, "With astonishment, * * * 
I have seen our judges the most active partisans in our last gubernatorial 
election ; some as letter writers ; some as certificate men ; some as caucus 
men ; and some as hand-bill circulators." 14 Schemes were soon forming 
to bring the judiciary under a closer control of the people. It was 
suggested by one reformer that the Court of Appeals should be divided 
into three branches to meet in three separate places over the state, and in 
that way break up its concentrated power at Frankfort. This was advo- 
cated especially by the representatives of the Relief Party. The Anti- 
Relief Party opposed such a move as amounting to the virtual setting 
up of three separate courts which would bring about confusion and the 
final extinction of any court of final appeal. 15 

The most important effort indirectly to control the courts or to at 
least bring them closer to the people was the rather widely agitated 
movement for the calling of a constitutional convention. These efforts 
became especially marked after Judge Clark had delivered his opinion in 
Williams v. Blair. The relief party believed that if a constitutional 
convention could be had, the constitution could be changed to make the 
judges elective and a fixed term of office be given. This was a much 
less radical way of proceeding than to stand out for the annulling of the 
authority of the court by refusing aid to it in carrying out its decisions, 
and even less dangerous in arousing popular passions than the constitu- 
tional method of address. This method would, therefore, command 
much more support from a much larger number than could be hoped 
for in a more violent course. The supporters of a call for a conven- 
tion needed not even to be relief men, but might come from all classes 
that hoped to profit from a convention in various ways. The directive 
force was, however, being applied by the relief party, and for the specific 
purpose of changing the judiciary. The session of the Legislature in 
1823 took up the question, with the result that a bill calling for a con- 
vention was passed in the House by the substantial majority of fifty-six 
to thirty-three, but was defeated in the Senate by a close vote. 16 The 
opposition, composed of the Anti-Relief Party for the most part and of 
every other species of conservative, used devious argument, specious and 
otherwise, in their efforts to defeat the bill. They conjured up the most 
unusual evils with which to scare the people. The slaves might be freed 
by a convention, the very order of the state might be subverted — the 
same line of argument used in 1798. Remarking on such a puerile course, 
the Kentucky Gazette said, "We have no rabble in Kentucky to lead, but 
have a number of ardent minded citizens too much disposed to listen to 
strange tales of ghosts and hobgoblins, such as are now preparing to de- 
feat a convention bill. The first light touch at demagoguing is the story 
of the removal of the seat of government from Frankfort. The second 
touch is, that the University will be removed from Lexington. These 
events are mentioned for the latitude of Franklin and Fayette, as if the 
citizens of those counties had ceased to reflect, or never possessed com- 
mon intellect." 17 

Defeated in their efforts to call a convention and balked in their 
attempts to address judges out of office, the relief party determined upon 
capturing the state government so far as it could be accomplished through 
the ballot. Besides a legislature, a governor was also to be elected during 
the following summer. The relief question had not played a conspicu- 

14 Oct. 5, 1820. 

15 Kentucky Gazette, Nov. 21, 1822. 

18 Kentucky Gazette, Nov. 20, 1823; Niles' Register, Vol. 25, p. 230. 
17 Nov. 20, 1823. 


ous part in any gubernatorial election heretofore. The last previous 
election for governor (1820) had true to Kentucky customs in politics 
and political campaigns, ranged around the most remote escapades and 
happenings in which candidates figured, embracing prominently military 
blunders and successes. Principles of immediate concern were almost 
forgotten in the efforts put forth to discredit or elevate some candidate. 
In the election of 1820 an unusually large number of candidates were 
spoken of or actually entered the field. Besides many local celebrities, 
Henry Clay for a time was mentioned as a possible contestant. 18 By the 
time the election was near at hand, the numbers had simmered down to 
four, all of whom were voted on. These were Adair, Logan, Butler, and 
Desha. The campaign early developed into a process of re-enacting the 
past lives of the candidates, with the military side assigned the leading 
role. Men without a military career stood little chance, and men with 
such a career were hard put to it at times to defend themselves from 
the verbal onslaughts of their opponents. Battles were fought over again, 
and campaigns picked to pieces in these attempts to discredit candidates 
— not so much how they stood on vital questions of the day, but why 
did they carry out certain maneuvers in a battle fought six, twenty-five, 
or forty years ago. 19 Adair was less susceptible to such attacks for 
he had won the applause of his fellow-citizens in his bold defense against 
Jackson's aspersions against the Kentucky troops at the battle of New 
Orleans ; but his political enemies had not forgotten the Burr episode 
and the mysterious part that Adair played in it. His minutest moments 
were sought to be linked up with Burr, even to long-drawn-out accounts 
of his holding frequent midnight councils with Burr while he was in 
Frankfort. One Kentuckian, who had not yet ceased to despise Burr, 
gave this opinion on what constituted the fitness of a candidate : "The 
veneration you have for the memories of your illustrious fathers requires 
that if you should believe Adair was the associate of Burr in his wicked 
schemes, you should select some other man to perform the executive 
duties of your state." 20 To establish his connection with the Burr affair 
in its true light and to show his own innocence of disloyalty to the nation, 
all of which he hoped would set at rest the chimerical stories that might 
be manufactured to defeat him for governor, Adair brought suit against 
James Wilkinson for false imprisonment (Adair having been arrested 
by him in New Orleans when the Burr conspiracy was being broken up ) , 
and received $2,500 damages in the Natchez court. 21 Adair was able to 
win the election only by slightly more than 500 votes over his nearest 
competitor, Logan. 22 

But between 1820 and 1824, politics was undergoing a complete 
change in the state. After all, why fiddle when Rome was burning? Was 
it not more profitable to judge the fitness of a candidate by his views on 
the vital questions of the day than to resurrect hazy stories of certain 
mistakes he may have made a quarter of a century past? The accumu- 
lations of a lifetime should not be put in jeopardy in order to discuss 
the strategy of a battle. The election of 1824 gave proof of the change. 
The events of the past few years, as already noted, had set the people 
to thinking of their immediate concerns and had given rise to parties 
based on these concerns. John Quincy Adams had said in 1822, that the 
people in Kentucky were "in a flame of internal combustion, with stop 

iS Niles' Register, Vol. 17, p. 351. 

19 See Kentucky Gazette, June, July, etc., 1820. 

20 Kentucky Gazette, June 20, 1820. Article by "Ligarius." 

21 Niles' Register, Vol. IS, p. 416. Wilkinson had the brazen effrontery to ask 
of Congress recompense for these damages. This case was decided in the latter 
part of 1818. 

22 The vote stood, Adair, 20,493; Logan, 19,947; Desha, 12,419; and Butler, 
9,567. Kentucky Gazette, Aug. 31, 1820; Niles' Register, Vol. 19, pp. 16, 48. 


laws, paper money, and hunting down Judges, in which Clay is on the 
unpopular side, which at this time is the side of justice." 23 There were 
now fewer candidates for there could be but two great principles involved 
— instead of the personality and life history of as many as chose to enter 
the lists. The relief party put forward Desha because he stood for the 
continuation of the relief system and for the destruction of all opposition, 
including the judges if they chose to stand in the way. Tompkins was 
the candidate of the Anti-Relief Party. The campaign was hard fought, 
with scarcely a Kentuckian so mean as not to take a lively interest. It 
was fought out not only with words, but, indeed, with material weapons 
close at hand. So bitter was the feeling between the two parties in Lex- 
ington, that a small riot broke, out, which resulted not only in many 
bruises, but in the destruction of some of the city's paved streets ; for 
the cobble stone pavements afforded a handy supply of missiles, which 
were supplied in great quantities by a "labor battalion" armed with picks 
and crow bars. The fight was fast developing toward a battle of fire- 
arms, when the two opposing candidates for the Legislature arm-in-arm 
walked down the street between their battling partisans, and thereby 
broke up the fight. 24 Desha carried on a vigorous campaign. It had 
long been his ambition to become governor, and he had in the meanwhile 
been laying his plans and building up his support. He found the dis- 
temper of the times much in his favor, and so made all the possible use 
of it. Much misinformation on the actual contest with the judges was 
spread over the state, and those people who depended only on their 
political leaders to inform them were grossly misled in places. Desha 
was willing to ride both horses, if by so doing he could gain the election. 
In some parts of the state the people had been informed that the judges 
had actually denied the Legislature the right to make laws and had as- 
sumed, themselves, the sovereign power. Here the watchword became 
"Liberty or slavery," and Desha was hailed as the only salvation for the 
state. In other parts of the state where the sentiment was against relief 
laws and favorable to the position the judges had taken, Desha assumed 
a very conciliatory attitude, declaring that he was "not in favor of re- 
moving a judge from office for an honest opinion." 25 In the election 
which took place in August, 1824, Desha was elected by a majority of 
more than 10,000 votes. 20 Due to Desha's campaign methods, however, 
this vote could not be considered as meaning an overwhelming victory 
for the relief party principles. 27 

But the relief party held that the election of Desha was a mandate 
to them to proceed against the offending judges. Soon after the Legisla- 
ture met a committee of four from the Senate and eight from the House 
was appointed to investigate the judges "and report thereupon by address 
for their removal." 2S On December 20, a set of resolutions and an 
address against the judges was voted on by the House, and passed sixty- 
one to thirty-nine, and by the Senate twenty-three to twelve. Again did 
they fail, for the two-thirds majority was lacking. 23 Again were they 
cheated out of a victory not because a majority was not in favor of the 
proceeding, but because a two-thirds majority could not be had; their 
cup of exasperation was full to running over. All sorts of methods had 
been attempted in their campaign in the interests of the people against 

23 Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, VI, 57. 

24 Ranck, History of Lexington, 301. 

25 Robertson, Scrap Book, 78. 

28 Kentucky Gazette, Aug. 26, 1820. 

27 For instance a banquet was given Desha soon after the election at which 
hearty felicitations were offered by leaders of both parties. Henry Clay was 
among the guests. Kentucky Gazette, Aug. 26, 1820. 

28 Acts of Kentucky, 1824, p. 214. 

29 Doolan, "Old Court — New Controversy" in Green Bag, XI, 181. 


the judicial tyrants. Constitutional convention had failed, so had removal 
by address. By some it had been suggested that if the judges could not 
be removed in their persons, then their salaries might be cut off so that 
the people would not at least be charged with paying for being tyrannized 
over. It was actually strongly argued that the salaries of the judges be 
reduced to 25 cents a year. 3 " As the constitution was silent on salary 
reductions, this move would presumably have been valid. However, this 
was only a half way measure at best ; it would not remove the judges 
from their power. But the Senate had much earlier decided on a more 
radical course of action. On December 9, it had passed a bill to abolish 
outright the Court of Appeals, and thereby be rid forever of the evil 
judges. 31 The House, now that all methods short of abolition of the 
court had failed, voted on December 24 "an act to reorganize the Court 
of Appeals." As this was a simple act of the Legislature, it required 
only a majority vote, which was had in the final result of fifty-four to 
forty-three. The debate had raged fiercely throughout the whole day of 
the twenty-third and continued on into the night, for it was feared if ac- 
tion were postponed that something might arise on the morrow when the 
proceedings would become known that might balk the final passage of 
the bill. The debate and parliamentary maneuvers went on, with Gover- 
nor Desha on the floor rallying the relief forces at every point. Finally 
at midnight or slightly beyond the vote was taken "amid scenes of the 
wildest excitement, in which personal encounters were narrowly averted, 
while the governor and lieutenant governor were mingling in the tumult 
on the floor of the House." After the bill had been passed the governor 
hurriedly signed it. This midnight session was described by one person 
as resembling "a camp night-meeting, in confusion and clamor; but it 
lacked its holy impulse. Heaven approves the one; Satan himself, it is 
thought, presided over the orgies of the other." 32 One of the staunch 
anti-relief men declared in the course of the debate : "There will be 
no peace until this question is settled fairly. You will only multiply 
difficulties, and increase the inflammation of the public mind, by passing 
this bill. It settles no principle. It establishes nothing, except that the 
judges cannot be constitutionally removed, to give place to some hungry 
expectants, who are unable to live without some nourishment from the 
treasury paps — the springs of whose patriotism is money — the object of 
whose outcry against the judges is to get their places." 33 

By the so-called reorganization act the old Court of Appeals, consist- 
ing of the three judges, Boyle, Owsley and Mills, was declared abolished 
and its judges with it; and there was set up in its place a "new supreme 
court, styled the court of appeals," with four judges to administer it. 
Their salaries were to be $2,000 annually, in Commonwealth paper, mak- 
ing the court cost the state $8,000 as compared with $4,500 for the old 
Court of Appeals. 34 The new Court of Appeals was speedily filled with 
relief party men, the first appointees being William T. Barry, chief 
justice, and James Haggin, John Trimble, and B. W. Patton (afterwards 
succeeded by R. H. Davidge), associates. A war of words now ensued 
between the old court judges and the Legislature. Again the Legislature 
in a lengthy document argued against the judicial doctrines set forth in 
the cases of Blair v. Williams and Lapsley v. Brasher, declaring that they 
"do most deliberately and solemnly, again, in the name of the good people 
of the Commonwealth, protest against the obnoxious principles of those 

30 S. M. Wilson, "The Old Court and New Court Controversy in Kentucky" in 
Proceedings of Kentucky State Bar Association, 1915, p. 51. 

31 Robertson, Scrap Book, 75. 

32 DooIan, "Old Court — New Court Controversy" in Green Bag, XI, 182; Robert- 
son, Scrap Book, 127. 

33 Robertson, Scrap Book, 76-90. 

84 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 31 ; Niles" Register, Vol. 27, p. 354. 


decisions, as encroachments upon the fundamental principles of free- 
dom and the inherent rights of the people." 35 The judges were little 
disposed to bow to the Legislature; they boldly attacked the Legislature 
with telling argument showing in the first place why they had the right 
to declare an Act of the Legislature unconstitutional, and in the next 
place why the Legislature had not the slightest power to abolish the old 
Court of Appeals. On January n, the Legislature replied in a long 
preamble and resolution "vindicating the constitutionality of Replevin 
Laws, and the right of the Legislature to remove Judges for error of 
opinion. * * * " It stated that the Legislature by a two-thirds ma- 
jority had the right to remove judges "for any mere error of judicial 
opinion, which does not amount to misdemeanor in office, notwithstanding 
that error shall have been committed in the course of judicial decision, 
if it shall inflict upon the community such injury as in their belief shall 
amount to a reasonable cause for his removal from office. * * * " 38 

With the triumph of the relief party, it seemed for a time that the 
anti-relief forces were hopelessly scattered and disorganized. But under 
the undaunted leadership of George Robertson, a member of the Legis- 
lature at this time, the shattered remnants were soon being knit back to- 
gether. Immediately on the passage of the reorganization act, he wrote 
out a masterful protest of the minority, which on being presented to the 
House, was unceremoniously ordered to be entered on the journals with- 
out being read. A copy which was read in the Senate was refused a 
place on the journals of that body. Soon afterwards a relief senator ap- 
peared in the House and told Rowan that such a document circulated 
through the House journals "will blow us sky-high * * * if you 
don't kick it out of your House." A reconsideration was immediately 
moved and the document was excluded. 37 

This action only served to heighten the importance of the protest ; 
it was eagerly devoured by the people and led to the formation of the 
opposition against the New Court and its supporters. Party names now 
registered a change. The relief party came to be popularly termed the 
new court party or with some referred to as the judge breakers, or coun- 
try party. The anti-relief party took on the name of old court party. 
These parties continued practically the same clevage in the population of 
the state as prevailed in relief days. The new court party were attacked 
often and vehemently as being composed largely of certain rich debtors 
and broken-down politicians whose main purpose was to obtain office and 
feed at the public treasury. They led the uneducated rank and file of 
the party, making dupes of them for their own aggrandizement. Thev 
promised them impossible things, raising hopes only to later disappoint 
them. A letter addressed "To the Governor Elect of Kentucky" said: 
"To the honest debtor they promised indulgence, and better times ; to the 
fraudulent and improvident, they tendered the means of avoiding pay- 
ment, to the extravagant they offered facilities of enjoyment; to the 
lazy they secured rest ; to the cunning they surrendered the ignorant as 
victims ; they encouraged treachery by impunity, and fraud by legalizing 
its spoliation on innocence and industry ; and thus they rallied around 
their standard the unproductive members of society, and gave up justice 
to passion." 38 

The old court party, consisting of the more conservative people of 
the state, included a majority of the lawyers, business men, and large 
land owners. They were roundly assailed as soulless Shylocks who 

35 Acts of Kentucky, 1824, pp. 221-239. These resolutions were passed on 
January 6, 1825. 

38 Acts of Kentucky, 1824, pp. 242-273. 

37 Robertson, Scrap Book, 91 ; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 496. 

38 Robertson, Scrap Book, 109. 


thought more of their own property than for the welfare of their com- 
monwealth. A new court man said, "The Banks (with the exception of 
that in the hands of the people) devote their stockholders, their officers, 
and such of their debtors as they can intimidate to the support of a 
power, which has conferred such peculiar privileges on incorporated 
wealth, and all the patrician influence from whatever source it springs, 
whether from new made wealth and upstart arrogance, old family pride, 
or the young hopes of new ambitious aspirants, all is exerted in favor 
of a political combination, which in conspiring to destroy the force of 
the public mill, gives to the rich, the great, the landed and monied 
gentry, their parasites, sycophants from the plebeian insolence, that power 
in the vulgar as they call it, which rebukes their pride and restrains their 
domineering spirit." 39 

This raid on the highest court of the state was not far afield of the 
habits of mind and thought that had been engendered in the average 
Kentuckian. He had seen the constitution violated before with im- 
punity. The courts of the state had been changed and abolished hereto- 
fore, and judges had been thrown out of office because their jobs were 
destroyed, and they were not asked to fill new ones. True it was that 
the Court of Appeals had never been outright abolished before, but that 
was because the occasion had never arisen — and moreover the Court of 
Appeals even now had not been abolished but only reorganized. Not 
only had the Kentucky fathers abolished courts heretofore, but also had 
not the very maker of the nation itself done likewise? Thomas Jefferson 
from whom all good Kentuckians got their inspiration, and who was yet 
a sage among the living had brought about the repeal of the Judiciary 
Act passed by the federalists in the last days of their power by which 
they had set up a system of courts and filled them with federalists. Here 
the courts had been destroyed, so were the judges. Jefferson in the 
serenity of his old age at Monticello was appealed to by both factions 
in an effort to gain his support. Achilles Sneed wrote him telling how 
the Judge Breakers had twisted some of his writings and made use of 
them to their advantage. He wished the venerable statesman to write a 
word to the Kentucky people "to silence the discord and confusion which 
prevail among us. * * * Yes, Sir, it may not only do this, but may 
put to rest a principle, unless nipped in its bud, the whole Union may 
feel its baleful influence." i0 In answer to a similar request from another 
Kentuckian, Jefferson said, "You wish me to give an opinion on the 
question which at present agonizes Kentucky, no, my dear Sir, at the age 
of 82 I have no inclination to volunteer myself into a question which 
convulses a nation. Quiet is my wish, with the peace and good will of 
the world. With its contentions I have nothing to do." 41 Although 
Jefferson refused to be drawn into the bitterness of Kentucky politics, 
his silence was construed by many as indicating his sympathy with the 
new court party. The so-called jeffersonian precedent was being used 
constantly by the arguing Judge Breakers. One of them in a bitter tirade 
against the old court judges declared that "it appears that we are required 
by the proclamation issued by the Judge in Bank to reverse, not only 
the decision of our late General Assembly, but to condemn the precedent 
established by the illustrious Congress, which under the auspices of Mr. 
Tefferson, retrieved the Government from the dangerous doctrines of the 
Adams administration." 42 Governor Desha summed up the arguments 
of the new court party thus : "To end the controversy and rid the country 

»» Lafayette to the People, 12. 

40 Thomas Jefferson Correspondence, W. C. Ford, editor (Boston, 1916), 293. 
Letter dated April 20, 182s. 

41 Ibid., 295. Letter to George Thompson, June 22, 1825. 

42 Lafayette to the People, 41. 


of these erroneous and dangerous principles, the majority now deemed 
it necessary to resort to their constitutional power of abolishing the 
court and establishing another, composed of other men, and restricted 
in its power over the constitutionality of legislative acts. That they 
had this power they could not doubt ; because the constitution had not 
brought any such court into existence, but the first Legislature of Ken- 
tucky had established it ; because the power of changing and even of re- 
organizing it, had been once before exercised by the Legislature; because 
the Supreme Court of the United States, as avowed by the judges them- 
selves, was created by Congress, because the power of reorganizing 
courts, and thus expelling their incumbents from office, had, repeatedly, 
been exercised by our own Legislature and by Congress ; and because the 
ablest statesmen, in the latter body, had declared that the Supreme Court 
was as much the creature of the legislative power, as the inferior courts. 
Nor was this construction of our constitution thought to be dangerous to 
liberty, because it accords with the acknowledged principles of most, if 
not all of the constitutions formed during the Revolution, and most of 
them which have been formed since." 43 The logic was perfectly plain 
to the new court supporter that in the reorganization of the Court of 
Appeals the old judges were left without jobs. What could be more 
simple? The court was not made for the private benefit of three judges. 
"As the private benefit of a hired miller is not your object when you 
build a mill, and you do not want the miller when the mill is destroyed, so 
it is not for the private benefit of the hired judges, that you establish 
the courts, and as soon as the courts are undone, the judges which had 
been hired for them, are out of employment. You build another mill ; 
but that does not oblige you to employ in it the miller of the former one ; 
it may be, that the management of the new establishment is over his 
capacity." 44 

The new court leaders reiterated the arguments that the courts had 
the right to declare an act of the Legislature unconstitutional and that 
no right existed anywhere to destroy them for such a decision. They 
utterly denied that the Legislature had the right to interfere in the least 
with the establishment of the Court of Appeals, the question now before 
the people, for it was set up by the constitution and not by law despite 
the governor's quibbling arguments to the contrary. It was also pointed 
out that the courts that had been destroyed by Jefferson were set up by 
an Act of Congress and not by the Federal Constitution, and therefore 
had not the slightest force as a precedent for Kentucky to destroy her 
Court of Appeals. 

The fight had in fact developed into a struggle between the legislative 
power and the judiciary. A person styling himself "A Cosmopolite 
Republican, or a Friend of Mankind" saw the question in its broadest 
aspects as one for the nation itself to sooner or later settle : "Though 
occasionally brought up by the relief system, it is now a national one, 
coming to the following dilemma : will the republic of the United States 
be overset or annihilated by the judiciary or the judges, elevating them- 
selves over the law ; or will the compound will of the people, ascertained 
by their majorities, continue to be the ruling power agreeable to the 
constitutions founded on the rights of man, and the judges restrained to 
judging suits, according to law, as it was intended in the beginning, and 
as it must be, if the republic is to continue standing? because wherever 
there is any controlling power over the laws, but the people assembled by 
delegates in legislative assemblies, assembled in conventions, there is not 
any more [a] republic." 45 

43 Message to the legislature, November 7, 1825, in Niles' Register, Vol. 29, p. 221. 

44 Liberty Saved, 26. 

46 Niles' Register, Vol. 28, p. 308. 


The question of the supremacy of the constitution as interpreted by 
judges over the power of the Legislature in the enactment of laws had 
engaged the attention of Kentuckians since the days when the region 
was a district of Virginia. The Danville Political Club had in 1787 de- 
bated the query: "If an Act of Assembly should be contrary to the 
Constitution, which ought to govern a judge in his decision?" and had 
decided in favor of the constitution. 40 Throughout the subsequent course 
of constitutional and legal development, the Legislature as a power most 
directly controlled by the people grew in the favorable estimation of the 
people at the expense of the judiciary. Indeed, as heretofore pointed 
out, the judges had early developed into the disfavor and suspicions of 
the people. The latter came to look upon this branch of the Government 
as their sure shield of protection against the tyranny of all others. "The 
legislative branch of our government," and the Kentucky Gazette, "is 
the foundation on which the people build their hopes : should this depart- 
ment fail in doing all we had a right to expect, still there is the consola- 
tion that it stands in the way of other departments, which might com- 
mit the greatest errors. If we support such a body sixty days in 365, 
to protect us from evil, it is not a bad bargain ;" and alluding to the par- 
ticular session of 1821, "but it would be very agreeable to hear that some 
few salutary measures were adopted by this body." 47 But in the days of 
the passage of replevin measures and bank laws, a disposition on the part 
of the more conservative citizens grew up to criticize this popular branch 
of the Government — especially as it was responsible for the unwise legis- 
lation that had helped to run the state further into hard times. But 
legislature champions were never lacking. The people's law-makers were 
as capable and honest as any other governmental department. The Ken- 
tucky Gazette declared, "Although it is not to be expected at this wicked 
period of a crazy old world that many honest governors or legislators re- 
main, yet we do believe those chosen by the people at the present moment 
are as honest and as wise as the other branch of the government or equal 
to some of the precious few who can never perceive merit any where 
but in themselves." 4S 

If laws were unconstitutional or unwise, it was no business of the 
judges to say so; let them confine themselves to their own duty of ad- 
judicating law suits. The people in their chosen representatives were 
to judge of these other things. If a law was not desired by the people, 
they would elect a Legislature, which at the next session would repeal it 
— thus the people ruled and not the judges. 49 This doctrine was thus 
expressed on place cards at a banquet given to Governor Desha shortly 
after his election: "The Constitution of Kentucky: Its interpretation is 
known to the people of this Commonwealth, and is not to be found in the 
breasts of the judicial tyrants." 5n It was preposterous, they said, that 
a few judges beyond the reach of the people in their appointment and 
continuance in office, should declare the will of the people to be null and 
Void and of no avail ; it was, indeed, repugnant to all ideas of a republican 
form of government. "And where is the dictionary," it was asked, 
"where is the language in which there is such a change, in which the 
word servant signifies master, and the word judging signifies overlegislat- 
ing, or even only making laws?" 51 To show how absurd was the whole 

46 Speed, Danville Political Club, 130. 

47 Dec. S. 1821. 
*8May 16, 1822. 

49 See Liberty Saved, or the Warnings of an Old Kentuckian to his Fellow 
Citizens on the Danger of Electing Partisans of the Old Court of Appeals (Louis- 
ville, 1825) Pamphlet, iv. 

50 S. M. Wilson, "Old Court and New Court Controversy in Kentucky" in 
Proceedings of Kentucky State Bar Associations, 1915, 49. 

51 Liberty Saved, 16. 


position of the judges, it was further suggested, "Had the judges the 
power of judging the laws, nothing could be law but their will; they 
would be more than kings ; they would be dictators, despots, and the 
people would be their slaves. 

"The sole judges of constitutions are the people, by their delegates 
or representatives, assembled in conventions. 

"The sole judges of the laws are the people, by their delegates or 
representatives in the legislative assemblies. 

"Any opinion, contrary to these truths, is monarchism." 52 It was 
even maintained by some that the power and will of the people (which 
was interpreted to mean only a majority) was so important and powerful 
that it should transcend even the constitution, for what is the welfare of 
a whole state compared to a musty piece of writing called a constitution? 
— "when gentlemen talk of the constitution, and point to that little book, 
as containing it. they talk nonsense — the will of the people is the constitu- 
tion — the Legislature expresses the people's will." 53 Old Isaac Shelby, 
whose mind had not been misled or clouded by the heresies of the times 
gave the warning: "The Constitution must be a shadow if it be made to 
yield to the will of each impassionate majority and those essential prin- 
ciples of a free government for which we have fought and bled must 
cease to be our pride and boast." 54 

The new judges were appointed on January 15, 1825, and immediately 
set about preparing to open court. As the new court party controlled 
the machinery of the government the new judges proceeded regularly to 
organize using the Senate Chamber as a court room. Francis P. Blair 
was appointed clerk of the court and instructed to secure the records of 
the old court in order that business might begin. An order was issued 
demanding Achilles Sneed, the clerk of the old court, to deliver over 
all the court's property and records. Sneed refused to recognize the 
authority of this court, whereupon officers went to his office, and finding 
it locked, forced open the door and procured what they thought to be 
all the records and papers. Sneed was then summoned before the court 
and charged with contempt, was declared guilty and fined ten pounds. 
But it was soon discovered that the records of all pending suits had been 
hidden before the officers had raided the office of Sneed. This developed 
a rather serious situation for the new court feeling that it was 
backed by the people was in no mood to dally. The missing records 
mysteriously wandered back to Sneed's office, where they were forcibly 
seized by the officers sent to get them. 55 In the meantime the old Court 
of Appeals had met in a church on the capitol square, and having been 
rudely deprived of its records, found it difficult to do business. It 
issued on February 5, a long address to the people, attacking the Legisla- 
ture and defending its own course. 50 By the force of circumstances 
being unable to do likewise, it decided to do no business until after the 
August election, when it was hoped that the atmosphere would be clari- 
fied. 57 

An anomalous situation, fraught with great danger, now existed. 
Instead of one court, an evil that might not even be altogether necessary, 
the state was now saddled with two. The new court started out with 
the business where the old had left off — but first requiring a new oath 
from all lawyers that practiced before it. Here was the spectacle of 

52 "Maxims" on the cover page of Liberty Saved. 

"Quoted in The Port Folio. Vol. XIX (1825), 168. 

64 Quoted in Doolan, "Old Court — New Court Controversy" in Green Bag, XI, 

183, 184. 

85 Argus, Feb. 9, 19, 1825. 

06 For text see Argus, Feb. 9, et seq., 1825. It was published in four install- 
ments. Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 31, 32. 

"Argus, April 6, 1825. 


two authorities which touched the people closest, holding the final 
decision in matters of property and life, contesting for supremacy. This, 
of all disputes in the different departments of government, was most 
dangerous. The difficulties grew and ramified in all directions. What 
of the rest of the judicial machinery of the state? which court should 
be recognized, in appeals as well as processes from the highest court to 
the lower ones? Out of the fifteen circuit judges, about ten cast their lot 
with the old court, therefore refusing to have any dealings with the new 
judges. Some tried to avoid making a choice at all, one refusing to enter 
the decisions of either court on the ground that it was not the province 
for a circuit judge to decide, but for the people. 58 Judge Jesse Bledsoe 
of the Fayette County Circuit Court overruled a motion and refused to 
hear argument in an instance where Robert J. Breckinridge moved to 
admit to practice a person who had been granted a license by Boyle and 
Owsley of the old court. 59 The lawyers of the state naturally divided 
in their allegiance. Some, like Robert Wickliffe, refused to practice 
before the new court, while others, as J. J. Crittenden, George M. Bibb 
and Benjamin Hardin did practice before it. 60 Out of the 580 lawyers 
in the state, 530 stood for the old court, in March, 1825, with others 
going over. 01 

The new court was in fact alone the active court ; it decided cases and 
its opinions were published in the regular way. Most of the old court 
supporters were willing to let it have its short day of authority; they 
were looking to the coming August election when they hoped to banish 
forever this revolutionary set of judges. In fact all eyes were early 
turned toward this referendum, for it was known that the people would 
then pass judgment on the extraordinary course of events since the last 
election. Both parties entered the campaign early, knowing they either 
lost or won in the results. The old court party made a particularly hard 
fight, using every device in their campaign to educate the people and 
win votes. Many so-called "missionaries" were scattered over the state 
to enlighten the people on the serious situation and to proselyte among 
the supporters of the "Heathen judge breakers." The new court party 
accused them of having "stationed Missionaries, travelling^ Missionaries, 
and Tract Societies." 62 A potent weapon to stir up sentiment was the 
grand juries, which "presented" the Legislature, the judges, and even 
each other. Among the grand juries that presented the new court judges 
for their unlawful acts were those for Franklin, Garrard and Mont- 
gomery counties. The Union County grand jury presented the Legisla- 
ture for its unconstitutional proceedings, and declared that it deserved 
"the most indignant censure of all the good people of the commonwealth ; 
and as part of that people, we do hereby express our abhorrence of such 
conduct." 63 The new court party was not without its supporting grand 
juries. The Mercer County jury severely criticized the old court juries 
for mixing in politics, naming those of Montgomery, Franklin, and 
Garrard counties. They stated that "They view such attempts as a per- 
fect prostitution of the dignified functions of a grand jury to base 
electioneering purposes. * * * They view with the deepest reproba- 
tion the corrupt and unprincipled prostitution of the powers of Grand 
Juries in the Counties aforesaid." 64 

The same old arguments, constitutional and otherwise, were reiterated 

58 The Spirit of '76 (A small journal published at Frankfort during part of 
the year 1826, in support of the Old Court). 

59 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 32. 

60 Argus, April 13, 1825. 
el Ibid., March 16, 1825. 
™lbid., Feb. 2, 1825. 

63 Argus, May 4, 1825. 

64 Argus, April 27, 1825. 


by both sides. Each tried to scare the state into supporting their re- 
spective positions, by portraying the awful condition sure to follow if 
the other were sustained. George Robertson thus depicted his once happy 
state: "The condition of Kentucky is acknowledged to be a good one. 
It is inferior to that of no state in the Union. The people of Kentucky 
are intelligent. Their soil is prolific. Their climate propitious. In these 
particulars they are eminently blessed ; yet these people, so much favored 
by a beneficent Heaven, so much signalized by their peculiar natural 
capacities are oppressed with debt ; their currency depreciated ; their 
Constitution disregarded ; their laws powerless ; their lives and their 
property insecure; themselves driven to the verge of civil war; industry 
deprived of its incentives and despoiled of its rewards ; fraud sanctified 
by law; the improvident living on the provident; the idle fattening on 
the sweat of the laboring ; the dishonest bankruptcy considered honorable ; 
solvency, criminal; refusing to pay debts, a badge of patriotism; attempt- 
ing to exact payment, called oppression ; the punctual laboring citizen 
dr nominated aristocrat, 'tory'; the lazy and dissolute, who live by fraud 
.Mid stealth, lauded as patriots, whigs, republican; travelers murdered for 
their money and no punishment inflicted; citizens murdered weekly and 
no murderers hung; the fines inflicted on those who support 'the powers 
that be' remitted ; the honest alarmed ; the upright miserable ; the State 
degraded. This is a faithful but, very imperfect condition of our coun- 
try. Who so blind as not to see the causes of all these effects, in an 
unjust and unconstitutional administration of the government? The 
best form of government corruptly or foolishly administered will be 
oppressive." 6B 

The new court party poured forth their wrath against the tyrannical 
judges and their aristocratic supporters in numerous pamphlets and hand 
bills, one of the former being entitled, "Liberty Saved, or the Warnings 
of an Old Kentuckian to his Fellow Citizens on the Danger of Electing 
Partisans of the Old Court of Appeals." The "Old Kentuckian" bitterly 
assailed his political opponents and the old court judges : "Triumvirs, 
would be kings, emperors, dictators, despots, holy allies, all vociferate, 
as loud as bull dogs, that judges have the right of breaking your laws 
whenever they think them to be unconstitutional, and that the majority 
of your late general assembly, your delegates, yourselves, by representa- 
tion, established expressly and exclusively, in virtue of your constitution, 
to make your laws, had no right to stop their usurpations, and to throw 
down their thrones, those of the old court of appeals, not only by the 
law entitled 'an act to repeal the law organizing the court of appeals, and 
to reorganize a court of appeals', but by address ; and moreover, to close 
their plan of war, and of destruction, to prey afterwards on your rotten 
carcasses, and on your fatherless widows and orphans, not only they dare 
to throw you the gauntlet, but they menace you with forty thousand 
bayonets." 86 Not only would the old court party thwart the will of the 
people orderly expressed through their Legislature, but they would 
through their heartless course of pushing every debtor to the wall, destroy 
the backbone of the state's prosperity and drive away the real producers 
of its wealth. "The land and its products and its laborious population," 
it was declared, "are the permanent capital of an agricultural country. 
Gold and silver coin are not permanent settlers ; they are nothing but 
running strangers, visiting you when you have products — running from 
you when you have none. It is not on them that the wealth of the land 
depends ; it is on its tillers ; why then not attach population to it by prop- 

65 Quoted in Doolan, "Old Court — New Court Controversy" in Green Bag, 
XI, 184. 

06 Liberty Saved, 11. 


erty laws securing the laborious husbandman against unforseen calami- 
ties? But you sleep, Brutus, and Rome is in the hands of Tyrants." c7 

The old court party held meetings in many of the counties to rally 
their forces within the state, and sent letters and other communications to 
men beyond the state whom they thought might aid. As already men- 
tioned, Jefferson was appealed to, to set at rest the heresies that were 
being circulated in his name. Letters were sent to the President and to 
other high officials of the Federal Government, giving distressing accounts 
of the evils that had overtaken the once happy state. By so doing, the 
old court party hoped that if no direct aid should be given, that at least 
there might grow up an indirect influence operating to their benefit— at 
any rate, the rest of the country should know that not all Kentuckians 
had suddenly run mad. A letter addressed to the President read, "Sir, 
Our Judges of the Court of Appeals repealed out of office; the constitu- 
tion of our state trodden under foot ; our treasury robbed and empty, 
capitol burned down, convicts in the Penitentiary naked and starving, 
governor's son a murderer and cut throat, a deficiency of $40,000 in our 
revenues, a denial of justice by our execution laws, a relief Legislature — 
think ye will it not take forty thousand bayonets to right us in politics !" G8 
The new court men soon learned the contents of this letter and of other 
ones sent out of the state, and immediately raised the cry of alarm, that 
the old court party was suggesting the settlement of the question by 
bayonets and was hinting at Federal aid. A sensation was created for a 
time over these letters. Andrew Jackson, who had recently visited the 
state, was drawn into the controversy slightly and not more so because of 
his great desire to steer away from the factional trouble. He was re- 
ported to have said in Lexington that "forty thousand muskets would 
be required to rectify the politics of Kentucky." When charged with this 
statement, he indignantly repelled it as beyond his broadest imagination. 
He said he had "no recollection of speaking at all about the local affairs 
of your state. It is a subject about which I should not feel myself at 
liberty to interfere. * * * It is scarcely possible that, sharing, as I 
did, the politeness and hospitality of the citizens of Lexington, I should 
venture to insult them by so unkind a remark. I did not; it has no re- 
semblance of me ; for, if so, then indeed might I be considered 'a military 
chief tan,' as has been charged." c9 

There is little question that a dangerous condition prevailed which 
might at any time develop into armed strife. Niles said, "If what is 
told to me of the state of the public mind in Kentucky is true, there is 
a greater shew of feeling in that commonwealth than has caused the 
revolution of an empire. Indeed, it would seem that so much excitement 
could not exist in any other than a free state, surrounded by other equally 
independent but less agitated communities." 70 In this surcharged at- 
mosphere the election was held without serious disorder. The result was 
a complete victory for the old court party as far as the election could 
make it. Since only one-fourth of the Senate was up for election, the 
victory could not be complete here. As it was later determined, this body 
divided equally on the questions of the day — nineteen to nineteen. Di- 
rectly after the election it was estimated that the House stood sixty-two 
for the old court, and thirty-eight for the new court. The people had 
now spoken; it was taken as a mandate to turn out the interloping new 
judges. This was the account given by Niles: "After one of the most 
arduous political struggles that ever existed in a state—judging by what 
we have seen in the newspapers, the 'old court' or 'anti-relief party, has 

07 Liberty Saved, 7. 

68 Argus of Western America, Jan. 19, 1825. The name of this paper was soon 
changed to simply, Argus. 

89 Correspondence in Niles Register, Vol. 28, p. 51. 
™ Niks' Register, Vol. 28, p. 82. 


succeeded by an overwhelming majority. In the last Legislature, fifty- 
four members were favorable to the 'new court,' and forty-four opposed 
to it. In the next Legislature, there will be a majority of about two to 
one in favor of the 'old court,' and against the relief system. So it is 
put down as absolutely certain, that the 'new court' will be abolished and 
the 'old' one restored to all its former powers. As the people have 
brought this about, there cannot be, with the 'new court' party, any dis- 
pute as to the right of the matter. The whole of the 'relief system' will 
be abolished, as rapidly as the state of things will admit of — and Ken- 
tucky presently resume her former prosperous march in population, 
wealth and power. It is most earnestly to be wished that the ascendant 
party will use its means with great moderation — for, in the other, are cer- 
tainly included some of the noblest and the best citizens of the state; and, 
though we have believed and said, from the first, that the whole of the 
'relief system' was wrong, and vitally at war with the interests of the 
people of Kentucky, we would not abuse those who thought differently — 
and though the further progress of 'the system' should be absolutely 
checked at once, the evils which have been inflicted must be gradually 
healed, as with paternal care. If so, the removal of them is certain — for 
the people will be recalled to the old-fashioned way of tilling the earth, 
or by some other profitable employment, to get money to pay their debts, 
instead of running to and fro, and wasting their time at court houses and 
lawyers' offices, to postpone the honest settlement of them. 

"The ardor of the contest may be judged by what is stated in the 'Re- 
porter'— that the governor, personally, headed his party at Frankfort, 
and that the chief justice of the 'new court' harangued the voters of 
Fayette County for three hours : yet Mr. Wickliffe was re-elected to the 
state senate. It is added, that, after the election, when Mr. W's friends 
were collected to regale themselves and congratulate one another on the 
result, a large quantity of Emetic Tartar was introduced into the barrels 
of liquor, by which several hundred men were made sick, and the lives 
or many seriously endangered." 7l 

The new court party received the results of the election with some- 
think akin to consternation. They had not expected the people to so 
readily vote themselves out of the easy method of paying their debts. 
They claimed that a lavish use of money and of all kinds of chicanery 
and unfair means had been resorted to to delude the people. "The Coun- 
try Party," said the editor of the Argus, "are too poor to sustain them- 
selves against the means which have been put in requisition this year to 
defeat them." He expected to see the new court repealed; the people 
had been hoodwinked, but he would put his hopes in the next election. 
"We consider the present majority as having been obtained by any other 
means than such as are honorable and honest." 72 And in Franklin 
County, "There never was a more ardently contested election than ours. 
The county contains about 1400 votes, and near 1600 persons voted." 73 

Holding that the election had definitely settled the question, the old 
I court judges immediately took on new life, and began active preparations 
for holding court. The governor declared this to be an open contempt 
of law and order, and some counselled him that it was his duty to inter- 
pose his authority and suppress them. He had refrained to do this here- 
tofore, as they had made no efforts "to give or execute judgments or 
decrees, and as the meetings were not attended by any breach of the 
public peace, it was not thought the duty of the executive to molest them, 
or in any manner to obstruct their proceedings." But their inclination 
recently exhibited "to proceed in the exercise of judicial power and force 

71 Niles' Register, Vol. 28, p. 405; see also Vol. 29, p. 3. 

72 Aug. 10, 1825. 
78 Ibid. 


the execution of their orders, judgments and decrees throughout the state, 
in direct hostility to the existing court and an act of the General As- 
sembly, which the executive is bound by the Constitution and his oath to 
see duly executed," would not be tolerated. Desha then significantly 
remarked: "I need not inform the Legislature how unpleasant will be 
the duty which such a course of conduct on the part of the former judges 
will impose, nor need I tell them that, painful as it may be, the executive 
will not shrink from the performance of that which he conceives him- 
self bound to do by his oath of office and the Constitution of his 
country." 74 

The situation now became more alarming than it had been at any 
previous time. The new court and its supporters resolutely refused to 
give way until the law erecting the present court had been repealed, and 
they were determined to prevent that repeal if possible. The people had 
been deluded ; their will had not been honestly expressed in the election. 
George Robertson said : "This unexpected and perilous contumacy 
brought the antagonist parties to the brink of a bloody revolution. For 
months the commonwealth was trembling on the brink of a heaving 
volcano." 75 The old court now attempted to recover its records from 
the office of Francis P. Blair, the clerk of the new court, but was resisted 
with such a show of force that they were forced to desist to avert civil 
strife. Arms and ammunition had been collected not only to protect the 
new court, but also in a possible contingency to chase out of the legis- 
lative halls the House of Representatives. Men high in authority were 
accused of being parties to these preparations. A committee of the 
House of Representatives was appointed to inquire whether any, and, 
if any, "what military preparations have been made to prevent the 
House of Representatives or any of its committees or any of the courts 
of justice from the discharge of their legitimate functions." A long re- 
port was made in which it was declared that the situation "cannot but 
make on the minds of your committee the strongest impression of the 
awful crisis at which the judicial controversy which agitates the coun- 
try has arrived." The committee concluded its report as follows: 
"Heretofore party spirit and unwise legislation have sufficiently blighted 
the prosperity of the once most prosperous part of creation. Yet in all 
our struggles and divisions, reason, and not brutal force, was alone 
appealed to. 

"Judging from the declarations of his excellency in the canvass for 
his present station, whatever the people desired was to be the supreme 
law of his administration. The threat in his message to resist the popular 
will, as evinced at the late election, was on that account heard with the 
greater surprise. Still, that his excellency would openly or indirectly 
attempt to execute his threat, or that he would connive at the fact that 
others were preparing to shed the blood of his fellow citizens and that 
he would use no efforts to prevent it, was not believed. 

"Nay, your committee must say that they had fondly cherished a 
belief that there was no officer, or pretended officer, of this government 
that was ready to light up the torch of civil war and imbrue his hands 
in the blood of a brother; yet, unwilling as they were to believe the fact, 
they are constrained to report to you that bold arrangements have been 
made to you for these very purposes." 

They, therefore, moved the resolution "that each and every citizen 
of this commonwealth be advised and admonished to abstain from aiding 
and abetting F. P. Blair and his associates in resisting or attempting 
to resist the sergeant of the Court of Appeals in the execution of the 
order of process of said court and all other attempts to excite commo- 

74 Message to the legislature, November 7, 1825, in Niles' Register, Vol. 29, p. 221. 
78 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 497. 


tions in the country, or to disturb the public peace and harmony." After 
much debate, during which a substitute resolution of less severity was 
offered and voted down, the original was adopted, 64 to 25. 76 

During this period of heated animosities, when no one knew what the 
next day would bring forth, Col. Solomon P. Sharp was murdered in 
a most dastardly manner by a person who, in the darkness of night, 
stabbed him as he was in the act of welcoming him into his home. As 
Sharp was active in the cause of the new court party councils, it was 
immediately charged that his political enemies had done it. Regardless 
of the truth of the matter, it made a perilous situation still worse. The 
Legislature now controlled by the old court party showed its utter con- 
demnation of the crime by passing a resolution "That they will wear 
crepe on their left arms during the present session" and offering a reward 
of $3,000 for the apprehension of the murderer. 77 

Immediately on the meeting of the Legislature in the early part of 
November, the question of the judiciary' was referred to the Committee 
on Courts of Justice, and a resolution was passed, 60 to 36, "that it is 
the deliberate and solemn opinion of this house, and of a large majority 
of the good people of this commonwealth, herein represented, that the 
act entitled 'An act to repeal the law organizing the Court of Appeals, 
and reorganizing a court of appeals,' is unconstitutional and void, so 
far as it purports to repeal or abolish the Court of Appeals and erect and 
establish another court in its stead; and that the Court of Appeals, so 
attempted to be repealed and abolished, having been created by the 
constitution, is (the said act notwithstanding) the Supreme Court of this 
state, and the judges thereof, having neither resigned nor removed from 
office by either of the modes recognized and provided by the constitu- 
tion, are still in office and should be so considered and respected by all 
the functionaries of the government." 7S A bill to repeal the new court 
act was soon brought in, and on November 14 the House passed it by a 
majority of twenty-one votes. 79 The situation was quite different in the 
Senate. There only one-fourth of the membership had passed through 
the ordeal of the recent election, and as a result the old court party had 
failed to capture a majority of the members. During the campaign it 
had been agreed in a number of cases that the senator who was not 
before the people for election should be governed in his vote on the 
court question by the majority opinion in his district as expressed in the 
election of representatives. Thus would the will of the people be regis- 
tered without the delay interposed by the constitution, in the Senate. 
After the election the old court supporters became very active in their 
demands that the Senate should be governed by the known will of the 
people, so clearly expressed in the recent election of the House. Meet- 
ings were held and resolutions voted calling on the senators to vote for 
the repeal of the new court act. A meeting was held in the senatorial 
district composed of Todd, Christian and Trigg counties, which passed 
the following resolutions: "That the majority so ascertained at the polls 
is considered by us as tantamount to the most deliberate and positive 
instruction to our Senate to vote for the repeal of said law." Young 
Ewing, the senator from this district, very properly refused to be bound 
by any such arrangement. He declared that the position and functions 
of the Senate as deliberately provided for by the constitution would be 
set at naught, if any such agreement should be entered into. 80 For 

i e Niles' Register, Vol. 29, p. 276. 

77 Jeroboam O. Beauchamp was arrested and convicted of the crime and spent 
a miserable and melancholy period in the Penitentiary before he was finally 
hanged. Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 32; Niles" Register, Vol. 29, pp. 29, 197; 
Vol. 30, pp. 267, 366. 382, 443; Acts of Kentucky, 1825, 149. 

™Niles' Register, Vol. 29, 196. 

79 The vote was 58 to 37. Robertson, Scrap Book, 95-97. 

80 Argus, Sept. 14, 1825. 


what was the Senate, if not to act as a steadying influence in just such 
a crisis? True enough, senators might change their minds on the court 
question, but it should be the logical reasoning from the merits of the 
question that should produce the change, and not the hasty expressions 
of people not voting for the senators. So, when the bill came before 
the Senate it was defeated by the deciding vote of the lieutenant-gov- 
ernor, Robert B. McAfee, who had gone into office with Desha on the 
first wave of resentment and exasperation against the old judges. 

The situation was no nearer a solution than. before the election. 81 
Thus thwarted, the old court majority in the House passed the afore- 
mentioned resolution warning the people of the state to refrain from 
aiding Francis P. Blair in maintaining possession of the court records. 
It was not only through the forbearance of the old court authorities in 
not attempting to forcibly seize the records that averted civil strife. 
Regardless of the constitutionality of the new court act, it would have 
been making confusion more confounded had the new court abdicated 
its powers before the law setting it up had been repealed, especially after 
the old court majority in the House had recognized its potency and 
standing as law by attempting to repeal it. Now to disregard it, since 
they could not repeal it, would have been more disruptive of law and 
order than the unconstitutional act first passed. Blair steadily refused 
to give over the records until he was requested by law to do so. 82 

But it was painfully evident to the new court party that their power 
was waning and that most likely one more election would decide the 
issue definitely against them. They had, therefore, early expressed a wil- 
lingness to tack to the approaching storm and compromise with the 
greatest advantage possible. Governor Desha had admitted in his message 
to the Legislature that, "Instead of quieting the country, as was ardently 
desired, the act of the last session reorganizing the Court of Appeals, to- 
gether with other causes made to operate, has filled it with new agitations." 
That the people were dissatisfied and wanted a change was evident, but 
exactly what change they wanted was not so clear in the opinion of the 
governor. He therefore suggested a line of procedure which had the 
broad principles of a compromise and which would lead the new court 
party out of their troubles with as little humiliation as possible. "It is 
an undoubted fact," he said, "that neither the former judges nor the 
present incumbents can unite upon themselves the confidence and respect 
of both the contending parties into which our population is divided. 
Nor can either proceed to exercise judicial power without doubts in the 
minds of many as to the validity of their acts. The new court is deemed 
by many to be unconstitutional and its acts void; and, were the reorgan- 
izing act repealed, the same doubts would extensively hang around all 
the acts of the former judges, unless they should receive new appoint- 
ments and commissions from the Governor and Senate. It is of great 
importance to the state that the judges of the appellate court should not 
only have the entire confidence of the whole people, but that their author- 
ity should be deemed by all parties unquestionable. To accomplish these 
desirable ends, the way is believed to be open to the present General 
Assembly. I have the fullest confidence that the present incumbents in 
the Court of Appeals will present no obstacle to any specific arrangement 
which the Legislature may adopt, and, although it may not be usual for 
the executive to give assurances beforehand of the course he will pursue 
upon a probable or a possible event, yet the extraordinary circumstances 

81 After the vote had been taken in the Senate, Niles reported that "The hope 
of adjusting the political differences which disturb the repose of the good people 
of this state, and so materially injure them, in every respect, is a very faint one." 
Niks' Register, Vol. 29, p. 248. 

82 Argus, Dec. 14, 1825. 


of the times and the peculiar attitude in which I am placed seem to 
require of me the frank declaration that, should any measure be adopted 
by the General Assembly with the view of quieting the troubles of the 
country, by the appointment of an entirely new set of appellate judges, 
I shall feel myself bound to select them equally from the two contending 
parties. However this recommendation and assurance may be received 
by violent partisans, I have, in making them, discharged what appeared 
to me to be a sacred duty, and I leave the result to God and the people. 
If our agitation shall be thus ended, it will be happy for us all; if they 
are to be continued, I shall endeavor to perform, through scenes yet 
untried, with fidelity and zeal, the arduous duty entrusted to me by the 
people, of seeing the laws executed in good faith and preserving the 
peace of the country." 83 

This invitation to compromise a question which the old court party 
considered had been definitely settled in the recent election was naturally 
not_ accepted — they would at least not consider it until they had made 
their attempt to_ repeal the new court law. Now that they had made the 
attempt and failed, they were willing to investigate the possibility of 
other settlements. In December a committee was appointed for this 
purpose. Numerous propositions were made along the lines set down 
by Desha, always preserving the principle of the equality of the two 
parties. One plan would reconstitute the court and give two of the judge- 
ships to the old court judges, with the other two places filled by new 
court judges. This arrangement was rejected. The new court leaders 
next offered the proposition that the membership of the court should 
be increased to six and thereby include all three of the old court judges. 
This was also refused, as the old court party believed they should not 
compromise away the principle for which the people had stood in the 
past election. 84 The question was now remanded to the people again 
for the decision in the next August election. 85 

The scenes of the former campaign were reenacted. The same argu- 
ments and criminations were bandied back and forth ; the same intensified 
passions prevailed. Crittenden wrote Clay that the state was fast ap- 
proaching anarchy. 80 But the new court party knew that if the election 
went against them this time, their doom was sealed. They therefore sug- 
gested anew their compromises and assumed a conciliatory attitude, and 
the Argils, near the end of the campaign, suggested that if the old court 
party won, the new court judges should resign and let the power pass 
back into the hands of the former court. 87 However, this position did 
not deprive them of the opportunity to pour forth their bitter denuncia- 
tions of their opponents. They set up a campaign organ called "The 
Patriot," in which they vigorously carried on the fight. The old court 
party felt assured of a complete triumph, for they considered control 
of the House certain, and the Senate they had good reason to believe 
would be captured, since half of its membership would have been sub- 
jected to the popular will on the court question with the conclusion of 
this election. A popular manifesto was issued, signed by the minority 
of the Senate and the majority in the House, to be used as a campaign 
document. It was asked: "Is the agony of the pody politic never to 
be over? Is there any inherent defect in our social or political organ- 
ization? Or whence this sad fate? Why does your governor in sub- 

83 Niks' Register, Vol. 29, pp. 221, 222. 

84 Robertson, Scrap Book, 102, 103. 

_ 85 Niles said, "The legislature of this state has adjourned without doing any 
thing to still the 'throes and convulsions' of public opinion, which have so long 
agitated the people, and grievously retarded the growth of population and wealth 
in this state." Niks' Register, Vol. 29, p. 310. 

86 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 3, Nos. 528, 529. Letter dated December 26, 1825. 

87 Quoted in Kentucky Reporter, Aug. 21, 1826. Also see ibid., passim. 


stance declare again, at the opening and close of your session, that he 
will preserve peace by making war? Your guardians wrong you. It 
is time to escape from minority and assert the right of manhood." 8S 
Robertson in this manifesto pointed out the tyranny of the majority in 
the Senate and the executive department, declaring that they were 
clearly blocking the expressed will of the people. "You have deliberately 
decided by more than sixty-hundredths that it [the new court law] is in 
conflict with the constitution ; and to what power on earth shall an 
appeal be taken from your judgment? To the governor or lieutenant-gov- 
ernor? To senators who disregard your most formal, written instruc- 
tions? God forbid. But it is for you to determine whether you belong 
to them, or they to you! Whether your government was instituted for 
your happiness, or their exclusive enjoyment?" 89 

The old court party also had its campaign publication, "The Spirit 
of '76," which kept up a constant bombardment. The argument that 
had been so often used by the new court party of the right of the people 
to instruct their representatives was now used against them with strong 

Again the old court party carried the election, securing control this 
time of the Senate. 90 With both branches of the Legislature now in 
their possession, the old court party soon set to work to clear up the 
judicial tangle. In the legislative parryings and maneuvers that pre- 
ceded the final vote on the abolition of the new court there were de- 
veloped over again the different efforts at compromise to avert the com- 
plete abdication of the new court judges without some concessions from 
the old court party. One of the most interesting and most important 
moves was made by Martin P. Marshall in the House of Representatives 
in a set of resolutions declaring that the governor, lieutenant-governor, 
judges of both the old court and of the new court, together with all the 
senators and representatives, should resign, in order that the people 
might in a new election, to be held the first day of the following May, 
decide the whole question so that there might be not the slightest doubt 
in anyone's mind as to what was wanted. This plan appealed to a great 
majority of the representatives, irrespective of parties, being voted 
through 75 to 16. But when it reached the Senate it was promptly killed 
by a strict party vote of 21 to 16. It was in fact a new court scheme 
which had successfully captured the representatives. 91 

Having disposed of all dilatory obstructions of the opposition, the 
old court party finally, on December 30, 1826, pushed through their bill 
repealing the new court out of existence. Governor Desha used his last 
constitutional power in an effort to defeat it by vetoing it ; but, as the 
Legislature might pass a bill over the governor's veto by a simple ma- 
jority, he was doomed to defeat. The bill finally went through the 
House, 56 to 43, and the Senate, 22 to 13. The act declared that the 
new court was in fact illegal, as judges could be removed from office only 
by impeachment or address ; that the people in two successive elections 
had upheld this view ; and that, therefore, the judges of the old court 
of appeals had been and were still the only constitutional judges of that 
court. It was also declared that all laws changed, repealed or affected 
in any way by the new court act were and always had been in full force — 
that everything always had been and still was as if the new court law 
had never been enacted. 92 On the happy outcome of the trouble, Heze- 
kiah Niles said : "Without going into the merits of the old court or of 

88 Robertson, Scrap Book, 103. 
so Ibid , 100. 

90 There were 56 Old Court representatives and 46 New Court, and 21 Old 
Court senators and 17 New Court. Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 33. 

91 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 33. 

92 Ibid. A different numerical vote is given in Niles' Register, Vol. 31, p. 324. 


the new court, we congratulate our fellow citizens of Kentucky that they 
again have only one Court of Appeals." 93 

The passions of the people were now fast subsiding, and a tendency 
was to forget as fast as possible the times that harbored the dark specters 
of civil strife and bloodshed. At a public dinner at Cynthiana, in Har- 
rison County, the sentiment was expressed in this toast : "New and old 
court distinctions — a speedy oblivion to the political jarrings of liberal 
and honest men." 94 The old Court of Appeals which had been sitting 
at the regular sessions during the past year and which had by the early 
part of June disposed of ninety-six cases and fifty-nine motions, now 
came into complete possession of all its records and rights. During this 
period the new court almost ceased to exist. The election of 1825 had 
greatly discredited it, but the victory for the old court party in 1826 was 
too much. In December, John Trimble and Razin Davidge resigned. 
The governor appointed Frederick W. S. Grayson and Robert P. Henry 
to fill the vacancies, but the positions had no attractions now — the former 
refused the offer and the latter, a member of Congress, feeling no desire 
to resign a sure position for a make-believe judgeship, either was not 
notified of his appointment or neglected making a decision to the time 
of his death nine months later. James D. Breckinridge, of Louisville, was 
then offered the position, but he also declined. John T. Johnson was 
then appointed and finally took his seat. On January r. 1827, Francis P. 
Blair, the clerk of the erstwhile new court, in response to an order of 
the regular Court of Appeals, delivered over all the records, papers and 
1 books in his possession. Now for two or three years the personnel of 
I the court was in constant change, reflecting the interplay of politics and 
l personal political dealings. John Boyle, who had been chief justice 
through the stormy days when the new court had held sway, resigned 
in November, 1826, to accept the appointment to the Federal District 
Court of Kentucky. As a measure of conciliation, as well as a recogni- 
tion of his ability, the Governor and Senate nominated and confirmed as 
chief justice George M. Bibb, who had formerly been judge as well as 
chief justice of the Court of Appeals and who had recently played a 
prominent part in state affairs as a relief and new court leader. 95 

This Legislature, before adjourning, made an attempt at a parting 
' blow at the men who had served as new court judges. There was intro- 
duced in the House, but defeated, a bill requiring the "pretending judges" 
to refund to the state the money they had drawn as salaries. 96 The 
influence of the new court was not yet dead throughout the state nor on 
the bench, for Bibb was now chief justice. In the election of 1827 the 
court question played little or no part outwardly, but apparently Owsley 
and Mills, the remaining old court judges, had secretly promised in the 
reorganization to resign, after the new governor and Legislature should 
be elected, for this was the year to elect a new governor. The idea seems 
to have been that they would resign only to be reappointed by the new 
administration, for it was confidently expected that it would remain in 
the hands of the old court party; but by so doing, it could be said that 
the court had now been completely reconstituted since the difficulty had 
arisen and that the people had had an opportunity to fill all three places. 
The procedure was carried out in a very unusual way, and covertly. 
Mills wrote out his resignation partially and sent it to a friend to later 
complete and send to the governor. This friend prevailed upon him to 
reconsider, and so he did — the resignation was never completed and sent 

93 Ibid. 

94 Kentucky Reporter, Dec. 1 1, 1826. 

85 Argus, Jan. 17, 1827 ; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 34. 

96 The amounts drawn by them follow : Barry, Haggin, and Trimble, each 
$1,312; Davidge, $1,175; Richard Taylor, sergeant, $161; and Thomas B. Monroe, 
reporter. $373. Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 34. 


to the governor. Owsley expressed his intention of resigning to the gov- 
ernor, but actually sent the written document to a friend to forward. 
The friend naturally prevailed upon him not to resign, and so the gover- 
nor also did not receive this resignation. Chief Justice Bibb, learning of 
this procedure, claimed that they did actually resign, and that two 
vacancies existed and should be filled. Bibb called upon Governor Met- 
calfe, who had just been elected as an old court man, to accept their 
resignations and appoint two new judges. The governor declared that 
no vacancies existed, as he had never received any resignations. A heated 
correspondence developed between the chief justice and the governor, 
with the former flatly refusing to hold court until new judges were 
appointed. Finally, Mills and Owsley, in order to straighten out the 
tangle, handed in their resignations to the governor, who accepted them, 
only to straightway reappoint them. But the Senate, which had swayed 
toward the new court party in the past election, now refused to confirm 
the nominations. Metcalfe then nominated Joseph R. Underwood and 
George Robertson, the latter having been a tower of strength to the old 
court party during the recent troubles, and the Senate promptly confirmed 
them. George M. Bibb, the chief justice, who had been elected by this 
Legislature to the United States Senate, now resigned, leaving the chief 
justiceship vacant. Judge Robertson was nominated for this position, 
but was rejected. The governor then successively nominated Richard A. 
Buckner, John J. Marshall and Joseph R. Underwood, all of whom the 
Senate refused to accept. At the meeting of the Legislature after the 
election of 1829, Judge Robertson was again nominated and this time 
accepted by the Senate, and Richard A. Buckner named for the place 
made vacant by Robertson, and accepted. 97 On April 15, 1829, the 
Court of Appeals declared all the acts and decisions of the new court 
null and void in the case Hildreth's Heirs v. Mclntire's Devises. 98 Thus 
was the court question finally settled. 

During the decade following the War of 1812, Kentucky had sig- 
nally failed to keep pace with the progress she had made during the pre- 
ceding decade. The buoyancy and expectancy that predominated then 
was now sadly lacking. Like a child playing with fire, she began playing 
with the banks and replevin laws, involving financial and economic prin- 
ciples which she did not understand. Banks looked beautiful in their 
operation, turning out crisp notes beautifully engraved, and stay laws 
were no less inviting. But when, through bitter experience, it was dis- 
covered that these things were not what they seemed, the state was so 
divided and such antagonisms had grown up that for almost two years 
she hovered on the brink of civil war. Such conditions set her back far 
in her development along all lines. Her manufactures were fast going, 
and her commerce withered ; her population fled to happier regions and 
her land left untended. There can be little doubt that Kentucky was 
politically, financially and industrially the most sorely beset state in the 
Union — so dark a contrast with her former self." 

George Robertson in withering terms indicted those who were respon- 
sible for the woeful conditions: "You have made it the interest of men 
to violate their most solemn contracts and live by fraud. Man has lost 
confidence in his fellow man; internal commerce is stagnant; foreign 
trade unequal and unproductive; agriculture despondent; virtue pro- 
scribed; patriotism in despair." 100 

This advice, indicative of the situation, was offered by "Many Ken- 
tuckians" : "There may be in America too many importers and shop- 

97 Argus, Oct. 15, 29, Dec. 10, 1828. 
88 J. J. Marshall, 206. 

99 See McMaster's opinion, in History of the People of the United States, 
V, 162-166. 

100 Robertson, Scrap Book, no. 


keepers, but there will never be too many mechanics, manufacturers nor 
farmers; and there is, unfortunately, another thing to say on the imports 
of foreign useless articles — that thing is, that, in spite of the best wishes 
of renouncing them, there will be in our American family always too 
many fools to not consume always too much of them. * * * Re- 
nounce as much as you can foreign luxuries ; manufacture at home as 
many as you can of the articles you want; let your lands produce as 
much as possible; you shall be happy. Till then you will be poor." "" 

People were leaving the state in hundreds and thousands. The emi- 
grants were more than those coming in. In 1825 a news item said : "It 
is supposed that more than a hundred wagons, with families, have passed 
through Frankfort within the last ten days." 102 Bad conditions were 
driving the people away, but what elements in the situation were doing 
it and who were responsible for the bad conditions were matters of 
dispute. The anti-relief and old court parties naturally held that vicious 
legislation characterizing the period was responsible. One observer said : 
"Kentucky has probably lost as much as she has gained by migra- 
tions since the fatal year 18 18, when the forty-three 'independent 
banks' were littered, though her longest-cultivated fields have not yet 
lost any portion of their original productiveness, and her population is 
still very sparse." 103 The relief and new court parties saw people leaving 
for the opposite reasons. An aristocracy and tyranny of wealth had 
grown up which thought more of money than of lives, who would grind 
out the uttermost farthing owed them or ruin the country. This warning 
was given : "Lords of Kentucky ! you are slumbering on your interests 
and meanwhile the most industrious part of your population deserts your 
soil, and the newcomers, instead of stopping on it, are going to settle 
in other states, where they do expect better protection. Continue op- 
pressing the industrious; you will have deprived them of their properties; 
you will have all the land to yourselves; but. without hands to till them, 
what will they be worth to you? Return spoliations, or you shall be 
gone." 104 

The political situation had also caused many people to leave the dis- 
turbed land for other states and for the unoccupied territories, perhaps 
menaced by Indians, but not so dangerous a place to be as Kentucky. 
Robert Wickliffe said: "Miserable indeed is the picture of this once 
proud, once happy Commonwealth — Your capitol in ruins, and here we 
are legislating and Judge breaking, in an old church, your Mr. Speaker 
perched in its pulpit, and the Senate pent up in a school house closed 
up in a cell, treading on each other's toes, like stock in a muddy pound 
[sic]." 105 

State finances had steadily decreased, until in 1823 a deficit of more 
than $33,000 existed. The next year saw it beyond the $35,000 mark. 
In 1822 there had been a surplus of almost $.t5,ooo. 10C Governor Desha 
called for retrenchment in the state's expenditures, especially by cutting 
the salaries of its officials. 107 

101 Considerations on Some of the Matters to be Voted on * * * at the 
next Session of the General Assembly of Kentucky. * * * (Louisville, 1824), 
Pamphlet, 34, 35. 

102 Miles' Register, Vol. 29, p. 147. To this, Niles adds, "This is what I have 
always said was the inevitable result of the paper system and relief laws; and 
the worst of all is, that those descriptions of persons, whom such proceedings 
cause the removal of, are those which new and thinly settled states can hardly 
spare — the free productive classes." 

103 Niles' Register, Vol. 28, p. 91. 
* 04 Liberty Saved, 7, 8. 

105 Lafayette to the People, 58. 

1™ Niles' Register, Vol. 23, pp. 225, 226, Vol. 27, 198. 

107 Message to the Legislature November 7, 1825, in Niles" Register, Vol. 29, 
pp. 222, 223. 


While Kentucky was running the gamut of her follies she could not 
hope to escape criticism from without. The newspapers of the Eastern 
States leveled many a shaft at her, and the merchants of Philadelphia 
deliberated on more than criticism. Kentuckians owed them debts, but 
replevin laws were delaying their payment. Some believed that they 
were planning to have Congress or the United States courts intervene. 
At any rate the Philadelphia merchants drew the rejoinder from the 
relief party that they had profiteered in the War of 1812, while Ken- 
tuckians were marching against the enemy. 108 The editor of the Ken- 
tucky Gazette was quick to defend his state against outside attacks : "It 
is now more than four years since the people of Kentucky through their 
representatives determined to be ruled according to the principles of the 
government and the natural rights of man. Imprisonment for debt has 
been abolished, the fangs of aristocracy have been loosened from the 
jaws of thousands ready to fall victims to the laws and customs of the 
darkest ages of the world ; sentiments have been advocated which do 
honour to the state." 109 Governor Desha was also willing to publish to 
the world that the people still ruled in Kentucky and that he was willing 
to compare conditions there, "either local, moral or political, with that 
of all other nations." 110 

Kentuckians were deserving as much of sympathy and pity as of 
censure and railings. Desperate situations required desperate remedies. 
A people who had grown up in a wilderness had known more of fighting 
the enemy than of dealing with complicated financial problems. That 
they would commit grave blunders might well be expected, that they 
would profit by them might also well be expected. That they did profit 
well is abundantly shown in their subsequent history. 

108 Kentucky Gazette, Aug. I, Oct. 17, 1822. 

109 Dec. 11, 1823. 

110 Message to the Legislature November 7, 1825, in Niles' Register, Vol. 29, p. 219. 

Vol. II— 6 



During the period following the War of 1812, when Kentucky was 
busily turning her efforts toward solving the multifarious problems that 
were rapidly presenting themselves and when she was boldly setting out 
on financial and political courses she had never traveled before or knew 
little about, she soon found standing in her way the authority of the 
Federal Government. This interference was expressed through the Fed- 
eral banks and courts. Just as she had already resented and was des- 
tined yet to bitterly resent and attack an opposition that grew up within 
her own borders, so also did she follow up Federal interference with 
equally persistent hostility. State rights soon came to be a cry as far 
flung as relief and state banks, and the passions of the people became 
as fiercely stirred up over this subject as any other. But this was not 
a hostility that might look toward secession as a remedy, as was thought 
of in earlier days. The conspiracies and allurements of foreign nations 
were forever forgotten. Rather now would she assert her own interpre- 
tation of Federal powers when they affected her, and strongly hint that 
she might back up her interpretations with force if circumstances should 
develop to such a point as to demand it. The distempers of this decade 
in Kentucky history were such as might easily breed an exaggerated 
notion of the state's powers when they should conflict with the Federal 
Government. This was, however, a development of the times not peculiar 
to Kentucky alone. In this same general period, for one reason or 
another, most states of the Union had periods of violent antipathy toward 
the Federal Government, generally directed specifically against the 

The Second United States Bank was responsible for the beginning of 
the state rights movement here. Immediately after the close of the War 
of 1812, this bank had been set up for the purpose of bringing some order 
out of the chaos of national finances. Although it had been strenuously 
opposed a few years ago by all good democrats in Kentucky, and John 
Pope had been almost ostracized for supporting it, while Clav's popu- 
larity was greatly increased for opposing it, now it was generally looked 
upon as a beneficent institution, sure to spread happiness and prosperity 
to any region so fortunate as to secure one of its branches, and Clay was 
praised still more for having supported it in the last instance. A Ken- 
tuckian assigning himself the patriotic number of " '76" wrote in the 
Kentucky Gazette: "We cannot but congratulate ourselves and the coun- 
try at large upon the prospects of the early operations of this institution. 

"Whatever difference of opinion formerly existed as to the renewal 
of the charter of the old United States Bank, there is at present in Ken- 
tucky almost an undivided sentiment of approbation in favour of the Bank 
recently chartered by Congress. 

"Who will not gladly hail the measure which shall reanimate and 
give new life to our palsied and rotten paper system?" 1 There was 

1 July 15, 1816. 



considerable rivalry among the towns of the state in their efforts to 
secure branches. Louisville and Lexington were finally chosen as the 
seats for the two branches awarded Kentucky. 

In an amazingly short time after these institutions were set going, 
the beautiful dreams of Kentuckians having their pockets bulging with 
crisp Unite'd States bank notes and prosperity smiling over the land 
were rudely upset. The United States banks did not see fit to use bank- 
ing principles current in Kentucky, and thereby began their unpopularity. 
They soon began to work against indiscriminate loans and to bring about 
a contraction of the currency by gathering up and presenting large quan- 
tities of state bank notes for payment. Their efforts were directed 
against speculation along all lines. Therefore did they fail to fulfill a 
single purpose the Kentuckians had in mind. They were not only not 
spreading prosperity, but by their strict practices were producing the 
opposite, and within a short while had so operated on the currency of 
the state that Governor Adair declared not a note of the United States 
bank was circulating throughout the state. "The depreciated currency 
of the states,'' he said, "was regarded as an evil of dangerous tendency 
— and the more so as it was one which the states could not speedily eradi- 
cate. A national bank, with a capital sufficient to furnish a national cur- 
rency, was proposed and adopted as a prompt and efficient remedy. Has 
it answered the proposed end? Does it afford a circulating medium for 
the Union? Whilst it crushed beneath its ponderous weight every feeble 
corporation and displaces the notes of the specie paying banks within 
the sphere of its operations, are its notes anywhere to be found except 
in the great emporiums of trade, or in discharging the silent and impov- 
erishing operations of exchange?" 2 Hostility was now fast arising 
against this financial tyranny which had crept into the state like a thief 
in the night. Governor Desha said it was "an union of local interests 
operating upon the public councils," that "directly invited or silently 
tolerated the location of two branches of the United States Bank within 
our borders." 3 

In less than three years after the branches had been set up the people 
of the state had indebted themselves to them for more than $2,500,000. 
How this could be paid with no United States bank notes circulating in 
Kentucky was a problem to one of the Kentucky papers : "This is the 
trifling sum which the people of Kentucky are called upon to pay in 
specie; for the notes of these branches have long since vanished. Indeed, 
we believe that all the U. S. Bank paper, bank of Kentucky paper and 
specie circulating in the state, would not be sufficient to redeem this debt. 
The discounts alone which are paid on this sum every month amount to 
upwards of thirteen thousand dollars." 4 The branches, in their pro- 
cedure to collect their debts, soon came into possession of much land and 
other property, and thereby "filled the land with tenantry." 

Kentuckians thought too much of their rights of self-government and 
the continued possession of their own wealth to tolerate a foreign bank 
tyranny. These money monsters should at least be made to pay for their 
raids on the people's property. In 1818 a tax of $400 annually was put 
upon the two branches. But it was immediately seen that this was worse 
than no remedy, for the amount was insignificant — only enough to set 
up the principle of taxing the bank, without the slightest effect on driving 
it out of the state or affording the state revenue from its operations. The 
tax was, therefore, very soon increased to $5,000 per month on each 
branch. The purpose was clearly shown of driving the banks from the 
state, for it could not have been believed that they could pay a tax of 

2 Message to legislature October 16, 1821 in Niks' Register, Vol. 21, p. 185. 

3 In message to legislature, November 7, 1825, in Nilcs' Register, Vol. 29, p. 219. 

4 Ouoterl in Nites' Reaister. Vol. IS. o. 38s. 

'in message 10 legislature, i\uveiiiuci /, 10* 
1 Quoted in Niles? Register, Vol. 15, p. 385. 


$120,000 a year; but, indeed, if they should submit to the principle and 
pay the tax, the state could almost afford to tolerate any tyranny the 
banks could institute in return for so large a sum of money for the 
state treasury. 5 This extraordinary measure not only excited the strong 
opposition of the branch banks themselves, but roused up numerous other 
enemies over the state. They saw in it a direct clash between the author- 
ity of the state and the nation, which might lead to serious results. A 
person signing himself "Hambden*' declared the scheme was nothing 
more or less than an attempt to array the state against the nation just 
as much so and just as reprehensibly as the Hartford convention had 
done in war days. 6 John H. Todd wrote Crittenden that a tax on the 
banks would likely be a very unwise move, and that even if Kentucky had 
the right to impose such a burden, it would be dangerous. He said : "I 
believe it inexpedient and somewhat perfidious to impose such a tax, be- 
cause the Bank was invited here by a resolution of the Senate of the 
State & called for by the wishes of the people ; it deposited a large cap- 
ital here, the diffusion of which is calculated to enhance the value pros- 
perity of our country, to facilitate the conveniences of trade, to promote 
our agricultural interests, to encourage manufactures and above all to 
give us a current & general medium. Such conduct is calculated to 
excite collision between the State & Genl. Govt, not friendly to the 
interests of either." 7 

The banks, as was to be expected, refused to pay the tax, thereby 
incurring severe penalties. The Lexington branch applied to the District 
Court for an injunction to stop the execution of the law, claiming that 
it was unconstitutional, as it was designed to drive the banks from the 
state. The court refused to consider the constitutionality of the Kentucky 
statute, as the United States Supreme Court was expected soon to hand 
down a decision covering this point. It did, however, grant a temporary 
injunction restraining the state from collecting the tax and also requir- 
ing the bank to give security to the amount of 840,000 not to take its 
funds out of the state until the question was settled. 8 The Supreme 
Court handed down its epoch-making decision in the case McCulloch 
versus Maryland, in which it upheld the right of Congress to charter 
the Bank of the United States and the right of the bank to set up branches 
in the several states. But no state might tax such branches, for such a 
right would be incompatible with the right of Congress to set the bank 
up in the first instance, since the power to tax is the power to destroy. 
The further principle was set up, however, that, just as the state might 
not tax an instrumentality of the nation, so the nation might not tax the 
instruments of a state government. The Kentucky Court of Appeals 
accepted this decision in the determination of cases involving these points 
as should have been expected, but in so doing it stirred up much unfavor- 
able comment. 

Many Kentuckians now for the first time began to feel in an exasper- 
ating manner the restraining power of the Federal Government. The 
Kentucky Herald railed at the tyranny that had saddled Kentucky and 
the West with a monster of iniquity, unwelcomed by them, unknown to 
the Constitution, and unknown to themselves except through its oppres- 
sive acts. It declared that the bank had taken from the poor and given 
to the rich, that it had paralyzed manufactories, brought in foreign lux- 
uries, transported specie across the mountains, and driven the state banks 
into practices that were ruining the state. It seemed the state had no 

6 Doolan, "Old Court — New Court Controversy" in Green Bag, XI, 179. 
"Kentucky Gazette, April 30, 1819. 

7 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 2, Nos. 189, 190. Letter dated February 4, 1818. 
8 McMaster, History of the People of the United States, IV, 504, 505. Also 

see Niks' Register, Vol. 15, p. 436. 


powers left worth while. Were it not better that she should give up her 
state government and become a territory again ? 9 The governor, in his 
message to the next Legislature, voiced the strong hatred that had grown 
up in the state toward the bank. He raised the question whether there 
was not a limit to the extent the Supreme Court could manacle a state. 
If one department of the National Government could set at naught the 
rights of a state, and be upheld in the usurpation by another department, 
state sovereignty was then no more than a byword and a mockery. 

Balked in its attempt to tax the branches out of existence, 
the Legislature next tried a much less radical course. It resolved "that 
it is the wish, desire and the interest of the people of this State, that the 
president and the directors of the United States' bank recall their 
branches located in this state," and that the state's delegation in Congress 
be requested to take into consideration the expediency and constitution- 
ality of repealing, by law or otherwise, the charter of said bank." 10 
Another method to nullify the powers of the bank as far as possible was 
soon resorted to. If the state must remain saddled with the bank, then 
the only course that seemed to remain was to endure it, but pursue it 
in every way possible short of rousing the interference of the Federal 
Government. The bank, in making itself a part of the financial and 
commercial life of the state, dealt in promissory notes and other com- 
mercial paper which came to it in the satisfaction of debts, as security 
for loans, or in other ways. This activity was resented by the state, 
especially as it took business away from the Kentucky banks, which 
were particularly hard-pressed at this time. A case arose in the courts 
of the state in the latter part of 1819 involving the activities of the 
branch at Lexington. 

In this case, known as the Bank of the United States v. Norvell, the 
Lexington branch brought suit against Joshua Norvell in the Fayette 
County Circuit Court to collect a promissory note of $600 which had 
come into the possession of the bank through an assignment by Richard 
M. Johnson. Norvell refused to pay the note, according to common 
report, not to be permanently rid of the debt, but to set up the prin- 
ciple that the branches of the United States Bank had no power to pur- 
chase promissory notes. The court in its decision argued that the powers 
of the bank set down in its charter did not extend to the case in point. 
"If this section, with such an ample grant, was to have no restriction, the 
corporation with such ample means, instead of being the hand-maid, 
would, or might soon, become the mistress of the sovereignty that created 
it. The debts payable in property of every embarrassed individual might 
be procured at a fearful discount. Estates sold under executions might 
soon be engrossed by the bank at large sacrifices and disposed of at large 
advances. The evils of such a corporation existing may be more easily 
conceived than expressed." The limiting clauses in the charter were 
then cited where it was provided that the bank might not come into 
possession of land, except that necessary for its immediate purposes 
which should be mortgaged as security or which should be obtained in 
the satisfaction of debts previously made, and that the bank might not 
deal in anything except "bills of exchange, gold or silver bullion, or in 
the sale of goods really and truly pledged for money lent and not re- 
deemed in due time, or goods which shall be the proceeds of its lands." 
The court held that the present promissory note did not come under 
these headings and that, therefore, it should not be allowed to exceed 

8 McMaster, History of the People of the United States, IV, 50s. Ohio about 
the same time as Kentucky, had attempted to drive the branches of the United 
States Bank out of her limits, by imposing a tax of $50,000 annually on each. 
Tennessee also attempted to tax the branches within her jurisdiction. 

10 Niles' Register, Vol. 15, p. 385. 


its powers twice, viz: in the first place by buying the note, and in the 
second place by forcing its collection. The court asked the rhetorical 
questions: "If, therefore, the plaintiff were not allowed to make the 
purchase of the note in question, yet as they have got it, are they allowed 
to hold it and coerce its collection, and be permitted to atone for the 
offense by paying the penalty, if it shall ever be inflicted? Or, in other 
words, when a positive law has declared that the act shall not be done — ■ 
is the act good, when the penalty is paid, and can a title acquired con- 
trary to the express direction of the law be a valid one?" 11 This de- 
cision was upheld by the Court of Appeals. 12 The supporters of the 
bank were much put out by this decision. Miles said : "The right of the 
bank to prosecute individuals in the courts of the United States is denied, 
and we believe has been successfully resisted on constitutional principles 
— how then is the bank to recover its monies loaned to the people of 
Kentucky, if the people are not pleased to pay their debts, which, how- 
ever, every man ought to do?" 13 

The bank, being an instrument of the Federal Government, was 
closely associated by the Kentuckians with its ally and supporter, the 
Federal judiciary. Both came to be equally reprehensible in the eyes of 
Kentuckians and equally hated. The United States Circuit Court had 
early declared certain parts of the replevin laws unconstitutional, and a 
little later the District Court ordered all of its judgments to be discharged 
in gold and silver, instead of the Kentucky bank paper provided for by 
state law, and allowed only three months' replevy. It also established 
its own rules of court regarding its processes and setting up what should 
be subject to execution as to persons and property and the circumstances 
under which they might be levied on and sold. This threatened to rob 
the people of all their relief measures when the case should be tried in 
a Federal court. The principle soon reached the Supreme Court in a 
number of cases, and an interpretation of the processes of the Federal 
courts handed down which greatly chagrined the Kentuckians. It was 
held that Congress had the right to legislate concerning the issuing of 
executions by the Federal courts and that it had so exercised that right. 
The Process Act of May 8, 1792, adopted as a rule for the Federal 
courts the final process of the supreme court of each state as existing in 
September, 1789, subject to such changes as the Federal courts might 
prescribe. This was an effort to make the Federal courts conform in 
every state as closely as possible to the state courts. Therefore, any laws 
of Kentucky concerning the processes of her courts passed after that 
date did not affect the procedure in Federal courts. 14 In another case 
the Supreme Court reiterated the principle : "An officer of the United 
States cannot, in the discharge of his duty, be governed and controlled 
by state laws, any further than such laws have been adopted and sanc- 
tioned by the legislative authority of the United States. And he does 
not in such case act under the authority of the state law, but under that 
of the United States, which adopts such law." 15 The Supreme Court 
also held in the case of The Bank of the United States v. Halstead that 
the Kentucky relief law, which prohibited the sale of land under execu- 
tion for less than three-fourths of the appraised value without the 
owner's consent, did not apply to the Federal courts. 18 

According to James Kent, these decisions "have given great dissatis- 
faction to some of the people of Kentucky and provoked much virulent 

11 In Kentucky Gazette, quoted in Nile s" Register, Vol. 17, pp. 150, 151. See 
also ibid., 177. 
™Ibid., 36S. 

13 Niles" Register, Vol. 17, p. 145. 
14 Wayman v. Southard, 10 Wheaton I. 

18 The Bank of the United States v. Halstead, 10 Wheaton, 63, 64. 
16 10 Wheaton 51. 


declamation against the court itself. During the late session of Congress, 
some member intimated that a judicial tyranny was secretly creeping in 
upon us; and, if we rightly remember the tenor of his discourse, we are 
to suppose that the venerable Chief Justice Marshall is little other than 
a Dionysius the Second, who uses the court as a whispering gallery, for 
discovering subjects upon whom to exercise his tyranny and cruelty. 
But, notwithstanding all that has been said to the contrary, we verily 
believe that the citizens feel their persons and rights almost as safe in 
the hands of the Supreme Court of the United States as in those of 
some of the states." 17 The people broke out in a great popular meeting 
in July of 1825, at which they resolved that Congress had no consti- 
tutional right to delegate to the Supreme Court or to the inferior courts 
the power to alter the execution laws of the states, that the recent Rules 
of Court adopted by the Federal courts in Kentucky were unwarranted, 
and that the Supreme Court ought to be so reorganized as to preserve 
the rights of the people of the different states to rule themselves. 18 

Governor Desha, in his message to the Legislature of November, 1825, 
attacked the Federal courts for adopting new rules on executions, and 
made bold to charge that the bank and the Federal courts were working 
together to prostrate the authority of the state. The Federal courts, 
he said, declared that they "had a right to make execution laws for the 
regulation of their own proceedings, without asking the sanction of the 
people's representatives, either in the state or general government, and 
the Federal judges for the Kentucky district have actually made their 
code and put it into operation, by which our citizens are imprisoned in 
direct violation of our own laws, and their property seized and sold in 
modes not provided in their statute book. The power thus assumed and 
exercised by the Federal judges is viewed, both in principle and practice, 
as nothing short of despotism. A power has erected itself in our state 
which deprives our citizens of their liberty and property by arbitrary 
rules, to which they have never assented, either in proper person or 
through their representatives, in their own Legislature or that of the 
Union." 19 

The unpopularity that the Federal courts had been steadily building 
up for themselves was greatly intensified by the attitude they assumed 
toward a system of laws that had been long forming concerning land 
tenure in the state. These laws were commonly known as occupying 
claimant laws, and their importance was so transcendent in the lives of 
the people for the first quarter of a century and more of the state's exist- 
ence that it is necessary to note conditions that produced them and their 
nature. The Virginia method of granting lands in Kentucky was so 
utterly devoid of system that she left a perfect maize of land claims 
for Kentucky to fight over and straighten out after she became a state. 20 
Settlers went out and located their lands wherever they saw fit, knowing 
not and taking little pains to find out whether some other person had 
preceded them. Markings were so indistinct and evanescent, and the 
system of recording grants so imperfect, that the same tracts and parts 

"North American Review, Vol. 24, p. 355. 

18 Argus, July 13, 1825. 

1B Niles' Register, Vol. 29, p. 219. See also Acts of Kentucky, 1826, p. 199. 

20 See chapter 11 of this work. Virginia had passed a number of land laws 
for Kentucky before the latter became a state. The law of 1779 sought to bring 
as much exactness as possible to land surveys and claims. By this law the certifi- 
cates had to mention the cause of the claim, the number of acres sought, and 
to describe "as near as may be, the particular location," so that "other may 
be enabled, with certainty, to locate warrants on the adjacent residium." See 
Reports of Cases at Common Law and in Chancery Argued and Decided in the 
Court of Appeals of the Commonwealth of Kentucky During the Fall Term 1808 
and Spring and Fall Terms 1809 (Frankfort, 1815), Edited by George M. Bibb, 
I, xvi ; Robertson, Scrap Book, 273. 


of tracts overlapping were surveyed and entered many times. It was 
claimed that in one instance a tract of land was found that had thirteen 
separate locations on it. 21 Francois Michaux, in his travels through 
the state in the early part of the nineteenth century, noted: "Of all the 
states in the Union it is that wherein the rights of an individual are most 
subject to contest. I did not stop at the house of one inhabitant who 
was persuaded of his own right but what seemed dubious of his neigh- 
bor's." He said: "The same lot has not only been measured several 
times by different surveyors, but more frequently it has been crossed 
by different lines, which distinguish particular parts of that lot from the 
lots adjacent, which, in return, are in the same situation with regard to 
those that are contiguous to them. * * * 22 This situation naturally 
brought about an inordinate amount of litigation. Kentucky became a 
lawyer's paradise, attracting many men of talent who might otherwise 
have remained east of the mountains. Letters similar to the following 
were being constantly received by the pioneer attorneys at law : "I wish 
to employ you in a suit against an Entry of 6,000 acres of land near 
the mouth of Clear Creek which interferes with a number of Claims of 
my Fathers. * * * " 23 It was often claimed that Virginia had 
actually granted warrants for more land than there actually was in the 
state. 24 

These conditions greatly retarded the development of the state ; many 
pioneers were turned away on account of this, and others who had set- 
tled on what they considered unlocated lands were either driven away 
through the constant fear of losing them or through actual dispossession. 
The parents of Abraham Lincoln moved over into Indiana, not because 
they did not like slavery (for little of that institution did they see in 
Hardin County), but rather on account of the uncertainty of land titles. 25 
For the same reason largely did the parents of Jefferson Davis leave 
Christian County for Mississippi. But the most interesting as well as 
most pathetic case, illustrative of many another Kentuckian, was that 
of Daniel Boone, a simple, honest man who was ignorant of how to 
acquire wealth "except from the chase, or by the regular fruits of honest 
industry." He was soon left without an acre of the vast empire he had 
helped 'to win, and as old age crept relentlessly upon him he was con- 
strained to beg for a place to lay his bones. He petitioned Congress 
to grant him 10,000 acres, and in a unique memorial to the Kentucky 
Legislature prayed it to further his case. 

He recited his early hardships in exploring the Western country and 
vividly referred to his first sight of Kentucky. "* * * Your me- 
morialist." he said, "proceeded alone to the heights which overlook this 
terrestrial paradise, from whence he descended into those fertile plains, 
which are unequalled on our earth, and lay the fairest claim to the de- 
scription of the garden of God." He immediately determined on a 
more thorough survey, "and, from its enchanting appearance, became 
inspired with the resolution not to suffer it longer to remain an unknown 
wilderness, tenanted only by wild beasts and visited casually by wander- 
ing savages; a spot which seemed to be pointed out by the finger of 
heaven to administer the choicest felicities to millions of human beings. 
He returned home and determined to risk his hopes and his little all of 
property in this delightful abode ; delightful beyond the most sanguine 
wish of man, had no danger and hardship stood in the way of the golden 
fruit." He recounted his second visit to the region and his new hard- 

21 Kentucky Gazette, Feb. 28, 1822. 

22 Michaux, Travels to the West, 226, 227. . . 

23 Breckinridge MSS. (1795). Lewis Craig to John Breckinridge, April 9. 
1795. This collection of MSS. contains many such letters. 

2* For instance, Robertson, Scrap Book, 273. 

« Nicolay and Hay, Works of Abraham Lincoln, VI, 26. 


ships : "Thus your memorialist for many months, a solitary wanderer 
and exile in a vast wilderness untrodden by the foot of civilized man ; 
surrounded by savages who thirsted for his blood — and hunted him like 
a wild beast. An overruling Providence, however, seemed to have 
watched over his life and preserved him to be the humble instrument in 
settling one of the fairest portions of the new world." He was beset 
by the savages and forced to return to the East. "But though his hopes 
seemed now about to close in forever; yet, under a belief that a benevo- 
lent Providence could never intend so fertile and desirable a country 
should remain a waste, he did not despair. He accordingly proceeded a 
third time to make the experiment, which he knew must succeed or prove 
his last." This time success came and Boonsborough was founded. 

Thus had he labored and risked his life a thousand times to conquer 
this wonderful land — not for himself, but for others, "for out of this 
vast extent of country he is unable to call a single acre his own." He 
had not desire for great wealth ; indeed, he knew not how to acquire it. 
"He intended to contribute everything in his power to the settlement of 
the new country, not to monopolize, but to share in common with others 
its advantages. Unacquainted with the niceties of law, he did not intend 
to locate lands for others, but to take up a reasonable portion of those 
which were good, for the use of himself and his posterity." But adver- 
sity pursued him. "The few lands he afterwards was enabled to locate 
were, through his ignorance, generally swallowed up, and lost by bet- 
ter claims." 

Reduced to this condition "and still animated with the love of dis- 
coveries and adventure, about 1794 he passed over to the Spanish prov- 
ince of Upper Louisiana, under an assurance of the governor, who re- 
sided at St. Louis, that ample portions of land should be given to him 
and his family. And this provision appeared the more necessary to 
your memorialist, inasmuch as old age was fast advancing upon him, and 
he had scarcely where to lay his head." Here 10,000 acres were given 
him and he was honored with an office in the Spanish government. On 
account of a technicality he had failed to complete his title when the 
country came into the possession of the United States, and his claim, 
therefore, disallowed by the American commissioners. "Thus your me- 
morialist was left once more, at about the age of eighty, to be a wanderer 
in the world." 

"Having no spot he can claim as his own, whereon to lay his bones, 
your memorialist has laid his case before Congress. He cannot but 
feel, so long as feeling remains, that he has a just claim upon his coun- 
try for land to live on, and to transmit to his children after him. He 
cannot help on an occasion like this to look toward Kentucky. From a 
small acorn she has become a mighty oak, furnishing shelter and support 
to upwards of 400,000 souls. Very different, indeed, is her appearance 
now from the time when your memorialist, with his little band, began 
first to fell the forest and construct their rude fortification at Boons- 
borough. But, however he has assisted at the birth ; has watched over 
her infancy when she was like to be strangled by the savage serpent ; 
and can point to the spot where the savage lay in wait for his life ; or 
from whence he was twice taken captive ; can remember effecting by his 
escape the country's salvation — however he might claim something at 
her hands to make nature comfortable in her last decline, and to cast a 
cheering ray on the setting sun of life ; in the hope that he might have 
it in his power to leave something to his posterity, that they might not 
say he had lived in vain ; yet, as he is firmly conscious, that, however, 
he may have a claim upon the gratitude of the country he first settled, his 
services have not been confined to her, but are felt throughout the Union, 
and are likely to be still more so, his claim merits the regard of Congress- 


He therefore solicits your honorable body to extend to him your support 
and influence, in aid of his petition before Congress, praying for a grant 
of such quantity of land, in the said Territory of Upper Louisiana, as 
they may think right; trusting it will not be less than the said 10,000 
acres, which remains plainly marked out and unappropriated, and your 
memorialist will ever pray." 26 

The Legislature looked kindly upon the venerable old pioneer, re- 
calling his many eminent services in exploring and settling the country 
"from which great advantages have resulted, not only to this state, but 
to his country in general ; and that from circumstances over which he 
had not control — he is now reduced to poverty, not having, so far as 
appears, an acre of land out of the vast territory he has been a great in- 
strument in peopling." "Believing also that it is as unjust as it is impolitic 
that useful enterprise and eminent services should go unrewarded by a 
government, wherein merit confers the only distinction, and having suf- 
ficient reason to believe that a grant of 10,000 acres of land, which he 
claims in Upper Louisiana, would have been confirmed to him by the 
Spanish government, had not the said territory passed by cession into 
the hands of the general government," the Legislature resolved that the 
state's delegation in Congress should exert their efforts to secure a grant 
of 10,000 acres for Boone. 27 He was rewarded both by Congress and 

Such was the life history of a man in which the complicated land 
laws of Kentucky had played so melancholy a part. Inheriting a tangled 
skein of land laws from Virginia, the new state pursued a policy for the 
remainder of her lands little less complicated in its results than the old 
Virginia laws. In 1795 the head right system was set up, whereby the 
head of a family might buy at a stated price 200 acres. This set into 
operation the endless stream of legislation concerning the Green River 
lands. In 1798, the "Seminary claims" saw the light. These were lands 
granted to the seminaries or academies in each country, and were soon to 
complicate the land system still more, as the school system was a failure. 
In 1810, the Tellico lands were ceded by the Indians in Eastern Kentucky 
and a different system of rules was adopted to govern this tract. A 
method of land sales was adopted in 181 5, through warrants issued at 
scheduled prices, and known as "Treasury Warrants" or "Kentucky Land 
Office Warrants." In 1820, the so-called Jackson Purchase, west of the 
Tennessee River was parcelled out by another method, similar to the 
township system used by the Federal Government. In 1835, all vacant 
lands were turned over to the counties in which they lay, thus adding 
another complication for new counties were frequently being cut out of 
the old with vague and unsurveyed boundaries, which resulted in land 
being entered in both counties. The above laws did not exhaust the early 
land legislation. Numerous provisos, amendments, and time extensions, 
were ground out by every succeeding Legislature. There was no uniform 
land system for the state; each section had its different laws and rules 
of procedure — with the silent specter of Virginia claims always hanging 
over all the state. 28 

The state courts were in an almost impossible situation in the be- 
ginning in adjudicating the flood of land cases that poured in upon them. 

2" Niks' Register, Vol. 4, pp. 36-38. 

17 N ties' Register, Vol. 4, p. 38; Kentucky Gazette, Feb. 4, 1812; Butler, His- 
tory of Kentucky, 340-342. 

28 Ayres, "Land Titles in Kentucky" in Proceedings of the Kentucky State 
Bar Association 1909, pp. 175-180. For the lands west of the Tennessee, Acts of 
Kentucky 1830, pp. 89, 90. Speculators early reared their heads in this region. 
A correspondent to the Kentucky Gazette, October n, 1821, said, "if you would 
listen to speculators, you would believe this country to be mostly swamps, inter- 
mixed with impassable green-brier thickets, and O ! horrible snakes at every step. 


There was no precedent, neither was there legal egress from many a 
labyrinth in which they soon found themselves lost. There was no solu- 
tion except through what might be termed judicial legislation, and for 
this, conditions were perfect. George M. Bibb, said, "For a time, un- 
fettered by precedent, undirected by rule, each decision was but a fact — ■ 
multiplication of facts gave precedents, and precedents have grown into 
doctrine." 2!l John Marshall said of this great structure which the Ken- 
tucky courts had been building decision by decision: "It is impossible 
to say how many titles might be shaken by shaking the principle. The 
very extraordinary state of land titles in that country has compelled its 
judges in a series of decisions to rear up an artificial pile, from which no 
piece can be taken by hands not intimately acquainted with the building 
without endangering the structure and producing a mischief to those 
holding under it, the extent of which may not be perceived." 30 

Judicial interpretations and legislation could not remedy wholly the 
confused tangle in land claiming and in its actual occupation. The call 
for positive legislation became insistent almost immediately. A person 
who had settled down on a tract of land, and expended years of labor in 
improving it, could scarcely be expected to look with equanimity on an 
absentee claimant who should appear and present a prior title. The 
House of Representatives, being much more susceptible to the will of 
the people, passed an occupying claimant law in 1794, only to see it killed 
by the more conservative Senate. On each succeeding year on until 1797, 
the House continued to insist on this law, with the Senate equally ob- 
durate. Finally on this date the first occupying claimant law went 
through the Legislature and was signed by the governor. The main 
features of the law were as follows : The occupant was given the full 
use of the land rent free during the period from the time when he first 
entered upon it until the claimant gave notice of suit for recovery. The 
claimant was charged with all the improvements which were valuable and 
lasting made by the occupant up to the time of the notice of the suit; 
but the damage to the land through wastage and deterioration of the soil 
should be deducted from the amount which the claimant should pay for 
these improvements. Rent should start after the beginning of the suit 
and together with the profits should be deducted from the value of the 
improvements made since that time; but the claimant should not be held 
liable for these improvements beyond the total of rents and profits. If 
the value of all of the improvements was assessed at a greater amount 
than the value of the land, then the claimant might surrender the land 
to the occupant and demand payment for it. 31 

This law was, of course, designed directly for the benefit of the person 
occupying the land. If he should be dispossessed by a better title still 
his accumulations of buildings and other improvements must be paid for 
by the successful claimant. Perhaps, as a general rule, the absentee 
claimant should have had less consideration than the present occupant; 
but in many instances the absentee claimant had good reasons for not 
having taken possession of his lands sooner. This law worked unjust 
hardships on them. Improvements were sometimes valued so high that 
the evicting claimant could not pay for them. Michaux said on this point, 
"One very remarkable thing is that many of the inhabitants find a guar- 
antee for these estates that are thus confused ; as the law, being always 
on the side of agriculture, enacts that all improvements shall be reim- 
bursed by the person who comes forward to declare himself the first 

29 Reports of the Court of Appeals, 180S, 1809, I, xvi. 

30 Quoted by Ayres, "Land Titles in Kentucky" in Proceedings of the Ken- 
lucky State Bar Association K)0<), p. 175. 

31 Green v. Piddle, 8 Wheaton 70; Marshall, History of Kentucky, II, 208- 
212; McMaster, History of the People of the United States, V, 414. 4'S- 


possessor; and as the estimation, on account of the high price of labor, is 
always made in favour of the cultivators, it follows that many people 
dare not claim their rights through fear of considerable indemnifications 
being awarded them, and of being in turn expelled by others, who might 
attack them at the moment when they least expected." 32 But the idea 
predominatedthatthe person who had actually settled down on the land 
was an effective citizen, doing his part in building up the state, and that 
the claimant who came along later was most likely a speculator who might 
not be even a citizen of the state but rather a person who for his own good 
reasons had stayed away from Kentucky while the region was beset by 
the British and the Indians — and only now drifting back because the 
dangers were gone. Henry Clay clearly showed his sympathy for the 
occupants who had fought for their lands and their state: "Can it be 
reasonably supposed that the people of that district, after winning the 
country by conquest, under circumstances of privation, hardships, and 
gloom, of which a true narrative would, on account of their peculiarity, 
seem more like romance than history — a gloom not indeed uninterrupted, 
but, when interrupted, brightened only by the gleams of their own 
chivalric daring and valorous achievement ; that such a people would 
consent to clear up grounds, erect houses, build barns, plant orchards, 
and make meadows, for the sole convenience of those who had latent 
rights, and who during the war, and while the improvements were mak- 
ing, had remained as Intent as their rights." 33 

Liberal as this law was for the occupant, still there was a constant 
demand for further concessions. It became so strong and insistent that 
a further law was passed on the subject in 1812. As to be expected 
this law went still further in satisfying the clamor of the occupants. 
The improvements now need be neither lasting nor valuable in order to 
be charged against the claimant ; the wastage and deterioration of the 
soil was not to be deducted from the value of the improvements; and 
the improvements made from the first occupation on up to the final 
judgment had to be paid for by the evicting claimant with the permission 
of deducting the rents and profits accruing from the time of the notice 
of the suit. 34 Various amendments were made to this law in almost 
every session of the Legislature for a number of years. By a supple- 
mentary law passed in 1819, the occupant could not be evicted by a 
claimant until his crops had been gathered; but if the crops took up very 
little of the land, then the successful claimant might assume immediate 
possession. 35 By an act passed during the following year an innocent 
purchaser was placed on the same plane as the original occupying claim- 
ant would have been. 38 

It was only natural that these laws should be bitterly attacked by 
claimants who had not yet settled on their lands and who on making 
the attempt found them already occupied. It was bitterly charged, and 
with the possibility of some foundation of fact, that the occupying claim- 
ant laws had been passed in order to afford litigation for the lawyers. 
It was said that without the baleful effect of these laws the land disputes 
would have been settled long ago. "But this would not have suited the 
nest of locusts which have been devouring the land for thirty years past 

32 Michaux, Travels to the West, 227, 228. 

33 "A Remonstrance to the Congress of the United States on the Subject of 
the Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on the Occupying Claim- 
ant Law of Kentucky," House Document, No. 69, 18 Congress, 1 Session, Feb. 
9, 1824, p. 48. 

34 Green v. Biddle, 8 Wheaton 73, 74; McMaster, History of the People of the 
United States, V, 415; Acts of Kentucky 1811, Innes MSS., Vol. 28. 

85 Acts of Kentucky, 1818, p. 761. 

36 Acts of Kentucky, 1820, pp. 150, 151. 


by making laws to encourage litigation, whereby they have accumulated 
large fortunes, instead of being like myself. A Ploughman." 37 

The same "Ploughman" declared that the most fantastic values 
were placed on improvements: "Apple trees no bigger than a man's arm, 
ten dollars ; fences, half rotten, at the full price of making rails and 
putting up ; clearing at from ten to twenty dollars per acre ; log houses 
nearly ready to tumble down, at more than a stone or a brick house could 
be erected — all these are called permanent improvements." ss He said 
he had knowledge of a case in Scott County where a claimant was 
awarded his land but the appraised value of the improvements was more 
than the land was worth and in fact was more than the price the land 
and the improvements, themselves, would bring on the market. The 
claimant tried to pay the costs and give the land to the occupant. This 
was refused with the result that he had to appeal his case to the Court 
of Appeals to secure the right to give his land away. These laws were 
defended with equal vehemence : "They were, from the multiplicity of 
conflicting claims to the lands within the State, of vital interest to its 
prosperity and repose. They were demanded no less by justice than 
policy ; they secured the honest but deluded occupant, who believed him- 
self proprietor, because he had been the purchaser of the land which he 
occupied, from the loss of the labor of his life, in case of eviction by a 
paramount title, and they had the sanction of the example of Virginia." 31) 

A case was not long in arising. In the United States Circuit Court 
for Kentucky a person named Green sued Biddle for the possession of 
a tract of land. The constitutionality of the occupying claimant laws 
speedily arose and the court certified the case up directly to the Supreme 
Court for a decision. The case was argued during the February term 
of 1 82 1, and a unanimous decision was handed down that the occupying 
claimant laws were unconstitutional because they violated the compact 
that had been entered into between Kentucky and Virginia when they 
separated preparatory to the former becoming a member of the Union. 
The third article of the compact was specifically cited : "That all private 
rights and interests of land within the said district, derived from the 
laws of Virginia, prior to such separation, shall remain valid and secure 
under the laws of the proposed state, and sharll be determined by the 
laws now existing in this state." The effect of the Kentucky laws was 
to make the claimant, Kentuckian, Virginian, or whoever he might be, 
pay for certain improvements that had been made on his land whether 
he wanted them or not. This was clearly a greater burden than the 
laws of Virginia at the date of separation required. It was no argu- 
ment to say that no rights to the land had been disturbed, that only the 
remedy had been affected. The changed remedy really impaired the right. 
"Whatever law, therefore, of Kentucky," the court said, "does narrow 
these rights and diminish these interests, is a violation of the compact, 
and is consequently unconstitutional." 40 The opinion of the court was 
delivered by Justice Story on March 5. Five days later Henry Clay, as 
a disinterested person advising the court (amicus curiae), moved for a 
rehearing, on account of the fact that the defense had not been repre- 
sented at all before the court, and that the interests of a large number of 
tenants were at stake. He believed that the court should not decide so 
important a case without first having heard the arguments for the de- 
fense. 41 The court decided to grant a rehearing. 

The Supreme Court's decision on the land laws created much uneasi- 

»' Kentucky Gazette, March 28, 1822. 

38 Ibid. , 

39 "Remonstrance to Congress," House Document, No. 69, 18 Cong. 1 Sess. 

40 Green v. Biddle, 8 Wheaton 1-18. 
"Ibid., 18; Nibs' Register, Vol. 20, p. 36. 


ness coupled with resentment, especially so since it came when the cup 
of woe of the average Kentuckian was full to running over. Having 
just secured replevin laws to protect himself from the ravages of the 
creditor, the Kentuckian was now being beset from another quarter in 
another vulnerable spot. Surely he of all people was the most un- 
fortunate. In his message to the Legislature in October, 1821, Governor 
Adair called attention to this new danger. He said, "Whatever diversity 
of opinion may have existed, as to the expediency of some of the pro- 
visions in the latter acts [occupying claimant], the legislature never 
doubted its authority to pass all of them; and this authority has been 
affirmed to exist by our highest judicial tribunal in every instance where 
the question has been made. To estimate the great benefits flowing from 
the security and confidence inspired by this system, we have only to 
imagine what appearance, without it, the face of the country would now 
exhibit, and compare it with the state of improvement actually existing. 
The validity of some of those acts has been called in question before 
the Supreme Court, upon the ground of their reputed repugnancy to the 
compact between Kentucky and Virginia. It is remarkable, if the repug- 
nancy really exists, that Virginia herself has never complained of it ; 
and that she has never asked for the constitution of that tribunal which 
the compact itself, contemplating possible infractions of its stipulations, 
provides for ; but that, on the contrary, she has, for such a length of time, 
acquiesced in that course of legislation which the policy of this state im- 
periously demanded, and which has so essentially promoted its prosperity. 
That the state of Kentucky had intended strictly to observe the compact, 
cannot be doubted; for, besides the good faith which has ever character- 
ized it, the compact has been incorporated in both our constitutions — 
one of which was adopted subsequently to the act of 1797; and thus has 
given to it the most solemn and fundamental obligation. The character 
of the state, and the public interest, would alike seem to require that no 
measure should be omitted, which may tend to vindicate both." He, 
therefore, recommended to the Legislature that it retain counsel to 
support the validity of the state laws and consider the "expediency of 
opening a communication with Virginia, for the purpose of those mutual 
amicable explanations which may be called for by the occasion." 42 

The Legislature, following the advice of the governor, passed a set 
of resolutions in October (1821) accompanied by a temperate report, de- 
claring that it considered the decision of the Supreme Court "incompatible 
with the constitutional powers of this state, and highly injurious to the 
best interests of the people ; and therefore do, in the name of the common- 
wealth of Kentucky, and the good people thereof, solemnly remonstrate 
and protest against any such adjudication." It also resolved that two 
commissioners should be elected by the joint vote of both houses who 
should go to Richmond to treat "concerning the meaning and execution 
of the compact between this and that state; to obtain, if practicable, 
from Virginia, a declaration of her satisfaction with the construction and 
performance of said compact on the part of this commonwealth; and, 
if such declaration cannot be obtained, to invite a discussion of her 
objections; and. with a view to a final adjustment, to co-operate with 
Virginia in constituting a board of commissioners, as provided for in 
the 1 2th article of the compact." It was also provided that the com- 
missioners should attend the rehearing of Green v. Biddle in the Supreme 
Court, and oppose any decision that might be attempted to be procured 
declaring the occupying claimant laws void, "in such a manner as they 
may deem most respectful to the court, and most consistent with the 
dignity of this state." 43 

i2 Niles' Register, Vol. 21, pp. 190, 191. 

,3 Niles' Register, Vol. 21, pp. 404-405; Acts of Kentucky 1S21, 456-469- 


Kentucky felt that a serious situation had arisen. The right to deal 
with what she considered her own affairs was about to be challenged 
and perhaps seriously affected. The source of all the trouble was the 
compact with Virginia, entered into with no thought that it would be- 
come a weapon destructive of the rights of the state. As Governor Adair 
had said, Virginia was not concerned in the present trouble; she was not 
contending that any rights secured under the compact were being violated. 
It was, therefore, the logical move for Kentucky to forestall the Supreme 
Court if possible by securing the positive and perfect agreement of Vir- 
ginia as to the meaning of the compact. 

Henry Clay and George M. Bibb were selected to go to Richmond 
to carry on the negotiations. 44 In February-, 1822, they appeared before 
the House of Delegates. Both had been born in Virginia but were now 
Kentuckians of great prominence. Their visit attracted much attention. 
The House was crowded with ladies and high dignitaries of the state to 
hear and do honor to these Virginia-born statesmen. They first presented 
a memorandum consisting of two propositions, either one of which they 
hoped to have accepted. Their first desire was to have Virginia to agree 
and state specifically that the occupying claimant laws of 1797 and of 
1812 were not contrary to the intent of the compact; but if she were not 
willing to do this, then she should appoint commissioners to confer with 
Kentucky commissioners for the purpose of arriving at an agreement. 
Clay spoke first. On his way to Richmond he had visited his birthplace, 
the "slashes" in Hanover County, where he had seen again his father's 
grave and had gone over in his mind the days of his youth, and had re- 
called vividly his journey across the Alleghanies into the regions of Ken- 
tucky. With his mind revelling in such an atmosphere, he spoke for 
three hours, carrying his audience with him as he recounted the hardships 
of the early pioneers, who had risked their lives and everything to hew 
out for themselves homes in the wilderness. To be deprived of those 
homes by others who occupied places of security while the pioneers were 
facing the dangers was not just and should not be expected. He struck 
home the sentiment of love for home and fireside by quoting the lines 
from Scott : 

"Lives there a man, with soul so dead, 

Who never to himself hath said, 

This is my own, my native land?" 


The next day Bibb spoke to the same crowded chamber. Although 

both had attracted much favorable notice and expressions of friendship 

for themselves and the state they represented, they failed in securing the 

acceptance of their first proposition. 45 

The Virginia government, however, appointed a commissioner to go 
to Frankfort to continue the negotiations. Benjamin W. Leigh was 
selected and appeared in the Kentucky capital in the following May. He 
addressed the Legislature at great length, setting forth the complicated 
claims of Virginia, which had to do mostly with certain military lands 
"below the Tennessee," and which had not been entered before the sep- 
aration of Kentucky. He was treated with becoming hospitality and 
friendliness by the Kentuckians, going the rounds of banquets and re- 
ceptions. 46 Treating directly with Clay, as the commissioner of Ken- 
tucky, Leigh came to an agreement on June 5. The whole land ques- 
tion was to be submitted to a board of commissioners, none of whom 

44 Kentucky Gazette, Feb. 21, 1822. 

45 Kentucky Gazette, Feb. 28, 1822; Colton, Life and Times of Henry Clay, 
I, 70, 71. 

46 Kentucky Gazette, May 23, 1822. 


were to be citizens of Kentucky or Virginia, who should meet in Wash- 
ington, hear arguments from both sides, and make their award "on or 
before" April i, 1823. A supplementary agreement was also entered into 
on the same day concerning various details, the most important of which 
were that the board's decision should not affect the sale of lands west 
of the Tennessee as provided for in the act of December 21, 1821, and 
that 109,449 acres represent the maximum amount of land that yet re- 
mained unlocated through warrants granted by Virginia prior to May 1, 
1792, to "her State line" troops. 47 Kentucky immediately entered into 
the spirit of the agreement by appointing Hugh L. White of Tennessee 
and Jacob Burnett of Ohio as her commissioners, and retaining Clay 
and John Rowan as state's counsel to appear before the board. 48 Vir- 
ginia, however, contrary to expectations proved obdurate. Her Senate 
definitely defeated the Clay-Leigh agreement and thus left the matter as 
complicated as ever. 49 This unexpected outcome left a feeling in Ken- 
tucky that Virginia, who had considered no rights of hers involved until 
the trouble had come up through another channel, was taking advantage 
of the situation to reap unearned and undeserved advantages. 50 Thus, 
was the state thrown back on the mercies of the Supreme Court. 

The court held the rehearing of the case of Green v. Biddle during 
the February term of 1823. 51 Clay and Bibb at the instance of the state 
appeared for the defense. As Kentucky's position had not been argued 
in the first hearing, since the defendants had not been represented by 
counsel, Clay and Bibb now made a powerful effort to sway the court 
away from its former decision. Numerous arguments were brought 
forth, some of doubtful cogency, to show why Kentucky should be left 
alone in the management of her domestic land questions. It was argued 
that the compact, which was the source of the difficulties, was in fact 
illegal and void, and that, therefore, the plaintiff had no case. This was 
so because the Federal Constitution specifically stated that no state should 
make a compact or treaty without the consent of Congress. Congress 
had not consented to this Virginia-Kentucky compact, hence it was void. 
And not only that, but the compact was void for another reason : for 
it surrendered part of Kentucky's sovereignty to Virginia. And since 
sovereignty was "unalienable" the compact could not hold. The court 
answered that no method had been set down through which Congress 
should grant its consent to treaties between states, and that Congress by 
its consent to the admission of Kentucky into the Union had allowed the 
compact. As to the other objection on granting away sovereignty, one 
of the fundamental ideas in limited governments (and all the American 
states and the Nation were such) is that some of their sovereignty has 
been parted with. "If, then, the principle contended for be a sound one, 
we can only say that it is one of a most alarming nature, by which, it is 
believed, cannot be seriously entertained by any American statesman or 
jurist." The defense then carried the argument that Kentucky might not 
interfere with the lands within her own borders, to what they believed 
would be the logical conclusion, viz. : that Kentucky might not take her 
own land for public use unless the consent of Virginia were obtained. 
The court held that this reasoning was unsound, for Kentucky might 
use the well-established right of eminent domain for all such purposes. 
To the argument that the court could not declare the occupying claimant 
laws unconstitutional because the only objection to their validity was 

47 MS. documents in the Clay MSS., owned by Miss Lucretia Clay of Lexington. 

48 Niks' Register, Vol. 23, p. 256; Kentucky Gazette, May 1, 1823. 

49 "Report of Commissioners of Kentucky, Henry Clay and John Rowan" in 
Journal of the Senate of Kentucky, 1823, pp. 31-33 ; Acts of Virginia, 1822-23, 
pp. 121, 122. 

60 See Kentucky Gazette, Mav 1, 1823. 
51 8 Wheaton 19-108. 


found in the state constitution (the compact was part of the state consti- 
tution), the court answered that it was sufficient to say that the laws in 
question were contrary to the Federal Constitution. 52 The defense main- 
tained that the Supreme Court had no right at all to take notice of the 
case, for the compact declared that commissioners appointed by both 
states should settle disputes. To this the court replied that no such com- 
missioners had been provided 53 and that even if they had been, they could 
decide only such questions that might arise between the two states, and 
not between individuals as in the present case. This compact was a 
contract between the two states and must be carried out. "If the article 
of the compact, applicable to this case, meant anything, the claimant of 
land under Virginia had a right to appear in a Kentucky court, as he 
might have done in a Virginia court if the separation had not taken place, 
and to demand a trial of his right by the same principle of law which 
would have governed his case in the latter states." 54 These Kentucky 
laws, which change the rights and remedies of Virginians and all others 
concerned, were, therefore, clearly unconstitutional and void. The court 
mindful of its duty could not decide otherwise : "We hold ourselves 
answerable to God, our consciences, and our country, to decide this ques- 
tion according to the dictates of our best judgment, be the consequences 
of the decision what they may." 55 

A dissenting opinion was handed down by Justice Johnson. He could 
look with much sympathy on Kentucky's position, and he could discover 
that she was not wholly to blame for it. "It was thought and justly 
thought," he said, "that as the State of Virginia had pursued a course of 
legislation in settling the country, which had introduced such a state of 
confusion into the titles of landed property, as rendered it impossible for 
her to guarantee any specific tract to the individual, it was but fair and 
right that some security should be held out to him for the labor and 
expense bestowed in improving the country ; and that where the success- 
ful claimant recovered his land, enhanced in value by the labors of an- 
other, it was but right that he should make compensation for the enhanced 
value." 56 Regardless of laws and their interpretation and fine-spun 
theories, he believed it to be incompatible with the American system for 
a state to be rendered helpless in its most vital powers : "I cannot admit 
that it was ever the intention of the framers of this constitution, or of 
the parties to this compact, or of the United States in sanctioning that 
compact, that Kentucky should be forever chained down to a state of 
helpless imbecility — embarrassed with a thousand minute discriminations 
drawn from the common law, refinements on mense profits, set-offs, &c, 
appropriate to a state of society, and a state of property, having no 
analogy to the actual state of things in Kentucky — and yet, no power on 
earth existing to repeal or to alter, or to effect those accommodations to 
the ever-varying state of human things, which the necessities or improve- 
ments of society may require." 57 

A long petition of protest was formulated by Clay and Rowan against 
the court's decision. They threw away technicalities and presented Ken- 
tucky's case anew from the standpoint of common sense and equity. If 
the court's construction of the compact was sound and permanent, it 
was asked, "most respectfully, if the fact will not turn out to be, that 
Virginia has smuggled Kentucky into the Union, in the character of an 
independent state, while, in reality, she retains her as a colony." It was 

82 8 Wheaton 85-90. 

53 Virginia had refused to adopt the Clay-Leigh Agreement, which would have 
set up such a board of commissioners. 

64 8 Wheaton 84. See also Kentucky Gazette, May 9, 1822. 
"Ibid., 93. See also Niles" Register, Vol. 24, p. 3. 
68 8 Wheaton 102. 
"Ibid., 104. 

Vol. II— 7 


not reasonable to expect a state to allow its land system to be dominated 
by another state. "No state that possessed the power of legislation over 
its soil, could or ought to submit long, to tenures of it, unassociated with 
cultivation. The desolating effects of the numerous times of that sort in 
Kentucky have greatly retarded its agricultural advancement, and would, 
but for the benign effect of its occupying claimant laws, have thrown it 
behind its just destinies at least twenty years. The state could not have 
got along without them." 5S 

Governor Adair took a strong and aggressive position in his message 
to the Legislature (November 4. 1823), against the Supreme Court. That 
body, he said, had declared the occupying claimant laws unconstitutional, 
"on which so much, both in principle and property, depended, and in 
which we very properly took so great an interest, and, notwithstanding 
the provision in the compact with Virginia, that, in the event of a dispute 
concerning the meaning or execution of the instrument, that the same 
should be referred to a tribunal therein provided for, and, notwithstand- 
ing Virginia had long acquiesced in our interpretation and execution of its 
stipulations, she refused to constitute the tribunal and make the reference, 
yet that court took cognizance of the compact between the states, as they 
would have done of a contract between private persons, and, by misunder- 
standing its meaning (which had been fully proved by our distinguished 
and patriotic counsel, and also further illustrated in the same view by an 
eminent citizen), and by disregarding what has been esteemed the well 
settled distinction between right and remedy, declared the whole of our 
claimant laws contrary to the compact and void." He then used menacing 
language that could be interpreted in no other way than as counselling 
armed opposition to the Federal Government, if it wished to carry the 
argument so far. He said : "I need not be told that the general govern- 
ment is authorized to use physical force to put down insurrection and 
enforce the execution of its laws ; I know it, but I know too, with equal 
certainty, that the day, when the government shall be compelled to re- 
sort to the bayonet to compel a state to submit to its laws, will not long 
precede an event of all others to be deprecated." The results of the 
court's decision in producing litigation and distress among the people, he 
would leave to the Legislature to imagine ; but this was not the worst 
effect that might come nor the one most to be apprehended. The prin- 
ciples set up must produce results which "sink much deeper and would 
produce infinitely more permanent evils." "They strike at the sovereignty 
of the state, and the right of the people to govern themselves. It is in 
this view that they have been contemplated and justly excited the appre- 
hensions of the most intelligent and sober minded members of the com- 
munity, and in this view the subject is committed to your most solemn 
consideration. In your wisdom the remedy is expected to be devised. 
* * * I may fairly hope then, that, on this highly important subject, 
as well as all others that may come before you, you will act with the cool, 
dispassionate, manly deliberation which will always be found the surest, 
as well as the shortest, road to a correct decision." 59 

The governor's message immediately became the subject of attack 
and applause. He had transgressed in his suggested opposition to the 
Federal Government the limits beyond which many Kentuckians would 

58 "Remonstrance to Congress," House Document, No. 69, 18 Cong. 1 Sess., 
42, 44. The anomalous situation of Kentucky not being master of her own land 
affairs, is seen in two petitions, one in 1824 and the other in 1830, calling on 
Virginia for lands to satisfy certain old claims— the lands to be located in Ken- 
tucky. Robertson, Early Petitions, 180-188. The same difficulty is brought out 
in a petition in 1834. See American State Papers, Public Lands, VII, 319. 

M Kites' Register, Vol. 25, pp. 204, 205: States Documents on Federal Rela- 
tions: The States and the United States (Philadelphia, 1906), Edited by Herman 
V. Ames, 106; Journal of the Senate of Kentucky 1823, 10-12. 


not follow him. The debate was precipitated by a eulogy of the gover- 
nor's message and a resolution of thanks to him. Some of the staunchest 
supporters of the administration believed that precipitate haste was 
being made to force through the eulogistic resolution. Rowan said that 
he would have preferred that the resolution had not been introduced ; 
but, nevertheless, on a test he could not desert the governor. He recalled 
the Revolutionary services of Adair, and believed that he deserved thanks 
for warning his fellow-citizens of judicial encroachments. He certainly 
could not have admired the governor had he in this message "humbly 
recommended a second petition to the supreme court, like a degraded 
province of Rome, for a rehearing before a tribunal from which we had 
been repelled." Pope, while agreeing in general with the Governor's stand, 
would not press the matter immediately. The opposition strongly depre- 
cated the unfortunate and menacing stand the governor had taken. The 
Supreme Court was an enlightened and able tribunal elevated above local 
feeling, and although all Kentuckians regretted its decision on the occupy- 
ing claimant laws, still people should not wish to unhinge the Federal 
Government in unreasoning opposition to it. The governor's allusion to the 
possible dissolution of the Union should not have been made. Ex-Govern- 
or Slaughter declared he would oppose any resolution of thanks to Gov- 
ernor Adair; and Robert Wickliffe said that he would never be found 
guilty of thanking a public officer for doing his duty. He wanted to know 
whether there was any danger of an insurrection in Kentucky. If the 
Supreme Court had made a mistake, it was no business of the governor's 
to tell the Legislature. John Rowan replied that the court's decision was 
the essence of slavery, for what was slavery but the compulsion to labor 
for others. He did not look to physical force as a remedy, but such pre- 
cedents were not unknown in history. A resolution was then laid on 
the table declaring that the general assembly, "considering that the final 
opinion of the court, no less exceptionable, is even more irreconcilable 
and alarming than the first, since the court, having retreated from the 
constitution of Kentucky, have fortified themselves with that of the 
United States, whence all hope of self -relief is placed beyond our reach, 
were we even disposed to change our own constitution, considering that, 
by this succession of untoward occurrences, Kentucky has been thrown 
into a situation of serious embarrassment ; and that now, reduced to the 
alternative of submission or resistance, she will only consider the options 
which the latter present to her choice, in its various modes of redress; 
and considering that the mildest course, which combines with the prob- 
ability of success, is the most eligible;" should appoint a committee to 
draw up a protest to Congress. These same sentiments clothed in concise 
words were later adopted in a set of resolutions on December 29, (1823). 
Very direct language was used in the preamble, summing up the situa- 
tion : "But why, it may be asked, were not the States, upon the formation 
of the Constitution of the United States, melted down and their existence 
abolished, if the doctrine be correct, that they cannot suit their remedial 
system, by varying it, to the varied condition of society. If one unaltered 
and unalterable system of laws was destined to regulate in perpetuity, 
the concerns of the people of the republics of America, * * * why 
the afflicting expenses of sustaining twenty-four States, with the legis- 
lative, judiciary and executive machineries of sovereignty? Why, under 
this hypothesis, are they taunted with the mock-lineaments, contexture 
and aspects of sovereignty, when in very deed, they are dwarf vassals? 
Are the principles of Montesque vapid and illusory, and were the 
patriots who achieved the independence of the American States, and 
formed their respective constitutions and that of the United States, de- 
luded into the erroneous belief that those principles were correct and 
had been verified by the experience of ages?" The Legislature "most 


solemnly" protested against "the erroneous, injurious, and degrading 
doctrines of the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States," 
pronounced in the case of Green v. Biddle. And in order to escape "the 
oppression and degradation inflicted by the opinion upon the State of 
Kentucky," it was resolved to present to Congress "a temperate but firm 
remonstrance" against these doctrines and "to call upon the nation to 
guarantee to the State its co-equal sovereignty with the States which 
compose the Union" and to request Congress to so organize the Supreme 
Court "that no constitutional question growing out of the Constitution of 
the United States, or the constitution of either of the States, involving 
the validity of State laws, shall [not] be decided by said Court unless 
two-thirds of all the members belonging to said Court shall concur in 
said decision." 60 

The remonstrance was drawn up and adopted on January 7, 1824. 01 
In the outset, Kentucky declared that although she had not been a party 
to the suit in the case of Green v. Biddle, and could not have been, still 
she had the right to interfere and question the decision of the Supreme 
Court "because that Court has. in that case, most afflictingly interfered 
with the great and essential rights of the State of Kentucky." The de- 
cision of the court, it was declared, disfranchised the State of Kentucky 
and relegated her to an inferior position in the Union of what were 
designed to be equal members. "That Court has, in that decision, denied 
to the State of Kentucky the power of legislating, even rcmcdially, in re- 
lation to the territory she acknowledgely possesses ; territory over which 
neither the Congress nor any state in the Union can legislate, and sub- 
jected her to the code of laws, in relation both to right and remedy, 
which existed in Virginia at the date of the compact." Indeed, the court 
had defeated the very purpose Kentucky had in separating from Virginia. 
The court seemed to think that in the compact of separation Kentucky 
"renounced forever * * * the right of self-government, and the 
independence at which she arrived." — nay, even worse, to "produce a 
result which neither of the parties contemplated, and both deprecated ; a 
result infinitely less desirable to the people of Kentucky, than the posture 
from which it w-as their avowed object, in forming the compact to escape. 
* * * Yet the court has fastened upon the people of Kentucky, the 
very code which, on account of its inaptitude to their condition, they had 
intended by the compact to avoid, and have by their construction of that 
compact, denied them the very faculty with which it was the purpose 
of that instrument to invest them ; the faculty of from time to time enact- 
ing laws for themselves, as their varied conditions and wants might 
indicate the necessity or expedience of doing so." It was contrary to the 
spirit of the Federal Constitution that a state's power to legislate over its 
own soil should be taken away. The tenth amendment to that instru- 
ment clearly stated "that the powers not delegated (therein) to the United 
States, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States 
respectively, or to the people." The actual pecuniary injury inflicted by 
the decision was the least of the evils apprehended. "It is the principle 
which that decision establishes at which they shudder, and with which 
they can never be reconciled. The people of Kentucky, tutored in the 
school of adversity, can bear, and with patience, too, the frowns of 
destiny, and all the adverse occurrences to which communities are liable; 
thev can bear anything but degradation and disfranchisement ; they value 

60 Acts of Kentucky, 1823, pp. 488-516; Journals of the Senate of Kentucky, 
1823, pp. 189-220; Ames, State Documents on Federal Relations, 107, 108. For 
maneuvers in the legislature and different sets of resolutions offered see also, 
Xilcs' Register, Vol. 25, pp. 206, 207, 261, 275. 

61 Acts of Kentucky, 1823, pp. 520-527 ; Journals of the Senate of Kentucky, 
1823, pp. 288-297; "Remonstrance to Congress," House Document, No. 69, 18 
Cong. I Sess. ; Ames, State Documents on Federal Relations, 108-111. 


their freedom above every thing else, and are as little inclined to be 
reasoned out of it, as they would be to surrender it to a foreign force." 
It was an established principle of freedom "that the people who compose 
the society should enact the laws which the society needs. The posses- 
sion or the destitution of that power constitutes the mighty difference 
which exists between freedom and slavery." 

After all the question of being deprived of liberty was not changed 
by the identity of the agent which would do it. Should there, ought there 
to be drawn a distinction between the Federal Government attempting to 
raid the state of its liberties and a foreign government seeking to do the 
same thing? "If the same privative effects were attempted to be pro- 
duced upon the individual and political rights of the people of Kentucky, 
by a foreign armed force, and they were not to repel it at every hazard, 
they would be denounced as a degenerate race, unworthy of their patriotic 
sires, who assisted in achieving the American Independence ; as a people 
unworthy of enjoying the freedom they possessed. In that case the 
United States, too, would be bound, at whatever hazard, to vindicate the 
right of the people of Kentucky to legislate over the territory of their 
States; to guarantee to them a republican form of government, which in- 
cludes the right insisted on. And can it make any difference with the 
people of Kentucky, whether they are deprived of the right of regulating 
by law the territory which they inhabit, and the soil which they cultivate, 
by the Duke de Angouleme at the head of a French army, 62 or by the 
erroneous construction of three of the Judges of the Supreme Court of 
the United States? To them the privation of political and individual 
rights would be the same. In both instances they would have lost the 
power essential to freedom, to the right of self-government. In the 
former case their conscious humiliation would be less than in the latter, 
in proportion to the sturdiness of the resistance they would feel conscious 
of having made, and in proportion to the hope they might en'.ertain of 
emancipating themselves by some happy effort of valor, and thereby re- 
gaining their rights ; but in the latter case the tyrant code to which Ken- 
tucky is subjected by that decision, is inaccessible, perpetual, and in- 
capable of being changed, beneficially or suitably, to the condition of 
Kentucky, by any power beneath the sun." 

The most important part of this appeal, the part that looked toward 
tangible results, concerned the reorganization of the Supreme Court. As 
it actually happened, there had been only four out of the seven judges of 
the court in attendance when the decision in Green v. Biddle was handed 
down and only three agreed with the decision. It was, therefore, true, as 
Kentucky had so bitterly complained, that it had not been a majority of 
the court that had declared the occupying claimant laws unconstitutional. 
It was said in the remonstrance, "The decision was given by three, a 
minority of the judges who composed that tribunal. There was a fourth 
judge on the bench; he dissented. Had the third agreed with the fourth, 
Kentucky had not been disfranchised ; so that, in that particular case, the 
political destiny of a state was decided by a solitary judge. Can this ap- 
peal to the Congress, by the State of Kentucky, upon a subject in which 
she is so vitally interested, be unavailing? And has not the State a right 
to expect that her co-equal sovereignty with the other States of the Union 
be guaranteed to her by that body? Has she not a right to expect that 
the Congress will, either by passing a law requiring, when any question 
shall come before that tribunal involving the validity of a law of any of 
the States, that a concurrence of at least two-thirds of all the judges 
shall be necessary to its vacation; or increasing the number of the judges, 
and thereby multiplying the chances of the States to escape the like 

62 The Duke de Angouleme was the general who had commanded the French 
army that invaded Spain in 1823, at the behest of the Holy Alliance. 


calamities, and of this state to escape from its present thraldom, by ex- 
citing the exercise of more deliberation and an increased volume of in- 
tellect upon all such questions." 

Congress gave some passing notice to this appeal and remonstrance. 
The senate committee on the judiciary was instructed to inquire into the 
expediency of making the change in the court demanded by Kentucky, 
and due largely to the support of Van Buren a bill was reported out. 
The question was now debated at considerable length in both the Senate 
and the House. However, the bill was not passed. 03 

The failure to gain redress in Congress, did not prevent the Court 
of Appeals from disregarding the Supreme Court's decision. In the case 
of Bodley v. Gaither, it held that occupying claimant laws were con- 
stitutional notwithstanding the Supreme Court's decision to the contrary, 
because that decision was given by less than a majority composing the 
court. This led the National Intelligencer to remark: "If this decision 
be law, we shall have a goodly number of the decisions of the. supreme 
court overturned. Up to this time, a majority of the judges has been 
supposed to constitute a quorum of the supreme court, and a majority of 
those present have been considered competent to pronounce a judgment 
on any question argued before them." ,;4 On the meeting of the Legisla- 
ture in 1824, the question of reorganizing the Supreme Court was taken 
up again and debated with much heat. A set of resolutions was adopted 
on January 12, 1825, in which the court was severely condemned again, 
and Congress was reminded that she had not acted on the demands of 
the state made the preceding year. Congress might also realize that this 
was not "a temporary agitation in the public mind, and a rebellious spirit 
in the General Assembly. * * * " It would also have the country in 
general understand that Kentuckians "view the reports sent abroad, of 
their readiness to acquiesce in principles so monstrous, as groundless 
calumnies upon the state character, and upon the patriotism and firmness 
of the people, and calculated to aid in the prostration of state sovereignty 
the main pillar of the Federal Union and American liberty." 65 Another 
effort was made in Congress to pass the measure, but nothing was ac- 
complished. 68 

Numerous Kentuckians were now fast losing patience with the dila- 
tory course of the Federal Government in redressing their grievances. 
Besides their various troubles with that authority over banks, execution 
laws, and courts, they were now in the very midst of their heated internal 
struggle over their own judiciary. In every direction they saw their 
authority set at naught. Governor Desha headed this discontent. In 
his message to the Legislature in November, (1825), he precipitated a 
crisis not only in internal affairs but also in federal relations. He boldly 
declared that "Since the last session of the general assembly there have 
arisen new causes of alarm and agitation which demand your immediate 
and serious attention." The bank was again assailed as a foreign des- 
potism, in collusion with and supported by the Federal courts, running 
roughshod over Kentucky's rights. In this the governor was only voicing 
the sentiments of many of his fellow-citizens. A pamphlet of the day 
said: "By what right in this free country, has the court undertaken to 
give immunities to a corporation of stockholders, which are prerogatives 
allowed only in Europe, enslaved as she is, to her potentates and nobility? 
By the same right by which it has robbed us of the power of legislating 
for our own soil, the dearest and most essential attribute of sovereignty 

63 Annals of Congress, 1823-4, I. P al "t h PP- 290, 1428, 2514, 2618; Senate 
Journal, 1823, pp. 30, 31; Ibid., 1824, pp. 229, 232; Butler, History of Kentucky, 

64 Quoted in Niles' Register, Vol. 29, p. 245. 
85 Acts of Kentucky, 1824, pp. 281, 282. 

66 Annals of Congress, 1824-5, pp. 365-370. 


— the right which it has assumed of giving constitutions according to its 
views of political expediency, or rather its own political purposes. To 
this power Kentucky has yet to bow her neck." 67 Governor Desha de- 
clared these two institutions "for a series of years, have carried on a 
systematic attack upon the legislative power of the state, for the double 
purpose of curtailing the sphere of its exercise, and rendering them- 
selves wholly independent of its authority." 

The wrongs done the state by the Supreme Court's decision had not 
been redressed despite the numerous efforts of the Legislature. In the 
meantime the state was reaping the baneful effects of that decision. "At 
every term of the Federal Court, held in this town," he said, "numerous 
judgments and decrees are obtained against our peaceful citizens, for 
the lands and houses which they have honestly purchased, built and im- 
proved ; and orders given for their execution contrary to our laws. Our 
limitation acts are also wholly disregarded, and the non-resident land 
holder or domestic speculator, who has, perhaps, never paid the first shill- 
ing of his just taxes, for the support of our government, is permitted to 
progress with his action against the honest citizen for lands which he has 
purchased with his money, improved by his labor, defended with his 
arms, and paid taxes upon to his government. This is not all. The faith- 
ful citizen who has thus performed every moral, social and civil duty, is, 
upon eviction, charged with rents upon improvements himself has made, 
and if he cannot pay them, is subject to imprisonment, under the rules 
of court. And thus does this commonwealth suffer those who have im- 
proved, supported and defended her, to be stripped of the proceeds of 
their life's labor, and made the unpitied victims of heartless- speculation 
and assumed power. It is my firm belief, that the insecurity now felt by 
numberless cultivators of our soil, may be found the chief cause of that 
extensive emigration which is now thinning the population of some of 
the finest sections of our state. The delay in obtaining redress for our 
wrongs, and the portentous indications of the times, sickens hope, and 
drive our industrious citizens, unwillingly, to seek peaceful homes in 
other states, where they may set under their own vine and fig tree, exempt 
from the evils which fill the mind of the Kentucky farmer with anxiety 
and apprehension." 

It was preposterous that the oppressor should be sole judge of the 
limits of the oppressions he might inflict. His authority should be re- 
sisted. "When the general government encroaches upon the rights of 
the state, it is safe principle to admit that a portion of the encroaching 
power shall have the right to determine finally whether an encroachment 
has been made or not? In fact, most of the encroachments made by the 
general government, flow through the Supreme Court itself, the very 
tribunal which claims to be the final arbiter of all such disputes. What 
chance for justice have the states when the usurpers of their rights are 
made their judges? Just as much as individuals as judged by their 
oppressors. It is, therefore, believed to be the right, as it may hereafter 
become the duty of the state governments, to protect themselves from 
encroachments, and their citizens from oppression, by refusing obedience 
to the unconstitutional mandates of the Federal judges." He would not 
be understood as expressing a want of confidence in the general govern- 
ment ; the complaint did not rest in the system but springs "solely from 
the erroneously constructions of the public functionaries who are selected 
to carry it into effect. * * * Reformation is all that Kentucky asks, 
and without it she cannot be satisfied. In the meantime, no respect for 
the general government ought to induce the state to become the silent 
instrument of her own degradation. While, therefore, our grievances 
are laid before congress, and considered by that body, I would recommend 

87 Lafayette to the People, 8. 


to your consideration whether the rights and honor of the state do not 
require that she shall prohibit the use of her jails for the purpose of im- 
prisoning debtors under an authority unknown to her laws and constitu- 
tion." 68 

This message seemed to take the Legislature somewhat by surprise. 
They had not considered conditions so serious and were apparently still 
unconvinced. A set of resolutions passed by the House by a considerable 
majority stated that no new causes of alarm and agitation, known to the 
House, had arisen since the last session of the Legislature. Detailed and 
varied specifications of the charges by the governor were then called for. 
Information was especially desired upon the activities of the United 
States branch banks, as to their dealing in real estate, influencing elec- 
tions, escaping taxation, and other subjects of similar import. The 
governor was also requested to inform the House "of the mode deemed 
most advisable in the opinion of the executive, to refuse obedience to 
the decisions and mandates of the supreme court of the United States, 
considered erroneous and unconstitutional, and whether, in the opinion 
of the executive, it may be advisable to call forth the physical power of 
the state, to resist the execution of the decisions of the court, or in what 
manner the mandates of said court should be met by disobedience." 69 
When it came to a test in actually opposing the Federal Government by 
other means than verbal weapons, the governor was loath to act. He 
advised a further appeal to Congress. 70 

With the gradual approach of better times, Kentucky began to forget 
much of her hostility to the United States Bank. In 1825, an Eastern 
critic of Desha's message to the Legislature observed, "Governor Desha, 
in his late Message to the Legislature of this state, has denounced the 
bank of the United States, and recommended the adoption of measures 
to drive away its branches 'located in Kentucky'. The Governor, prob- 
ably, has never heard of the decisions of the Supreme Court on this sub- 
ject. It is not be presumed that he would advise resistance to the judg- 
ment of that tribunal within its acknowledged jurisdiction. Prejudice 
against the National Bank has disappeared on this side of the Allegheny ; 
it is time that alarms so idle as those sounded by Governor Desha, should 
no longer be heard on the other." 71 In 1833, there were more stock- 
holders in the United States Bank in Kentucky than from any other 
Western state. 72 

This bold flare-up in federal relations was destined to subside as 
quickly as it had arisen. A decision of the Supreme Court handed down 
in 183 1, greatly eased the situation and soothed Kentucky's feelings. In 
the case of John Hawkins and William May v. Joshua Barney's Lessees, 
the court decided that a seven years' limitation law of Kentucky was not 
against the compact with Virginia. This was a law passed twenty years 
after Kentucky had entered the Union, declaring that no claims for land 
could be instituted against an occupant in the courts after he had been in 
peaceable possession of it for seven years. Occasion was taken in this 

68 Text of message in Niles' Register, Vol. 29, pp. 219-224; Journal of the 
House of Representatives of Kentucky, 1825, p. 7 et seq. 

69 Niles" Register, Vol. 29, pp. 228, 229. 

70 Niks' Register, Vol. 29, p. 292; Journals of the House of Representatives 
of Kentucky, 1825, p. 318. 

™Port Folio, Vol. 18, p. 505- 

72 The holdings in the Western states were as follows: 

Kentucky 22 stockholders, 252 shares 

Louisiana 17 stockholders, 119 shares 

Tennessee 5 stockholders, 258 shares 

Ohio 14 stockholders, 556 shares 

Indiana 2 stockholders, 50 shares 

Illinois 2 stockholders, 167 shares 

American Almanac, 1833, p. 141. 


decision to say many things that were calculated to sound good to the 
Kentuckians, who had felt so aggrieved at the former decisions of the 
court. Justice Johnson, who had dissented in the case of Green v. Biddle, 
delivered the unanimous opinion of the court. 73 Kentucky's right to pass 
the limitation acts was strongly asserted : "What right has anyone to com- 
plain, when a reasonable time has been given him, if he has not been 
vigilant in asserting his rights? All the reasonable purposes of justice 
are subserved, if the courts of a state have been left open to the prosecu- 
tion of suits for such a time as may reasonably raise a presumption in the 
occupier of the soil that the fruits of his labor are effectually secured 
beyond the chance of litigation." He declared that it was "impossible to 
take any reasonable exception to the course of legislation pursued by 
Kentucky on this subject." In fact the very limitation law of Virginia, 
itself, was adopted by Kentucky, and that not until twenty years had 
elapsed, during which time there was no hindrance at all upon claimants. 
Kentuckians read with pleasure this part of the decision : "It can scarce- 
ly be supposed that Kentucky would have consented to accept a limited 
and crippled sovereignty; nor is it doing justice to Virginia to believe that 
she would have wished to reduce Kentucky to a state of vassalage. Yet 
it would be difficult, if the literal and rigid construction necessary to ex- 
clude her from passing this law were to be adopted ; it would be difficult, 
I say, to assign her a position higher than that of a dependent on Vir- 
ginia. Let the language of the compact be literally applied, and we have 
the anomaly presented of a sovereign State governed by the laws of 
another sovereign ; of one-half the territory of a sovereign State hope- 
lessly and forever subjected to the laws of another State. Or a motley 
multiform administration of laws, under which A would be subject to 
one class of laws, because holding under a Virginia grant, while B, his 
nextdoor neighbor, claiming from Kentucky, would hardly be conscious 
of living under the same government." 74 

There was much jubilation over the state at Kentucky's final victory. 
Charles A. Wickliffe, who appeared before the court, was given much 
credit for the outcome. The Globe (Washington, D. C.) was led to re- 
mark by the decision, "The old settlers of the country watched out their 
day, in guarding against the Indians. Those who immediately followed 
them, had a much more hopeless business, in contending with the land- 
jobbing lawyers." 75 There can be no question that Kentucky was sorely 
beset during this trying period of her existence. Her domestic difficulties 
were sufficiently plentiful to keep the people in a state of passionate agita- 
tion. The activities and interferences of the Federal Government, thus 
came at an unfortunate time. The occupying claimant laws concerned 
the very life and -prosperity of the state. There was much reason for the 
people to feel that their very existence as a social unit was in jeopardy. 
The Supreme Court sternly declared the law untempered with sympathy 
and equity. In its later decision it departed from a "literal and rigid 
construction" of the compact and took into consideration the actual con- 
ditions in the state and how they would be affected by such a construc- 
tion. Kentucky, jealous of her right to the mastery of her own house- 
hold, declared her purpose of doing things which she had no intentions 
of doing when the test came. She wished only equality with the other 
members of the Union, and when it seemed this was assured her, she was 
quick to forget her threats and forgive. Her fundamental attachment 
to the Federal Government and the Union was never shaken, and when 
a few years later the crisis of nullification threatened the stability of the 
Union, there was no stauncher supporter of the Federal Government than 

™ 5 Peters 457-469- 
74 5 Peters 466, 467- 
"Quoted in Argus, March 2, 1831. 



On national issues Kentuckians had always stood well together. 
Their democracy, a democracy of fact rather than of theory, had welded 
them into a unit in favor of Jeffersonian principles, and they had always 
loyally supported the party which had adopted those principles. The 
federalist party had never had a respectable following here for any con- 
siderable length of time. In fact, the charge of federalism, if successfully 
supported, against a person was likely to terminate his political career. 
But in state affairs such opposition leaders as Humphrey Marshall, more 
federalist than democrat, by taking advantage of the various mistakes of 
the dominant democrats and profiting from the distempers of the times, 
were often able to hold power for short intervals. And although they 
sometimes succeeded in being elected to Congress, the State always cast 
its electoral vote for the Jeffersonian democrats. 

After the War of 1812, federalism throughout the nation declined 
rapidly. The party had made an unenviable record in the war, and 
with such burdens to carry as the stigma of the Hartford Convention, it 
soon ceased to be of any consequence. In the election of 1816, its candi- 
date, Rufus King, received only thirty-four votes to Monroe's 183. 
There then ensued what was erroneously termed the "Era of Good Feel- 
ing," which Monroe consciously aided by his so-called "amalgamation 
policy" of appointing federalists as well as his own supporters to office. 
But as one party, even then as now, could never be large enough to in- 
clude permanently all shades of political opinion, the "Era of Good Feel- 
ing" soon expressed itself more clearly as an era of bitter personal ani- 
mosities and factional strife. Many lines of cleavage soon arose, with 
Henry Clay early taking positions on the questions of the day antagonistic 
to the President. The struggle for liberty that was being waged by the 
Spanish colonies in South and Central America strongly appealed to Clay, 
and freed from the responsibilities in the situation, he boldly argued for 
a repeal of the neutrality act, recently enacted, and for a recognition of 
the independence of the various revolutionary governments. The ad- 
ministration was slow to move in recognition or in giving too liberal an 
interpretation to the duties of neutrality, for it could not afford to 
antagonize Spain, as negotiations were in progress for the purchase of 
Florida and for clearing up other long-standing problems with that 
nation. Another point on which Clay opposed the administration and 
thereby produced consequences of far-reaching importance was Jackson's 
invasions of Florida in 1818. Jackson had been ordered to punish the 
Seminoles, but apparently without permission to cross the line into 
Florida. 1 With his characteristic impetuosity, he not only crossed into 
Florida and thereby endangered Spanish relations, but also by hanging 
Arbuthnot and shooting Ambrister, two British subjects whom he cap- 
tured and tried as spys, might have embroiled the United States with 

1 Jackson claimed he had authority to enter Florida. Much discussion raged 
around the Rhea letter. See K. C. Babcock, The Rise of American Nationality 
(New York, 1906), 275, 276. 



England. When the question came up as to disavowing Jackson's actions, 
the administration found Spain to blame. Many members of Congress 
refused to agree with the President, and among the leaders of these was 
Clay. An attempt was made to censure Jackson, and for two months 
the so-called Seminole debate went on. 2 Clay did not succeed in carry- 
ing through his resolutions of censure, but he did stir up the bitter and 
unending hatred of Jackson, which was to play so important a part in the 
politics of the nation for the next two decades. Clay, thus, found him- 
self still further removed from the administration ; he was in fact becom- 
ing the rallying point for all elements who had grievances of whatever 
nature against the President and his party. 

All semblance of the federalist party was to soon disappear in Ken- 
tucky, and leave other lines for an opposition party to grow upon. The 
President's amalgamation policy was not received very heartily here, for 
nowhere had the hatred been more bitter against the federalists. The 
Kentucky Gazette was dubious as to the wisdom of this course, as the 
federalists had tried to dominate in other states where they had been 
received into the democratic party. According to this paper : "Whether 
Kentucky is not at this moment suffering by amalgamation of political 
parties is a question worthy of consideration." 3 The name at least died, 
but any of the erstwhile members who cared to continue their opposi- 
tion found ample opportunity. The brilliant Clay could be followed with 
great respectability by any person who hated the Monroe administration 
for any reason whatever. The Kentucky branch of Tammany Hall (St. 
Tammany) was now being accused as an enemy to the administration 
and, with its mysterious ceremonies, it appealed to many. It was a 
political factor here of little consequence, but its secrecy called down 
upon it the attacks of the suspicious. "Bibulous" severely condemned it 
for its work in the dark and for its opposition to Monroe. He said: 
"I have been told, sir, that the headquarters of the Tammany society is 
at Lexington — that they meet there and do their business in secret, and 
in the dark — that they are bound by the most honorable oaths to stick 
together and support their chiefs in all their undertakings — and that 
they march in Indian file of four or five hundred, dressed like Indians, 
and imitate their savage customs and manners. I have been told, sir, 
that men of talent, wealth and education belong to this society and 
assume the dress and names of Cornstock, Pontiac, Tecumseh, Wynemac, 
Walk-in-the-Water, Owl, Big Bear, Fox, Wolf, Prophet and others." 4 
On political questions the state was tending to divide into two parties, 
not yet clear-cut, but still with sufficient antagonisms to produce party 
feelings. No names were yet used to distinguish them, more than that 
the Monroe supporters were led by John Pope, and the critics of Monroe 
by Henry Clay. 5 As early as 1819 Clay was accused of attempting to 
line up the West for the next Presidential election and of attempting to 
organize a party in opposition to Monroe. But sufficient time had not 
elapsed before the election of 1820 for an opposition party to arise — in 
fact sufficient issues, beyond personal ambitions, had not yet appeared. 
As a result the reelection of Monroe was assured, and he lacked only 
one electoral vote of receiving the unanimous support of the country. 

As the election of 1824 began to loom up in people's minds, no out- 
standing man appeared. Various sections had their candidates, and the 
administration had its choice, but the lack of an opposition party had 

2 Annals of Congress, 15 Cong. 2 Sess., 583 et seq. 

3 Nov. 20, 1823. 

4 (Louisville) Public Advertiser, Oct. 6, 1818. Notices during this period ap- 
peared frequently in the Kentucky Gazette concerning meeting dates. They met 
"precisely at the going down of the sun." Kentucky Gazette, April 10, 1819. 

5 See Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, IV, 228-230. 
e Niles' Register, Vol. IS, P- 9- 



prevented any two from standing out as the candidates. A plethora of 
candidates was the logical outcome of the all-inclusive party filled with 
jarring personalities and ambitions. Adams became the choice of New 
England, Calhoun of South Carolina, Jackson of Tennessee, and Clay 
of Kentucky. Crawford was the administration candidate. The method 
of nominating the Presidential candidate had been through a Congres- 
sional caucus, by no means sure to represent the popular will, and at 
this time bitterly attacked by the other aspirants than the favored one. 
The caucus was attacked early in the parryings for preferment, so that 
Crawford was finally nominated by a small minority of Congress. The 
other candidates were brought forward by the legislatures of their home 
states and of any other states they could control. Clay was early selected 
by Kentucky. In a burst of enthusiasm a joint session of the Legislature 
had in 1822 unanimously declared that Clay was their candidate to suc- 
ceed Monroe, and a committee had been appointed to further his can- 
didacy in other states. 7 

Street Scene, Frankfort 

Although Clay was Kentucky's favorite son, he was not with- 
out opposition in the state. Andrew Jackson had many admirers who 
could not desert him, even if a favorite son was running. The sher- 
iffs who gathered in Frankfort to bring the votes of the August, 1824. 
election, expressed- their presidential preferences as follows: Firs; 
choice, Clay, 53; Jackson, 9; Adams, 2; second choice, Jackson 31; 
Adams, 20; Crawford, 17. A concerted movement for Jackson was 
soon started. A meeting was held at Georgetown, which recommended 
him for President and also suggested that a Committee of Correspond- 
ence should be organized, and advocated the calling of a general 
convention. Meetings in favor of Jackson were held at Lexing- 
ton, Cynthiana, and other towns. A convention at Frankfort, under 
the leadership of George M. Bibb and Solomon P. Sharp, issued 
an address in support of Jackson, suggesting that Clay could not be 
elected and that the logical thing for Kentucky to do was to support the 
hero of New Orleans, a man of action rather than of oratory. 8 A con- 
siderable following was aroused. Louisville was especially a Jackson 

7 Kentucky Gazette, Nov. 28, 1822; Robertson, Scrap Book, 147, 149. 

8 Kentucky Gazette, Sept. 2, Oct. 28, 1824. 


stronghold. 9 The tendency in this campaign was for the relief or new 
court party to afford most of the friends of Jackson. However, the 
party as a whole did not support him. 10 

As the election approached it became even more certain that Clay 
would easily carry the state. A circular letter in his support was issued 
by Barry, Rowan, Crittenden and others, and the Argus believed it use- 
less for others to hope for Kentucky support. 11 It said of the situation : 
"The idea that any other candidates for electors can succeed in Ken- 
tucky, except those who are pledged to support Mr. Clay, is to us so 
utterly chimerical that we can look on their annunciation as intended, 
in the general, for no other purpose than to produce effect abroad by 
keeping up appearance of division at home. Those for Jackson will 
obtain many votes, but we have no conception that they will get a ma- 
jority in any one county in the whole state. As for those in favor of 
Mr. Adams, it is questionable whether they will get as many votes as 
there are counties. Nobody thinks of offering for Crawford any more 
than if he were a citizen of Otaheite." 12 

Although there was absolutely no doubt that Clay would carry his 
own state, his chances of securing a majority of the electoral votes 
throughout the nation were exceedingly uncertain. Still, his situation 
was not hopeless, for if no one should receive a majority, the election 
would be thrown into the House, and he would then be the most popular 
candidate before that body. He had just been triumphantly reelected 
its speaker. The result of the voting was what most people expected : 
there was no election, as no candidate had received a majority. In Ken- 
tucky, Clay received almost three times as many votes as Jackson, but, 
outside of his own state's 14 electoral votes, he received only 23. 13 As 
Jackson received 99, Adams, 84, and Crawford, 41, he did not come 
within the three highest and therefore could not be voted on in the House 
of Representatives, where the election was now thrown. Clay now occu- 
pied the position of President-maker, shorn of the opportunity of secur- 
ing the highest office in the land for himself. He could control the 
action of four states outright — Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri and Louisiana. 
From December (1824), when Congress met, until the final election, 
Clay was anxiously considering the situation. Crawford, who had suf- 
fered a stroke of paralysis, was out of the running now. The choice, 
therefore, lay between the other two, Jackson and Adams. Clay's dis- 
like for Jackson had already become manifest in his attempt in the 
Seminole debate to censure him. He felt that the military experience 
of Jackson, with his fiery temper, had not fitted him for the civil head 
of the nation. As for Adams, he was a polished and educated statesman. 
experienced in his country's services for many years, and likely to serve 
the nation well as its chief magistrate. Moreover, Clay's real interest 
pointed to Adams, who was not really popular in the North, and who 
was much less liked in the South. Adams could scarcely hope to serve 
more than one term, and then Clay could easily come forward to carry 
the party to victory, for his tariff views were popular in the North, and 
in the Northwest he was scarcely less a popular idol than in his own state. 

But the Kentucky Legislature suddenly interfered with Clay's pro- 
gram. There was no question that Jackson was easily the state's second 
choice, and now, since her own candidate could not receive the honor, 
she would confer it on the hero of New Orleans. On January n, 1825, 
a resolution was passed declaring that Jackson was "the second choice 
of the State of Kentucky for the next President of the United States; 

9 Niles' Register, Vol. 27, passim, Vol. 28, 339. 

10 Kentucky Gazette, Aug. 26, 1824. 

11 Kentucky Gazette, Sept. 30, 1824. 

12 Quoted in Niles" Register, Vol. 26, pp. 194, 195. 

13 Clay received 17,331 to Jackson's 6,455. 


that a very large majority of the people of this state prefer General 
Jackson to Mr. Adams or Mr. Crawford, and that the members of the 
House of Representatives in the Congress of the United States will, by 
complying with the request herein signified, faithfully and truly repre- 
sent the feelings and wishes of the good people of Kentucky." The re- 
quest was that the Kentucky delegation should vote for Jackson. This 
resolution was carried in the House 73 to 11 and in the Senate, 18 to 12. 14 
When the election came before the House of Representatives, Clay paid 
no attention to the Kentucky Legislature's resolution and secured the 
election of Adams. 

A great wave of indignation immediately spread over the state, ex- 
pressing itself in numerous meetings denouncing Clay for disregarding 
the will of the state, and burning him in effigy. 15 The Jackson supporters 
argued that Jackson had received many more electoral votes than Adams 
had, and that he was undoubtedly the country's choice. This rage was 
greatly intensified when Adams appointed Clay to the office of Secretary 
of State. The cry of "bargain and corruption" was raised and sedulously 
spread throughout the country. It was perfectly evident, it was argued, 
that Clay had sold out to Adams, and his appointment to this office was 
perfect proof. An unsuccessful effort was made to defeat the confirma- 
tion of Clay. This groundless charge was pressed so unremittingly and 
with so much skill that Clay was forced to spend much time denying 
the charges and showing how utterly absurd they were, but some were 
never convinced, and Clay found the charges for years afterwards a fre- 
quent annoyance. Clay's position in the affections of the people of his 
own state was so dear to him that he made special efforts to disprove 
the charges there. 

In the latter part of March he issued an address to his constituency, 
"the people of the congressional district composed of the counties of 
Fayette, Woodford and Clarke, in Kentucky," in which he entered into 
a lengthy defense of his course. 18 He was particularly anxious to ex- 
plain his reasons for refusing to abide by the instructions of the Legis- 
lature. He said : "I considered, with the greatest respect, the resolution 
of the general assembly of the state of Kentucky, requesting the delega- 
tion to vote for General Jackson. That resolution, it is true, placed us in 
a peculiar situation. Whilst every other delegation, from every other 
state in the union, was left by its legislature entirely free to examine the 
pretensions of all the candidates and to form its unbiased judgment, the 
general assembly of Kentucky thought proper to interpose and to request 
the delegation to give its vote to one of the candidates whom they were 
pleased to designate. I felt a sincere desire to comply with a request 
emanating from a source so respectable if I could have done so consistent- 
ly with those paramount duties which I owe to you and the country." The 
resolution declared it was the will of Kentucky that he should so vote. 
But the Legislature failed to inform him how it had arrived at this in- 
formation, for the Legislature had repaired to Frankfort before he had 
left the state for Washington. "No election, no general expression of the 
popular sentiment had occurred since that in November," he declared, 
"when electors were chosen, and at that the people, by an overwhelming 
majority, had decided against General Jackson. I could not see how such 
an expression against him could be interpreted into a desire for his 
election." He had received letters from Kentucky expressing sentiments 
directly opposite to those of the Legislature, and some of these letters 
were from "a highly respectable portion" of his constituents. This was 

"Acts of Kentucky, 1824, p. 279; Nibs' Register, Vol. 27, pp. 321, 354; The 
Works of James Buchanan (Philadelphia, 1908-1911), edited by J. B. Moore, I, 133. 

is Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 32. 

™The Life and Speeches of Henry Clay (Philadelphia, 1854), I, 195-218; 
Niks' Register, Vol. 28, pp. 71-79- 


one of the petitions: "We, the undersigned voters in the congressional 
district, having viewed the instruction or request of the legislature of 
Kentucky, on the subject of choosing a president and vice-president of 
the United States, with regret, and the said request or instruction to 
our representative in congress from this district, being without our 
knowledge or consent; we, for many reasons, known to ourselves, con- 
nected with so momentous an occasion, hereby instruct our representative 
in congress to vote, on this occasion, agreeable to his own judgment, and 
by the best lights he may have on the subject, with or without the con- 
sent of the legislature of Kentucky." He said : "This instruction came 
both unexpected and unsolicited by me, and it was accompanied by let- 
ters assuring me that it expressed the opinion of a majority of my con- 
stituents. I could not, therefore, regard the resolution as conclusive evi- 
dence of your wishes." He flatly denied the right of the Legislature to 
instruct the state's representatives in Congress. It had no more right to 
instruct members of Congress how to perform their duty than they had 
to tell the Legislature what it should do. "And, although nothing is fur- 
ther from my intention than to impute either absurdity or presumption 
to the general assembly in the adoption of the resolution referred to, 
I must say that the difference between an instruction emanating from 
them to the delegation and from the delegation to them, is not in prin- 
ciple, but is to be found only in the degree of superior importance which 
belongs to the general assembly." 

Clay was at a loss to reason out how he had prostrated the maxim 
that the people should rule. "The illusion of the general's imagination 
deceives him. The people of the United States had never decided the 
election in his favor. If the people had willed his election, he would have 
been elected. It was because they had not willed his election, nor of any 
other candidate, that the duty of making a choice devolved on the house 
of representatives." Jackson had said that Clay had never risked his 
life for his country, that "he had never sacrificed his repose, nor made 
an effort to repel an invading foe" and that "of course, his conscience 
assured him it was altogether wrong in any other man to lead his coun- 
trymen to battle and victory." Clay generously answered this rather 
bad taste of Jackson's : "The logic of this conclusion is not very strik- 
ing. Gen. Jackson fights better than he reasons. When have I failed 
to concur in awarding appropriate honors to those who, on the sea or 
on the land, have sustained the glory of our arms, if I could not always 
approve of the acts of some of them? It is true that it has been my 
misfortune never to have repelled an invading foe, nor to have led my 
countrymen to victory. If I had, I should have left to others to pro- 
claim and appreciate the deed. The general's destiny and mine have 
led us in different directions. In the civil employment of my country, 
to which I have been confined, I regret that the little service which I 
have been able to render it falls far short of my wishes. But why this 
denunciation of those who have not repelled an invading foe or led 
our armies to victory? At the very moment when he is inveighing against 
an objection to the election to the presidency, founded upon the exclusive 
military nature of his merits, does he not perceive that he is establishing 
its validity by proscribing every man who has not successfully fought 
the public enemy? And that, by such a general proscription and the 
requirement of successful military service as the only condition of civil 
preferment, the inevitable effect would be the establishment of a military 

Clay ended his address with an appreciation of the good will his 
state had held him in, and solemnly denied that he had ever done aught 
to forfeit that respect. "Fellow-citizens, I am sensible that, generally, 
a public officer had better abstain from any vindication of his conduct 


and leave it to the candor and justice of his countrymen, under all its 
attending circumstances. Such has been the course which I have hereto- 
fore prescribed to myself. This is the first, as I hope it may be the last, 
occasion of my thus appearing before you. The separation which has 
just taken place between us, and the venom, if not the vigor, of the late 
onsets against my public conduct, will, I hope, be allowed, in this instance, 
to form an adequate apology. It has been upwards of twenty years since 
I first entered the public service. Nearly three-fourths of that time, with 
some intermissions, I have represented the same district in congress, 
with but little variation in its form. During that long period you have 
beheld our country passing through scenes of peace and war, of pros- 
perity and adversity, and of party divisions, local and general, often 
greatly exasperated against each other. I have been an actor in most 
of those scenes. Throughout the whole of them you have clung to me 
with an affectionate confidence which has never been surpassed. I have 
found in your attachment, in every embarrassment in my public career, 
the greatest consolation and the most encouraging support. I should re- 
gard the loss of it as one of the most afflicting public misfortunes which 
could befall me. That I have often misconceived your true interests is 
highly probable. That I have ever sacrificed them to the object of per- 
sonal aggrandizement I utterly deny. And, for the purity of my motives, 
however in other respects I may be unworthy to approach the Throne 
of Grace and Mercy, I appeal to the justice of my God, with all the 
confidence which can flow from a consciousness of perfect rectitude." 

When his duties in Washington were over, Clay returned to Kentucky. 
He was received with great enthusiasm all along his way across Pennsyl- 
vania and down the Ohio. He first landed in Kentucky at Maysville, 
where he was greeted amidst the booming of cannon and "the liveliest 
demonstrations of respect from the people." He said to the people here 
that the wanton and groundless attacks of his enemies had been "the 
occasion of demonstrations of regard and kindness toward me, on the 
part of my countrymen and my friends, which more than compensate 
for all the pain which it inflicted." He was entertained at a dinner which 
"was numerously and respectably attended," and the good will of the 
gathering was expressed in the toast to "Our distinguished guest, Henry 
Clay: In his recent vote for President, as a representative of the people, 
conscience was his monitor — he obeyed, and a great majority of the peo- 
ple of Kentucky approve, its dictates." He was soon convinced that his 
constituents had never lost faith in him, or that, if so, his address to 
them had completely restored it ; for when he reached Bryan's Station, 
several miles from Lexington, he found about ioo of his friends anxiously 
waiting to greet him. 17 As he approached Lexington he was received 
by the people with demonstrations of joy and affection and was escorted 
to his home, Ashland, by a company of artillery cadets. On June ist, a 
public dinner was given him, of which the Reporter said : "The re- 
spectability and intelligence, as well as the number of the assemblage, 
have not been surpassed on any similar occasion in this state." The 
Lexington citizens, in their invitation to Clay, declared that there had 
not occurred a session of Congress out of all that he had participated in 
"that your political acts were more completely in accordance with our 
wishes and views of national prosperity and repose than the one which 
terminated the arduous and responsible relationship that subsisted be- 
tween us." To this Clay answered that he had desired "the good opinion 
of no portion of the public more anxiously than that of my immediate 
constituents. Judge then, gentlemen, what inexpressible gratification I 
derive from your assurance of the entire confidence which is reposed in 
me by my fellow citizens of Lexington and Fayette, who compose, at 

17 Mies' Register, Vol. 28, p. 244. 


the same time, my nearest and most intimate friends and neighbors and 
a highly respectable and considerable part of my constituents." Clay was 
thus toasted: "Our respected guest, beloved fellow-citizen and late able 
representative, Henry Clay — We rejoice in the occasion of expressing to 
the world, and emphatically to his enemies, our undiminished confidence 
in his incorruptible integrity and our unqualified approbation of his con- 
duct from his first to his last most important act, as our representative." 
This positive sentiment was expressed in a toast to the Third Congres- 
sional District (Clay's district) : "It is now speaking its instructions in 
language not to be misunderstood or misrepresented. Let demagogues 
listen." And as for the claims that Jackson was elected, a toast to 
"Political Arithmetic" was offered : "When the teacher of the new 
rule of supposition decides whether it is 99 or 42 that makes a majority 
of 261, we will examine the operation and see if it proves itself." 18 

Clay was flooded with invitations to public dinners, many of which 
he could not accept. 19 At Frankfort he was received with generous 
applause and enthusiasm. More than 400 citizens of Woodford County, 
"many of them the oldest inhabitants of the country, and the early and 
constant friends of their guest" attended a public dinner in honor of 
Clay. In Clarke County he was greeted by almost 300 at a similar 
gathering, and at Paris 1,000 persons were said to have participated. 
In Scott County he sat down with 300 ladies and gentlemen, and in Jes- 
samine County the gathering was very large. The enemies of Clay had 
most signally failed in shaking the confidence of Kentuckians in him. 
In fact, their accusations seemed to have placed him still stronger in 
their affections. 

Public opinion in Kentucky was now engaged in the process of 
formation and crystallization around party leaders and national issues. 
Everything was in a state of flux and uncertainty, with the gaping 
wounds of state politics yet unhealed. Crittenden wrote Clay in Novem- 
ber, 1826, that he believed Kentucky would "support the administration 
unless everything is given up to the fascination of a military name." He 
believed the state agreed with the main principles of the Adams party. 
"Our situation defies all calculation, however. The State politics have 
tended to excite all our feelings & to unsettle our opinions, if not our 
principles. We are upon a mighty quicksand & can hardly find 'terra 
firma' enough to stand upon !" 20 The state parties had not yet as a whole 
made their choice of the party they would support in national affairs, 
as was evidenced in the almost universal acclaim given Clay, but a ten- 
dency had manifested itself already on many occasions for the relief 
or new court party to support Jackson, and the old court party, Qay 
and Adams. 21 This development was at first considered to be wholly 
artificial and based on political expediency more than principle. In the 
latter part of 1825, resolutions were introduced in the Legislature in 
support of Clay and Adams, but were defeated by the relief party, as 
Crittenden believed, because Governor Desha thought this would be a 

^Nites" Register, Vol. 28, p. 267. 

19 The citizens of Madison County to the number of four or five hundred met 
at Richmond, the county seat, and decided to invite Clay to a public dinner there. 
He was unable to accept. In his reply he said, "that his enemies had sought to 
destroy him in the affections of his constituents." He said, "They would have de- 
prived me of the attachment and confidence of my constituents. My constituents 
have overwhelmed me by general and emphatic manifestations of their regard and 
esteem. They would have infused distrust into the minds of the people of my 
state, of the integrity of my public actions. Kentucky never displayed more entire 
satisfaction with me than at the present, to me, happy moment." Miles' Register, 
Vol. 28, pp. 296, 297. 

20 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 3, Nos. 579. 580. Letter dated November 25. 

21 As an example of impartiality strikingly shown, see the Clay dinner in Frank- 
fort in Argus, June 8, 1825. 

Vol. II— 8 


good method to hold his party together. 22 A few months later Critten- 
den wrote Clay: "Our state politics have some effect naturally upon 
our National politics. This has been favorable as to Mr. Adams. The 
Anti-relief party have been his friends. The relief party has identified 
itself with the name and pretensions of Gen. Jackson:, I think a 
little to his prejudice. The effect as to you has been temporarily disad- 
vantageous. The Union between the Jackson men and the Judge break- 
ers is artificial — it is rather a union between the Leaders than the parties 
* * * The alliance being offensive & defensive brought the Relief 
party to act against you. This Union will be dissolved as soon as the 
great question which now divides us is settled & most of the Relief party 
will return to their local political & personal attachments to you." 23 
But, fundamentally, this cleavage and these alliances became permanent. 
Many relief men had a personal attachment to Clay which could be 
expected to hold under ordinary circumstances, when the choice was 
between Clay and some other candidate, but it was most likely to break 
when it was a decision between merely a Clay candidate and Jackson or 
a Jackson man. 

The Jacksonian democrats were, in fact, everywhere, in Kentucky 
and out, likely to be more radical than the Clay and Adams party. It 
was, then, only natural that the majority of the relief party should join 
Jackson and the anti-relief party merge with the opponents of Jackson. 
In fact, the state parties and their names soon came to be a memory, 
as they became completely identified with the national parties. The 
Argus in 1827 said: "In Kentucky the prevailing anxiety which is felt 
on the national question has already obliterated in a great measure the 
distinctions of the State parties, which but a year ago seemed calculated 
to produce divisions among a people once almost unanimously devoted 
to the support of the republican principles which triumphed under the 
auspices of Mr. Jefferson over the feudal aristocracy headed by the 
elder Adams." 24 Party politics in the state was now for years to be 
made the tail of the national political kite. With few exceptions, divisions 
in the state were continued and intensified on national issues rather than 
on state affairs. It was easier to stir up feeling on national problems and, 
therefore, easier to hold the party together. 

Preparations for the Presidential election of 1828 were begun by 
Jackson and his supporters immediately upon his defeat in 1825. In fact, 
the charges of "bargain and corruption" had been invented largely for 
this purpose, and the Jackson men were not going to let the people forget 
them. In Kentucky these accusations played an important part in the 
campaigning, being made use of from every possible angle. The Jackson 
men began early their maneuvers for advantage. They hoped to carry 
each contest prior to the Presidential election and thereby stand in an 
excellent position to carry the state for Jackson in 1828. They were 
very anxious to have their leader visit the state, through the belief that 
his presence would greatly aid the cause. But he was loath to run the 
risk of making what to him seemed an excellent position in Kentucky less 
favorable. He was conscious of the various constructions that would 
be put upon a visit from him. In 1826 he had intimated that he might 
visit Harrodsburg Springs in the interest of his wife's health. His friends 
seized this opportunity to urge him to come, but on Mrs. Jackson's health 
improving he decided not to hazard the trip. In answer to an invitation, 
he said: "I know that so far as Kentucky is concerned the unjust impu- 
tation which it is my wish to avoid would never be raised; or, rather, 

22 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 3, Nos. 528, 529. Letter from Crittenden to Clay, 
December 26, 1825. 

23 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 3, Nos. 565, 566. Letter dated April 22, 1826. 

24 Oct. 31. 1827. 


that a great proportion of her citizens would attribute to their proper 
origin the objects of my visit, yet, when I reflect upon the management 
and intrigue which are operating abroad, the magnitude of the principles 
which they are endeavoring to supplant and the many means which they 
can draw to their assistance from the patronage of the government, I 
feel it is not less due to myself and to principle than to the American 
people, particularly so far as they have sanctioned my political creed, to 
steer clear of every conduct out of which the idea might arise that I 
was manoeuvering for my aggrandizement. If it be true that the 
administration have gone into power contrary to the voice_ of the nation 
and are now expecting, by means of this power thus acquired, to mould 
the public into an acquiescence with their authority, then is the issue 
fairly made out — shall the government or the people rule? and it be- 
comes the man whom the people shall indicate as their rightful repre- 
sentative in this solemn issue so to have acquitted himself that, while 
he displaces these enemies of liberty, there will be nothing in his own 
example to operate against the strength and durability of the govern- 
ment." 25 The following year he was invited to a public dinner in Frank- 
fort, but plead short notice and the press of important business at home 
as an excuse for not attending. He took occasion here to refer to the 
tactics of his enemies : "It is true that reproach and calumny have opened 
their streams of reproach against me. Everything dear to one at my time 
of life, who, of necessity, must repose for character and good name more 
on the past than the future, and who must look rather to what has been 
than what may be, has indeed been violently assailed. Placed before 
the people, I was not weak enough to presume that the volume of my 
life would not be opened and ransacked and every public incident seized 
upon that by possibility might be used to my disadvantage, yet I did 
hope that a liberal and generous feeling on the part of my countrymen 
would spare me at least those assaults which slander and falsehood 
might delight to inflict. In that I have been disappointed. Yet have I 
found a redeeming security in this, that truth was mighty, and although 
for a time her principles might be obscured, in the end her triumph would 
be but the more complete." 26 

Throughout the summer and autumn of 1827, Jackson dinners, bar- 
becues, and various other kinds of meetings were held in almost every 
county in the state. The state leaders were actively organizing the state 
for a general convention which was to meet on January 8 (1828), a 
significant day in Kentucky's memory. 27 On this day 203 delegates from 
fifty-nine counties met in Frankfort, with Robert Breckinridge as chair- 
man. The electoral ticket for the state was agreed upon and a committee 
appointed to prepare an address supporting Jackson and Calhoun. It 
was further agreed that William T. Barry should be their candidate for 
governor. An effective organization for the campaign was laid, with a 
state treasurer as a very important part of it. The delegates were urged 
to raise money in their respective districts and forward it to the party 
treasury, where it was urgently needed for partially meeting the expenses 
of speakers, for printing campaign leaflets, and for other campaigning 
purposes. Thus was the Jackson party being welded together in their 
first important political convention. 28 

The Clay and Adams party was not without its plans and activities. 
It was generally understood that Adams was to be the candidate in 1828, 
to succeed himself, for he should be reelected to vindicate his first elec- 
tion and also to carry out the custom of giving each President two terms. 

25 Niks' Register, Vol. 31, P- 103- Letter dated July 31, 1826. 
2« Niks' Register, Vol. 33, P- 87. Letter dated September 4, 1827. 
27 See Argus, July-December, 1827. 
"Miles' Register, Vol. 33, P- 357; Argus, Jan. 16, 1828. 


It was equally understood by Clay and his friends that he would have 
the honor in 1832. Clay early entered into the campaign in Kentucky 
for Adams. In the summer of 1827 he attended a public dinner in Lex- 
ington, where his great hold on his fellow-citizens was again manifested. 
The following sentiment was expressed in a toast to him : "The furnace 
of persecution may be heated seven times hotter, and seventy times more 
he will come out unscathed by the fire of malignity, brighter to all and 
dearer to his friends; while his enemies shall sink with the dross of 
their own vile materials." 29 Clay then entered into a long defense of 
his actions in voting for Adams in 1825 and launched out upon a bitter 
denunciation of Jackson and his methods. "Had I voted for General 
Jackson," he declared, "in opposition to the well-known opinion which 
I entertained of him, one-tenth part of the ingenuity and zeal which 
have been employed to excite prejudices against me would have held me 
up to universal contempt, and, what would have been worse, / should 
have felt that I really deserved it." He repelled with indignation the 
"vilest calumnies" against him and "the charges, under every cameleon 
form" and demanded proof. He accused Jackson of shady methods in 
the election of 1825 and pointed to the evidence. As to his voting against 
instructions, he said : "It has been a thousand times asserted and re- 
peated that I violated instructions that I ought to have obeyed. I deny 
the charge ; and I am happy to have this opportunity of denying it in 
the presence of my assembled constituents." He stated that the Gen- 
eral Assembly had requested the Kentucky delegation to vote a par- 
ticular way, and a majority of that delegation had not seen fit to follow 
this recommendation, but this did not violate the instructions, for they 
were not imperative but merely suggestive. But if anyone should wish 
to challenge this distinction, then he would abandon it and "dispute at 
once the right of the Legislature to issue a mandatory instruction to the 
representatives of the people. Such a right has no foundation in the 
constitution, in the reason or nature of things, nor in the usage of the 
Kentucky legislature. Its exercise would be a manifest usurpation." 
The people who elected the Legislature which had given the instruction 
had not elected it on the principle or with the understanding that it 
should instruct the Kentucky delegation in Congress how it should per- 
form its duty. "I put it to the candor of every elector present, if he 
intended to part with his own right or anticipated the exertion of any 
such power by the legislature when he gave his vote in August, 1824." 
The only instructions which he had received from a legitimate source 
were from his constituents, and he had followed them, as had been fre- 
quently attested since. 

As to Jackson's continued charges and methods of campaigning, he 
was glad the issues were now joined. "Heretofore, malignant whispers 
and dark surmises," declared Clay, "have been clandestinely circulated, 
or openly or unblushingly uttered by irresponsible agents. They were 
borne upon the winds and, like them, were invisible and intangible. No 
responsible man stood forward to sustain them, with his acknowledged 
authority. They have at last a local habitation and a name. General 
Jackson has now thrown off the mask, and comes confessedly forth 
from behind his concealed batteries, publicly to accuse and convict me. 
We stand confronted before the American people. Pronouncing the 
charges, as I again do, destitute of all foundation, and gross aspersions, 
whether clandestinely or openly issued from the halls of the Capitol, 
the saloons of the Hermitage, or by press, by pen, or by tongue, and 
safely resting on my conscious integrity, I demand the witness and await 
the event with fearless confidence." 

With cutting invective he assailed Jackson as a man in whom he could 

29 Life and Speeches of Clay, I, 285; Niles 1 Register, Vol. 32, p. 375. 


have no faith. "In voting against him as president of the United scates 
I gave him no just cause of offence. I exercised no more than my 
indisputable privilege, as, on a subsequent occasion, of which 1 nave 
never complained, he exercised his of voting against me as Secretary 
of State. Had I voted for him, I must have gone counter to every fixed 
principle of my public life. I believed him incompetent and his election 
fraught with danger. At this early period of the republic, keeping 
steadily in view the dangers which had overturned every other free state. 
I believed it to be essential to the lasting preservation of our liberties 
that a man devoid of civil talents and offering no recommendation but 
one founded on military service should not be selected to administer 
the government. I believe so yet, and I shall consider the days of the 
commonwealth numbered when an opposite principle is established. I 
believed, and still believe, that now, when our institutions are in com- 
parative infancy, is the time to establish the great principle, that military 
qualification alone is not sufficient title to the presidency. If we start 
right we may run a long race of liberty, happiness and glory. If we 
stumble in setting out, we shall fall, as others have fallen before us, and 
fall without even a claim to the regrets or sympathies of mankind." 

He would make it plain that he had not the slightest personal grudge 
against Jackson, neither would he belittle in the least his military glory. 
No one heard of the battle of New Orleans with greater joy than had 
been his — a joy which was alloyed, however, when he read in the official 
report charges that the Kentucky militia had ingloriously fled the field 
of battle. He would also have it understood that he was not making 
these statements "for the purpose of conciliating the favor or mitigating 
the wrath of Gen. Jackson. He has erected an impassable barrier 
between us, and I would scorn to accept any favor at his hands. I thank 
my God that He has endowed me with a soul incapable of apprehensions 
from the anger of any being but myself." 30 

Clay found his popularity undiminished among his fellow Ken- 
tuckians. Woodford County and the surrounding regions gave him a 
public dinner and reception at which more than 1,000 persons were pres- 
ent. At Paris, in Bourbon County, a dinner of even greater proportions 
was given him. It was reported that between 4.000 and 5,000 persons 
attended. According to the newspaper account, this entertainment "was 
the most sumptuous and extensive ever known in the Western country. 
Invitations from all parts of Kentucky, and many from Ohio, were 
hourly coming in. but could not be accepted." 31 

A Clay and Adams organization was fast being perfected throughout 
the state. County meetings were held and numerous resolutions ground 
out. In Bracken County it was declared that "We have the most entire 
confidence in the wisdom, virtue and patriotism of the present chief 
magistrate of the union. It is true he was not our first choice; Ken- 
tucky's darling son, he who had indeed 'filled the measure of his 
country's glory,' was the object of our most anxious hopes. Nor 
will we say that the present chief magistrate was even our second choice, 
but, restricted as we were when reduced to the alternative, Adams or 
Jackson — a statesman or a 'military chieftan' — we could not hesitate to 
sanction the election of our present worthy representative." Adams was 
endorsed for the Presidency and the continued confidence in Clay was 
expressed, "the contemptible slang of 'bargain and corruption' notwith- 
standing." 32 The state convention was held on December 17, 1827, the 
first of its kind ever held in the state, at which 3O0 delegates were pres- 

30 Niks' Register, Vol. 32, pp. 375~38o. 

31 Ibid., p. 380. 

32 Niles' Register, Vol. 32, p. 192. This meeting also "Resolved, That we who 
are new court men, cannot but reject, without hesitation Ihe attempt to identify 
ms, as a party, with the supporters of Gen. Jackson. We act from principle." 


ent, representing sixty counties. Adams was supported for the Presi- 
dency, and with regard to the Vice-Presidency, it was decided that no 
choice should be indicated, but that the selection should be left to the 
friends of the administration throughout the Union. For the state elec- 
tion it nominated Thomas Metcalfe. 33 

Outside of the personalities of the two candidates and of Clay, one 
of the most persistent points of interest and discussion was the charges 
of "bargain and corruption" in 1825, and Clay's refusal to be bound 
by the Legislature's instructions. As just noted, Clay had made this 
subject the burden of his speeches in the state during his visit in the 
summer of 1827. But it seemed that the charges would not be silenced 
with all the denials that Clay had been making. As a last resort and 
with a feeling of desperation, Clay collected together a mass of evidence 
and, with a long introduction by himself, gave it to the public in a pam- 
phlet in January, 1828, entitled, An Address of Henry Clay to the Public, 
containing Certain Testimony in Refutation of the Charges against him 
made by General Andrew Jackson touching the Last Presidential Election. 
This pamphlet reached the members of the Kentucky Legislature near 
the time for its adjournment. The Clay supporters in the Senate believed 
that Clay's refutation had been complete and they determined to score 
a political triumph by passing a set of resolutions to that effect. Accord- 
ingly, resolutions were introduced declaring that the Legislature looked 
with indignation upon the attempt being made to blast the reputations 
of members of Congress who had voted for Adams, and that, after hav- 
ing thoroughly examined all the evidence, it had no hesitation in saying 
that the charges of "bargain and corruption" were utterly without foun- 
dation, were malicious, and were brought forward for no other purpose 
than to elevate General Jackson to the Presidency. The Jackson men 
at first attempted to defeat the resolutions, but, finding themselves in a 
minority on this question, they sought to obstruct their passage by 
calling for an investigation. The investigation, after an attempt at first 
had been made by the Clay men to defeat it, was made, in which seventeen 
witnesses were called and certain papers asked for. The Senate, as was 
to be expected, voted that the charges were not proved and proceeded 
to pass the original resolutions by a strictly party vote. The House, 
under the control of a Jackson majority, laid the resolutions on the 
table. 34 Concerning this investigation, a correspondent of the Kentucky 
Gazette said : "Even honorable Senators, invested with special delegated 
powers, forgetting their own dignity and the duties they owe their coun- 
try and constituents, acting under the impress of this political fever 
and goaded on by the same mad and furious zeal, under the flimsy pretext 
of settling important principles and regardless of the subjects of legiti- 
mate legislation, have formed themselves into a body, infinitely more 
terrible than a Spanish inquisition, in order to whitewash their political 
friends and blackball their political enemies." 33 

A clever maneuver during this investigation was made by the Jackson 
men, greatly to the discomfiture of the opposition. As was well known, 
Adams had not stood out in times past for conspicuous friendship for 
the West. During the years 1822 and 1823 Amos Kendall had brought 
out in the Argus a series of letters or articles attacking Adams' course 
in the negotiations at Ghent and his hostility to the West. He had shown 
particularly how Clay had opposed Adams when he was attempting to 
trade the interests of the West for rights for New England fishermen. 
These publications being before the time when Clay's and Adams' inter- 

88 Ibid., Vol. 33, p. 316. 

84 Argus, Jan. 23, 1827; McMaster, History of the People of the United States, 
V, 5", 512. 

88 Quoted in Argus, March 5, 1828. 


ests had drawn each other together, were highly complimented by the 
former, who gave Kendall $100 to aid in bringing them out in pamphlet 
form. 3li The Jackson men now cleverly tacked on to the original reso- 
lutions an amendment declaring that all of Kendall's charges against 
Adams were utterly false. The Clay and Adams senators were now 
caught in a distressing dilemma ; whatever action they should take would 
stultify themselves. They voted down the amendment and passed the 
resolutions as above stated. But in so doing they had laid themselves 
open to the cutting lampoons of the Jackson party, which was quick to 
take advantage of this opportunity in an address to the people in which 
appeared the following: "If they voted for the amendment, with the 
evidence before them that Mr. Clay had himself circulated these charges 
and paid for their circulation, they would vote he was a slanderer and 
libeller. If they voted against it, they would vote that Adams was an 
enemy of the West, ready to sell its blood! In this predicament they 
divided ; some voted that Clay was a libeller, and others that Adams was 
a knave; but the amendment was rejected by the casting vote of the 
lieutenant-governor. This shows that the party cares nothing for Mr. 
Adams ; they will vote him a knave when he stands alone, but an honest 
man when connected with Mr. Clay." 37 

Nothing could better show how unnatural was the Clay-Adams alli- 
ance than this incident. It was very hard for the Kentuckians to grow 
enthusiastic over a man whom all a short while previously had agreed 
to be the enemy of the West, and a man who had shown it on every 
occasion possible. It was only the great attachment the people had for 
Clay that made Adams a possibility in Kentucky at all. It became in- 
creasingly evident as the campaign progressed that he was a mill-stone 
around the neck of Clay. The Jackson men began to say less about the 
favorite son of Kentucky, who was not running for the Presidency, and 
who therefore need not be attacked merely to antagonize his numerous 
friends, when Adams afforded such a perfect target. His record through- 
out had not a single bright spot for the West. Not only was his well- 
known record at Ghent constantly kept before the people, but even more 
puerile attacks on the negotiations were made. Adams had included as 
an item in the expenses at Ghent $3,005.62 as "contingencies." The 
Argus, anxious for the people's money, would know what the "contin- 
gencies" were for which so large a sum of money was spent. "The peo- 
ple ought to know what it was for which he charged upwards of $3,000 
in three or four months, in addition to outfit, salon, and travelling ex- 
penses." 38 At a Jackson dinner in Lexington, at which Pope and Barry 
were the chief speakers, the following sentiment was offered in a toast: 
"John Q. Adams. As he was in the beginning, so he is now, and will 
ever remain — no real republican, no friend to the West." 39 This was 
a view rather widely held over the state, and not confined to the Jackson 
followers. As between Jackson and Adams, the campaigner could dis- 
play the former to a thousand-fold better advantage to a Westerner — a 
Kentuckian. The one had grown up as an embodiment of the West 
while the other had filled the same role for the East. Barry, seizing this 
line of attack by the deadly comparison, pictured Jackson struggling in 
poverty in his boyhood and rising to his high position by sheer ability 
and determination. But on the other hand, "See the youthful Adams, 
born of illustrious parents, laid in the lap of wealth, dandled on the knee 

86 The pamphlet was entitled, Letters to John Quincy Adams Relative to the 
Fisheries and the Mississippi, first published in the Argus of Western America, 
revised and enlarged by Amos Kendall, 1823. 

87 Address to the People of Kentucky by the Central Jackson Committee of 
Kentucky; McMaster, History of the People of the United States, V, 512, 513- 

as April 2, 1828. 

89 Argus, July 25, 1827. 


of nobles, raised and educated in foreign lands in the midst of luxuries 
and far from war's alarms, imbibing in his very infancy, and confirming 
it in his approach to manhood, the principles of aristocracy and mon- 
archy." He then charged Adams with having opposed the interests of 
the West in the Louisiana Purchase, the Cumberland Road, the canal 
around the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville, and he believed he was hostile 
to the tariff and to internal improvements. As to Kentucky's favorite 
son, "I respect Mr. Clay ; but in politics, here we part." 4U Adams' record 
of friendship for the South was equally as open to attack as for the 
West. And, as Kentucky considered herself as much Southern as West- 
ern, Kentuckians could be weaned from him on this point. The Jackson 
men took particular pains to point out this hostility, and at the same 
time remind Kentuckians where the market for their horses, cattle and 
hogs was and where, therefore, much of their prosperity came from. 41 
Thus was Adams a liability instead of an asset to the Clay party in 

With all his qualities and associations so intimately Western, still 
fackson was open to attack, particularly in Kentucky. Had he not un- 
justly censured the brave Kentuckians at New Orleans and, when the 
injustice of it was proved, had he retracted his base slanders? The less 
said about this subject the best, for his supporters found it hard to com- 
bat. However, when directly confronted with the subject, they answered 
it as best they could by claiming that Jackson was not wholly to blame 
for the criticism and that he had made amends. 42 An address issuing 
from Garrard County stated that "The claims of the Hero of Orleans 
to civil preferment are certainly not increased * * * by the injury 
which [he] recklessly endeavored to inflict on the State of Kentucky 
by unjustly charging her volunteer soldiers with 'inglorious flight' at 
Orleans and by refusing to do justice when convinced of injus- 
tice. * * *" 43 The Legislature executed a political maneuver by re- 
fusing to pass a resolution for firing a salute on January 8, 1828, for the 
battle of New Orleans, although it had been the custom for the past few 
years to so honor the day. There was added significance in this refusal, 
for this was the date set for the Jackson convention in Frankfort. 44 
There was also a flare-up of Clay charges against certain bargains that 
Fackson and his supporters had sought to enter into in the election of 
1825. and proof of the charges was produced. 45 This did not prove of 
much lasting importance in the campaign, as it smacked too much of 
being hatched to neutralize the Jackson cry of "bargain and corruption." 
The old political hack of complicity with Burr in his Western escapade 
was bandied at each other by both sides. Jackson was accused of having 
plotted against his country with Burr; and Clay was charged with the 
same crime by the Jackson party. 46 The question of the tariff and of 
internal improvements played practically no part in the campaign, al- 
though Clay attempted to introduce them as issues. In reply to a com- 
mittee from Madison County who had invited him to a public dinner, he 
said : "All who are opposed to the American system — all who are opposed 
to internal improvements, are now united with others in their endeavors 
to defeat the reelection of the present chief magistrate and to elevate an- 
other individual. Should they suceed there cannot be a doubt that the 

40 Argus, Aug. 22, 1827. 

41 For example, see Argus, Sept. 17, 1828. 

42 See Kentucky Reporter, Nov. 6, 1826. 
« Robertson, Scrap Book, 153- 

44 The House defeated the resolution by a vote of 53 to 37- Ntles Register, 
Vol. 33, P. 357- . 

46 See Niles' Register, Vol. 35, pp. 97, 123-128. 
46 Argus, Oct. 8, 1828. 


most powerful element of this association would afterwards prevail in the 
conduct of public affairs." 47 

This was the first real popular contest in a Presidential election that 
the state had ever experienced, and the ordinary individual entered into 
it with much zeal. Songs and symbols arose and played a determinable 
part in arousing enthusiasm. The Jackson men wore hickory leaves in 
their hats and carried hickory canes — all to show that they were for "Old 
Hickory." The Clay-Adams supporters carried hemp stalks, symbols of 
the American system of tariffs and internal improvements. 48 A song 
that was a worthy forerunner of "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too," was the 
"Hunters of Kentucky." It was sung with great zest and animation and 
did much to keep up the Jackson enthusiasm. One of the characteristic 
stanzas was : 

"But Jackson he was wide awake, 

And wasn't scared at trifles, 
For well he knew what aim we take, 

With our Kentucky rifles; 
So, he led us down to Cypress Swamp, 

The ground was low and mucky ; 
There stood John Bull in martial pomp, 

But here was Old Kentucky: 
O ! Kentucky, 

The Hunters of Kentucky." 49 

Numerous campaign posters and leaflets made their appearance. The 
Jackson party issued one in which they referred to a slighting statement 
the Clay party had made about the standing of the Jackson men that 
"the Jackson boys will be barefooted on the 3d of November and can- 
not come to the polls !" and cleverly turned the slur to their own advan- 
tage : "Remember, in the winter of '76 the soldiers of Liberty, under 
Washington, stained the ice of the Delaware zvith the blood of their naked 
feet, in marching against the enemy of their country." 50 

The congressional and state elections held prior to the Presidential 
contest were looked forward to eagerly by both sides, as straws in the 
wind. In 1826 a special election was held in the Fifth District to fill the 
vacancy caused by the death of Col. James Johnson, which resulted in 
the election by a close majority of the Jackson candidate. 31 In the reg- 
ular congressional election of the following year the signs pointed strongly 
toward a majority state-wide sentiment for Jackson, and, as the state 
was soon to abandon the district system for the general ticket in voting 
for Presidential electors, Jackson had excellent chances to carry the 
complete state delegation. 52 Seven Jackson congressmen were elected 
to five for Adams. The state House of Representatives was also carried 
by the Jackson party, as they were able to organize it by one vote. 63 
The best barometer of party strength was yet to appear. This was the 
state-wide election for governor and Legislature in August directly pre- 
ceding the Presidential election in November. The candidates for gov- 
ernor carried on a vigorous fight, with Barry perhaps more active than 
Metcalfe. The former stumped the state, engaging in joint debates at 

47 Colton, Life and Times of Henry Clay, I, 126, 127. 

48 Argus, Aug. 15, 1827. 

49 This song was written by Samuel Woodworth, who was also the author of 
the Old Oaken Bucket. Magazine of American History, 1884, 548, 549. 

60 Original leaflet in the Durrett Collection in the University of Chicago Library. 
51 This district was composed of the following counties : Scott, Harrison, Pendle- 
ton, Campbell, Boone and Grant. Niles' Register, Vol. 31, pp. 210, 241. 

62 Niles' Register, Vol. 34, p. 25. 

63 Ibid. Vol. 33, p. 1 ; see also p. SO. 


times and speaking to thousands. Amos Kendall performed a signally 
active and valuable service as editor of the Argus. He used every pos- 
sible art in furthering the cause of Jackson arid the Jackson candidates, 
and he felt no hesitancy in bitterly assailing Clay. 54 The Jackson party 
was very anxious to obliterate all traces of the former old and new court 
parties. In their attempt to win the support of each of these old factions 
and escape the antagonisms of both, they took as a candidate for gover- 
nor, Barry, who had been the chief justice of the new court, and for lieu- 
tenant-governor, Breathitt, who had been of the old court party. The 
Argus said : "All the friends of General Jackson should consider them- 
selves, as in fact they are, the same party. In selecting their candidates 
they should forget that old and new court parties ever existed and look 
only to the triumph of the cause in which they are now engaged." 55 
The Clay-Adams party, with Metcalfe for governor, held out conspic- 
uously a course of conciliation. All parties should unite for the good of 
the state and vote their ticket. Metcalfe promised that he would look 
for merit in his appointees and not for their past political affiliations, 
for he would be governor of no political party, but of the state. 56 The 
results of this election were exceedingly close. Metcalfe, the Clay candi- 
date, was able to defeat Barry by a vote of 38,940 to 38,231. Barry's 
defeat was attributed to certain tactics the Clay party had used in rousing 
the fears of the old court men that he would attempt to overturn the 
Court of Appeals again and in stirring up the settlers in the Green River 
region and in the Jackson Purchase by declaring that he was opposed 
to their interests. Barry's activities in the former new court troubles 
was undoubtedly used to some advantage against him. In the case of 
the lieutenant-governor, where these tactics could not be so successfully 
used, Breathitt, the Jackson candidate, was elected over Underwood by 
a vote of 37,541 to 36,454. This was the largest vote by far the state 
had ever polled, and it went beyond the estimates of either party. As 
was stated in N ties' Register, "This state was the great battle-ground of 
parties, and each exerted itself exceedingly." 5T 

There could be little doubt now that Jackson would carry the state 
in November. The campaign was for the remaining time intensified, with 
Kendall pouring forth in the Argus his bitterest invectives against Clay 
and Adams and all they represented. Jackson received in November the 
Kentucky vote by a comfortable majority and by sweeping the rest of 
the nation was carried into the Presidency. His majority was 7,934, being 
over 1,000 votes more than he had received all told in the preceding 
Presidential election, when he was running against Clay. His complete 
vote was 39,394, which was more than twice the number Clay had re- 
ceived in 1824, and nearly 15,000 more votes than had been cast for 
both candidates in that election. No campaign in the whole history of 
the state had ever been fought so vigorously as this one. There were 
more than three times as many people voting in this election as in the 
preceding one. Truly Kentucky had been given a taste of national cam- 
paigning, and she had responded with unparalleled vigor. 

The great national political game had now entered the state to stay. 
The national political organizations became the most vital interests now. 
The election had been largely fought out on enthusiasm and personalities, 
but they had been wonderfully effective in building up party organiza- 
tions. With the parties fast crystallizing, something more tangible and 
lasting than personalities was destined to appear. Before another Presi- 

64 See Argus, June-November, 1828. 

"Jan. 16, 1828. 

89 Argus, Feb. 4, 1829. 

"Vol. 34, p. 411; Argus, Aug. 13, 1828; Niles' Register, Vol. 35, pp. 4, 23. 


dent should be elected, candidates were going to be judged, not so much 
by their personalities but more by the principles they stood for. Impor- 
tant problems were arising and calling for solution ; on these the national 
parties were soon to take very definite positions and stand out, not as 
Clay and Jackson parties, but as whigs and democrats. 


There was great rejoicing throughout the West, for the people's can- 
didate, and a representative of the West at that, had won. 1 Vast throngs 
flocked to Washington for the inauguration, of which Francis Scott Key 
exclaimed on this occasion: "It is beautiful; it is sublime." The recep- 
tion following was entirely otherwise, but still in keeping with a celebra- 
tion of the people's victory. High and low pushed into the White House 
to grasp the hand of the President, and there ensued a wild spectacle 
never equalled before or after. The jostling crowd upset the trays of 
the waiters, broke the dishes and smashed the furniture. 

The people's president was now in power, and he was not slow in 
recognizing those who had put him there. Now he would put the rascals 
out to make way for his supporters ; the spoils system was ushered in. 
There was no office so complicated that an ordinary man could not per- 
form its duties. Jackson said : "The duties of all public offices are, or 
at least admit of being made, so plain and simple that men of intelligence 
may readily qualify themselves for their performance; and I cannot but 
believe that more is lost by the long continuance of men in office than is 
generally to be gained by their experience." No state had been more 
loyal, or made a stronger fight than Kentucky, and for this she should 
have her proper recognition. Barry, who had failed by so small a margin 
in the gubernatorial election, was made postmaster-general, and Kendall, 
who had fought so valiantly as editor of the Argus, was given a position 
in the Treasury Department. Blair, who succeeded to the editorship of 
this paper for a time, was soon called to Washington as Jackson's political 
editor and became a member of the famous "kitchen cabinet." Thomas 
P. Moore was made envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to 
Columbia ; Thomas C. Pickett, secretary of legation to the same country ; 
William Preston, minister to Spain; and Robert B. McAfee a little later, 
charge d' affaires to New Granada. Numerous jobs of less importance 
were meted out in the state. Post offices were filled with newspaper 
editors and others who had supported Jackson. Oldham, who had re- 
fused the nomination for lieutenant-governor in the interest of party har- 
mony, was given the post office at Louisville. 2 

The methods of Jackson were immediately assailed by the Clay party, 
who bitterly complained that their representatives were being dismissed 
on all sides to make way for the hungry Jackson group. Governor Met- 
calfe, in his message to the Legislature in 1829, after calling attention 
to this deplorable situation, declared that if something were not done, 
he feared the results on the nation. He was undecided whether all officers 
should be elected or their salaries reduced. 3 The Jackson men answered 

1 Kendall was very happy at the result — so pleased that he was quite generous 
to his political enemies in their defeat. He admitted that in the recent state elections, 
the New Court men deserved defeat, because they had not consulted the people. 
He had been made to feel the heavy hand of his opponents. The state printing as 
well as national had been taken away from him, and he had lost many subscribers; 
but now victory was at hand. Argus, Nov. 12, 1828. 

2 Argus, March et seq., 1829; Doolan, "The Court of Appeals of Kentucky" in 
Green Bag, XII, 343; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 358, 359. 

3 Argus, Dec. 9, 1829. 



these complaints with like complaints of their own against the Clay 
party in state affairs. Metcalfe, they recalled, had, during the campaign 
for the governorship, promised that party affiliations should not count 
with him in his appointments, but, as it had actually turned out, Jackson's 
followers were proscribed and Clay men were appointed at every op- 
portunity. 4 

Once settled in the Presidency, Jackson began to develop his prin- 
ciples on the problems of the day and to establish reforms. The tariff, the 
United States Bank and internal improvements were calling for attention. 
The positions he took on these absorbing questions had a marked effect on 
his support in Kentucky. In fact, these were issues on which the opposi- 
tion built itself into a great political party, first known as national re- 
publican and then whig, who divided with the democrats the electorate 
of the nation until the alarms of approaching civil war destroyed the 
party. In Kentucky they developed a stronghold from which the demo- 
crats were able to dislodge them only on rare occasions. 

The tariff question was the least troublesome at this time. Ken- 
tuckians, as already shown, were almost a unit in favor of a protective 
tariff, and Jackson had said so little about the tariff that his attitude could 
not be construed into hostility. The tariff of 1828 had been so cleverly 
devised by the Jackson leaders that it gave satisfaction to the regions of 
Jackson support, with certain objectionable features to New England. 
If it were rejected, New England would be responsible and the Jackson 
men would reap the reward of having introduced a protective tariff. The 
law was passed and Kentucky found no objections. The Kentucky del- 
egates who had attended the tariff convention in Harrisburg in 1827, 
had, in an address to the people, clearly set forth the position of the state 
on the subject : "To Kentucky, exhausted by incessant drains of her 
specie to the East, to buy dry goods, and to the West, and North, and 
South, to buy land, and cut off from a profitable foreign market the pro- 
posed measures of relief cannot be otherwise than most salutary. They 
will have a tendency to revive our drooping agriculture and give life and 
animation to our villages. They will stimulate and enable us to improve 
our roads and our rivers and draw from our earth its abundant re- 
sources." 5 

Clay had been, since his early days in the state Legislature, a champion 
of the tariff, and he had later worked out his "American system" of 
tariffs and internal improvements. Until the rising part}' divisions be- 
tween Clay and Jackson appeared, most Kentuckians had agreed with this 
system. But now, for party advantage, if for no other reason, there 
were those who opposed it simply because Clay was advocating it. Jack- 
son's opinions on the tariff were not so tenacious and immutable as on 
other important questions of the day, but he had come to link it with the 
public debt, with the logical result that as the debt was paid off and a 
surplus began to accumulate, the tariff perforce would have to be reduced. 
The idea was prevalent in the South that a protective tariff was uncon- 
stitutional and destructive to the rights of the states. The tariff of 1828, 
designed on no scientific basis, but rather arranged as a clever political 
maneuver, had met with much opposition and came justly to be termed 
the "Tariff of abominations." A movement was soon on foot for a 
complete revision. The Kentucky Legislature came out strongly in sup- 
port of a continuation of the protective tariff. It declared "That it is a 
constitutional exercise of power on the part of congress, to encourage 
and protect the manufactures of the United States, by imposts and re- 
strictions on the goods, wares and merchandise of foreign nations, and 
that the acts of congress usually known by the name of the tariff laws 

4 Ibid., April 6, et seq., 1831. 
6 Robertson, Scrap Book, 146. 


are not only constitutional, but are founded upon principles of policy 
demanded by the best interests of these states." It also took occasion to 
endorse the other factor in Clay's American system — internal improve- 
ments. It resolved : "That congress does possess the power, under the 
constitution, to adopt a general system of internal improvements as a 
national measure for national purposes." It declared these sentiments 
should be forwarded to the governors of Virginia, South Carolina, Geor 
gia and Mississippi "as the expression of the view of the general as- 
sembly of Kentucky on the constitutional power of congress over the 
subjects of domestic manufactures and internal improvements; and for 
the purpose of ascertaining the views and opinions of the several states 
of the United States on the subjects." 

These opinions were not purely partisan, for the resolutions were 
passed by much larger majorities than the Clay supporters could com- 
mand. A substitute offered for the first resolution that Congress had no 
constitutional power to lay duties or imposts designed to prohibit im- 
ports either partially or generally and that "the powers of congress are 
not general, but special, not omnipotent, but limited, and defined by the 
constitution" was overwhelmingly rejected by a vote of 82 to 12. Other 
substitutes were also decisively defeated. These were largely non-par- 
tisan opinions on subjects which Kentucky as a unit had generally 
favored. But when an effort was made to gain partisan advantage out 
of this for Clay, the situation changed. The preamble which contained 
this sentence was carried by only 18 votes : "And the general assembly 
of Kentucky cannot omit to avail itself of an occasion so appropriate 
to call to its aid the oft-repeated sentiments of their most distinguished 
fellow citizen, Henry Clay, whose zealous and able exertions and whose 
eminent services in "support of both measures have been only equalled 
by his ardent patriotism and unbending integrity." 6 

The agitation over the country resulted in a new tariff, passed in 1832 
and largely the work of Adams along the lines suggested by Clay. 
Although it continued unabated the protective feature, it was signed 
by Jackson and was not wholly unacceptable to the Jacksonian demo- 
crats. Thus the tariff could not be made a major issue in the campaign 
of 1832. Jackson's tariff opinions cost him few votes in Kentucky. 

On the question of the United States Bank, Jackson had very decided 
views and prejudices, and in these he was supported by the West gen- 
erally. This institution had been a competitor of the state banks and 
had brought down on itself the charges that it was a great tyrannical 
corporation and an agent of the money power. Senator Benton of Mis- 
souri had said of it : "I know towns, yea, cities, where this bank already 
appears as an engrossing proprietor. * * * All the flourishing cities 
of the West are mortgaged to this money power. They may be devoured 
by it at any moment. They are in the jaws of the monster! One gulp, 
one swallow, and all is gone." The bank was also accused of being in 
politics. The Jackson party in Kentucky claimed that the branch at Lex- 
ington was helping Clay in the campaign in every way possible — that it 
would lend money only to the supporters of Clay. 7 Kendall, who had 
been so bitter an enemy of the bank in Kentucky, undoubtedly influenced 
the President in his hostility. But Jackson needed little urging, for, as 
he told Nicholas Biddle, the' president of the United States Bank, "I do 
not dislike vour bank any more than all banks, but ever since I read the 
history of the South Sea Bubble I have been afraid of banks." In his 
first message to Congress he referred to the fact that the charter of the 

8 Niles' Register, Vol. 37, p. 428. The Jackson members chided the Clay men 
for introducing politics into this set of resolutions, which were designed to express 
the general sentiment of Kentuckians. Argus, April 21, 1830. 

t Argus, Oct. 31, 1832. 


bank would expire in 1836, and the question of a recharter would arise. 
"In order to avoid the evils resulting from precipitancy in a measure in- 
volving such important principles and such deep pecuniary interests, I 
feel that I cannot, in justice to the parties interested, too soon present it to 
a deliberate consideration of the Legislature and the people. Both the 
constitutionality and the expediency of the law creating this bank are 
well questioned by a large portion of our fellow-citizens, and it must 
be admitted by all that it has failed in the great end of establishing a uni- 
form and sound currency." 8 Believing that Jackson's position would 
not be upheld by the people, Clay and Biddle forced the bank question as 
an issue into the campaign of 1832 by pushing through Congress a bill 
rechartering the bank, although it still had four years to run. Jackson 
joined the issue by vetoing the bill. 

The situation in Kentucky had changed somewhat since the days when 
relief had been uppermost. The state banking institutions left were the 
two branches of the United States Bank at Lexington and Louisville. 9 
The people were coming to see that after all these institutions were 
valuable assets to the state, building up a prosperity which the state banks 
had endangered or destroyed. A merchant said : "From the best means 
of information within my reach, the office of the United States Bank at 
Lexington during the last year negotiated exchange transactions to an 
amount exceeding $1,500,000 equal to one-half of the estimated exports 
of this section, the larger part of which was probably for the benefit of 
the stock-drovers. In thus promoting the general commerce of the coun- 
try its advantages are extended to all classes, and the institutions should 
be, and I believe is, viewed as one of the great causes of our sectional 
prosperity and has thereby gained a corresponding popularity." 10 Jack- 
son's summary action against the continuance of the bank thus won for 
him much less support here now than it would have done a decade earlier. 

But the views of Jackson that cost him the most support in Kentucky 
were on the question of internal improvements. Clay had long been in 
favor of internal improvements and had made it a cardinal part of his 
American system. Kentuckians. irrespective of their politics, had also 
favored the development of roads, rivers and canals. They not only 
believed in engaging in these public undertakings, but held that the Na- 
tional Government should aid in their construction. Clay believed Con- 
gress should provide for the construction of interstate highways which 
could not or would not be undertaken by individual states or combination 
of states. He called attention to the fact that Congress had constructed 
light-houses and public buildings, provided for coast surveys and erected 
sea-walls — "everything on the margin of the ocean, but nothing for 
domestic trade; nothing for the great interior country." "Not one stone," 
he said, "had yet been broken, not one spade of earth removed, in any 
Western State." 11 The right to regulate commerce, he declared, in- 
cluded the full power to construct roads and canals in the interior. It 
should not be forgotten that the West was a mighty region : "A new 
world has come into being since the Constitution was adopted. Are 
the narrow, limited necessities of the old thirteen states, or, indeed, parts 
only of the old thirteen states, as they existed at the formation of the 
present Constitution, forever to remain the rule of its interpretation?" 12 
In 182S the Kentucky Legislature had recommended to Congress the 

8 Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, II, 462. 

9 See American Almanac, 1831, II, 244-247. The Bank of the Commonwealth 
was winding up its affairs. Many of the branches had been recalled or were con- 
tinued only through a resident agent, and the paper notes were being gathered up 
and burned. Niles' Register, Vol. 32, pp. 37, 421. 

10 Mies' Register, Vol. 40, p. 194. 

11 Annals of Congress, 18 Cong., 1 Sess., I, 1035. 

12 Annals of Congress, 18 Cong., 1 Sess., I, 1315; Colton, Private Correspondence 
of Clay, 81. 


extension of a branch of the National Road (Cumberland Road) from 
Zanesville, Ohio, by way of Maysville and Lexington in Kentucky 
through Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi to New Orleans. A bill 
looking toward the construction of a link in this highway passed the 
House of Representatives and failed in the Senate only the vote of John 
Rowan, a Kentuckian. Adams was yet President and, had the bill 
passed, he would undoubtedly have signed it. 13 

Undaunted by this defeat, the citizens of Maysville secured the pas- 
sage through the Kentucky Legislature of a bill chartering the Maysville 
and Washington turnpike, running for four miles between the two towns 
named. With commendable energy and speed this road was pushed to 
completion by November, 1830. This was a link of the Maysville, Wash- 
ington, Paris and Lexington turnpike which had been chartered in 1827, 
with a capital stock of $320,000. The bill for Federal aid, having been 
defeated in 1828, was introduced again in 1830. This bill authorized the 
Secretary of the Treasury to subscribe for the United States 1,500 shares 
at $100 each. It passed the House by a vote of 102 to 84 and was suc- 
cessfully pushed through the Senate 24 to 18, with George M. Bibb, a 
Kentuckian, voting "nay" in this instance. John Rowan had been suffi- 
ciently "instructed" to vote for it this time. 14 Against the wishes of 
many of his closest counsellors Jackson boldly vetoed the bill and thereby 
risked the loss of some of his strongest support in Pennsylvania and the 
West. He based his argument against the Government appropriating 
money for local enterprises, not only on its unconstitutionality but also 
upon its inexpediency. 15 He refused to be blinded by the scheme of 
making this turnpike a link in a great national project — as much so as 
the National Road. He knew that only Kentucky, and largely that part 
between Maysville and Lexington, would be benefited, and, regardless of 
the fact that his support was particularly strong in this part of the state, 
he refused to be moved. This veto made the "Maysville Road" famous 
throughout the country long before it was actually constructed, and it 
served notice on the states that all such projects would receive like treat- 
ment. 16 

There was profound disappointment in Kentucky. Both the Jackson 
men as well as the Clay men had expected the President to sign the bill. 
In fact, on the passage of the bill by Congress, jubilation had reigned 
among Kentuckians, irrespective of parties, and Bibb had been severely 
condemned for his vote and burned in effigy at places. The Jackson dem- 
ocrats were undoubtedly surprised and chagrined, despite the claims of 
some that all opposition in Kentucky to Jackson's veto came from the 
Clay party. Trying to forestall any capital for Clay out of the veto, the 
Clwrlcston Mercury said : "The friends of Mr. Clay in Kentucky, it 
seems, have burnt Senator Bibb of that state in effigy, because of his 
opposition to the Maysville road bill. This proceeding is equally silly and 
indecorous. Mr. Clay can no more bum his way to the Presidency than 
he can eat it. The principles upon which that bill was rejected by the 
President are such as must make a deep impression upon the minds of 
the people, and the only effect of burning its opponents in effigy will be 
to light them on to new popularity and power." 17 The South, which 
was strongly against the tariff and Federal aid to internal improvements, 

13 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 539- 

"Ibid., 539, 540. 

16 Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, II, 483-493. 

16 The story is told that Jackson was influenced in his veto of the Maysville bill 
because of a practical joke that had been played upon him on his way to be in- 
augurated in 1829. On leaving Paris, Kentucky, Jackson was misled by some 
Adams men changing the sign-board, "To Maysville" to a point to Mount Sterling. 
The Jackson party passed on a considerable distance toward the latter town before 
the mistake was discovered. Collins, History of Kentucky, II, 7$. 

17 Quoted in Niles' Register, Vol. 38, p. 302. 


was bitterly condemned for voting almost solidly against the Maysville 
bill. Kentucky, being a border state, was already being drawn away from 
the South in numerous ways, and this vote tended to intensify the feeling 
of separateness. The Frankfort Commentator said: "To 'the generous 
south' we are indebted for five votes, including some from Western Vir- 
ginia, which, in strictness, should not be reckoned with 'the generous 
south,' though Virginia is reckoned as a southern state. The four south- 
ern states (Va., N. C. S. C. and Ga.) have given 43 votes against us." 
It then laid the credit for passing the bill to the Clay party : "Looking at 
the list of ayes and noes, with reference to the political classification of 
the members, we find a large majority oj the ayes are opponents of the 
present administration, while among the 86 who voted against this bill, 
we recognize but three or four who are not of the Jackson party." 1S 

The parrying for party advantage and credit for the passage of the 
bill clearly shows that the Jackson party in the state was heartily in favor 
of Federal aid to internal improvements. Before the veto the Argus 
answered the Commentator in its claims of credit for Clay: "The appro- 
priation of $150,000 to the Maysville and Lexington turnpike, which has 
lately passed the House of Representatives, where there is a Jackson 
majority of 60 or 70, is also credited to Mr. Clay and his friends. When 
the bill receives sanction of the Jackson Senate it will be another feather 
in his cap, and when the President signs the bill, without which it could 
not become a law, the Commentator will exclaim: 'See what Mr. Clay 
has done !' and then we shall have a general shout in honor of Henry Clay, 
the great champion of the American system.' During the whole time Mr. 
Clay was in Congress and the cabinet he could do nothing in favor of 
Kentucky ; now that he is out, he does wonders ! If his unqualified 
retirement brings down such blessings upon us, why not permit him to re- 
main in it?" 19 The Louisville Public Advertiser, innocently enough ex- 
pecting Jackson to sign the bill, remarked : " 'A change we think has come 
over the scene' — 'western interests will not nozv be neglected' — we shall 
nozv have more action and less talk?' Verily we think so too. The present 
administration acts on the principles it professes, and now western inter- 
ests will not be neglected. 'A change has,' indeed, 'come over the scene.' 
The real friends of the country are in power — and therefore 'we shall have 
more action and less talk.' We rejoice to hear the enemies of General 
Jackson speak thus favorably of his administration. — 'Truth is mighty 
and will prevail.' " 20 

The disappointment at the veto was expressed in many meetings 
throughout the state, which bitterly attacked Jackson — and none were 
more bitter than those in the regions of the proposed road. A large meet- 
ing was held in Lexington on June 21, 1830, to protest against the veto, 
and weld together the state into a unit for Clay. It declared that Con- 
gress had the power to aid internal improvements, that it had done so for 
the past twenty-five years, and that they viewed "with deep surprise and 
just regret" the refusal of Jackson to co-operate with Congress on this 
subject. Jackson had been elected with the understanding that he would 
favor such projects. The Maysville road was not a local project at all, 
but one out of which the whole West would profit ; neither was the 
Louisville canal, which Jackson had also refused to let Congress aid, of 
local benefit alone. The President had recklessly used his veto power, 
to the detriment of the people's interests ; therefore, an amendment to 
the Constitution ought to be adopted making a mere majority, instead of 
two-thirds, sufficient to override a veto. Other acts of Jackson, includ- 
ing his dealings with the Indians in Georgia, were also attacked. And 

18 Quoted in Miles' Register, Vol. 38, p. 286. 
"Quoted in Niles' Register, Vol. 38, p. 286. 
20 Quoted in Niles' Register, Vol. 38, p. 286. 

Vol. II— 


then came the expression of the real purpose of the meeting: "Resolved, 
That this meeting, in forbearing at this time to make a formal nomination 
of the pre-eminently qualified, talented and patriotic individual in its 
judgment most suitable for the next presidency, is actuated by the un- 
willingness to be subjected to the imputation of precipitation in a case in 
which partiality towards a neighbor and a friend might be supposed to 
have too much influence. But the preference of the people here assembled 
cannot be doubted; nor that they will manifest that preference on proper 
occasions hereafter." A "standing committee of correspondence" was 
to be appointed "to make manifest the truth and promote the success of 
the sentiments of this meeting, as now expressed, by all fair and honor- 
able means in their power." 21 

The staunch and the unterrified of the Jackson party stood by the 
veto manfully, difficult as it was. A substitute set of resolutions was 
introduced in the Lexington meeting declaring that the Kentuckians had 
undiminished confidence "in the integrity, firmness and wisdom of the 
venerable president of the United States"; that they viewed the preserva- 
tion of the Constitution in its "true intent and meaning" as more im- 
portant than any "pecuniary advantage"; that they were opposed to new 
appropriations that would impede the time when the nation's debt should 
be paid off; that the Maysville road was in fact "local and state, rather 
than national improvements, and as such, is not certainly embraced in 
the provisions of our constitution as an object of national concern" ; and 
rather ambiguously that "we will, as citizens of Kentucky, and as per- 
sons who are interested in the said road, do as our fellow citizens of other 
states are now doing, put our own shoulders to the work, and when the 
proper time shall arrive, we will in a proper way. call on the general 
government for aid." These resolutions were promptly voted down. 22 

The Jackson democrats used the arguments contained in these resolu- 
tions to combat the Clay party, together with such other reasons, as that 
the rights of a state would be seriously interfered with in carrying out 
federal aid to state undertakings. The Federal Government could take 
control of a state and run canals and roads anywhere it pleased regardless 
of the wishes of the state. This would also be an interference with the 
rights of private companies to construct such improvements. 23 They 
also accused the Clay party of trying to manufacture sentiment along 
the proposed road, and elsewhere, by holding meetings, and introducing 
a cut and dried set of resolutions — the same as were passed at Lexing- 
ton. The Argus said : "An excitement is got up along the route of Mays- 
ville Road, and the neighborhood of its termination ; public meetings are 
appointed by his friends in the towns, and his partisans from the country 
are particularly invited and pressed to attend ; at their own home the 
managers of the business, send round a runner to rendezvous ; a Chair- 
man and Secretary are installed by those thus rallied and a preamble of 
turnpike resolutions are ready by way of introduction, and Mr. Clay is 
nominated to the Presidency by way of conclusion." 24 

As the issues were shaping and thoughts of a candidate were being 
indulged. Clay was instinctively looked to to make the race. After the 
election of 1828. when his term of secretary of state had expired with 
the going out of the Adams administration, he had retired to his home 
near Lexington, there to receive the plaudits of his fellow Kentuckians -'•" 

21 Nile s' Register, Vol. 38, pp. 360, 361, 364. The Lexington Reporter gave the 
following conundrum and answer : "Why is a man walking on a turnpike road like 
Gen. Jackson? — D'ye give it up? Because he is trampling internal improvements 
under foot." Ibid., 354. 

22 Nilcs' Register, Vol. 38, p. 360. 

23 See Argus. June 30, et seq., 1830. 
"July 14. 1830. 

25 At a dinner given to him in Louisville which it was supposed at least 3,000 


It was thought best by his friends -that he remain in retirement for a 
year or two, in order to be able to best make the race in 1832. The com- 
mittee of correspondence appointed by the Lexington meeting in June 
soon formulated a very lengthy address to the people of Kentucky, in 
which it opened the campaign against Jackson in favor of Clay. The 
former was bitterly attacked for his strong partisanship, and for his ruth- 
less application of the spoils system, through which the public press of 
the country had been corrupted by the appointment of more than fifty 
editors to office. The Maysville Road veto was assailed at great length 
and Jackson's reasons for the veto was taken up and answered. Other 
acts of the President were also attacked. He had greatly disappointed 
the people who had elected him and even those who had opposed him. 
He was on the wrong side of all the great questions of the times. "If 
any one can still doubt that this administration is anti-tariff, anti-internal 
improvement, anti-western, anti-northern, and a real southern administra- 
tion, let him look at its composition ; let him ask himself what counsels 
have the ascendency.'' It called on the people through the state to hold 
meetings and arouse public sentiment. "No government upon earth is 
absolutely beyond the reach of influence of public opinion. Those who 
affect to despise it are compelled to obey, if not to respect it. A general 
and strong manifestation of the public will may yet awe our public ser- 
vants, and preserve our rights. Hut if not. if they will persevere in 
error, and treat with contempt the feelings and the interests of the 
people, there is another more efficacious though more distant remedv 
The application of that remedy is at the polls.'' It believed that the 
people should begin now to think of and prepare for this application. 
Clay was then suggested as the most suitable person to receive the nomin- 
ation against Jackson. 20 

The Clay forces throughout the state were being steadily organized 
in county meetings and conventions, and the state-wide convention was 
held in December, 1830, for the purpose of nominating a candidate for 
the presidency. Believing that Jackson had largely destroyed his follow- 
ing in the state due to his Maysville Road veto and to others of his 
measure, the Clay party tried to make their appeal for support as all- 
inclusive as consistent with their principles. The Clay members of the 
Legislature in November wished to call a convention for the purpose of 
passing on the national issues and indicating a preference for President ; 
but the Jackson men, believing they had a majority, sought to use the 
Legislature itself for this purpose — such procedure having been common 
heretofore. The Clay party soon called the convention, at the time named 
above, supposedly non-partisan, but in fact to name Clay and support the 
principles he stood for. The party was referred to as ''the friends of 
the union of the states and the American system" and "the friends of 
internal improvements, and the protection of domestic industry." 27 The 
convention was held with 290 delegates present, and Clay was nom- 
inated. 28 

At a convention held a year later, he was brought forward by the 
national party, which had taken the name, National Republican. 

Althought laboring under a handicap, especially on account of lack- 
son's hostility to federal aid to internal improvements, the democrats 

persons attended, the following toast was offered : "Henry Clay — who 'by his pre- 
eminent talents; by his splendid services; by his ardent patriotism; by his all- 
embracing public spirit; by his fervid eloquence in behalf of the rights and liberties 
of mankind,' has shed unfading glory on the country of his birth, and the age in 
which he lives." Among the other public dinners given him was one at Shelbyville, 
where 1,000 people gathered together. A T iles' Register, Vol. 36, p. 349. 

26 Niles' Register, Vol. 38, pp. 406-412. 

27 Argus, Nov. 30, et seq., 1830 ; Miles' Register, Vol. 39, p. 90. 

28 Niles' Register, Vol. 39, 302; Argus, Dec. 21, 1831. At a convention held in 
December, 1831, R. A. Buckner was nominated for governor. 


kept up a strong fight against the national republicans. Their party 
was less ably led, as they had no outstanding leader like Clay in the state, 
and the composition of the party lent itself less easily to organization and 
management. The democrats were predominately countrymen, and 
therefore scattered and less easily organized. The national republican? 
were, on the other hand, largely in the towns, and therefore more closely 
knit into a political organization. The Argus, admitting the superior 
organization of the national republicans, saw dangers in it for the people : 
"Ours is the popular side. It is the cause of the people and republican 
principles. The people then must act in its defense. Our opponents 
enjoy the only advantage which a monarchy has over a republic — which 
is a concentration of all pozver in the hands of one man. He directs their 
movements with sovereign control, and no man dare say nay to his man- 
dates. But there is more energy in our party, if that energy can be 
roused into action." 29 The national republicans knew many political 
tricks for securing support and were not slow in using them. The 
democrats kept their organizations continuous, ready for whatever 
election that should come. In 1829, they made a fight to elect congress- 
men friendly to Jackson, and succeeded in maintaining the enthusiastic 
support, which had given the state to him the preceding year. Out of 
the twelve congressmen, ten were secured for Jackson, which was a re- 
duction of the Clay members from four to two. 30 

There was no question that the democrats throughout the nation were 
resolved on Jackson to succeed himself. This was understood every- 
where, and in Kentucky as early as elsewhere. The same month in which 
the national republicans were meeting to bring Clay forward saw the 
democrats in a state convention in Frankfort for the purpose of boosting 
Jackson and his principles. Much activity had preceded this convention 
in the shape of an address to the people by the central organization, and 
of county meetings and conventions passing their long sets of resolutions. 
As a result an enthusiastic convention of 353 delegates from seventy-one 
counties came together. It was pre-eminently a people's convention, 
made up of honest toilers. There were between 290 and 300 farmers 
among the delegates, or according to the news account, "9 out of 10 are 
farmers, and mechanics, men who work for their support, and are prin- 
cipally clothed in the manufacturies of their families." 31 Jackson was 
declared the choice of the Kentucky democracy. The regular nominating 
convention came a year later (December, 1831), where about 400 dele- 
gates from seventy-two counties came together. They formally named 
Jackson for the presidency and brought forward their fellow-citizen. 
R. M. Johnson, for the vice presidency. John Breathitt, the lieutenant- 
governor, was nominated for governor. The political contest over the 
firing of a salute for New Orleans the previous January 8th, had resulted 
in the House of Representatives passing the resolution, but the governor 
successfully vetoing it. 32 This convention now sought to undo this defeat 
as far as possible without arousing unnecessary hostility among those 
Kentuckians who still nursed the wounds of Jackson's censure. It had 
a salute fired December 23, as it was then in session, and as the skirmish 
on this day could hold no regrets for any Kentuckians. 33 

In the elections for the state legislature, party lines were less sharply 
drawn than in the other elections, and as a result the Clay forces with 
their superior knowledge of party tactics generally came out victorious. 
In the same election in 1829, which gave Jackson ten congressmen to 

2 9 Nov. 9, 1831. 

30 Argus, Aug. 19, 1829. Also see Ibid., April 22, 1829. 

31 Argus, Dec. 15, 22, 1830. 

32 Argus, Feb. 16, 1831. 

33 Ibid., Dec. 29, 1831. 


Clay's two, an anti-Jackson Legislature was returned. 34 The Clay party 
systematically worked to obscure and obliterate party lines here, and they 
were successful. In Franklin County, eighty Jackson men voted for 
Crittenden for the Legislature, through the feeling that had been aroused 
that the man was more important than the party. And due to the obscur- 
ity of parties, it was often impossible to define the party of the legis 
lators until they voted on some important political question. According 
to a Louisville newspaper, the Clay party "By singing the siren song of 
'peace, peace — no party,' previous to the late August election, they suc- 
ceeded in obtaining a majority in the Legislature." 35 In the succeeding 
election for the Legislature, of 1830, the Clay forces won again, fighting 
for control particularly because a United States Senator would soon be 
elected. Directly after the election the Louisville Focus bet $500 that a 
Clay senator would be sent to Washington. 30 An effort was made by this 
legislature through fifteen ballots to elect a senator, but both parties 
were so badly divided on candidates, that the election was postponed 
until the next session. 37 The election of 1831, which also included con- 
gressmen, was more hotly fought, for the additional reason that the 
election of a United States Senator was also at stake. Being the first 
important election after the Maysville Road veto, it was looked upon by 
both parties as an important indication of public sentiment on the national 
questions, and as especially bearing on Clay's hold on the state. It was 
claimed by the Clay men that the Jackson party had sent into the moun- 
tains of the eastern part of the state, engineers to make a great noise 
and bustle in fictitious surveying to convince the people that Jackson was 
in favor of internal improvements. The results of the election were, 
slightly in favor of Clay; but Jackson had failed to suffer the unpopu- 
larity that his enemies had expected and his friends feared. On a joint 
ballot in the Legislature the Clay forces could count on a majority of at 
least a dozen, which, thus, insured the election of a Clay senator. Of the 
congressmen, Jackson, claimed eight to Clay's four — an increase of two 
for the latter." 38 It was determined upon that Clay, himself, should be 
elected to the Senate in order that he might better make his campaign 
for the presidency from this point of vantage. Accordingly on the meet- 
ing of the Legislature in November he was elected over Richard M. John- 
son by a vote of seventy-three to sixty-four. 30 

The election of 1832, coming in August just preceeding the presi- 
dential election and including the election of a governor, was looked upon 
as carrying not only an indication of the outcome of the next election but 
also an important moral effect. The Jackson men were greatly heartened, 
as they elected their candidate, Breathitt, by a majority of slightly 
over 1,000 votes. Their small majority was not discouraging, for 

Si Argus, Aug. 19, 1829; Aug. 25, 1830; Miles' Register, Vol. 37, p. 68. It was 
in the heat of this campaign that Charles Wickliffe killed Benning, the editor of 
the Kentucky Gazette. Shortly afterwards, G. J. Trotter, who succeeded to the 
editorship, killed Wickliffe in a duel near the Scott County line, with the par- 
ticipants fighting eight feet apart. Colton, Life and Times of Henry Clay, I, 90-93; 
Miles' Register, Vol. 36, p. 65; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 35. 

35 Louisville Public Advertiser quoted in Argus, April 21, 1830. 

™Niles' Register, Vol. 39, P- 55- ,„ 

37 The highest votes for each candidate follows: J. J. Crittenden, 68; R. M. 
Johnson, 64; C. A. Wickliffe, 49; John Breathitt, 66. Collins, History of Kentucky, 

I, 36. 

88 Argus, Aug. 17, 1831 ; Niks' Register, Vol. 40, p. 449; Vol. 41, p. 1. 

8 <> Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 36; Niles' Register, Vol. 41, p. 237. This 
political maneuver was bitterly attacked. The Washington Globe declared: "He 
will stand in that body, not as the representative of Kentucky, but of a few base 
men rendered infampus by the fraud perpetrated in electing him. He will be but 
the shadow of what he was once in congress, when he stood upon the basis of the 
democratic principles which he then avowed, and which the people of Kentucky 
still maintain." Quoted in JVi7^j* Register. Vol. 41, p. 237. 


they had feared a serious defeat. The Clay party carried the Legis- 
lature as usual, and also succeeded in electing the lieutenant-governor 
Morehead. There was in fact no great reason for Clay's supporters 
to feel that they had suffered defeat, or that they could not carry 
the state for their chief. This was one explanation for the defeat of 
their candidate, Buckner: "Mr. Buckncr seems to have lost his election, 
because, being a member of a particular religious society he was suspected 
with being opposed to Sunday mails! In many cases he fell short of his 
ticket, and in others, no doubt, caused it to drag heavily. And so far did 
the opposition proceed against him on this account, that two 'Clay papers' 
supported Mr. Breathitt. And the counties beyond the Tennessee River 
gave majorities to the Jackson candidate that neither party calculated 
on." *" The vote in the four counties west of the Tennessee, the so-called 
Jackson Purchase, was, indeed, remarkable. Breathitt received 1,856 
votes here to Buckner's 276. In fact this region gave Breathitt a larger 
majority than he obtained throughout the whole state, and may therefore, 
be said to have elected him. With its scattered population, this region 
cast one vote for less than six free persons. The same region 
continued a most remarkably steadfast support of Jackson and the demo- 
cratic party, which could not even be shaken by the throes of Civil war. 
Buckner's stronghold was in the Blue Grass region. 41 Breathitt was in- 
augurated soon afterwards, with the booming of cannon, much speech- 
making, and other forms of welcome and rejoicing. 42 Well might this 
be, for he was the first of his party since the days of Desha, and was 
destined to be the last until the shadows of Civil war were creeping over 
the state and party lines were being largely obliterated. 

As neither party had won a decisive victory in this election, the un- 
certainty of the presidential voting was heightened. Both parties im- 
mediately set to work with great vigor and determination to carry the 
state for its candidate. Kentucky was considered a pivotal state by the 
national republicans, who now believed that they had successfully stayed 
the Jackson enthusiasm that had followed his first election and that their 
chances were excellent for electing Clay. As a Tennesseean said to 
Crittenden, "thank God the day is passed by when a man is persecuted 
and humbled down for being anti-Jackson." 4 -" Serious defections from 
the Jackson party which had begun before the August election, were now 
continued, and the fact was displayed with advantage by the Clay forces. 
Jackson's vetoes of the Maysville Road and of the United States Bank 
were losing him much support in Kentucky, especially when coupled with 
the charges that the President was fast setting up an executive tyrannv 
dangerous to the people's liberties. In June, thirty-seven prominent men 
of Louisville, who had voted for Jackson in his first election, sent out an 
invitation for a meeting at which resolutions condemning Jackson and 
lauding Clay were to be drawn up. They declared in their call that they 
had believed "that a debt of gratitude was due to General Jackson, for 
his patriotism and services to his country, together with other reasons 
of a political nature," and for these reasons they had been "among his 
supporters to elevate him to the distinguished office which he now holds." 
But now, "The duty which we owe to ourselves, our country, and to 
mankind, compels us to express our disappointment and deep regret at 
the course pursued by him in the administration of our government. The 
more we reflect and examine into the policy of his administration, the 
more we deplore and deprecate its effects. Moreover, we regret that 
General Jackson should have permitted his name again to be presented 

40 Nilcs' Register, Vol. 42, p. 450; Argus, Aug. 29, 1832. 

41 Niks' Register, Vol. 43, pp. 3, 20. 

42 Argus, Sept. 5, 1832. 

43 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 4, Nos. 695, 696. Boyd McNairy to Crittenden, May 
9, 1831. 


to the American people as a candidate for that office, as, during the can- 
vass which resulted in his favor, it was urged with great zeal, by most 
of his distinguished advocates, that it was dangerous for any individual 
to hold the office of president of these United States more than one term, 
and assurances given, of the general's own pledges, that he would only 
hold it on these terms." They believed that this debt of gratitude had 
now been paid, and that he had been amply rewarded. Hence, being 
"conscious that the best interests of our country call aloud upon us to 
oppose his re-election, we feel ourselves bound, as American citizens, 
to do so, and we do oppose it, with as much zeal and promptitude as we 
then vindicated his claims to that office." 

The meeting was held and a series of resolutions was formulated and 
adopted. He was condemned for his "indiscreet and arbitrary exercise 
of his veto" and for expressing his unguarded resentment, "excited by 
the freedom of debate" in such a way as to "furnish encouragement to 
his violent partisans to attempt its restraint by the pistol and the club." 
His "preposterous and monsterous claim" that he had the right to con- 
strue the constitution as he pleased without the restraint or aid of the 
judiciary "betrays a disposition to obliterate the fair features of our con- 
stitution, and threatens us with the wildest anarchy, or a dark and dreary 
despotism."- It was also held, "That in his reiteration and pertinacious 
endeavors to crush the United States bank, to abolish the tariff, and to 
check the spirit and spread of internal improvement, the president has 
waged an unrelenting hostility against the first, best interests of the 
country." Other acts of the administration were condemned and it was 
resolved "That with all the zeal, energy and effort of which we are 
capable, we will by all honorable means oppose the re-election of Andrew 
Jackson to the presidency of these United States, and do earnestly invite 
those of our fellow citizens, who like ourselves have been deceived, but 
still lend a reluctant support to the administration, to renounce the pride 
of a false consistency, and, confronting the difficulties of the crisis now 
before us, to co-operate heart and hand in this work of true and most 
necessary reform." They declared that "Our distinguished fellow citizen 
henry clay, who had ever been the undeviating friend of the union, 
its liberties and its rights, and who has contributed by his talents and 
honest zeal to exalt our beloved country to her present rank and pros- 
perity, is entitled to our confidence and will receive our support at the 
next election for president of the United States." 44 

Other meetings were held in Louisville and elsewhere both of former 
Jackson supporters as well as enemies, and resolutions passed condemning 
him. A meeting in Louisville was called especially to show displeasure 
over his bank veto and those who had formerly opposed him declared they 
were now confirmed in that opposition and those who had formerly sup- 
ported him vowed to seek penance for their former sins by voting for 
Clay. 45 Forty-seven former Jackson supporters in Fayette County called 
a meeting "large and highly respectable" in Lexington where it was re- 
solved that they had found in Jackson "many causes of disappointment; 
that the principles that induced our support, are deserted ; the pledges 
on which we confidently relied are unredeemed ; our hopes of promoting; 
the welfare of our country, by his election, are unfulfilled, and that his 
longer continuance in office, would be dangerous to the best interests of 
our country." Therefore, it should be the duty of all patriots to work un- 
relentingly for the defeat of Jackson. 48 The Clay party called a state- 
wide convention for speechmaking and for arousing enthusiasm im- 
mediately after the August election! The hardest fight was now on, and 

« Niles' Register, Vol. 42, pp. 407, 408. 
45 Ibid., 408. 
ie Ibid., 426. 


according to the press "A high state of political excitement prevails in 
this state. The electoral election will be furiously contested, we fear, in 
too many cases." 47 

Although the fear of very serious defections from their party was 
much allayed by the August elections, the Jackson supporters did not 
relent in their fight. They knew that it was now Jackson against Clay, 
and they were not forgetful of the peculiar attachment the Kentuckians 
had for the latter. Well might they fear the results, even though they 
had carried the state for Breathitt. They also saw the former Jackson 
supporters deserting and making a very loud noise as they did so. Un- 
questionably the President's stand on internal improvements was hardest 
to explain to the people and calculated to lose him the most votes. The 
bank veto had also been unpopular but with a much smaller number of 
people. The tariff was little in the contest, as Jackson's record here was 
less open to attack, for he had just signed the protective tariff of 1832, 
drawn by Adams along lines indicated by Clay. In early September a 
state-wide meeting of Jackson supporters was held at Harrodsburg, 
where much enthusiasm was manifested, and a long address to the people 
issued, calling on them once more not to forget the base alliance between 
Clay and Adams and to remember that Jackson was the real friend of 
the people, and a man out of the West. 48 A few weeks later, Jackson, 
himself, found it convenient to pass through the state. A great ovation 
was given him at Lexington, where people gathered from fifty miles 
around to see and hear the President. 49 

Despite their hard fight the Jackson party went down in defeat in 
Kentucky. Clay won his state by more than 7,000 majority, which was 
truly a personal tribute. 50 Under any circumstances Clay had proved 
himself invincible in his own state, but throughout the nation he failed 
to secure a majority. Jackson, thus, became president for a second time. 
Although party names had been used locally not as indicating a platform 
of principles, but rather the personality of men, hereafter the parties 
were referred to in state as well as national affairs as national republi- 
can for a short time and then whig, and democratic. Niles in 1829, had 
called attention to the lack of party names and deprecated its significance: 
"As we are pretty soon, it seems, to have another great political con- 
troversy, though the names of the persons on whom parties are to be 
rallied are not yet determined — and while we do not intend to take any 
part in the personal conflict more than heretofore, it is earnestly wished 
that some terms may be adopted descriptive of the principles of 
parties,— and politics not be suffered to exist as though the people were 
divided into petty clans of Campbells and McGregors, owing allegiance to 
their lords, and required to join issue in the quarrels, without an under- 
standing of, or regard for, the merits of them. The events of the next 
session of congress may bring about a gratifying result, in this respect, 
and arrest the progress of what must be esteemed derogatory to the re- 
publican character, and unsafe in its practice." 51 

Jackson had scarcely been re-elected before he was confronted with 
one of the most serious problems with which any President up to his time 
had ever been forced to deal with. This was South Carolina's nullifica- 
tion ordinance. As heretofore noted, the South generally had looked with 
strong disapproval on internal improvements at national expense and on 
the protective tariff. South Carolina had assumed the leadership in this 
opposition as early as 1824. The tariff of 1828, the so-called "Tariff of 
abominations," all but used up the patience of the fiery Carolinians. 

47 Niles' Register, Vol. 43, pp. 134, 135. 

48 Argus, Sept. 19, 1832. 

49 Argus, Oct. 3, 1832. 

50 Argus, Nov. 21, 1832; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 37. 

51 Niles' Register, Vol. 37, p. 68. 


About this time Calhoun set forth his theory of nullification in what was 
known as "The South Carolina Exposition." The Virginia and Kentucky 
Resolutions were studied closely and levied upon for ideas and prec- 
edents, with the former being much more conspicuously used than the 
latter. Finally when the tariff of 1832 was passed, South Carolina lost 
all patience and on November 19, 1832, her Legislature called a conven- 
tion to take the situation into consideration. This convention promptly 
passed the South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification, declaring that the 
tariff acts of 1828 and 1832 were without effect in the state. Jackson, 
contrary to the belief of many supporters as well as opponents, acted 
quickly and with vigor. He put the military forces of the nation on the 
alert, and proceeded to issue on December 10th a stern warning to those 
who would obstruct the execution of the laws of the Union. "The laws 
of the United States must be executed," he declared. "I have no discre- 
tionary power on the subject; my duty is emphatically pronounced in the 
constitution. Those who told you that you might peaceably prevent their 
execution, deceived you; they could not have been deceived themselves. 
They know that a forcible opposition could alone prevent the execution 
of the laws, and they know that such opposition must be repelled. Their 
object is disunion. But be not deceived by names. Disunion by armed 
force is treason." 52 The so-called "forcebill" giving the President the 
right to call out the army and navy to enforce the laws of Congress, was 
introduced in January and pushed through before the end of the session. 
In the meantime, Clay had been working on a compromise tariff which 
he succeeded in also getting through by the same time. This tariff of 
1833, or Compromise Tariff as it is often termed, brought about a gradual 
reduction of the rates over a period of ten years, and was accepted by 
South Carolina as preferable to her nullification course. 

In her mad plunge toward destruction, South Carolina was unable to 
induce a single other state to follow her. Kentucky's lack of sympathy 
for the Sjouth's views on the tariff had been expressed on numerous occa- 
sions before the nullification troubles, and she had come to be looked 
upon askance on this subject by that region, and especially by South 
Carolina. In 1828, Governor Metcalfe called upon the South to return 
to a becoming sense of patriotism to the Union, which all had fought 
to make and preserve. The opinions of some of these Southern leaders 
were at war with the fundamental principles of the Union. But not- 
withstanding the sacred duty of all to uphold these principles, "we have 
the mortification to see the firebrand of discord thrown among us by 
hands that ought to be the first to remove every obstacle to our peace 
and quietude. According to the views of these men, if the minority can- 
not rule, they are at liberty to dissolve the government. The promulga- 
tion of these principles forms but a part of the business of these em- 
pirics. — Laying aside the courtesies of life, they strike at the sensibilities 
and honor of those who constitute the majority on the subject of a pro- 
tective tariff, no matter to what side they may belong according to recent 
divisions of party. The motives of your sages and patriots are assailed; 
strong epithets of denunciation employed ; and the advocates of the 
American system traduced. Kentuckians are reproached because of their 
long established and fixed opinion of public policy, as if it originated in 
time serving and unworthy motives. But while I consider it my duty 
to point to this disaffection, originating as it does, with men filling exalted 
stations, I am gratified in the belief, that we may reply with perfect 
safety upon the constituted authorities to carry into effect the laws of 
which they complain, and against which they would have their constitu- 
ents to rebel. The great body of our southern brethren are too patriotic, 

52 Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, II, 640-656. 


too well aware of their own interest, and too strongly attached to the 
republic, to countenance any treasonable designs." 53 

The Legislature in 1830, at the same time when it passed its set of 
resolutions favoring the tariff and internal improvements, also included a 
long report in reply to South Carolina, setting forth the principles on 
which the Union was founded and on which it must still exist, if at all. 
The federal powers included the right to pass protective tariffs and to aid 
internal improvements, and it was time that South Carolina take a new 
view on her duty to the Union and abandon the assertion, " 'That the 
measures to be pursued, consequent on the perseverance in this system 
[Tariff], are purely questions of expediency, and not of allegiance.'' 
Kentucky's argument grasped strongly the national view of the union 
of the states ; she was here making a complete but tardy retraction of 
every principle she had so manfully brought forward, herself, in her 
Resolutions of 1798 and 1799. If one state had a right to resist a law 
because it judged it unconstitutional, then any other state had the same 
right, and what would immediately become of the Union? If such a 
law should be enforced, "There is civil war; if abandoned without being 
repealed, a virtual dissolution of the Union." If a law may be declared 
by a state unconstitutional and void because of its "enormous injustice," 
"Who is to be the judge of that enormity? Who is to prescribe the limits 
of enormity, which will authorize resistance, and that which falls short 
of conferring that right? History and the nature of man demonstrate, 
that when his prejudices are aroused and his passions inflamed, it is not 
difficult to persuade that mild and equitable laws are fraught with the 
most abominable injustice." No quibbling argument about the Union 
being a compact among the state should be dealt in ; "there can be, there 
ought to be, but one rule, that is, that the majority must govern." Of 
course it was possible that a tyranny might rear itself which would have 
to be resisted with force, but surely South Carolina did not intend to 
assert, "that the system of measures denominated the Tariff of the 
American system, present a just cause of civil war but that without pro- 
ducing civil war, that State may lawfully resist the execution of the sys- 
tem within its jurisdiction." Of course, resistance to the Federal Govern- 
ment had been threatened before, and most prominently by the New 
Englanders during the War of 1812, but they were an "unprincipled 
faction ; and the posture in which impartial history will present them to 
future times, ought ever to operate as an example to deter, rather than 
to be imitated." 

These sentiments were so strikingly opposite to the ones so vigorously 
asserted in the old Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and 1799, that the 
Legislature in an argument exceedingly weak, and much better left un- 
said, sought to show that after all there was a difference between Ken- 
tucky's position then and South Carolina's position now, and that in fact 
the former had been consistent throughout her course. It said: "From 
the principles now advanced, there has been no deviation on the part of 
the General Assembly of Kentucky. At a former epoch, when certain 
acts passed by Congress, called the alien and sedition laws, which were 
believed to be unconstitutional by the General Assembly, it neither inter- 
posed or threatened the adoption of any measure to defeat or obstruct 
their operation within the jurisdiction of Kentucky. It expressed, and 
expressed in very strong language, its disapprobation of them and its firm 
conviction that they were unconstitutional and therefore void. There it 
stopped, and that is the limit which no state should pass, until it has 
formed the deliberate resolution of lighting up the torch of civil war. 
Every state, as well as every individual, has the incontestible right freely 
to form and to publish to the world, its opinion of any and of every act 

63 Niks' Register, Vol. 35, pp. 278, 279. 


of the federal government. It may appeal to the reason of the people, 
enlighten their judgments, alarm their fears, and conciliate their support, 
to change federal rules, or federal measures. But neither a state nor an 
individual can rightfully resist, by force, the execution of a law passed 
by Congress." 54 

This reply to South Carolina was not merely the sentiments of the 
Legislature; it truly represented the great weight of public opinion 
throughout the state. The Legislature should not have marred an other- 
wise good exposition on government by refusing to admit an incon- 
sistency. The state had grown in material wealth since 1798, and it had 
also grown in the knowledge and experience of government and in love 
and appreciation of the Union. Immediately after the Nullification Or- 
dinance had been passed by South Carolina in November, 1832, a Union 
meeting made up almost equally of Clay and Jackson supporters was 
held in Louisville to discuss the crisis. With James Guthrie in the chair, 
a resolution was passed declaring that "we solemnly protest against the 
doctrine of nullification; believing that it will, if acted upon, as proposed 
by South Carolina, effect a severance of the Union." 55 

In due time after the Legislature had met, Governor Breathitt com- 
municated to it copies of South Carolina's nullification ordinance and 
accompanying addresses. He boldly denounced the course of action an- 
nounced by that state, and left no uncertainty as to Kentucky's position 
if that course were carried out. The contemplated activities of South 
Carolina were "so subversive of all good government, that I need not, 
I am sure, urge upon you the necessity of prompt action on your part." 
After dealing at length with the pretensions put forward by South Caro- 
lina he set forth the meaning of the Union to Kentucky and every other 
state, and gave no uncertain idea of the position Kentucky would take in 
the event of war. He said: "It is desirable, gentlemen, that our sister 
state should be informed, what is believed to be the fact, that, while Ken- 
tucky is ready to relieve her from all just ground of complaint, she will 
not permit this union, which protects us in the enjoyment of so many 
blessings, civil and religious, to be torn asunder for any cause. Her 
infant blood flowed freely to extend the settlements in the frontiers ; and 
both the north and the south can bear witness that, although her position 
shielded her from invasion, her gallant sons, during the late contest with 
Great Britain, were forward to meet toil, privation, and all the horrors of 
savage, as well as civilized warfare, to maintain the dignity and assert 
the rights of our common country. 

"She cannot consent that her treasure and her blood shall have been 
expended in vain — she cannot consent that her sister state shall give to 
our children waters of bitterness to drink. 

"It is considered proper that the general government, and each of our 
sister states, should clearly understand the course, which a deep sense of 
duty will require Kentucky to take. I therefore recommend that your 
opinions be embodied in a series of resolutions ; that you disapprove of 
the revolutionary doctrines contained in the ordinance communicated; 
that if all has been done that can be towards a reconciliation of this un- 
pleasant, unnatural controversy, and if South Carolina shall resort to 
force, and resist the execution of the laws named, or make a violent at- 
tempt to sever herself from the union, that the people of this state will 
stand upon their duty and their allegiance, and will support the general 
government in the use of any legal and constitutional means necessary 
to prevent the accomplishment of so sad a catastrophe; and that a copy 
of these resolutions be sent to the governor of South Carolina, to the 

54 Acts of Kentucky, 1829, 287-300. Quoted in Ames, State Documents on Fed- 
eral Relations, 158-161. 
65 Argus, Nov. 28, 1832. 


president of the United States, the governors of each of the other states, 
and to each of our senators and representatives in congress." 56 

Shortly after this message, the Legislature acted with energy and 
patriotism. It went over again at great length its arguments for the 
Union and the powers of Congress to pass tariff laws. It then appealed 
with sonorous words to the patriotism of South Carolina: "We would 
remonstrate, we would adjure South Carolina, or those who guide her 
councils, by the blood and suffering of our common ancestors, not to 
mar their work ; not to insult the memory of the dead ; not to em- 
bitter the last hours of that small remnant of the revolution, who yet 
linger upon earth, by demonstrating that a republic, that vision of glory 
which led them on through toil and privation, was a delusion and a 
cheat. * * * Should they succeed in goading enthusiasm to mad- 
ness ; should they succeed in infusing their own wild passions into the 
people of the South, and precipitate the United States into all the horrors 
and dangers of civil war, the glory which hallows the tomb of the patriot 
martyr will not be theirs ; their past honors will turn to infamy, and they 
will set in storm and darkness, amidst the deep execrations of all man- 
kind." 57 

The same attitude was popularly held throughout the state, and was 
expressed in numerous meetings condemning South Carolina and the 
doctrine of nullification, and praising Jackson for his firm stand for the 
Union. 58 There seemed to be little political significance in these meet- 
ings; the fundamental feelings of the Kentuckians had been touched and 
that deep love and attachment for the Union welled up to assert itself 
forgetful of petty party advantages. Nevertheless, the Jacksonian demo- 
crats felt that their position in Kentucky had been greatly strengthened 
by the firm stand the President had taken. 

Throughout this whole period of tariff discussion and evaluation of 
the Union, Kentucky had from the position she had taken tended to draw 
away from the traditional doctrines of the South, and hence had suffered 
in the estimation of most of the southern states. Much of Kentucky's 
trade was with this region, and consequently most of her prosperity de- 
pended upon it. Every year thousands of head of livestock streamed 
across the Cumberland Ford and through the Cumberland Gap on their 
way to the markets of South Carolina and of other Southern states. 
During the fall of 1821, there passed through Cumberland Gap 26,824 
hogs, 5,070 horses, and 410 cattle, valued at $623,iSo. 5 ' J During the next 
year, it was estimated, almost $800,000 worth of live-stock passed over 
the Cumberland Ford, while in 1828, it was estimated that live stock 
valued at more than $1,100,000 passed through the Gap. 60 The South 
needed these Kentucky products, but it resented that state's position in 
national politics, and threatened to sever all trade relations with this 
region that failed to sympathize with the South. 61 A boycott was urged, 
especially in South Carolina, where Clay was very unpopular. Upon 
hearing that he was sending 300 wagons laden with various Kentucky 
products to be disposed of in South Carolina, the Carolina traders re- 
solved to purchase nothing from these wagons. As it happened, three 
Kentucky wagons, in no way connected with Clay, were unjustly sus- 
pected, and forced to sell out at a great sacrifice or return with their 

MNiles' Register, Vol. 43, p. 352. 

"Acts of Kentucky, 1832, pp. 309-316. These resolutions were passed Feb. 2, 

68 Argus, Feb. 27, et seq., 1833. 

69 Niks' Register, Vol. 21, p. 400. 

60 Ibid., Vol. 23, p. 259 ; Vol. 35, p. 402 ; Vol. 38, p. 108. The numbers were esti- 
mated as follows: Horses, 3,412; mules, 3,228; hogs, 97,455; sheep, 2,141; stall-fed 
beef cattle, 1,525. 

01 See Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1900, I, 390. 


loads to Kentucky. 62 Public meetings were held in many place to pass 
resolutions against trading with the Kentuckians and to strengthen the 
boycott. In reference to some of these meetings and resolutions, Clay 
said in 1832: "They [South Carolinians] must have supposed us as stupid 
as the sires of one of the descriptions of the stock [referring to mules] 
of which that trade consisted if they imagined that their resolutions 
would affect our principles. Our drovers cracked their whips, blew their 
horns, and passed the Seleuda gap to other markets, where better humors 
existed, and equal or greater profits were made. I have heard of your 
successor in the other house, Mr. President, this anecdote: that he joined 
in the adoption of those resolutions; but when, about Christmas, he ap- 
plied to one of his South Carolina neighbors to purchase the regular 
supply of pork for the ensuing year, he found that he had to pay two 
prices for it, and he declared if that were the patriotism on which the 
resolutions were based he would not conform to them." 6S 

With the nullification troubles out of the way, Jackson immediately 
set to work to carry out the will of the people, as he considered it had 
been expressed in the last election, to destroy the United States Bank. 
The fight had been forced upon him; now he would carry it to a con- 
clusion. Not only actuated by a natural hostility to the bank, but fearful 
that the bank might use its power immediately before its charter expired 
to call in its loans and produce a panic, Jackson decided to avert this 
possible evil by reducing the federal funds in the bank through depositing 
no more there and gradually drawing out the amount then present. Here- 
after, he would deposit the federal funds with the leading state banks. 
He had considerable trouble in finding a secretary of the treasury who 
would carry out this program ; but finally Roger B. Taney agreed, and on 
October 1, 1833, the process was begun. 

The whigs in Kentucky, mindful of Clay's leadership, were bitterly 
opposed to this raid on the people's prosperity by destroying the only 
sound banking institutions in their state. With the aid of certain demo- 
crats, they pushed through the Legislature, resolutions of strong protest 
The bank, they declared, could not be dispensed with "without a certain 
prospect of private and public distress," and it ought by all legitimate 
means to be re-chartered. Jackson's attempt to reduce the funds in the 
bank would operate "to the great oppression of its debtors and to the in- 
jury of every branch of trade and labor." The plan to deposit the na- 
tion's funds in state banks would greatly endanger the people's money; 
and the bank Jackson would set up, "would be a dangerous institution, 
calculated to enlarge the powers of the executive department, and put 
to hazard the best interests of the people of the United States." 64 The 
next year resolutions to the same effect were passed, and the executive 
tyranny was again deprecated. 65 As the funds of the bank were curtailed 
by the withdrawal of the federal money the branches were forced to call 
in their loans, which in turn produced distress among many indebted to 
the bank. The branch at Louisville was directed by the parent bank to 
call in more than $200,000 worth of loans. Signs of distress were soon 
evident, with loans called in, prices falling, and unemployment increasing. 
A meeting was held in Louisville to memoralize Congress on the question 
of the bank. "In the opinion of the memoralists, the first remedy for this 
state of things is the restoration of the deposits. They therefore pray 

62 Letters on the Conditions of Kentucky in 1825, p. 72. 

63 Colton, Life and Times of Henry Clay, I, no. 

64 Niles' Register, Vol. 43, p. 399- 

05 Ibid., Vol. 45, p. 431. These resolutions were passed in the House only, by a 
vote of 53' to 41. The attempt was not made in the Senate as the result was feared. 
Argus, Feb. 5, 1834. 


that the deposits be restored, and such measures taken in relation to a 
National Bank as shall be most likely to afford relief to the Country." 6,; 

As the destruction of the branches of the United States Bank loomed 
up, Kentucky was threatened with the complete deprivation of all bank- 
ing facilities in the state. The democrats argued that it was a distinct 
advantage to be rid of these institutions as they were costing the people 
of the state over $300,000 a year, and it were much better that a 
state bank be set up. The democrats desired such a bank, also, in 
order to receive federal deposits that were being handed around to the 
so-called "Jackson pet banks." Governor Breathitt advocated a state 
bank in his message in 1833. and a bill was introduced to incorporate one, 
but it failed to pass. 07 However, the Louisville Bank of Kentucky was 
chartered during this session. The question of the state bank became an 
issue in the August election for the Legislature, and the next Legislature 
elected was favorable to the idea. In February, 1834. the Bank of Ken- 
tucky was chartered to run thirty years, to be located in Louisville, and to 
have a capital of $5,000,000, of which the state should buy $2,000,000 
worth of shares. Six branches were to be established, one each at Lex- 
ington. Frankfort. Maysville, Greensburg, Bowling Green, and Hopkins- 
ville. 68 The following year the Legislature chartered the Northern Bank 
of Kentucky at Lexington, to have four branches, and to be capitalized 
at $3,000,000, of which the state would take $i,ooo,ooo. 09 The state had 
now entered onto another period of government banking, but it had 
learned much in its former experiences and it was net now going to make 
the same mistakes again. Conservatism and sound principles were here- 
after to pre-eminently characterize Kentucky banking. 

The vvhigs hoped to secure much political capital from Jackson's deal- 
ings with the bank. They in fact exaggerated the distress in the state, 
for party purposes ; and now began to pose as the only party that could 
bring prosperity. They preached hard times under democratic control 
in the state and nation, and declared that if the democrats won in the 
next gubernatorial election the farmers could count on getting $2.00 
a hundred for their hemp and laborers would draw 50 cents a day for 
their wages. As the democrats commented on it, "we were all told that 
our rivers, lakes, and canals were to be one extended scene of hideous 
desolation, and that the sun and moon were to be darkened." 70 The 
whigs stood out pre-eminently for internal improvements, and at federal 
expense where possible. They held their accustomarv conventions prior 
to the different state elections, and sought to keep their party knit to- 
gether in all the ways best known to them. They turned Fourth of July 
celebrations into whig festivities, and hoped, thereby, to monopolize the 
patriotic sentiment of the state. In their Fourth of July convention and 
celebration at Frankfort in 1834. they, however, failed to beguile the 
Lexington Light Infantry to "participate in the Whig festival" on account 
of its political nature. 71 

The democrats profited from the strong position Jackson had attained 
for his party throughout the nation. His handling of nullification in 
South Carolina stood well with Kentuckians generally, and his dealings 
with the bank had not produced the dire results predicted by the whigs. 
They, too, were in favor of internal improvements in the state, but the 
state should pay for them. However, they would not have powerful 

06 Ben Casseday, The History of Louisville (Louisville, 1852), 188, 189; Argus, 
Aug. 5, l835- 

67 Argus, Mar. 13, 1833. 

68 Basil W. Duke, History of the Bank of Kentucky (Louisville, 1895), 24-64: 
American Almanac, 1836, p. 245; Argus, Feb. 19, 1834; Collins, History of Ken- 
tucky, I, 39. 

89 American Almanac, 1836, p. 243. 

70 Argus, Aug. 5, 1835. 

71 Argus, July 2, 9, 1834. 

John Jordan Crittenden, 1787- 1863 
(Courtesy of The Filson Club) 


private companies incorporated with permission to exact from the people 
high tolls, as they charged the whigs with favoring. 72 They were a party 
of common people, who stood for the interests of the common people 
first, and gloried in the fact, and as they judged themselves, "a large 
majority of the intelligent farmers and mechanics of the country, belong 
to, and support the democratic side of the question." But according to 
the same authority the whigs are made up of the "would be nobility of 
Frankfort, comprising bank, railroad, and turnpike monopolists" and 
"they constitute the principal strength of the party. * * * " " 3 

Strong as they were nationally, the democrats found their strength 
hard to maintain in the state, though. The state elections steadily went 
against them. After the August election of 1834, the parties in the 
Legislature were estimated as twenty-one whigs and sixteen democrats in 
the Senate and seventy-four whigs and twenty-five democrats in the 
House. The following year John J. Crittenden was sent to the United 
States Senate by a vote of ninety-four to forty for James Guthrie, the 
democratic candidate. 74 The democrats had suffered a misfortune in the 
death of Governor Breathitt in the early part of 1834; for the lieutenant- 
governor Morehead. who now succeeded to the governorship, was a 
whig. A considerable amount of bitterness had arisen out of the result- 
ing circumstances. The succession of Morehead to the governor's chair, 
left the Senate without a speaker, and James Guthrie had been elected 
by the democratic majority to fill the vacancy. But on the convening of 
the Senate in the next session, the whigs, who had captured this body in 
the preceding August election, declared that Guthrie had been elected 
only for the session of 1833. and that a new speaker should now be 
chosen. Having a majority, they proceeded to elect James Clarke, one 
of their own party, despite the protests by the democrats of irregularity. 
In the next campaign the democrats bitterly assailed the whigs for this 
usurpation and political proscription. 73 The gubernatorial campaign of 
1836, was vigorously carried on by both parties, with James Clarke and 
Charles A. 'U'ickliffe running for governor and lieutenant-governor re- 
spectively as whigs. and Mathew Flournoy and Elijah Hise, as democrats. 
The whigs were successful by majorities varying from 3,000 to 8,000. 

The campaign for the presidency of 1836, was begun early in Ken- 
tucky, as was the custom ; and much of the parryings for advantages in 
the state elections was designed to aid the cause in the National election. 
The whigs never allowed an opportunity to escape them to attack Jackson 
and the executive tyranny they charged him with building up. Provoked 
by Jackson's dealing with the United States Bank, George M. Bibb, called 
upon the Kentuckians to help destroy him: "Fellow citizens, arise in the 
majesty of your power ; be watchful ; your liberties are insidiously as- 
sailed. The Government established by our ancestors is about to be 
converted into an odious tyranny. The power and influence of the Gov- 
ernment is about to be made greater than the rights and influence of the 
people. The passport to office is the indiscriminate support of every act 
of the president : brawling partisans are rewarded from the public treas- 
ury; freedom of opinion is threatened with dismissal from office; and 
office holders, senators and representatives are taught to expect promor 
tion, according to their zealous support of the most questionable or the 
more odious acts of the administration. The executive influence is 
brought into contest with the freedom of elections, and with the freedom 
of inquiry in the halls of Congress. The expenditures of the Government 
are increasing to enlarge the patronage of the Government ; and the 

-^ Ibid., July 27, 1836. 

73 Argus, Aug. 12, 1835. 

74 Miles' Register, Vol. 47, pp. 7, 356. 
76 Argus, Jan. 21, 1835. 


patronage of the Government so increased as to be exerted to sustain the 
president and the receivers of salaries, jobs and contracts. The people 
are to be governed by their own servants and money, by fraud and deceit. 
I see no remedy but by the people in their primary assemblies and at the 
polls. They must cause their interests and sentiments to be respected ; 
they must make known that the people are to be represented ; that repre- 
sentatives are the trustees and agents of the people, and not the servants 
of the president." 76 As a method of striking at Jackson, efforts were 
made in the Legislature to have the Federal Constitution amended so as 
to prevent a President from serving but one term, of six years duration; 
to greatly restrict his power of veto ; and to take away his right to dismiss 
from office any one for whose appointment the concurrence of the senate 
was necessary, unless the senate should agree. 77 

Kentucky was much interested in the question of the public lands, 
and the whigs found much to their disliking in Jackson's plan of dealing 
with it. This problem was closely bound up with Federal aid to internal 
improvements and the disposition of the surplus revenues. Jackson pro- 
posed to have Congress turn over the public lands in each state to that 
state, so that it might use the proceeds of their sale for internal improve- 
ments if it so desired. As Kentucky was a landless state it naturally 
objected, and Clay was quick to carry forward the opposition. He would 
have a certain percentage of the sales turned over to the state in which 
the land lay and the remainder kept in the national treasury for general 
use. The Kentucky Legislature declared that the public lands were not 
"of right, the property of the particular states in which they lie, nor that 
of the people of such states ; and therefore, the Congress of the United 
States ought not to cede such lands to such states, or any of them ; or to 
appropriate such lands for any purpose whatever, but in behalf, and for 
the benefit of the people of all the states ;" and that when the public 
debt was paid off the moneys arising from the sale of such lands "ought 
to be distributed among the several states according to the federal num- 
bers of each state." A long argument in defense of this position was 
set forth. 78 These views were reiterated in 1836. 79 The question of the 
surplus was finally settled by lending it to the states without interest in- 
definitely. 80 

As Jackson had served his two terms, another candidate would have 
to be produced by the democrats. But as the president's hold on his 
party was so complete, it was only a question as to whom he would have. 
The Kentucky democrats, therefore, did not concern themselves with this 
matter; but the vice-presidency was of early and considerable interest to 
them. Richard M. Johnson had long been prominent in Kentucky and a 
strong supporter of Jackson. The Kentucky democrats believed he 
should be nominated for this office; and they began to boom him two 

76 Niks' Register, Vol. 46, pp. 416, 417. 

77 This was an interesting forerunner of the famous Tenure of Office Act passed 
to curtail the power of President Johnson in the days of Reconstruction. The pro- 
posed amendment follows : "The president of the United States shall not remove 
any officer, in whose appointment the concurrence of the senate shall be necessary; 
but, for sufficient cause, he may suspend such officer from the exercise of the duties 
of his office; but he shall within the first ten days after the commencement of the 
next session of the senate, lay before that body the cause of such suspension. The 
cause of such suspension shall then be considered by the senate ; and if it shall be 
deemed sufficient, the officer so suspended, shall be adjudged to be removed from 
his office ; but if the senate shall consider the same insufficient, the suspension of 
the said officer shall immediately cease, and he be restored to all the rights and 
privileges of his office." Niles' Register, Vol. 45, p. 416. 

78 Niles' Register, Vol. 43, p. 399- Passed in the session of 1832, 1833. 

79 American State Papers, Public Lands, VIII, p. 657. 

80 The Panic of 1837 soon upset this plan ; and the question of the lands was 
still brought up by Kentucky at intervals and discussed and resolved upon. See 
dcts of Kentucky, 1840, pp. 271-275. 

Vol. 11—10 


years before the election. Numerous meetings were held widely over the 
state during the spring and summer of 1834, t0 stlT U P enthusiasm for 
him, and the democrats in the Legislature recommended him. On April 
10, 1834, a state convention was held in Frankfort for the purpose of 
bringing him forward as Kentucky's candidate. An address was issued 
to the people praising his record, lauding Jackson, and bitterly assailing 
the United States Bank. 81 He possessed the valuable asset of a military 
record, and this was not forgotten. The Battle of the Thames was re- 
enacted in long and glowing addresses on its anniversaries in 1834, 1835, 
and 1836; and thousands were reminded in these political celebrations of 
the'valor and generalship of Col. Richard M. Johnson : and the old dispute 
as to whether he killed Tecumseh was as bitterly and prominently dis- 
cussed as the Bank, the public lands, or the surp!us. S2 

The democratic national convention was held in Baltimore on May 20, 
1835, and Martin Van Buren, "Jackson's man," was announced for the 
Presidency, while Kentucky was delighted to see Johnson receive the 
nomination for the Vice-Presidency. Although Jackson was not a can- 
didate for any office whatsoever, still the old political game of voting to 
fire a salute on January 8, was played again with the democrats losers. 
Deprived of the privilege of having the state fire the salute in its own 
name and at its own expense, the Jackson democrats fired it in their own 
right and name and payed for it themselves. 83 

The Kentucky whigs had a rather dismal outlook in the presidential 
campaign. Their own favorite son and inspiration was not a candidate 
at this time ; and in the absence of his commanding personality, a number 
1 if candidates sprang up over the country, representing, each one, his own 
section. William Henry Harrison, of Tippecanoe fame, came out in the 
Northwest; Daniel Webster in the Northeast; Senator White in the 
Southwest, and Judge John McLean in Ohio. The best the whigs could 
hope for was for the election to be thrown into the House of Representa- 
tives. Kentucky was unable to rouse much enthusiasm for Old Tippe- 
canoe, and the whigs feared they might not give him a majority. A 
Kentucky whig wrote Crittenden in 1834, "As things stand at present T 
know it will be a difficult task & require much effort to carry the State 
for the Nominee." 84 Nevertheless the state seemed to be so completely 
under the spell of Clay that all signs pointed to a whig victory. In a 
special election in 1834, called to settle the congressional contest between 
Thomas P. Moore and Robert P. Letcher, the latter candidate, a whig, 
nosed out a victory ; and in the general congressional election of the fol- 
lowing year, nine whigs were elected to four democrats. 85 The whigs, 
nevertheless, did not slacken their efforts as the election approached. The 
democrats accused them of searching the militia rolls for the names of 
those whose cases needed special and personal attention and of having 
in secret : "Resolved, That they procure horses, carriages or other con- 
veyances for the sick, lame, blind, and all others who have no conveyance 
of their own, to enable them to get to the polls." 80 The gubernatorial 
election in August indicated a whig victory, and so it was. Harrison 
defeated Van Buren by a majority of 3,520, with the total vote cast by 
the state almost 10,000 short of the preceding Presidential election, when 
Clay and Jackson were running. 1 * 7 But the whigs were surprised and 

81 Argus, March 5, 1834. 

82 For example, see Argus, Oct. 15, 1834. 
S3 Arcjus, Jan. 8, 1834. 

84 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 6, Nos. 1164, 1 165. 

85 Niles' Register, Vol. 45, pp. 20, 41, 290, 365; Vol. 46, pp. 177, 193, 194, 207, 
208, 220, 246-248, 263, 264, 412; Vol. 49, p. 4. 

86 Argus, Oct. 19, 1836. 

87 Argus, November, passim, 1836. 


disappointed to learn that Van Buren had received 170 electoral votes 
to 124 for all his opponents, and had therefore been elected. 

Jackson had scarcely retired to the "Hermitage" and Van Buren 
taken up the reigns of government when the most severe panic the coun- 
try had ever known burst upon the people. Prices rapidly declined, 
factories shut down, and banks called in their loans and closed their 
doors. The fundamental causes were largely the same as for all panics — 
over-production and states and individuals engaging in projects far be- 
yond their resources. But Jackson's specie circular, issued in the sum- 
mer of 1836, declaring that public lands must be paid for in gold or 
silver, his dealing with the United States Bank, and other acts of the 
democrats were held responsible for the hard times. Kentucky was 
now engaged in an ambitious project of internal improvements, and her 
citizens were embarking in speculative enterprises. The revival of banks 
here had served to multiply the circulating medium, and everyone seemed 
to have forgotten hard times. The blow fell swift and hard. The banks 
suspended specie payment, and when the Legislature met in 1837, it re- 
fused to compel them to resume. 88 An outcry for a special session had 
arisen during the summer, but Governor Clarke had steadily refused 
to call it, but now in the regular session he counseled the banks and 
all creditors to be lenient with the debtors, and the charters of the banks 
should not be forfeited for their suspension of specie payment. 81 ' Great 
consideration and forbearance was exercised everywhere. Many of the 
towns issued small paper currency to relieve the scarcity of money. 
Maysville issued script in the denominations of 6*4, 12 J4, 25, 50 and 100 
cents, while Lexington issued a considerable amount which, however, 
the butchers refused to accept. The Danville, Lancaster and Nicholasville 
Turnpike Road issued about $20,000 in notes, which steadily fell in 
value. 90 The brunt of the panic in 1837 was broken and the people 
felt as though the worst was past. Governor Clarke, in his message to 
the Legislature in 1838, said : "By the prudent course on the part of 
the banks ; by the energy of the people and the abundant products of 
the soil, the severity of the shock has been but little felt, the price of 
the property sustained, and the commercial interest of the State pro- 
tected." 01 But this was only a temporary lull, for in 1839 conditions 
became aggravated again. The banks, which had resumed specie pay- 
ment, were now forced to suspend again, and it became evident that 
payment of the mass of debts held in abeyance could not be avoided 
much longer. State finances were in a bad condition, with no market 
for her bonds in the East. The governor as a last remedy begged 200 
patriotic and public spirited Kentuckians to each buy one $1,000 state 
bond and thus raise $200,000, urgently needed to complete internal im- 
provements then under way. 02 The real force of the panic was to come 

In certain parts of the state there arose about this time the old anti- 
bank sentiment, which held that all banks were monopolies, designed for 
the benefit of the few. This feeling may have played a slight part in 
the defeat of a very unusual banking scheme presented to the Legislature 
about this time. This was what was known as the "South Western Rail 
Road Bank," and was to be an adjunct to a railroad projected from 
Charleston, South Carolina, to Cincinnati. 0:1 The plan was to have the 

88 The Northern Bank of Kentucky was relieved by this law of forty-nine suits 
that had been commenced against it for its refusal to pay specie. Kentucky Gazette, 
Feb. 8, 1838. 

89 Kentucky Gazette, Dec. 7, 1837. 

90 Ibid., April 12, 1838; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 42. 
01 Ibid., Dec. 6, 1838. 

92 Kentucky Gazette. Oct. 10, Dec. 5, 1839. 

93 This railroad will be discussed later. 


mother bank in Charleston and branches in North Carolina, Tennessee 
and Kentucky, and the purpose was to produce a uniform circulating 
medium, which would be needed in the regions traversed by this rail- 
road. It was to be allowed to issue notes to an amount not over twice 
the capital. Kentucky was offered a bonus of 50 cents or more on the 
$100 capital. 94 This project was first presented in 1837, and two years 
later the most determined fight was made to push it through the Legis- 
lature. Col. C. G. Memminger, a special commissioner from South 
Carolina, spoke to both houses. The debate on this question was one 
of the most remarkable in the history of the state. Hostile interests in 
Louisville, a general dislike of South Carolina since the times of nulli- 
fication, the entry of a foreign bank and a railroad into the state at 
the same time and inextricably connected, and certain rivalries among 
certain cities over the railroad itself — all conspired to finally defeat the 
measure. Three bold efforts were made to push it through the House, 
but it was defeated by a vote of 49 to 48 the last time; however, in the 
Senate it was passed, 19 to 18. 95 

The stigma of having produced a panic was immediately fastened 
on the democrats, and it was a load they were unable to shake off. The 
distempers of the times were working mightily for the whigs. What 
more argument could be desired than to merely point to the desolating 
results of democratic rule, which not only all saw but also grievously 
felt? In Kentucky the whigs had cause to rejoice early, for, in the con- 
gressional election of August, 1837, when the panic was being more sorely 
felt, the people rose up and defeated every democrat except one. They 
also sent a large majority of whigs to the House and Senate at Frank- 
fort. It now became a more or less settled fact that the state elections 
should result in whig victories, and at times they ceased to attract much 
attention. The August campaign and election in 1838 was very listless. 
The gubernatorial campaign in 1840 brought about a recurrence of action 
and enthusiasm, and it was rather vigorously fought out. In the na- 
tional campaign the democrats were on the defensive, but in the state 
contest they attempted to force the fight on the whigs. Just as the dem- 
ocrats could not escape the charges of having ruined many people by 
a panic throughout the nation, so the whigs, who were now in control in 
the state, could not wholly dismiss the accusations that they had aided 
hard times in the state by their unwise measures. This constituted the 
chief strategy of the democrats. Divorce state campaigns and measures 
from the nation, and they would be able to attack the whigs with better 
chances of success. "We see no good reason," declared the Kentucky 
Gazette, "why the division of parties in national politics, should control 
our State elections. * * * It is anti-republican and inconsistent with 
our complex and confederated governments, State and National, to con- 
solidate and amalgamate State legislation with National legislation, and 
to declare the entire subserviency and subordination of the State gov- 
ernments, in all matters, to the General government." °° John B. Helm, 
democratic candidate for lieutenant-governor, asked: "If we continue 
to regard State measures and policy as unworthy, must not the State 
Governments soon sink into insignificance?" 97 The whigs were charged 
with having run the state badly into debt with their grandiloquent schemes 
of vast internal improvements, which were now held up because the 
state treasury was empty. Helm, who took a very active part in the 
campaign, exclaimed : "May we not hope that Kentucky will stop short 
in her hazardous march under the credit system and return to her orig- 

•* Kentucky Gazette, May 23, 1837. 

95 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 43; Kentucky Gazette, Jan. 17, 1839. 

98 Kentucky Gazette, July 16, 1840. 

97 Aug. 1, 1839. 


inal principles of republican simplicity? Absorbing joint stock companies 
surrounded with privileges denied to the people at large, and splendid 
and gigantic undertakings to benefit favored districts, are better suited 
to monarchies than republics." ° 8 He begged the people to turn out the 
whigs for their inefficient leadership, so eloquently proclaimed by the 
hard times all over the state. 

In the national outlook, the whigs had no reason to complain. All 
signs pointed to a whig victory in the Presidential election of 1840. 
Clay had high hopes of receiving the nomination, and the Kentucky 
whigs were not less anxious. But in the Harrisburg Convention, held 
in December, 1839, he was grievously disappointed, for Harrison, with 
the wily Thurlow Weed as his party manager, was nominated after a 
short contest. This was Clay's great opportunity, and he had missed it. 
The whig party owed more to him than to any of its other leaders, 
and now, when it bid fair to elect a President, it robbed its maker and 
benefactor of that honor. Well might Clay have felt keen disappoint- 
ment at this ingratitude. But Clay was a Mason, he had spoken against 
the fanaticism of the abolitionists, and he had already been defeated 
twice for the Presidency — these things had their weight. It was a fore- 
gone conclusion that Van Buren would be renominated by the demo- 
crats, and so he was, in the Democratic Convention in Baltimore on 
May 4, 1840. Although the Kentucky whigs felt aggrieved that their 
favorite son had not received the nomination, they did not "sulk in their 
tents." They had begun early to push the fight, with hard times as the 
chief weapon. Governor Clarke had declared in 1837 that the democratic 
panic had been produced by the destruction of the United States Bank 
and that the best remedy was to embrace the whig doctrine and rechar- 
ter a national bank. 09 Shortly afterwards the whigs pushed through the 
Legislature a set of resolutions declaring that Jackson and Van Buren 
had produced the financial ruin that was staring the people in the face 
and that the specie circular and the removal of the deposits were con- 
spicuous items in the list of democratic crimes. 100 One of the most 
enthusiastic national campaigns in the history of the country was soon 
inaugurated, which was not devoid of excitement in Kentucky. Hard 
cider, log cabins and coon-skins were in evidence at the whig meetings, 
and "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too," were sung with enthusiasm. "Tip- 
pecanoe Clubs" sprang up all over the state, where young voters were 
instructed in their first duty to their country. Crittenden stumped the 
state for Harrison, rousing the people from the mountains to the Jack- 
son Purchase. 101 The cause of the democrats seemed hopeless, yet they 
carried on the fight as best they could. "Democratic Associations" were 
set up to combat the "Tippecanoe Clubs" and efforts were made to show 
that Harrison was an abolitionist and that the whig party in the North 
was an abolition throng — a charge that later became a fact and forever 
destroyed the whig party. 102 Confident that they would win, the whigs 
did not deny the democrats the joy of firing their pet salute on January 
8 (1840), with the provision that the cannon captured at the battle of 
the Thames should be used and that the good whig governor alone do 
the firing. 103 

The gubernatorial election in August spelled the doom of the demo- 
crats in November. Robert P. Letcher, the whig, beat Richard French, 
the democrat, by an overwhelming majority in by far the largest vote 
Kentucky had ever polled up to this time. His majority was over 15,000, 

"8 ibid. 

90 Kentucky Gazette, Dec. 7, 1837. 

100 Acts of Kentucky, 1837, pp. 353-355- Passed January 27, 1838. 

101 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 7, No. 1224, etc. 

102 Kentucky Gazette, July 30, passim, 1840. 

103 Acts of Kentucky, 1839, p. 295. 


and the total vote of the state was more than 25,000 larger than in the 
election of 1836. The democrats admitted their severe reverse. Whig 
excitement now ran high, with meetings being held attended by as high 
as 12,000 people. It was only a question of the size of Harrison's ma- 
jority, and in November it came over 25,000 votes strong, which proved 
to be the largest majority given him by any state in the Union. 104 Har- 
rison's vote was almost as decisive throughout the rest of the country. 
He received 234 electoral votes to Van Buren's 60. Shortly after the 
election he visited Kentucky, passing through Louisville, Shelbyville, 
Frankfort and Lexington, and was given an enthusiastic welcome. 105 

The rejoicing of the whigs on the inauguration of Harrison had 
scarcely died down when the old military hero, who had withstood the 
hardships of many campaigns and battles, succumbed before the tireless 
importunities of the infesting office-seekers. Vice President Tyler now 
succeeded to the Presidency, and very soon the whigs saw their victory 
seriously discounted, if not entirely destroyed. Clay, who had quarreled 
with Harrison within ten days after his inauguration, soon found him- 
self in utter disagreement with Tyler, who refused to follow the whig 
program of rechartering the bank and reestablishing the American sys- 
tem. These measures were urgently advocated as whig remedies for 
the lingering hard times, and the refusal of Tyler to support them was 
viewed as rank treason. The Kentucky whigs, receiving their direction 
from Clay, pressed the whig program as outlined by their leader. The 
Legislature passed resolutions favoring the recharter of the bank, and 
as a thrust at Tyler they called again on the country to amend the Con- 
stitution to prevent a President two consecutive terms. 100 The old Tip- 
pecanoe Clubs were still continued as valuable assets to the party organ- 
ization and as especially effective in combatting Tyler. 107 

The occupancy of the Presidency by a so-called whig could not 
bring prosperity if he refused to apply whig remedies. But, regardless 
of national conditions and policies, Kentucky was from local causes 
soon plunged into a state of depression unknown since the days of relief 
twenty years before. The tempest that had been stayed by rather heroic 
measures in 1837, now, four years later, burst with full force upon the 
state. Court dockets were soon groaning under loads of lawsuits, and 
the distressed debtors were being sold out of their life-time accumula- 
tions at frightful sacrifices. Governor Letcher, in his message to the 
Legislature in December, 1841, called attention to the deranged condition 
of the currency and deplored the lack of the stabilizing influence of the 
United States Bank. Trade was greatly handicapped by the absence of 
a standard medium of exchange, and the banks again stopped specie 
payment. 108 A little later Henry Clay described conditions to Crittenden 
thus : "There is very great embarrassment and distress prevailing in 
K., much more than I imagined before I came home. Every description 
of property, without exception, is greatly depressed, and still declining 
in value. And, what aggravates the distress, no one can see when or how 
it is to terminate. Most of our Hempen manufacturers are ruined, or 
menaced with ruin. Bagging and Rope were never known at any time 
heretofore to be so low as they now are." He added that imports from 

104 Richard M. Johnson, the popular Kentucky candidate for the vice-presidency, 
made little impression on the Whigs. 

105 Henry A. and Kate Ford, History of the Ohio Falls Cities and Their Coun- 
ties (Cleveland, 1882), I, 288; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 45. 

106 Acts of Kentucky, 1840, pp. 271-275; Ibid, 1841, pp. 301, 302. The Kentucky 
Whigs were wedded to the idea of a strong central national bank. _ After the 
charter of the United States had run out in 1836, it continued to do business under 
a charter from the state of Pennsylvania. A movement grew up in Kentucky to 
admit its branches to do business in the state. Argus, March 23, 1836. 

107 See Frankfort Commonwealth, Sept. 28, 1841. 

108 Frankfort Commonwealth, Jan. 4, 1842. 


India were responsible in part and that a protective tariff should be 
passed. 109 

Although the people were hard-pressed, they seemed to be willing tc 
wait for the Legislature to act before calling for extreme relief measures. 
The great mass of opinion in early 1842 was against unsound methods — 
such as were still remembered by many. The Frankfort Commonwealth 
took pride in the state's financial integrity and believed that it would not 
be endangered : "Kentucky is now ranked among the most solvent states 
in the Union, and there is no danger that she will forfeit the distinction. 
She holds to the doctrine of the binding force of contracts, whether the 
same be individual, state or national, and she will keep her faith invio- 
late." no The amazingly sound state of public opinion was reflected 
in the following resolution unanimously passed in both houses of the 
Legislature in January, 1842: "[Resolved, That repudiation] is abhor- 
rent, both to the government and the people of this Commonwealth, and 
can never, directly or indirectly, receive the countenance of either ; that 
such conduct would be unworthy the enlightened age in which we live, 
shocking to the sense of Christendom, a lasting reproach to republican 
government, and a stain on the American name." 111 The state had ap- 
parently grown ages in experience during the past twenty years. The 
Legislature set to work to alleviate the sufferings of the people as far 
as possible within sound principles. It passed a law, much akin to a 
homestead law, adding to the list of articles that might not be levied on 
the following: A saddle and bridle, six chairs, a bedstead with bed 
and bedding, all turkeys, geese, chickens and ducks raised on the place, 
one cow and calf, five sheep, and six months' wood and fuel. 112 

But this and other legislation fell far short of the needed relief. In 
desperation the people began to raise the old cry of relief and for an 
extra session of the Legislature to grant it, forgetful of its awful conse- 
quences in the past. Governor Letcher wrote Crittenden in May, 1842: 
"The times are hard in this country — very hard — indeed more so than 
you will imagine. The cry for relief is awful, I can tell you. The press 
upon me to call the Legislature together has in some degree subsided, 
but still it breaks out every now and then in a fresh place. My private 
and confidential opinion is that the next Legislature will have a majority 
of relief membership. * * * I believe the Meeting, requesting a 
call for the Legislature, has had the worst possible effect upon the coun- 
try. The idea of an extra Session has operated as a notice to the cred- 
itors to hasten their debtors, and this work of destruction is now in rapid 
progress, and the Lord only knows where it will stop." 113 As the 
August election for the Legislature approached, numerous meetings were 
held over the state calling for the old relief system of replevin laws and 
a state bank like the old Commonwealth bank. Among the counties hold- 
ing such meetings were Henry, Oldham, Trimble and Lincoln. 114 Relief 
now became the chief issue in the campaign. The leadership in both 
parties refused to father the movement, with the result, however, that 
each accused the other of doing so. In fact, the movement had little 
or no political significance, for people about to be sold out of their 
homes were likely to give very slight attention to the theoretical prin- 
ciples of parties or party shibboleths. 115 

i° 9 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 8, Nos. 1481, 1482. 
""Quoted in Niles' Register, Vol. 61, p. 320. 

111 Frankfort Commonwealth, Jan. 4, 1842. 

112 Act of March 3, 1842. See McMaster, History of the People of the United 
States, VII, 47. 

"3 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 8, Nos. 1467, 1468. 

114 Frankfort Commomvealth, April 12, 1842. 

115 The responsible leaders of the Democratic party set themselves sternly against 
the movement ; but the Whigs, nevertheless, claimed it was a Democratic scheme 
to ride into power on. Frankfort Commomvealth, Aug. 16, 1842. 


The Legislature elected in August (1842), had a rather large sprin- 
kling of relief men, but not sufficiently able or effectively led as to 
endanger the good name of the state. A number of alleviating laws and 
amendments were passed which hushed the cry until conditions them- 
selves began to evolve their own cure. The banks conducted themselves 
on a very high plane throughout the whole period of these troublous 
times, accommodating their creditors to the utmost and at the same time 
refusing to take advantage of unsound methods. The banks resumed 
specie payment in June (1842). Their credit was never endangered, 
and the amount of their note issues was kept well within the bounds of 
sound finance. Their note circulation at this time was about $4,500,000, 
with more than $1,500,000 held in specie for its redemption. This meant 
that about $2.85 was outstanding against every specie dollar held, as 
compared to the average in the New England states of $5.I3. 116 The 
most conspicuous example of the soundness of the banks and of the 
state government was the case of the Schuylkill Bank Fraud. This bank, 
located in Philadelphia, was the financial agent of the Bank of Kentucky 
in the East. During 1838-1839 this bank issued fraudulent stocks of the 
Bank of Kentucky to the amount of 1.300 at $1,000 each and sold them 
to unsuspecting buyers, pocketing the money. Suit was brought in the 
Pennsylvania courts which went finally up to the Pennsylvania Supreme 
Court, where a verdict of $1,343,000 was handed down for Kentucky. 
But, as the assets of the Schuylkill Bank amounted to only $430,000, Ken- 
tucky was forced to lose the difference, besides the heavy costs involved 
in pressing the suit and temporarily the high standing of the Bank of 
Kentucky stocks. However, the state refused to repudiate payment 011 
these fraudulent stocks and thereby won a still higher position in the 
financial world, calling forth this praise from the New York Tribune: 
"While Mississippi, Michigan and Illinois repudiate their just debts, 
Kentucky has assumed to pay thirteen hundred thousand dollars, for 
which she never received in value one dollar." n " 

Kentucky felt proud of her record, especially so when she saw Mich- 
igan, Mississippi, Florida and Illinois repudiating debts incurred through 
primitive banking methods. Governor Letcher set forth the ideal which 
his state had nearly reached and from which he hoped it would never 
depart : "Let her be so upright in all her actions, and so discreet in 
the management of her public affairs, that the humblest citizen she may 
have, when he crosses the border of the state, shall feel proud to acknowl- 
edge himself a Kentuckian. May the day never come when he shall be 
ashamed to own his countrv!" 118 . 

116 Niks' Register, Vol. 61, p. 400. 

117 Duke, History of the Bank of Kentucky, 64-91 ; Frankfort Commonwealth, 
May 17, 1842. 

118 In message to Legislature, December 31, 1842. Niles' Register, Vol. 63, p. 376- 



Rivers, canals and turnpikes were early recognized as the industrial 
life lines of the state. Without these developments true and permanent 
prosperity was impossible. What were markets worth if they were in- 
accessible, and what was all the agricultural and industrial wealth to 
avail if its transportation to markets was impossible? Bad roads were 
little better than no roads, and the waters of the streams might run 
on forever, valueless to commerce, if snags and shallows impeded their 
progress. Kentucky must not only have roads and waterways, but she 
must have them good and cheap. It was not so early as pioneer days 
that some people walked from Maysville to Lexington rather than pay 
the exorbitant prices the horsemen and stages exacted to carry them 
over the dangerously rough road, and as late as 1825 the cost of wagon- 
ing freight over the same route was said to be equal to the expense of 
bringing it from Philadelphia to Maysville. 1 The high cost of transpor- 
tation was a constant complaint. A Lexingtonian bemoaned the utterly 
bad condition of the disfiguring streaks called roads across the otherwise 
beautiful landscape. Wagons could venture out upon them only with 
a half load, and hauling bulky articles to Louisville or to Maysville cost 
more than they could be sold for there. He said : "The ruinous price 
of provisions and wood in every town in the state is enough to open the 
eyes of any community." The remedy, he believed, lay in state aid. 2 

A people vigorous and awake to the opportunities for the development 
of their state could not long neglect so important a concern as transporta- 
tion. The network of streams should be made useful, and more interest 
would have to be taken in them and more effort expended upon them 
than the few acts heretofore passed for "working" them. This wealth 
of rivers, together with the topography of the state, made canals of less 
concern — always barring the absorbingly important scheme to render 
navigation possible around the falls in the Ohio at Louisville. The sys- 
tem of turnpikes, which was just beginning to appear by the time of the 
War of 1812, must be vigorously pushed forward. This program soon 
became the theme of every governor's message to the Legislature from 
Slaughter down until the era of internal improvements was ushered in. 
In 1817 the Enterprise, the first steamboat ever to ascend the Mississippi 
and Ohio rivers from New Orleans to Louisville, arrived in twenty-five 
days after setting out and thereby completely revolutionized transporta- 
tion in the West — a consummation of what Nicholas Roosevelt had be- 
gun when he launched, at Pittsburg in 181 1, the New Orleans, the first of 
the mighty fleet of Western steamers. Governor Isaac Shelby had, in his 
final message to the Legislature in 1815, suggested the great possibilities 
that lay in store for the West in this new process of transportation. 
He predicted a cheaper and more direct commerce for the state and 
suggested the idea of lending state aid. He said: "The experiments 
which have been made by the steamboats on the western waters give 

1 Letters on the Conditions of Kentucky in 1825, E. G. Swem, ed., 68, 69. 

2 Kentucky Gazette, April 10, 1825. 



strong assurance of ultimate success. There has, however, not been a 
sufficient number of them in operation to enable me to speak with entire 
confidence. It is believed by many that a sufficient capital has not yet 
been employed in that line to give the experiment a fair trial. I submit 
to the information which the General Assembly will possess in its col- 
lective capacity the determination of the question and whether it should 
be left to individual enterprise to ascertain its utility, or whether the 
state should lend its aid in the undertaking." 3 

Governor Slaughter in 1817, believing that the steamboats would 
likely give "a new spring to the agriculture and commerce of the West- 
ern country," though that "great advantage would be derived from the 
use of them on our smaller streams, if some practicable plan could be 
adopted to remove obstructions and improve them." Whether the state 
should do it, or private companies carry forward the work, he was not 
prepared to say, but "When it is considered that most of our fertile lands 
are distant from the Ohio, and that we are dependent on our small rivers 
for the transportation of the greater part of our surplus productions to 
market, the improvement of their navigation seems to demand the serious 
consideration and attention of the Legislature." The condition of the 
public roads also needed attention, and the present disorganized methods 
of keeping them in repair ought to be changed. 4 Recurring to the ques- 
tion again the following year, he recommended "placing signboards or 
stones on the different roads at the crossing of the county line to desig- 
nate it." This would not only benefit travelers but would be of help to 
the militia companies in the various counties. 3 

In response to the governor's recommendations a movement was soon 
on foot in the Legislature to establish a definite system of aid to internal 
improvements. A bill appropriating annually $40,000 for the purpose, 
of improving Green, Salt, and Licking rivers was pushed through the 
Senate in 1817, but it failed to become a law. 8 Hard times were already 
beginning to be felt by the people, and they considered it unwise to em- 
bark on costly projects under such conditions. It was during this time 
that Henry Clay developed popularly his "American System," which 
called for national aid to internal improvements. 

Governor Desha in 1825 urged "the speedy commencement of a gen- 
eral system of internal improvements." Believing that Louisville, on 
account of the assured construction of a canal around the falls of the 
Ohio there, must become the great center of commerce in the state, he 
was prepared to make some definite proposals. He would have two 
great turnpike roads constructed from this point out into the state, the 
one to pass through Frankfort and on to Maysville, and the other to 
pass southward across the middle section through the Green River coun- 
try and on toward Nashville, Tennessee. That state, he believed, might 
be counted on to continue the road from the state line. At the same time 
these two great highways were being built, feeder roads diverging into 
the other parts of the state might be started." He was strongly in favor 
of this road system and, since nothing had resulted from his first sug- 
gestion, he recurred to the subject the next year. To avoid the opposi- 
tion and hostility of towns that might be left out, he let it be known 
that he was not wedded to any particular route, just so the main purpose 
was served. The road might pass through Frankfort, Lexington, and 
Paris ; or, if it should be desired to make it as direct as possible, it might 
be changed to end in any good landing place on the upper Ohio, as, for 
instance, Augusta, and be run through Frankfort, Georgetown, and Cyn- 

3 Niks' Register, Vol. 9, p. 310; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 518. 

* Niks' Register, Vol. 13, p. 388. 

B Louisville Public Advertiser, Dec. 15, 1818. 

6 Niks' Register, Vol. 13, p. 321. 

''Ibid., Vol. 29, p. 223. 


thiana. Believing that the subject of internal improvements and schools 
could be made auxiliary to each other, he suggested that the school 
fund be invested in the turnpike roads, "and the net profits arising from 
tolls on these roads be forever sacredly devoted to the interests of edu- 
cation." 8 

Although the state government during this period did not find it 
desirable to aid generally road building, it passed numerous acts con- 
cerning old lines and incorporating a host of private stock companies, 
which thrived for a while and then ceased to exist. In the session of 
1815-1816 the old Wilderness Road received attention. A law was passed 
to aid the construction and repairing of small roads branching out from 
the main road, by giving to these roads respectively one-half of all the 
tolls collected from those travelers passing off upon these roads. 9 For 
the purpose of constructing new roads, two companies were incorpo- 
rated the following year. The capital stock of each was fixed at $350,0x20, 
in shares of $100. At least nothing should be lost by setting aside 500 
shares in each company for the state, to be subscribed and paid for in 
any way the Legislature saw fit. This was an invitation, however, which 
the state did not accept. One of these companies was to construct its 
road from Lexington to Louisville, and the other from Lexington through 
Paris and Washington to Maysville. 1 " The former company passed 
through a transformation which came to be typical of many other turn- 
pike companies thereafter; it was broken up into small companies, each 
with a section of the road to construct. Three new companies resulted 
in this instance, namely: The Lexington and Frankfort, the Frankfort 
and Shelby ville, and the Shelbyville and Louisville. The latter (Lexing- 
ton and Maysville) was in fact a link in a long trace which had been 
used from early times, leading from Zanesville to New Orleans, and links 
of which had long come to be known as Zane's Trace and the Natchez 
Trace. Long before the legislation on the Maysville Road which pro- 
duced Jackson's famous veto, Kentucky had in 1812 asked Congress to 
convert this long trace into a good road, particularly in Kentucky's case 
to accommodate her numerous traders who floated their flatboats to 
New Orleans and had to return this way. 11 It was in pursuance of this 
idea of making this great interstate road that Kentucky in 1821 made 
her first appropriations to aid a road. She appropriated $1,000 for this 
purpose to the portion lying southward from Lexington toward the Ten- 
nessee line, "owing to the thinness of the population in the neighborhood 
and to the quantity of labor requisite to put in repair that part of the 
great highway leading from the northwest of the Ohio and upper settle- 
ments of this state to the states of Tennessee and Alabama and the Or- 
leans country." 12 

An ever growing amount of turnpike legislation came in each suc- 
ceeding Legislature for many years hereafter. New companies were 
incorporated to build roads in every direction, and old companies were 
amended and abolished. The same Legislature that split the Lexington 
and Louisville company into three separate companies also chartered 
four other companies. These were the Louisville and Portland, Fayette 
and Madison, Georgetown and Lexington, and Georgetown and Frank- 
fort companies. 13 The next year the link between Georgetown and Cin- 
cinnati was incorporated, and the Louisville and Bardstown Company saw 
the light. 14 In 1818 a rather more ambitious project was set on foot 

8 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 538. 
8 Acts of Kentucky, 1815, 611. 

10 Acts of Kentucky, 1816, pp. 179-199; Kentucky Gazette, December 10, 1816. 

11 Ibid., 181 1, p. 256. 

!2 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 538. 
13 Acts of Kentucky, 1817, pp. 478-545- 
" Ibid., 1818, pp. 721-72S. 


to build a road from Mount Sterling through Prestonsburg to the interior 
of Virginia. This would give a short and direct route to the East — an 
idea which became a hobby for railroad companies to play with for a 
half century. The governor was instructed to correspond with the gov- 
ernor of Virginia for aid and concerted action. 15 A plethora of acts soon 
came appointing commissioners "to view" certain routes for the purpose 
of selecting the best course. 10 

Soon state aid began to creep in as if by stealth and without system. 
In the 1822-1823 session the Legislature permitted a lottery to be held 
for the purpose of opening a road from the Beaver Iron Works to Pres- 
tonsburg. 17 This was permitted as an aid to the iron industry. Another 
method of aiding came in the form of land grants to counties which 
were building roads. In 1831, 2,000 acres was given to Casey County 
and $200 worth of land warrants donated to Clay and Perry counties. 18 
But the most direct and important aid was given to the project which 
had already received state aid in another region. This was the Mays- 
ville-Lexington link of the great interstate highway. This road, which 
had been reincorporated in 1827, with the invitation to Kentucky and the 
United States to subscribe $100,000, received $50,000 from the former 
and, before it was finished, $150,000 more. 1 ' 1 At the same time the state 
also subscribed $15,000 to the Shelbyville and Louisville road. 20 

The period from 1820 to about 1828 was lean in internal improvement 
projects; the people were too busy with hard times and relief, banks and 
court troubles. 21 But with the return of prosperity, a flood of turnpike 
companies greeted the people. In 1828 the approach of good times was 
heralded in nine new turnpike companies and the following toast given 
at a Lexington meeting: "May our manufactures be consumed, our 
canals locked up, our roads railed, our rivers damned, and our ship* 
blasted to the remotest ends of the earth." 22 Laws were piled up each 
year until, in the session of 1835-1836, at least eighty acts were passed 
on roads, streams, or railroads. The people were becoming thoroughly 
aroused to a general scheme of internal improvements where all roads and 
streams could be coordinated. The wealth of the state could be unlocked 
in no other way. Governor Metcalfe in 1831 called upon the Legislature 
to consider the matter and at the same time called the attention of the 
state to the true source of its wealth : "It is believed to be a sound maxim 
in political economy, that national wealth consists in the most enlarged 
and varied capacity to acquire the necessaries and comforts of life. The 
ancient but fugitive theory by which the minds of many have been be- 
wildered, that national wealth consisted in accumulations over and above 
the annual consumption, has long since been exploded. All practical 
statesmen now admit that hoarded accumulations, without a market, are 
valueless and will soon perish. Whatever that saves labor or time is 
admitted to be productive of wealth. Whatever facilitates and cheapens 

15 Ibid., 1818, pp. 603, 604, 794, 795. 

16 Committees were appointed for "viewing" the following roads in 1820: From 
Knox County by way of Williamsburg to the Tennessee line, Frankfort to the Ohio 
River opposite Neville, and Danville to the Tennessee line. Acts of Kentucky, 1820, 
pp. IOI, 133-135, 163, 164. The next year roads were to be "viewed" from Frankfort, 
to Bowling-Green, Bowling-Green to the mouth of Clover Creek, and from Lexing- 
ton to Ghent on the Ohio. Ibid., 1822, pp. 21 1, 212, 212-214, 190-192. 

11 Acts of Kentucky, 1822, p. 92. The first lottery permitted for road purposes 
was in 181 1. Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 539. 
is lbid., 1831, pp. 77-81. 

19 Acts of Kentucky, 1826, pp. 81-95; Ibid., 1827, 88, 239, 240. Collins, History of 
Kentucky, I, 538-540. 

20 Niles' Register, Vol. 37, p. 427. 

21 Compare the state acts during this period with those for periods directly preced- 
ing and following. 

22 Niles" Register, Vol. 34, p. 337; Acts of Kentucky, 1828, passim. In 1827 roads 
had begun to be "viewed" again. 


the process of exchanging one commodity for another increases the 
capacity to produce ; enriches the nation ; adds to her offensive and de- 
fensive strength ; diffuses comfort and happiness and joy amongst her 
own citizens ; increases their love of home ; affords them leisure for the 
cultivation of the mind; enables them to mingle without defined limit in 
the affairs of active practical life; exalts their character and that of the 
state to the loftiest summit of human elevation." 23 

With Federal aid to internal improvements definitely checked under 
the Jackson regime and with little real progress being made apart from 
the endless process of setting up companies which never did anything, 
the people were gradually goaded by the exigencies of the times into a 
definite program. In 1835 a Board of Internal Improvements was set 
up. consisting of the governor and four other members, whose duty it 
was to employ competent engineers to survey turnpikes and streams, de- 
termine upon what should be done, coordinate rivers and roads, and 
subscribe for the state stock in these projects — generally from one-half 
to two-thirds. In order to produce results as soon as possible and to 
show that this was not a mere legal gesture, $1,000,000 was appropriated 
to carry on the work. 24 Enthusiasm had now produced action, and both 
were strongly in the air. Governor Morehead said : "So astonishing, 
however, are the resources of our favored country, so unparalleled the 
energies of its citizens, that while we are busied in our speculations con- 
cerning a given enterprise, calculated from its magnitude to strike us with 
wonder, we may almost lift our eyes on its rapid accomplishment." 25 

A veritable rebirth was predicted for the state. Niles declared that 
a "noble spirit of internal improvements is abroad in Kentucky," and 
that much had already been done in the creation of the board, "and more 
will be speedily accomplished," and the Commentator had rosy visions 
ior the future : "Who can predict the aspect Kentucky will present 
when her streams become permanently navigable, and when all her roads 
through the interior become commodious channels of trade? The day 
is fast approaching when the difficulties of transportation and travel 
which have been encountered by this community will live in tradition 
only, and be listened to with incredulity by the rising generation. Not 
long ago it was at many seasons of the year a hard day's ride from Frank- 
fort to Shelbyville, a distance of twenty-two miles, while for wheel car- 
riages the road was absolutely impassable. The road from Frankfort to 
Maysville, the great thoroughfare of the state, was in the same condi- 
tion. Now at all seasons, and in day or night, large and commodious 
coaches pass with safety and rapidity. Such in a few years we hope will 
be the situation of all the leading highways of the country. We have 
begun the good work, it is true, at a late day ; but this consideration 
should only stimulate to greater efforts in order to enable us to overtake 
those states who have got so many years the start of us." 26 

The Board of Internal Improvements immediately set to work to sur- 
vey the numerous rivers of the state, determining on what improvements 
should be made and estimating the cost. As very little had been done 
by private companies on the rivers, this work engaged the attention of 
the board before the turnpikes. The first important survey was carried 
out on the Green and Barren rivers, and supplementing the little that 
had been done previously, the state spent on these rivers by 1836 more 
than $125,000. This work had been carried forward before the Kentucky 
River had been taken up, and before it ceased to spend money upon 
them almost $1,000,000 had been used up. The Kentucky River was 

23 Niles' Register, Vol. 41, p. 253- 

24 American Almanac, 1836; Niles' Register, Vol. 48, p. 17; Verhoeff, Kentucky 
River Navigation, 19. 

25 Argus, Jan. 7, 1835. 

20 Quoted in Niles' Register, Vol. 48, p. 75. 


in many respects the most important waterway in the state. It afforded 
an outlet for the rich Blue Grass region and some of its tributaries tapped 
the mountainous section of the eastern part of the state. The estimated 
cost of making this system navigable was more than $2,225,000, or a cost 
of nearly $9,000 a mile. The state actually expended $901,932. The 
Licking River was also of great importance, as it ran from the moun- 
tains across the central Blue Grass region into the Ohio at Cincinnati. 
Nearly $375,000 was expended on this river. Surveys were made and 
various amounts of money were also spent on the following streams: 
Cumberland, Rockcastle, Little, Salt, Little Sandy, Big Sandy and tribu- 
taries of the larger streams. 27 

As heretofore stated, canals, as compared with rivers and turnpikes, 
played a very slight part in the internal improvements program of the 
state. Outside of the canal around the falls of the Ohio at Louisville, 
none of any importance was built. Wherever they were suggested, it 
was merely for connecting links between rivers or for avoiding rapids. 
A canal for joining two important river systems was surveyed in 1837 
between the Goose Creek Salt Works and Cumberland Ford. This would 
make a continuous waterway between the Kentucky River and the Cum- 
berland River, thus affording a circuitous route from Northern and 
Central Kentucky through the mountains of the southeastern part of the 
state, down the Cumberland through Tennessee and on up through the 
western part of Kentucky into the Ohio above Paducah. Perhaps the 
most interesting and certainly the most ambitious long-distance waterway 
scheme was the Inter-State Canal between Kentucky and Georgia. This 
was merely another form of the ambitious project that had been engag- 
ing the attention of Calhoun and other Southern statesmen in connecting 
the Atlantic with the Ohio, their plan being to build a railroad. This was 
a recognition of one of the most important single factors in Kentucky 
commerce, namely, the ever-increasing amount of trade that was passing 
through Cumberland Gap for the South. This project was among the 
first suggested by the Board of Internal Improvements. This system 
was to begin in the Kentucky River and continue up the South Fork 
and Goose Creek to the salt works, and thence by means of a canal to 
the Cumberland River and up this river and Yellow Creek to the region 
of Cumberland Gap. A tunnel was to be constructed through the moun- 
tains here into Powell River which should be followed downward into 
the Clinch and Tennessee rivers, and thence up into the Hiwassee, from 
the headwaters of which a canal should be run into the Savannah. The 
report declared: "Such a canal would outflank the whole chain of the 
Appalachian Mountains on the southwest, and, in the course of its ex- 
tent, would cross the various noble rivers — Coosa, Chattahoochie, Oconee, 
etc. — which, taking their rise in the chain of the Appalachians, flow into 
the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, between the cities of Charles- 
ton and New Orleans. This would throw open to the commerce of the 
counties bordering on the Ohio River a choice among the numerous 
markets presented by the vast extent of cotton country, independently 
of the facilities it would offer for reaching the northeastern cities or 
European ports, through the ports of Savannah and Charleston." It was 
furthermore claimed that the cost would be much less than turnpike con- 
struction and that the "most perfect kind of canal can be constructed for 
one-half the cost of the most perfect railroad." 2S 

The canal project around the falls in the Ohio at Louisville, which 
had so persistently engaged the attention of Kentuckians, but which had 

27 Various acts of the Legislature during the period should be consulted for the 
multifarious details and Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 544-550 for more general 

28 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 548, 549; Verhoeff, Kentucky River Naviga- 
tion, 104-106. 


so signally failed to interest the other states along the Ohio or Congress, 
was at length taken up again in 1825 by a private company incorporated 
under the name of the "Louisville and Portland Canal Company," and 
was unhampered by any joint control through state or national owner- 
ship of stock. The capital stock of $600,000 was subscribed before the 
end of the year; and four years later the capitalization was increased 
to $700,000. Work was immediately pushed forward, and on December 
21, 1829, the first boat, the Uncas, went through the canal. This set the 
beginning of a new era on the Ohio. Traffic was now open and unim- 
peded from Pittsburg to New Orleans, and this barometric gauge at 
Louisville gave a true insight into the commercial prosperity at any time 
of the great interior region. In less than a decade more than 1,500 
steamboats and over 500 flat and keel boats went through this canal 
annually, carrying cargoes of over 300,000 tons. It was a success from 
the start, financially and otherwise. Even before it was finished its great 
value as a revenue producer was foretold, and Governor Desha bemoaned 
the fact that it was not a state undertaking: "It must be a subject of 
perpetual regret to every patriotic mind that the state did not, with her 
own resources, undertake the construction of the canal at Louisville. It 
would have been an imperishable fund — a source of revenue as lasting 
as the Ohio River itself — which would have enabled the government to 
accomplish the most extensive and useful plans without increasing the 
burdens of the people." But the Federal Government had been pre- 
vailed upon to invest in the canal, first, $100,000 in 1826 (made possible 
by forfeited stock) and later additional amounts. Tolls at times were 
considered too excessive, and so in 1842 the Legislature sought to have 
the whole ownership vested in the city, state and nation. The first two 
now refused, the latter, through a long series of transactions and ex- 
penditures, finally secured complete control of the canal and made it free 
in 1874. 29 

The activity of private companies in building turnpikes and in pro- 
jecting a great many more was immediately heightened by the inaugura- 
tion of state aid through the Board of Internal Improvements. The 
Legislature that saw this board set up produced a veritable flood of turn- 
pike charters. This process was continued with fluctuations, due to the 
varying degrees of prosperity of the state, down until the Civil war 
began. During the period of the conflict there was a complete cessation, 
but immediately on the coming of peace a renewed interest came. How- 
ever, another method of developing the state's resources was appearing 
as early as the '30s, paralleling river improvement and turnpike building 
for a decade or more and then almost completely swallowing up these 
activities. This was the railroad, to be noted hereafter. The turnpike 
system, aided and partly owned by the state, branched out in every direc- 
tion from the main pivots of Maysville, Lexington and Louisville. From 
the first point roads ran to Lexington, into Bracken County, and to 
Mount Sterling. Louisville sent out her tenacles in two long lines to the 
Tennessee line in each instance. The first road ran through Bardstown 
and Glasgow, whereas the other veered farther westward by way of 
the mouth of Salt River and then through Elizabethtown and Bowling 
Green. Feeder roads ran out from these trunk lines at several points. 
But to Lexington went the honor and advantage of being the center of 
the whole system, of which fact she was justly proud and not slow to 
boast. An enthusiastic Lexingtonian declared : "We have now seven 
Turnpike roads and one rail road terminating at this City. A greater 

29 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 47, 551-553; Timothy Flint, History and Geog- 
raphy of the Mississippi Valley (Cincinnati, 1833), Third Edition, I, 359; N ties' Reg- 
ister, Vol. 19, p. 170; Vol. 35, p. 387; Vol. 42, p. 82. Report on Louisville and Port- 
land Canal, in Miscellaneous Documents of the House of Representatives, in No. 83, 
40 cong. 2 sess. 


number, we believe, than in any city in the world. And when the Charles- 
ton rail road, and the Tates-creek road, the Russel road and the Hamp's 
mill roads shall be Macadamized, which must be done in a few years, we 
defy the earth to exceed us in the variety and pleasantness of the travel 
from Lexington." 30 

As compared to Louisville or Maysville, Lexington had a distinct ad- 
vantage in the road network, since the former two were situated on the 
Ohio River and, of course, could develop roads only southward. The 
rivalry of these principal cities which was later expressed so strenuously 
on various subjects was now breaking forth in the efforts to secure the 
location of turnpikes, as well as to secure priority the completion of cer- 
tain turnpikes. Lexington was especially desirous of pushing the road 
through to Covington as soon as possible, and thereby make connections 
with Cincinnati, whereas both Maysville and Louisville wished to hasten 
their connection by turnpike with that city. As a point in their argument, 
they claimed that Lexington might well use the road by the way of Louis- 
ville or Maysville when those connections were completed. Lexington, 
with much justice, resented these suggestions : "We do not believe it 
good policy for a citizen of Lexington who had no business at either 
Louisville or Maysville to go by either of those cities to Cincinnati." 31 
The principal state roads leading out of the Blue Grass city were : To 
Maysville, to Danville and Lancaster, to Harrodsburg and Perryville, 
to Winchester, to Richmond, to Versailles and Frankfort, and to George- 
town and Covington. 

Whether wisely or not, the state had launched out onto an internal 
improvement program which had been carried forward in no weak 
fashion. Rivers were improved and many turnpikes projected and built. 
Locks and dams were erected in the former and snags and other impedi- 
ments removed ; the main turnpikes were macadamized and graded from 
thirty to fifty feet wide. Summing up the achievements at that time, 
Governor Owsley said in 1844: "Eight hundred and ninety-eight miles 
of roads which were formerly in many places difficult to pass, and in 
some seasons impassable, have been converted into graded and McAdam- 
ized highways, over which every class of carriages of burthen and of 
pleasure pass with ease and convenience at all times ; and streams which 
were formerly incapable of being navigated, except in time of flood, have 
been converted into rivers navigable at all times, 363 miles * * *." 32 
It was not, however, without tremendous expense to the state that these 
improvements had been made. Besides the initial appropriation of 
$1,000,000 made when the Board of Internal Improvements was set up, 
the state at frequent intervals made large additions. By 1839 there was 
a bonded indebtedness on account of internal improvements of $1,765- 
000. By the outbreak of the Civil war, the state had an indebtedness for 
rivers and roads of almost $4,5oo,ooo. 33 

The state had in fact spent money lavishly on these improvements 
and often without proper evaluation of returns and general results. In 
the contagion of the enthusiasm at the beginning, estimates of the cost 
of construction of projects were made in a perfunctory way and in 
amounts far smaller than the actual cost. It was estimated that the cost 
per mile of rendering the Green and Barren rivers navigable would be 
slightly over $1,200, but the actual cost turned out to be more than 
$5,000. The engineer, drunk with the spirit of the times, boldly asserted 

30 Kentucky Gazette, April 4, 1839. 

31 Editorial in Kentucky Gazette, March 28, 1839. For other town rivalries, see 
Ibid., Sept. 20 et seq. 1820. 

32 Lexington Observer and Reporter, Jan. 1, 1845. Message to the Legislature, De- 
cember 31, 1844. 

33 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 78. Also see Ibid., 44, 46, 540. Individuals had 
expended by 1837 almost $2,000,000. Ibid., 540. 


that the state would be able to sell the power at each of the dams in the 
Kentucky River for from $3,000 to $12,000 annually. The fact was that 
about one-fortieth of that amount was realized. 34 The returns to the 
state on its investment in turnpikes ranged from 4.02 per cent to .09 per 
cent. On a majority of the roads it made less than 1 per cent. 35 Despite 
these low returns, the people had a feeling that tolls were too high, and 
there were frequently complaints that any tolls at all should be exacted. 
In 1848, ministers on duty were allowed to travel the state roads free 
of tolls. 30 The internal improvements bonds at first were eagerly bought 
up by the Eastern market, $100,000 being sold in New York at a premium 
of $3.10, but within a half dozen years the outside market had vanished 
and the governor of the state was begging wealthy Kentuckians to sub- 
scribe for them. 

Hard times in 1842 caused many people to examine more closely into 
the wisdom of impoverishing the state on internal improvements that 
were after all not meeting expectations. Governor Letcher, in his mes- 
sage to the Legislature, December 31, 1842, threw out a caution against 
further expenditures beyond what was absolutely necessary to carry out 
the projects then under contract. 37 Many members of the Legislature 
advocated the abandonment of the whole system, while others would 
finish the projects then under contract. 38 The latter policy finally pre- 
vailed, resulting in a further appropriation of $420,000 for the purpose. 3 " 
More expenditures in projects, with little earning power, soon ran the 
stocks in internal improvement projects down to from 25 cents to 30 
cents on the dollar by 185 1. 40 

In 1847 the Legislature passed a resolution looking toward the con- 
clusion of the internal improvement program. The Board of Internal 
Improvements was requested to report on what parts of roads and con- 
necting links should be completed, without further expanding the system. 
It was stated that Kentucky "has expended large amounts of money in 
the construction of Turnpike roads, many of which have been left in- 
complete, and some of them with only short intervals between long lines 
of finished road, whereby the usefulness of the improved parts of said 
road is greatly impaired and the productiveness of said roads diminished." 
It was further resolved that it would be impolitic to complete all of the 
contemplated roads. 41 The whigs had made internal improvements their 
chief concern and while enthusiasm ran high for these works they en- 
joyed a valuable political asset, but when the day of turnpikes and rivers 
was waning, it was easy for the democrats to point to the large public 
debt incurred in these undertakings, which had not fulfilled the glowing 
prophesies of a decade and a half ago. In 1851 the democrats indicted 
the whigs on their internal improvement folly thus : "They built locks 
and dams on two rivers, and made patches of turnpike roads here and 
there in the state, and then sank down exhausted with the mighty effort. 
• Since then they have been engaged in the laudable work of devising 
ways and means of paying the interest of the debt created on the mem- 
orable occasion." * 2 

Methods of transportation are constantly in a process of change and 
development. The era of river and turnpike expansion had scarcely 

3* Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 545, 549. 

35 Ibid., 541. During the year of 1843, the state received from all of her turn- 
pike holdings $18,805.01, from the Kentucky River, $10,863.85, and from the Green 
and Barren rivers, $4,515.16. Lexington Observer and Reporter, Jan. 1, 1844. 

36 Ibid., 56. 

37 Frankfort, Commonwealth, Jan. 4, 1842. 
3g Ibid., March 8, 1842. 

39 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 47. 
i0 Ibid., 63. 

41 Acts of Kentucky, 1847, p. 385- 
43 Kentucky Yeoman, Jan. 16, 1851. 

Vol. 11—11 


begun in Kentucky when a new challenge was thrown out. The fame 
of the Liverpool and Manchester Railroad in England reached America 
in the later '20s and fired the imagination of the restless would-be cap- 
tains of industry. Many immediately began preparations to build rail- 
roads and then to find out what they were. Lexingtonians, with their 
characteristic energy and initiative, were among the first in the West to 
agitate the subject. In 1830 they secured a charter from the Legislature 
to build a railroad from Lexington to some point, to be determined, on 
the Ohio River. The capitalization was fixed at $1,000,000, with the 
right of the directors to increase it to $2,000,000. For a time Cincinnati 
was looked upon as a likely objective, but Louisville (shipping port be- 
low the falls) was later determined upon. Subscription books were 
opened in early February (1830) and before two o'clock of the first 
day $204,000 was subscribed. There seemed to be no doubt among the 
people of this region that a railroad would be an unqualified success. 
The Reporter said, commenting on the first day's subscription : "These 
liberal subscriptions by persons who have carefully investigated the sub- 
ject afford conclusive proof that they consider the project not only a 
feasible one, but one that offers to the Capitalist an opportunity for a 
profitable investment of funds." 43 Preparations were soon under way 
to begin work on this road, to be called the Lexington and Ohio Rail- 
road. Henry Clay was actively interested in it and was chairman of the 
board of stockholders. He declared in a meeting in the spring of 1831 
that his friends had subscribed for him a considerable amount of stock ; 
in fact, more than he had at first believed he should hold, but his faith 
in the ultimate success of the venture was so strong that he had now 
determined to retain all that had been subscribed for him. The Town of 
Lexington became a stockholder to the amount of $25,000. 44 

Actual work was begun on the road to Frankfort in October, 183 1. 
Tremendous enthusiasm prevailed, and a great celebration was held for 
the laying of the first "stone" and the driving of the first "nail." A 
long pageant parade formed and marched to the Transylvania College 
campus. Three military companies took part, and the political leaders 
and important organizations of the state participated. Governor Met- 
calfe, Col. Leslie Combs, Underwood and Buckner of the Court of Ap- 
peals, R. M. Johnson, R. P. Letcher and T. A. Marshall, members of 
Congress, and numerous lesser leaders, as members of the Legislature 
and lower courts, all were present. According to the account of the day : 
"For many years we have not witnessed so imposing a pageant and never 
one more interesting." Seven salutes were fired for the seven sections 
of the road that were to begin building immediately. All the church 
bells of the town were rung, prayer was said, and then the governor of 
the state "drove the nail attaching the first iron rail to the beginning 
stone sill." "Hail Columbia" and "Yankee Doodle" were played by the 
band. 45 

Work was carried forward rapidly, and by 1835 the road had been 
completed to Frankfort. A brief contemporary description of the struc- 
ture of the road follows: "The superstructure consists of a continuous 
line (single track) of hard, gray limestone sills, the cube of which may 
be estimated at 200 inches, varying in length from 4 to 20 feet. These 
sills are embedded, 16 inches below the surface, in broken stone of the 
same description, 5 perches of which to a rod of road, reduced to a size 
not exceeding 4 ounces in weight, are used in bedding the sills and in 
macadamizing the horse-path ; horse-power in the first instance being 
intended." 4e Horse power was supplanted by a steam locomotive upon 

43 Feb. 10, 1830. 

44 Nile s" Register, Vol. 40, p. 181. 
46 Reporter, Oct. 28, 1831. 

46 American Almanac, 1833, p. 221. 


the completion of the road, the equipment being manufactured in Lexing- 
ton itself. 47 This road was important enough to soon have a disastrous 
wreck, in which one person was killed and others seriously injured. The 
account in the Argus said: "On the return, two burden cars, used as 
passenger cars, were placed in front of the locomotive, and became in 
some way entangled with each other in such a manner that one was forced 
off the road, with all its crowd of passenger, the wheels of the car rolling 
through them in dreadful confusion." This happened on Sunday, and 
the more religious observers were not slow to ascribe the catastrophe to 
the wrath of God. 48 

At the same time that work was begun on the portion of the route 
between Lexington and Frankfort, preparations were made to begin build- 
ing through Louisville to Frankfort. The city authorities and the railroad 
company were unable to agree on a route through the city for months, and 
it appeared that no agreement could ever be reached, so in 1833 a commit- 
tee of the Legislature was constituted and appointed to select the route. 
A short line was finally built from Sixth Street to Portland, but the people 
were violently opposed to the running of trains over it. It was claimed 
that the road was a menace to the city, that it endangered life, depre- 
ciated property, and injured business. Some of the more irate ceased 
to argue, and threatened to tear up the track. Resort was speedily had 
to the courts, where an injunction was granted. It was then appealed to 
the Court of Appeals by the railroad company, where the action of the 
lower court was reversed. Louisville had surprisingly failed to catch the 
spirit of the times in her senseless opposition to railways. Lexington, 
ever alert and progressive, said that she admired "the spirit and enter- 
prise of the Louisvillians," but warned them "that the city will not 
maintain her present ascendency unless she discards the apathy which 
strangely seems to pervade her at present." 49 While Lexington had 
boldly pushed the road to Frankfort, Louisville not only did not help 

47 The Lexington and Ohio Railroad was not the first railroad to be built in the 
West or even in Kentucky. A small railroad operated by horse-power was con- 
structed and put into working in Bowling Green in 1832. Collins, History of Ken- 
tucky, II, 747. The Lexington and Ohio was also preceded by the Pontchartrain 
Railroad in Louisiana both in the date of the charter (one week) and the comple- 
tion of the road. True it was, however, that these roads were insignificant when 
compared to the Lexington road. 

48 Jan. 28, 1835. The wreck occurred on the 25th. The Baltimore American 
gave the following account : "The introduction of an elegant locomotive upon the 
road had attracted a crowd to witness its operations. Two burden cars, fitted with 
only a temporary bench and without side railings, were in the train attached to the 
locomotives, which made its trip of six miles out in safety. On the return the train, 
filled with passengers, was pushed before the locomotive, and in passing a curve the 
wheels of one of the cars was jerked off the road creating a considerable shock to 
the whole train. Some of the passengers on the two burden cars attempted to jump 
off, the ground being nearly on a level with the road at the place; others, especially 
those standing on the forward burden car, were thrown backwards and knocked off, 
those near the edge of it under the wheels of the other; some, attempting to leap on 
the bank, fell and rolled down, and thus all the mischief was done. Lewis Lonkard 
and Leonard Taylor, of Lexington, William A. Cocke and Joseph Holt, of Louisville, 
F. W. Trapnall, of Springfield, and Daniel Green, of Fayette County, were in this 
way thrown off the forward burden car under the wheels of the other. Lonkard 
was instantly killed ; Taylor and Green had each a leg broken ; Messrs. Trapnall and 
Holt were severely bruised, and were probably saved by Lonkard's falling before 
them, and in some degree stopping the car. Mr. Cocke had his right foot firmly 
fastened in the forward wheel of the hindmost car, and was much injured, and but 
for the presence of mind and promptness of the engineer in stopping at the moment, 
must have lost his leg, and most probably his life; another quarter turn of the 
wheel would have been fatal. He could be only released by taking that part of the 
car to pieces. Several gentlemen were bruised and slightly injured. The Lexington 
Observer, from which we derive this account, says that none of the cars turned over, 
and if the burden cars had been substantially railed round, or if only passenger cars 
had been used, or all had been drawn and not pushed, nothing serious would have 
been the consequence." Quoted in Nites" Register, Vol. 47, pp. 412, 413. 

40 Editorial in Kentucky Gazette, Dec, 1835. 


in building the link from her limits to Frankfort, but had thus actually 
retarded the work. While Lexington was going forward in the develop- 
ment which was destined to remake the transportation facilities of the 
state and nation, Louisville was resting content with her river traffic. 
Xo extension of this short line in the city was made, and in 1844 it was 
transferred to a group known as the Louisville and Portland Railroad 
Company. This road was in fact little more than a street railway. 50 In 
1847 the unbuilt line of the Lexington and Ohio Railroad between Louis- 
ville and Frankfort was taken up by another company, which was incor- 
porated by the Legislature under the name of the Louisville and Frank- 
fort Railroad Company. Work was started soon thereafter, and in 185 1 
the road was completed, thus giving for the first time railway connec- 
tions between Lexington and a point on the Ohio River. The Lexington 
branch soon ceased to bear the old name of Lexington and Ohio and be- 
came the Lexington and Frankfort Railroad. In 1867 the two links were 
consolidated under the same management and ownership and were called 
the Louisville, Cincinnati and Lexington Railroad."' 1 

About the time the Lexington and Ohio had been completed to Frank- 
fort, another project was brought forward and attracted much attention, 
especially in Lexington. This was the so-called Louisville. Cincinnati 
and Charleston Railroad, which was being projected by such leaders in 
Smith Carolina as Hayne and Calhoun, for political as well as commer- 
cial purposes."' 2 These far-sighted statesmen would thus more completely 
bind the West and the South together. This road was given a charter 
for Kentucky link by the Legislature, with a capitalization of $6,000,000. 
In order to placate the rivalry of certain cities, the road was to branch 
out at Lexington, with lines going to Louisville, Covington or Xewport, 
and Maysville. Lexington would be the strategic center of this system 
in the state and was consequently much elated over the prospect. The 
Fayette County Court directed the issuance of $100,000 of bonds to aid 
the project, and in August, 1838. a great railroad festival was held in 
Lexington to arouse enthusiasm and support. " ,:i A large barbecue was 
given, at which from 2.000 to 3.000 people were present. Among the 
speakers were Robert Y. Hayne. of South Carolina, and Judge Reese, 
of Tennessee. Henry Clay. John J. Crittenden, Richard M. Johnson, 
Chas. A. Wickliffe and Thomas Metcalfe and other distinguished Ken- 
tuckians were also there. According to the Kentucky Gazette: "The 
almost unanimous sentiment appeared to be enthusiastically in favor of 
the great work which is to strengthen the bonds of union between the 
South and the West, and to make Kentucky what the God of her crea- 
tion designed — the finest portion of the habitable globe." 54 Hard times 
following the panic of 1837 were largely responsible for the failure of 
this project at this time. The idea was revived shortly before the Civil 
war. but the panic of 1847 ar, d tne war soon thereafter brought about a 
definite termination.""' 

r "' History of the Ohio Falls Cities and their Counties, I. 57, 58. 

51 History of the Ohio Falls Cities and their Counties, I. 58. 59; article on early 
railroads of Kentucky in Courier-Journal July 15. 1883; Collins, History of Kentucky, 
I, 54, passim; J. H. Ellis, "In the Days of Auld Lang Syne" 14 pp. (Pamphlet ad- 
dress at the Fourth Annual Banquet of the L. & N. Traffic Club. February 21, 1914. 
at the Seelbach Hotel, Louisville) ; Capt. Alfred Pirtle, "Early Railroading in Ken- 
tucky" in Engineers and Architects Club of Louisville. Papers and Reports, 1911, 
pp. 5-15; Capt. Alfred Pirtle, "Some Early Engineers and Architects in Kentucky" 
in The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, Vol. 12, Xo. 36 (Septem- 
ber. 19 14). PP- 37-53- 

52 This was the railroad corporation that attempted to secure a charter for the 
Southwestern railroad bank, heretofore noted. 

53 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 40. 41, 43. Also see Railroad Proceedings and 
Address of Fulton and Vicinity to the People of Ohio (Cincinnati, 1835). 

•■'Aug. 30, 1838. 

55 The idea of such a road was, however, never lost. The bitter struggle and the 


From the chartering of the Lexington and Ohio Railroad to its com- 
pletion, the people of the state were watching the progress of its con- 
struction, some doubting even that a road could be built at all, and many 
more believing that trains could not be successfully run if it were com- 
pleted. Moreover, the era of state aid to internal improvements had just 
begun when the Lexington and Ohio was completed, and the great amount 
of capital in the state would yet drift into rivers and turnpikes, certain 
developments, rather than into railroads, yet to be tried. Therefore, not 
until the '40s did the railroads come into their own and hold the stage, 
for directly previous was the hey-dey of internal improvements. Just 
as Lexington had begun the railroad movement, so was she foremost in 
carrying it forward later. Her location in the center of the richest and 
most progressive part of the state gave her a strategic position in the 
location of nearly every important line, for almost every railroad that 
should be projected by the other cities would of necessity run through 
Lexington, and thus the interests of this city were rarely pitted in rivalry 
with the other cities. 

One of the first important projected routes to receive general interest 
after the Lexington and Ohio had been completed to Frankfort was a 
line from Louisville to Lexington and on to the mouth of the Big Sandy 
River, there to connect with a railroad which it was hoped Virginia would 
build on to the seaboard at Norfolk. In 1839 the Legislature suggested 
that such a survey should be made, as a road along this line would prove 
of commanding importance — it would in fact be the great highway con- 
necting Kentucky with the East. In the estimation of the Legislature 
this route would give Kentucky a commanding position in the markets 
of the east, and with remarkable foresight, adduced in reality by the early 
experiences of the Kentucky people, the Legislature also saw the great 
value of this road in case of a war that might close the lower Mississippi. 
By starting at Louisville, this road would also connect the railways of 
the Northwest with the East. 58 Nothing of importance was done at this 
time, but this was a logical trade route that would some time have to 
be developed. Interest was continuous; it could not die. Finally, in 1852, 
the main idea was carried out in the chartering of the Lexington and Big 
Sandy Railroad. Great enthusiasm prevailed at the terminal points and 
all along the way. Lexington voted bonds to the amount of $150,000, while 
Clark County voted $200,000 of bonds. Work was begun at Cattletsburg 
in November, 1853, amidst elaborate ceremonies and much speech-mak- 
ing. Trouble was encountered at the start on the Lexington end. That 
city refused to issue the bonds on the grounds that the company had not 
carried out the contract. The case entered the courts and was finally 
settled in favor of the railroad. In 1855 work was begun at Lexington 
and pushed forward toward Mount Sterling ; but before the Civil war the 
whole project had failed, and the road was sold in i860 for $60,000. For 
nine years war and its aftermath caused the abandonment of the project ; 
but in 1869 it was revived under the name of Elizabethtown, Lexington 
and Big Sandy. Enthusiasm ran high again with Lexington and Fayette 
County each voting $25,000 aid in bonds. Work was begun in 1871 at 
both ends of the line, and finally the line was completed and today bears 
the name of Chesapeake and Ohio."' 7 

Interest was also early and persistent in another line in the same gen- 
eral direction. The road was projected from Lexington to the Cumber- 
land Gap. there to tap the road from East Tennessee to Virginia. This 
road would accomplish the same general purpose of the Lexington and 

ultimate construction of the Cincinnati Southern Railroad was a consummation of this 
same project. This subject will be treated at length hereafter. 

'•'"■ Acts of Kentucky, 1838, pp. 391, 392. Resolution dated Feb. 23. 

57 Ranck, History of Lexington, 366, 367; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 66, 68; 
Engineers and Architects Club of Louisville Papers and Reports, 191 1, p. 13. 


Big Sandy, but in a more round short way. In 1853 a widely attended 
meeting to promote this project was held in Richmond where delegates 
from North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Ohio came together. De- 
spite much agitation extending for years thereafter, this road was not 
built as such. 58 Railroads were really carrying out in a much more com- 
plete fashion the purposes that had been held in view in the construction 
of the turnpikes. Just as Lexington had sought turnpike connections with 
Cincinnati, now she would have a railroad. The earliest road chartered 
to carry out this project was the old Licking and Lexington Railroad, 
chartered in 1847. But like many another paper railroad of this period, 
it soon changed in name and management; and by 1851, under the name 
of Covington and Lexington it was in process of organization. In this 
year Fayette County voted $200,000 of bonds in its aid. By this time 
the road had been completed to Cynthiana where a barbecue was held 
to celebrate the event. This road was, later called the Kentucky Central 
and came to be a line of great importance and strategic value in the Civil 
war. It was extended southward to Nicholsville, not far beyond which 
place the gorge of the Kentucky River held up its further extension for 
years. Danville, which was the next town in the line of this road, 
hoped to extend it on to the Tennessee line, and as early as 1853 Casey 
and Cumberland counties voted to tax themselves to aid in building this 
link. This great north and south route, which in its larger aspects was a 
connection between the Ohio valley and the South Atlantic region, was 
finally railed in the Cincinnati Southern and its rival the Louisville and 
Nashville. 59 

Another important connection of Lexington's with the driving force 
coming principally from Maysville was the Maysville and Lexington 
Railroad. This was merely bringing the old route of the Maysville 
Turnpike up to date. The beginning of this road was celebrated in 
Maysville in 185 1 with Charles S. Morehead as the principal orator 
of the day. Maysville was a plucky town and deserved a better fate 
than the lines of trade and economic development have made her. At 
this celebration Lexington was not forgotten as the pioneer city of the 
West in railroad building. This road was pushed rapidly forward in 
the characteristic Maysville way, and by Christmas day, 1853, trains 
were running over it to Paris where it stopped as it here tapped the 
Lexington and Covington Railroad (Kentucky Central). 00 

Maysville also hoped to extend her iron tentacles eastward and this 
she prepared to do in the Maysville and Big Sandy railroad. In 1853 
Mason County voted $100,000 to aid this project. Some construction 
work was begun, but hard times and various other factors soon brought 
about its abandonment. With much the same history as the Lexington 
and Big Sandy, it was revived after the Civil war under the name of 
Kentucky and Great Eastern, finally was built and is today part of the 
Chesapeake and Ohio system." 1 

By 1850 Louisville had shaken off the lethargy and even opposition 
to railroads which had characterized her attitude in the '30s, and in 
this year she took steps toward the construction of a line directly south- 
ward to Tennessee, the celebrated Louisville and Nashville, which was 
to become a line of commanding importance in the state and around 
which all Western Kentucky centered for years. As this road was not 
finished until the eve of the Civil war, and as its great role in the 
history of transportation in the state was not assumed until the conflict 

08 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 67. 

69 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 54, 62, 66, 72. 

60 Engineers and Arcfiitects Club of Louisville Papers and Reports, 191 1, pp. 12, 
13; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 62, 69. 

61 Ibid., 66. By 1874 an extension down the Ohio toward Augusta had been built 
to Dover. 


was on and after it was over, the account of this remarkable develop- 
ment will more properly be taken up later. As this road in fact came 
to be an integral part of the city's economic consciousness, the rail- 
road activity of this city was centered preeminently around this road. 
Although controlling the western part of the state through this road, 
Louisville did not rest content, but threw out feeders and connections 
to the eastward where the rich central Kentucky region awaited her con- 
quest. The Louisville and Frankfort Railroad has been previously men- 
tioned. The extension of this road southward from Frankfort to Har- 
rodsburg in Mercer County was soon determined upon. In 1851 Frank- 
lin and Mercer counties each voted $200,000 in aid of this extension, 
and two years later Louisville took steps to underwrite bonds of the 
Louisville and Frankfort Railroad for $500,000 to help construct the 
road to Harrodsburg, and she also subscribed $300,000 to extend the 
road from this point to the Tennessee line toward Knoxville. This 
project, like many others of the times, failed to materialize. 62 About 
the same time a branch from the Louisville and Frankfort was projected 
through Shelbyville to Harrodsburg and thence on the link desired by 
Louisville toward Knoxville. Shelby County voted $500,000 to aid this 
development. Harrodsburg finally obtained railway connections in this 
link; but the development to Knoxville was never consummated. 

Another road in which Louisville soon became interested as only 
secondary to the Louisville and Nashville was the so-called Louisville 
and Covington Road. This would give rail connections with Cincin- 
nati, and this latter city was therefore interested also. In 1854, Cov- 
ington voted $500,000 to aid this project. This road was not finished 
until after the Civil war. 

Development of railways in the extreme western part of the 
state came in this same general period of the '50s. The Henderson 
and Nashville Railroad was organized in 1852 with Archibald Dixon 
as president. This region was also much interested in the greater project 
of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. This with the Illinois Central marked 
the beginning of the national policy of granting aid to railways through 
land grants and timber rights. In 1848 the Kentucky Legislature ex- 
pressed its desire to have Congress aid the Mobile and Ohio Railroad 
by granting to it "the right of way over the public lands lying on the 
route proposed, the privilege of cutting the timber required for the 
construction of the road, and also the alternate sections of public lands 
situated on the route, which are unsold. 03 Paducah, in 1853, voted 
$200,000 to aid in constructing a branch to the Mobile and Ohio which 
ran through the extreme western counties of the state. 

Kentucky active in her own railway development was no less inter- 
ested in lines projected far beyond her borders. The Mobile and 
Ohio was one example of this; but the most striking instance was the 
scheme of Asa Whitney to build a railway to the Pacific. Kentucky 
easily succumbed to the propaganda of Whitney in his efforts to secure 
national aid. Whitney appeared before the Legislature in 1848 and 
explained his magnificent scheme, and in the words of the enthralled 
Legislature, it listened "with interest to a very lucid explanation 
* * * of his proposed plan for the construction of a railroad from 
Lake Michigan to the Pacific Ocean. To conceive the idea of under- 
taking and accomplishing such an enterprise strikes us with astonish- 
ment, but it is confessed that the explanation of Mr. Whitney, and the 
purpose of his plan, places the subject before us in a more plausible 
point of view than we had supposed it could have been done. * * * 
If such a scheme be practicable, it challenges the attentive consideration 

«2 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 63, 66, 67. 

63 Acts of Kentucky, 1847, p. 488. Date of resolution, March 1. 


of this nation and deserves the aid of the strong arm of the government." 
It instructed the Kentucky members of Congress to "give such consid- 
eration and countenance to that great project which, in their judgment, 
its magnitude, importance and practicability deserve." C4 

In the period before the Civil war, the decade of the '50s saw the 
great railroad awakening in the state. During the session of the Legis- 
lature of 1846-1847 three railroad acts were passed; during the session 
of 1849-1850, seven acts were passed; and during the session of 1851- 
1852 the number jumped to eleven. Thereafter until the war came, there 
was no diminution ; but all the acts did not grant charters, for the day 
of reorganization and relief went with this hasty period of charter 
granting. The peak point in this decade was easily the first part, with 
Lexington the greatest center of activity." 5 The other two cities most 
forward in developing railroads, as has already appeared, were Louis- 
ville and Maysville. Many charters were granted for railways that 
were never built, and bond issues were promised and voted by cities 
and counties that were never delivered. This was a boom period 
when estimations and minute examinations were smothered in the en- 
thusiasm of the day. Projects far too large for the resources of the 
communities concerned were undertaken, and the day of reckoning 
was inevitably approaching. Panic times were approaching by 1854 
and in 1857 the full force of depression was upon the land. Many 
railways fell in the crash, and work was virtually stopped for the time 
on all of them. The Maysville and Lexington came to grief in 1856, 
being sold under a decree of the Fayette Circuit Court to the first 
mortgage bondholders for $105,000. The Covington and Lexington three 
years later was sold for $2,125,000; and as previously noted the Lexing- 
ton and Big Sandy came under the hammer in i860. 00 Other roads 
were suspended and reorganized. A conspicuous exception to this 
almost universal railroad depression was the Louisville and Nashville. 
In 1859 James Guthrie sold over a million dollars of bonds of that 
road at par. 07 

It was only a short step from the state aiding turnpikes and river 
development to giving like help to railroads, and it was by no means 
unlikely in the beginning that such a step would be taken. In 1832, while 
the Lexington and Ohio was in process of construction the Legislature 
appointed a committee to investigate the progress that was being made 
"and the facilities it is likely to afford, when completed, to the commerce 
of the country" and also to give "their opinion on the utility of the 
work." os Although the state did not take stock directly in the road 
it had assumed a surety to the road of $150,000 and in 1842 on the 
failure of the road to meet its obligation, it came into the hands of the 
state. In 1845 the governor in referring to the transaction said that 
"a railroad has been taken from a state of dilapidation for commodious 
and dispatchful transportation of men and things between Frankfort 
and the City of Lexington. '' Although the Board of Internal Im- 
provements was set up to develop rivers and turnpikes, still it on certain 
occasions took note of railway surveys. The resolution of the Legisla- 
ture in 1839, heretofore noted, directed this board to survey the route 
for the proposed railroad from Louisville through Lexington to the 
mouth of the Big Sandy River. One of the factors that seems to have 

" 4 Acts of Kentucky, 1847, pp. 483, 484. Date of resolution Feb. 28. 

05 For example see Lexington Observer and Reporter, Jan. 19, 1850. The press 
of the state was busy in carrying forward the enthusiasm. Also see Collins, History 
of Kentucky, I, 63. 

06 Ibid., 76, 81, 84. 

67 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 81. 

BS Acts of Kentucky, 1832, p. 307. Date of resolution December 13. 
69 Lexington Observer and Reporter, Jan. 1, 1845. Also see Collins, History of 
Kentucky, I, 47. 


entered into the question of the state taking stock in railways or even 
granting charters in certain cases was the fact that such action might 
militate against the success of the river and turnpike developments in 
which the state held shares. In 1846 a charter was refused to a company 
which wished to build a railway, which the state believed would com- 
pete with the navigation on the Kentucky River. 70 But undoubtedly 
the determining factor in this question was the failure of the internal 
improvement expenditures of the state to repay even in a small way 
the money the state had sunk in rivers and roads. An effort was made 
directly in 185 1 to commit the state to a policy of aid to railways. A 
comprehensive program was produced in which the state should dupli- 
cate in stock purchased in certain railroads the amounts the railroads 
had actually expended. This contemplated the expenditure by the state 
of $900,000 on a road from Louisville to the Mississippi River, $500,000 
on the Louisville and Nashville, $200,000 on each of the Maysville and 
Lexington and Covington and Lexington roads, $300,000 on the Mays- 
ville and Big Sandy, and $100,000 on an extension of the Louisville and 
Frankfort to Danville. This bill failed to pass. 71 

The refusal of the state to aid railway construction did not prevent 
cities and counties from doing so, and as has amply appeared they did 
so with more eagerness than reason. The question was almost invari- 
ably determined, however, by a popular vote ; and not in all cases did 
the people decide to travel the easy road of voting bonds, which they 
seemed to have little concern about meeting the payment of. Newport 
in 1854 refused to vote $200,000 of bonds to the Newport and Louisville 
Railroad, and Lexington in a few instances rejected bond issues for 
railroads. 7 - The great profusion of bond issues by various counties 
and cities brought about on the part of some people the demand that a 
halt should be called to the never-ending stream of bonds. It was easy 
to vote bonds ; but paying them was different. A debate on the subject 
was held in Lexington where Robert J. Breckinridge spoke eloquently 
against the policy, declaring that it was unwise and, besides, it was 
unconstitutional. George Robertson, formerly of the Court of Appeals, 
defended the policy. 73 In the hopes of curbing the practice, as well 
as of raising revenue, the Legislature passed a law allowing the county 
judge to levy a tax on railroad bonds. Whether the law accomplished 
its purpose or not, it roused the violent opposition of the citizens of 
McCracken County who called a meeting of protest and declared "That 
we will not support any man for sheriff of said county, who says he 
will collect said tax, if ordered by the county judge." Then waxing 
more bold in their attitude they declared that they "do hereby state 
that we, in conjunction with the great majority of the citizens of said 
county, will repudiate aggression and defend our rights, and ever pray 
for justice and release — and we will also resist the collection of said 
tax." 74 

The development of railways in the state before the Civil war 
crystallized around a few wide-awake cities from which lines radiated 
out in all directions to enlist the support and secure the trade of sur- 
rounding towns and communities. In this new field of activity, unreas- 
oning enthusiasm carried many people off their feet, and a mushroom 
growth of railway projects sprang up which could never survive. The 
panic of 1857 withered many and the Civil war, soon following, for 

70 Lexington Obsenrr and Reporter, Apr. 12, 1846. This is an early example 
of a fear of that very factor that played a very important part in putting the steam- 
boat out of business — paralleling lines of railway. 

71 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 61. 

72 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 71. 

73 Ibid.. 61. 

74 Kentucky Yeoman, Feb. 24, 1854. 


four years devastated the land and left a much changed economic situa- 
tion when peace came. For a decade after hostilities had ceased the 
railroad development of the state clung around two great forces, one 
seeking to be born into a more effective instrument, and the other strong 
and jealous seeking to prevent it. The one was to be finally expressed 
in the Cincinnati Southern Railway; the other was the Louisville and 
Nashville Railway. All others in Kentucky were merely hangers-on 
and satellites of these two. 


The material development of the state during the Middle Period J 
had its vicissitudes. Panics and money heresies played their re- 
tarding part. The manufacturing industry, so prominent in the state's 
mind in the early part of the century, was gradually giving way to the 
all-absorbing agricultural pursuits and the commerce consequent there- 
upon. Slavery, the hand-maid of the latter, militated against the for- 
mer. In 1842 there were 197, 73S people engaged in agricultural pur- 
suits as compared to 23,217 in manufacturing and the trades. Three 
thousand four hundred and forty-eight were listed as busied in com- 
mercial pursuits. 2 The decline in manufacturing is strikingly shown 
by a comparison of the numbers engaged in 1820 with the numbers 
given above. At the former date, 110,779 were busied in the manu- 
facturing industry as against 132,060 in agriculture. Internal improve- 
ments and the development of railways was of greater direct aid to 
agriculture than to manufacturies, as the former products were more 
bulky and therefore could not reach market as readily over undeveloped 
highways as the smaller and more valuable manufactured articles. 

The chief agricultural crops continued to be hemp and tobacco. 
According to a contemporary account, "both are raised in the greatest 
perfection." 3 In 1840 Kentucky stood first in the production of hemp 
and second in tobacco. Another crop not so valuable as these two, 
but a product in which the state stood first was wheat, and in maize, 
she stood second. Of these crops Timothy Flint said, "Her wheat is of 
the finest kind; and there is no part of the western country where maize 
is raised with greater ease and abundance." 4 Her foremost position 
as an agricultural state was further attested by the fact that she stood 
fourth in the production of rye, third in flax, and second in swine and 
mules. But by i860, when the great Northwest had been opened up 
and was beginning to make itself felt in the agricultural world, Ken- 
tucky's position had undergone these important changes : She now 
stood ninth in the production of wheat, fifth in rye, fourth in swine, 
but successfully maintained her first place in hemp and second place 
in tobacco and mules. 5 The tobacco crop was the most valuable product 
of the state and was first in the interests of the people. A large part 
of the crop was exported to foreign countries, which brought about 
a persistent clamor to secure for it proper treatment in the markets 
of the world. The Legislature at numerous times argued that foreign 
countries were throttling the Kentucky tobacco trade by high tariffs, 
and called upon Congress to pass retaliatory legislation. 9 Various other 
minor agricultural products were grown. 

1 This term is used to indicate roughly the period from the War of 1812 to the 
Civil War. 

2 American Almanac, 1842, p. 239. 

3 Flint, History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley, I, 355. 

4 Flint, History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley, I, 354. 
6 Shaler, History of Kentucky, 423. 

6 For examples, Acts of Kentucky, 1836, pp. 356, 357; Ibid., 1841, pp. 303, 304; 
Ibid., 1855, pp. 131, 132; and Ibid., 1859, pp. 182, 183. 



The most wealthy part of the state was the central region referred 
to everywhere as the Blue Grass. With the full development of the 
great fleet of steamboats on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, the Blue 
Grass region was left to the side of the great arteries of commerce. 
True it was that the Kentucky River still remained a valuable outlet, 
but it could not be otherwise than subsidiary to the larger lines. As the 
carrying trade came to get a firmer grip on the prosperity and economic 
development of the West, the great cities grew up on the Ohio and 
Mississippi rivers. Lexington was forced into a dignified, social, lit- 
erary, and political center, while Louisville took up the frenzied chase 
after commerce and industrial prosperity. By i860 Lexington, which 
in 1810 had more than three times as many people as Louisville, was by 
1S60, herself outstripped by the Falls City by more than seven to one. 
The attention of the gentry throughout the Blue Grass soon became 
strongly fixed on live stock ; first because, they had an inherent love for 
fine horses and horse racing, and secondly because horses, cattle and 
mules could walk to market. Their appreciation of and desire for fine 
and spirited horses was perhaps unequalled throughout the country. A 
traveller said, "A handsome horse is the highest pride of a Kentuckian. 
and common farmers own from ten to fifty." 7 Fine cattle were no less 
an object of pride. Trips were made to Europe to select the best 
breeds. In 1839 a Kentuckian purchased in England two bulls at 
$1,000 each ''and some splendid cows that cost in proportion." He 
bought twenty-two on this trip. 8 Cattle shows soon grew up and became 
an institution in the social and economic life of the people. A foreign 
traveller in the state dup'ng the '30s attended live stock shows and sales 
around Lexington, and was struck with the size of the animals and the 
high prices they brought. He noted jacks selling for $5,000 and cattle 
for over $1,000. He also said, "Mr. Clay, who resides near Lexington, 
is one of the best breeders in the State, which is much indebted to him 
for the fine stock which he has imported from England." 9 

The so-called cattle shows were really the precurser of the fair 
and the contemporary of the first agricultural associations. These 
shows, in which horses and cattle were displayed, seem to have made 
their appearance in Lexington before 1800; and by 1820 they were a 
recognized institution. 1 " They early grew to be much more than live 
stock shows; in fact before 1820 they were in reality fairs although 
they were generally referred to as "shows." In 1819 such a "show" 
was held in Lexington in which the committee in charge not only 
asked that all kinds of live stock be entered, but also solicited "the 
manufactures of domestic goods, of all the various kinds fabricated in 
the country, particularly in private families, to exhibit specimens of their 
productions, including all the various fabrics of woolen, cotton and flax 
goods, and also cheese." It was also careful to add that "the distillers 
are expected, as heretofore, to bring forward samples of their best 
whiskey." 11 Local agricultural societies had sprung up before 1800, as 
the one in Mercer County already noted, which attempted to better 
agricultural conditions by examing into the various problems that con- 
fronted farmers. As the state developed and the interests of the people 
widened and especially when manufacturers began to engage more atten- 

7 Flint, History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley, I, 355. 

s Letter from Nelson Dudley to Mrs. P. Smith written from Liverpool, April 17, 
1839. This letter was kindly loaned to the author by Mrs. Calames of Lexington. 
Dudley found difficulty in shipping his cattle to America for although the vessels 
were numerous "the immigrants are so great at this time that the capts of Ships 
refuse to take cattle." 

9 Capt. Marryat, A Diary in America with Remarks on Its Institutions (Phila- 
delphia, 1839), II, 17-20. 

10 Collins, History of Kentucky. I, 518; Ranck, History of Lexington, 270, 271. 

11 Kentucky Gazette, May 7, 1819. 


tion both in the home and in the factory, these associations were broad- 
ened in their scope. They now became known generally as "Agricul- 
tural and Mechanical Associations." Some of them embraced only 
ope county as the Fayette County Agricultural and Mechanical Asso- 
ciation and the Bourbon County Agricultural and Mechanical Associa- 
tion, while others were composed of a number of counties or a section 
of the state as the Union Agricultural and Mechanical Association 
composed of Shelby, Oldham, and Henry counties and the Southwest- 
ern Agricultural and Mechanical Association with headquarters at 

The first agricultural society designed for the state at large was 
organized in Lexington in 1818 with Isaac Shelby as the first president. 12 
In 1838 the field was taken by the Kentucky State Agricultural Society 
which immediately developed into an effective instrument in the hands 
of the farmers. It did more than promote fains and read papers on the 
better methods of agriculture. It sought in a most enlightened way to 
secure the direct aid of the state government in behalf of the farmers. 
In its meeting in Frankfort on January 10, 1842, it formulated a wide 
program of activities. After discussing such subjects as crop rotation, 
hemp production, sheep raising, and the "cultivation of roots as field 
crops," it recommended to the Legislature the establishment of an 
agricultural school, and the institution of a geological survey for the 
state. It suggested the more intensive discussion and investigation of 
agricultural needs and conditions by the different agricultural societies 
holding monthly meetings for the purpose and it recommended that 
each one of them build up a library on agricultural subjects. It offered 
monetary prizes for essays on various subjects. Among the topics 
suggested for essays to be submitted at the next meeting were these : 
$30 for the best essay on the importance of science to agriculture ; $20, 
on the relations of home manufactures to agricultural interests; $10, 
on "mixed husbandry:" and $10 each, on the best way to produce all the 
clover seed needed by the state, raising buckwheat, and the dairy busi- 
ness. 1 ' 5 Some of the county organizations needed little enthusiasm or 
suggestions from the state organization: in 1839 the Franklin County 
Agricultural Society resolved that the state should aid agriculture di- 
rectly as the farmers paid most of the taxes, and as European countries 
had recognized the principle and were helping agriculture. Their tan- 
gible suggestion was that the common schools should instruct the chil- 
dren in agricultural subjects and that college professorships should be 
established in agriculture. 14 

The agricultural associations functioning through fairs aroused much 
interest in the subjects encouraged. The state government first sug- 
gested aid to agriculture through appropriating money to be offered 
as prizes at the fairs. In 1853 Governor Powell called the attention of 
the Legislature to the advisability of appropriating a few thousand dol- 
lars to be used in this way. 15 The State Department of Agriculture 
was ultimately evolved out of granting aid to the state agricultural as- 
sociation. Prizes were offered for excellency in almost every line 
of endeavor. The Bourbon County Association in 1847 offered a pre- 
mium for the highest amount of merchantable hemp from one acre ; and 

12 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 518. According to Ranck, History of Lexing- 
ton, 270, 271, the "Kentucky Agricultural Society" was founded in Lexington in 1814. 

13 Frankfort Commonwealth, Jan. 28, 1842. 

14 Kentucky Gazette, June 6, 1839. About the same time the Kentucky Agricul- 
tural Society advocated the organization of an agricultural school to be set up through 
a joint stock company with a capitalization of $100,000. The state should be invited 
to subscribe one-fourth of it. The students should do a certain amount of practical 
work on the farm and in the shops and take up such subjects as mathematics, me- 
chanics, modern languages, and belles-lettres. Niles' Register, Vol. 57, p. 288. 

15 Kentucky Yeoman, Jan. 6, 1854. 


at the state fair in 1851, lasting over a period of five days, prizes 
were offered in a great variety of subjects. Manufactures of cotton, 
wool, and silk; cabinet and carpenter work; products made of hemp, 
leather, and flax; hats; agricultural implements and useful contrivances 
and machines ; products of the field, orchard, garden, flower-garden, 
and dairy; cattle, sheep, hogs, horses, asses, and mules — all commanded 
prizes. The rule was applied that all manufactured articles must have 
been made within the preceding two years. 16 These fairs tended to take 
on some of the characteristics of the fairs in Europe, which were de- 
signed principally for bringing buyer and seller together. The Fayette 
County Association took up the advisability in 1851 of setting aside a 
special lot near the fair grounds where trading might be expedited. 17 

Live stock constituted one of the most important items of export from 
the state. As has heretofore been noted, a constant stream of horses, 
mules, cattle, hogs, and sheep went through the Cumberland Gap for 
the South Atlantic States, amounting to more than a million dollars 
annually. In 1839 this business approached close to $2,000,000, and it 
continued unabated on down to the Civil war. 18 But the Cumberland 
Gap was not the only exit. Great droves of cattle were driven across 
the mountains eastward into Virginia and Pennsylvania ; while many 
saddle and carriage horses were taken down the Mississippi River on flat 
boats. Although none of Kentucky's live stock went northward, much 
of it came from that direction. Large droves of hogs were bought 
in Ohio and Indiana and taken to Kentucky to be fattened before being 
driven to the Southern markets. 19 

Live stock was pre-eminently the export of the Blue Grass region but 
it did not constitute the sole trade. The exports of Bourbon County 
in 1820 were made up of hogs, horses, mules, cattle, sheep, hemp, to- 
bacco, whiskey, bacon, linseys, linens, and numerous other articles of 
lesser importance, amounting to almost a quarter of a million dollars. 
During this same time her imports were $i33,ooo. 20 A decade later 
the Blue Grass region as a whole was exporting products approaching 
$3,000,000 in value, consisting of (besides the important item of live 
stock), hempen fabrics, tobacco, iron in pigs and bars, wool, ginseng, 
feathers, and other articles of lesser importance. 21 With the Lexing- 
ton and Ohio Railroad in contemplation and the turnpikes building, 
great prosperity was predicted for this region, induced by the increased 
exports that must follow. According to an account of the day: "These 
roads will pass through nearly the middle of the richest portion of our 
state, possessing a soil of such exuberant fertility as to be capable, under 
improved cultivation, of trebling its present amount of products ; which 
it will do whenever the completion of these works gives encouragement, 
by an easy, quick and cheap mode of transportation to market. They 
will also create new articles of trade, which, from their bulk and weight, 
will not bear transportation by the roads and means of conveyance now 
used." 22 

10 A large folder announcement of this fair may be found in the Breckinridge 
MSS. (1851). 

17 Breckinridge MSS. (1851). October 10, 1851. 

18 In the panic year of 1841-42 the following stock went through the Gap; 2,765 
horses, 2,247 mules, 2,406 beef cattle, 54,813 hogs, 718 sheep. Frankfort Common- 
wealth, March 15, 1842. See also Niks' Register, Vol. 21, p. 400; Vol. 23, p. 259; 
Vol. 30, p. 5; Vol. 35, p. 402; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 43; Flint, History and 
Geography of the Mississippi Valley, I, 355; Letters on the Conditions in Kentucky 
in 1825, p. 73; F. J. Turner, "The Colonization of the West 1820-1830" in American 
Historical Review, XI, 322. 

19 Letters on the Conditions in Kentucky in 1825, p. 73 ; Flint, History and Geog- 
raphy of the Mississippi Valley, I, 355. 

20 Niles' Register, Vol. 21, p. 215. 

21 Ibid., Vol. 40, p. 194. 

22 Niks' Register, Vol. 40, p. 194. 


At this time the commerce of the state as a whole tended to divide 
into two directions with the Mississippi to New Orleans the greatest 
route. The Ohio up to Pittsburg was the other great highway used in 
reaching Eastern markets both for exports and imports. Besides hemp, 
wheat, tobacco, and live stock, "she sends off immense quantities of 
flour, lard, butter, cheese, pork, beef, Indian corn and meal, whiskey, 
cider, cider-royal, fruit, both fresh and dried, and various kinds of 
domestic manufactures." Steamboat tonnage on the Western rivers 
mounted higher with each succeeding year, until the peak point was 
reached just before the Civil war broke upon the country. Kentucky 
being centrally located played a commanding part in this immense busi- 
ness, both in the construction and ownership of steamboats and the traffic 
they carried. As early as 1821 preparations were made to establish a 
direct line of steamers from Louisville to Havana. 23 The southern 
drift of Kentucky's trade was much more easy and natural than its 
movement up the Ohio to Pittsburg. Only the more valuable and less 
bulky articles could compete by this route. The steamers that plyed 
up and down the Mississippi and Ohio rivers from and to New Orleans 
carried all the bulky articles that the state imported or exported. The 
iron rails for Kentucky's early railroads came from England to New 
Orleans and thence up the rivers on steamers to Louisville. 24 

Louisville's strategic position at the falls of the Ohio, circumvented 
by the canal, in 1829, gave that city a commanding position in the whole 
Ohio Valley, and rapidly made her the chief city of the state. Kentucky 
was really developing into a one-city state, with many smaller strug- 
gling towns but none able to successfully compete with the colossus. 
In i860, Louisville had grown to the point where her inhabitants were 
virtually equal to the remainder of the urban population throughout 
the state in towns of more than a thousand souls. The growth. of the 
city was immediate on the coming of the steamboat. In the decade be- 
tween 1820 and 1830 it more than doubled its population. "Manu- 
factures are taking root there;" it was reported, "and the happy effects 
of them will be extended over the whole neighborhood." 25 Its river 
commerce grew with amazing rapidity. In the early '30s it was no un- 
common sight to see dozens of steamers loading and unloading. On one 
day in 1833, thirty-five steamboats were counted at the docks "all briskly 
being laden or unladen." 2fJ The commercial business of the city during 
the year 1835 amounted to nearly $25,ooo,ooo. 27 The prosperity and 
growth of the city was not based entirely on the carrying trade. Manu- 
factures were growing rapidly. In 1842 more than 2,500 tons of hemp 
were manufactured. 28 Flint in the early '30s described Louisville as 
being "in a commercial point of view, * * * far the most important 
town in the state. The main street is nearly a mile in length, and is as 
noble, as compact, and has as much the air of a maritime town, as any 
street in the western country." 29 

As heretofore mentioned, Lexington had for various reasons been left 
far behind by Louisville. Although surpassed in wealth and population, 
she could never be robbed of her commanding and dignified position as 
the social and intellectual center of the state. Lexington was by no 
means stagnant or going backward, neither had she lost her driving 
power. In 1831 it was described as being "in a state of rapid improve- 

2S Ibid., Vol. 20, p. 63. . 

24 Alfred Pirtle, "Some Early Engineers and Architects in Kentucky in Register 
of the Kentucky State Historical Society, Vol. 12, No. 36, p. 41. 
"Niks' Register, Vol. 37, p. 181. 
28 Niks' Register, Vol. 44, pp. 235, 342. 
27 Niks' Register, Vol. 49, P- 361. Exactly $24,837,000. 
"Ibid., Vol. 63, p. 228. 
20 Flint, History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley, I, 358. 


ment — new buildings to the value of $100,000, will be erected in the 
present season, and many old ones are undergoing extensive repairs." 
It was at this time that she began to macadamize her streets. 30 She 
still had important manufactures, chiefly cotton bagging and various 
kinds of cordage. The output of the farmer in 1830 was 1,000,000 
yards, and of the latter, 2,000,000 pounds. There were three factories 
for spinning and weaving wool and a half dozen for cotton, while 
there was one large machine-making factory and other smaller ones. 
Lexington feeling her position as a manufacturing city slipping away 
from herself laid the cause partially to the lack of patriotism of her 
merchants in importing articles made within the city. A meeting was 


View of Street Scene in Lexington 

held in the court house in 1839 in which it was resolved that "the 
importation of manufactured articles into the city of Lexington [was] 
highly detrimental to the best interests of the working classes.'' They 
called upon the Legislature for aid. 31 

But the characteristics of Lexington were not those of a commer- 
cial city, as a visitor in the '30s readily observed : "The town buildings 
in general, are handsome, and some are magnificent. Few towns in the 
west, or elsewhere, are more delightfully situated. Its environs have a 
singular softness and amenity of landscape, and the town wears an 
air of neatness, opulence, and repose, indicating leisure and studiousness, 
rather than the bustle of business and commerce. It is situated in the 
center of a proverbially rich and beautiful country. The frequency of 

30 Niles' Register, Vol. 40, p. 344. 

31 Kentucky Gazette, Dec. 19, 1839. 


handsome villas and ornamental rural mansions, impart [sic] the im- 
pression of vicinity to an opulent metropolis. * * * The inhabitants 
are cheerful, intelligent, conversable, and noted for their hospitality to 
strangers. The professional men are noted for their attainments in their 
several walks, and many distinguished and eminent men have had their 
origin here. * * * The people are addicted to giving parties; and 
the tone of society is fashionable and pleasant. Strangers, in general, 
are much pleased with a temporary sojourn in this city, which conveys 
high ideas of the refinement and taste of the country. There are now 
much larger towns in the west : but none presenting more "beauty and 
intelligence. The stranger, on finding himself in the midst of its pol- 
ished and interesting society, cannot but be carried back by the strong 
contrast, to the time when the principal hunters of Kentucky, reclining 
on their buffalo robes around their evening fires, canopied by the lofty 
trees and the stars, gave it the name it bears, by patriotic acclama- 
tion." 32 

Frankfort, though small, was the capital of the state and for that 
reason alone had many attractions and tended to develop respectability 
in architecture and manufacturing. There were here in 1830 three cot- 
ton bagging factories, one cotton factory, a rope walk, and other estab- 
lishments of lesser consequence. In point of actual commercial im- 
portance during this period of steamboat supremacy, Maysville was second 
only to Louisville. This was due to the fact that it was the principal 
point for importations into the central and north-eastern portions of the 
state. Almost all the goods from Philadelphia and the other Eastern 
markets were landed here and distributed over the state. It also served 
as a point of exportation for much Kentucky productions. In 1834 the 
imports here were more than $1,000,000 and exports over a half million. 
Its exports of hemp increased from 147 tons in 1827 to 449 tons in 1831. 33 
There were numerous other towns which depended on different factors 
for their varying prosperity, such as Washington, Paris, Georgetown, 
Harrodsburg, Versailles, Covington, Newport, Cynthiana and Russell- 

Apart from the gain that came from exchange and the profit from 
tilling the soil, there was much hidden wealth in the state whose outcrop- 
pings had been noted and delved in from the earliest settlements and ex- 
peditions. The more evident natural resources of the country had by 
the close observers been noted in connection with the fertility of the soil. 
Iron ore was noticed by the earliest settlers and its development was 
among the first uses to be made of the natural wealth of the country. 
Jacob Myers came to the Kentucky region in 1782, patented a large tract 
of land on Slate Creek, a branch of the Licking River, in what is now 
Bath County, and nine years later began the construction of a small fur- 
nace. The next year operations were begun and for almost a half cen- 
tury the business was continued. This was a most valuable development 
in the western wilderness ; it supplied the settlers with pot and pans ; it 
began supplying the United States navy in 1810 with cannon balls and 
grape shot ; and it contributed its part to the defeat of the British at New 
Orleans in 1815. In 1798 a forge was built nearby to convert the pig 
into bar iron, and in 18 10 another forge was built in the same region. 
In 1817 a furnace was built in Greenup County, and during the '20s the 
iron industry developed considerable proportions in this Northeastern 
Kentucky region, with five furnaces being set up in Greenup, Carter, and 
Boyd counties. During the next decade at least seven furnaces were 
built, and from then on to the Civil war the development was constant. 
Three were erected during the year 1833, which led Hezekiah Niles, 

32 Flint, History of Geography of the Mississippi Valley, I, 357. 

33 Ibid., 359, 360 ; Miles' Register, Vol. 47, p. 373. 

Vnl TT — 15 


always interested in the material growth of the country, to say, "How 
much more pleasant it is to hear of such creations of value, than to be 
informed of the building up of paper money manufacturies." 34 

The iron industry had developed for the most part in the northeastern 
part of the state ; but a few furnaces grew up in the western part of the 
state in Lyon, Edmondson, Muhlenburg, Trigg, and Caldwell counties. 
It was in the first-named county that the first "Bessemer" iron in the 
world was made, and that by the Kelleys two years before Bessemer 
had discovered the process in England. 35 

Coal was also early known here and its importance recognized. In 
1805 the Palladium carried an advertisement by an enthusiastic specu- 
lator who had a large tract of land for sale on the upper reaches of 
the Kentucky River. The land would not only produce in great abun- 
dance virtually every crop that grew out of the ground but it was also 
underlaid with vast mineral wealth among which were a half dozen 
"valuable coal banks." 36 Coal did not however come into any con- 
siderable use until in the latter '40s, when it began to be brought down 
the Kentucky River. In 1848, the first boat-load came down this route 
to Claysville from where it was hauled by wagon to Cynthiana, there 
selling for 21 cents a bushel. This traffic grew with time, so that many 
Kentucky towns came to use this fuel before the Civil war. 37 The West- 
ern coal fields were tapped even before the regions of the Upper 
Kentucky River were developed. In 1825, the mining of coal was be- 
gun in Daviess County near Owensboro. 38 

The production of salt was among the earliest of pioneer industries. 
In 1778 Daniel Boone with a party of twenty-seven men while making 
salt at the Lower Blue Licks was captured by the Indians. Salt springs 
\ were so abundant in Kentucky and the output of salt so extensive that 
I James Wilkinson engaged extensively in that trade together with his 
tobacco business as early as 1786. Kentucky salt bore a good reputation 
throughout the West and much of it was exported. Salt springs existed 
in western as well as the eastern parts of the state. Allen County 
developed salt works which by 1846 were making 300 bushels a week. 
Carter County in the East had salt wells that were operated by Simon 
Kenton when he first came to the region; while Clay County tended to 
become the center of good salt from 1800 on down to 1846 when there 
was being made here 200,000 bushels a year. In Southeastern Kentucky, 
Pike and Pulaski counties made much salt before the Civil war. Its 
manufacture was early encouraged by the state government. Such an 
act was passed in 1813, and shortly before areas of land had been given 
for ten cents the acre to encourage the building of salt work in Pulaski 
and Wayne counties. 39 

Oil in large quantities was produced as early as 1830. Workmen 
while boring for salt wells in Cumberland County were surprised on 
withdrawing their auger to find oil thrown up 12 to 14 feet beyond the 
mouth of the well. According to a contemporary account, "Although 
the quantity somewhat abated, after the discharge of the first few min- 
utes, during which it was supposed to emit seventy-five gallons a minute, 
it still continued to flow in a stream, that made its way to the Cumber- 
land, for a long distance covering the surface with its oily pellicle. It is 
so penetrating as to be difficult to confine it in any wooden vessel. It 

a* N ties' Register, Vol. 28, p. 259- „ . „ . , . .. 

85 J. M. Johnson, "The Iron Industry of Kentucky,' in Engineers and Archi- 
tects Club of Louisville Papers and Reports, 191 1, pp. 16-28; Hunt's Merchant 
Magazine, Vol. 19 (1848), p. 229. 

so Quoted in Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 407, 408. 

»' Ibid., 58. 

38 Ibid., II, 153- T , , , 

s» Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 24, 26, 27, 33 ; II, 34, 123, 141. 370, 650, 080. 



ignites freely, and produces a flame as brilliant as gas light, for which 
it might become a cheap and abundant substitute." 40 Another descrip- 
tion of this development, after mentioning the flow of the oil upon the 
Cumberland River, continued, "If ignited, it would present a magnifi- 
cent, if not an appalling, spectacle." 41 By the '50s the development of 
oil had reached such proportions that efforts were being made to secure 
markets for it. In 1857 the Breckinridge Coal Company offered the 
United States Lighthouse Board to supply its needs with 95,000 gallons 
for the next year. It offered this oil at a cheaper price than sperm 
oil and guaranteed "that it shall have excellent properties." 42 

The timber supplies of the eastern section of the state were little 
worked before the Civil war, although the importance of this wealth was 
recognized. In Central Kentucky and especially in the Blue Grass part, 
the large spreading trees scattered over the country were soon felled, 
and a timber shortage was being felt here as early as the '20s. "A 
Farmer" complained in 1822 of the practice of road-workers entering 
upon timber lands wherever convenient and cutting the trees for cross 
laying the roads and for other road purposes. He warned the people 
that timber was getting scarce and that it would take generations to 
renew it; the practice should be stopped. 43 It was only a step from the 
feeling of a timber shortage to a demand for timber conservation. A 
forward looking Kentuckian wrote to the Kentucky Gazette under the 
name of "Public Good" that, "The destruction of timber without any 
effort to reinstate it, is a neglect on the part of the farmers near Lexing- 
ton which is altogether inexcusable. If the next generation should be as 
forgetful of its duty to posterity, there will not be a stick left to burn 
in the country." 44 

These more or less sporadic discoveries and developments of out- 
cropping natural resources had all begun through private initiative alone, 
and without any exact knowledge of the location and amounts of the 
state's natural wealth. The lack of exact information on this subject 
was felt keenly by many people of the state, who believed that a valuable 
line of endeavor was being left undeveloped. The agricultural associa- 
tions were particularly anxious that an inventory be taken of the natural 
wealth of the state; and it was to a large degree due to two of these 
associations, the Carlisle Agricultural Association and the Franklin 
Agricultural Society, that the first geological survey was made. Other 
states, such as Ohio, Maryland, and New York, were making surveys 
about this time; why not Kentucky? 45 In February, 1838, the Legisla- 
ture provided for a preliminary geological survey, appropriating $1,000 
for the purpose. That the "mineral wealth and resources should be well 
understood, and be properly developed," it was stated was "important 
to the agricultural, manufacturing and commercial interests of the Com- 
monwealth." "Some competent person" should be appointed "to prepare 
and report to the next General Assembly, a plan in detail for a geological 
and mineralogical survey." 46 W. W. Mather of the New York Geolog- 
ical Survey was appointed to make the reconnoissance. He spent the 
summer of 1838 in the work, making a survey of the whole state and 
publishing his findings in a Report on the Geological Reconnoissance of 
Kentucky, made in i8j8. i7 This was merely a preliminary survey to a 

40 Flint, History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley, I, 354. 
^Niles' Register, Vol. 36, p. 117. 

42 Hunt's Merchants Magazine, Vol. 36, p. 385. 

43 Kentucky Gazette, March 21, 1822. 
*" May 8, 1823. 

45 Thos. B. Stevenson wrote Crittenden on the desirability of such a survey, 
December 8, 1837. Crittenden MSS., Vol. 5, No. 969. 

46 Acts of Kentucky, 1837, P- 357- The resolution was approved February 16, 

47 Published in Journals of Kentucky Senate, 1839, Appendix, 253-292. See alsc 
Chapter of Dr. Miller in this work. 

Rafting Logs in Kentucky River at Jackson 

Logging Scene Near Cressmont, Lee County 


complete and searching survey, which it was expected would be made 
later. Mather gave an excellent summary of the state's natural wealth, 
noting the various areas of mineral wealth. He summed up the mineral 
wealth thus : "The mineral districts are grouped in different parts of 
the state, and varied in their character and aspect as in their products. 
Coal, iron ores, salt, saltpetre, limestone for common and hydraulic lime, 
sandstones for building, and firestone, limestone for building stones and 
marbles, clay for bricks and coarse pottery, shale for firestone, fire bricks 
and pottery, and pyrites for the manufacture of copperas, are among 
the most important mineral substances of economical interest. 

"These substances occur in abundance within the limits of the state, 
but few of the locations, comparatively, are either known or appreciated 
by the mass of the people. In addition to these, are various valuable 
medicinal springs, petroleum or burning springs, and lead ore. Chal- 
cedony, agate and amethyst, such as are extensively manufactured in 
Germany into small ornamental articles and precious stones, are common 
in some parts of the state. The mineral districts of Kentucky embrace 
in the aggregate almost the whole area of the state." 

As suggestive as this report was of the great mineral wealth pos- 
sessed by the state, which might be made more available by a more 
complete survey, nothing was done until 1854. A memorial of the Ken- 
tucky Historical Society signed by many men of importance was pre- 
sented to the Legislature in 1847, but nothing came of it. By 1853 
opinion was being aroused and frequently expressed through the various 
agricultural associations calling for a geological survey. In 1854 the 
first geological survey was provided for, with the appointment of David 
Dale Owen as state geologist. Now for the first time a detailed geological 
and geographical mapping of the state was carried out. Also a searching 
survey was made of all the various kinds of mineral wealth of the state, 
together with the geological formations. The findings of this survey 
were published in four good-sized volumes, which the Legislature dis- 
tributed in considerable quantities. 48 The Civil war put a stop to further 
work in this field, and not until the enthusiastic re-awakening following 
the war, did Kentucky again take serious note of her natural resources. 40 

Wars, panics, and' plagues punctuate the history of every people and 
rudely upset the even tenor of their way. Kentucky was not freed from 
any of these disturbing elements. Governors invariably called attention 
in their messages to the Legislature to the smiling days of prosperity or 
to the frowning times when these evils beset them. Governor Adair in 
his message to the Legislature in 1822 could not record only unmingled 
«oods: "Amid the rich and numerous blessings with which providence 
has signalized our happy country, we have been not wholly exempted 
from some of its severest calamities. While peace, tranquility and order 
have reigned throughout the land; while the fruits of the earth have 
repaid the labors of the husbandman with a bounteous profusion, and 
every species of industry and skill have been liberally encouraged by the 
rewards of reviving commerce, while our people have witnessed with 
joy and thankfulness the masculine growth of their favorite institutions, 
and hailed, with sentiments of just and exalted pride, the glorious tri- 
umphs of that redeeming spirit, inspired by theirown example, which, 
in distant regions of the world, impelled the votaries of republican free- 
dom to plant their standard on the grave of departed despotism, the 
sudden incursions of sickness and death have cast an unexampled gloom 
over different portions of our healthful state. In common with her 

48 Ads of Kentucky, 1855, p. 143- A resolution of March 10, 1856, provided 
for the printing of 5,060 copies of the work available at that time. 

49 For a short account of the state geological surveys see W. R. Jillson, "A His- 
tory of the Kentucky Geological Survey (1838-1921)" in The Register of the Ken- 
tucky State Historical Society, Vol. 19, No. 57, pp. 90-112. 


sister states, Kentucky, during the short periods of the summer and 
autumn, experienced an unusual visitation of disease. When we look 
back on the suffering inflicted by the prevalence of a general malady and 
remember — who can forget it? — that we have been deprived of some of 
our most valuable and respected citizens, it is with hearts full of gratitude 
to a kind Providence that our minds are averted from the painful retro- 
spect by the welcome and consolatory assurance that the evil has de- 
parted, and that returning health, with her long train of blessings, oc- 
cupied again her accustomed abode !" 50 

But disease broke out again in the latter part of 1832 and growing 
into a malignant form by 1833 wrought unexampled havoc to human life. 
This was the dreaded Asiatic Cholera, which had already struck Europe. 
In a surprisingly short time the whole state was almost prostrated. Its 
nature was wholly unknown ; it struck high and low ; and it suddenly ap- 
peared in a community, spreading death on every side, and as suddenly 
ceased without any known cause. It was mysterious and frightful; 
people fled in terror before it and some were driven to insanity. Within 
a few months, there were 67 deaths in Maysville and sixty in Mason 
County. In Flemingsburg 47 whites and 19 blacks were stricken dead 
and in Elizaville and vicinity 21 died. In Fleming County whole fam- 
ilies died in less than forty eight hours — two such families of 12 and 
10 members each being buried in one common grave "without winding 
sheet or coffin." In Paris there were 73 deaths, Millersburg 78, Center- 
ville 16, and numerous others throughout Bourbon County. Thirty-six 
died in Montgomery County, and 120 in Lancaster and the surrounding 
neighborhood. Throughout the state was the same tale of woe and 
destruction. 31 

People were completely demoralized ; towns were deserted ; and busi- 
nesses abandoned. The Maysville Eagle in June, 1833, said, "Maysville, 
at this moment, presents a scene that finds a parallel no where in the 
annals of her previous history; nine-tenths of her population have left 
the city, and, of those who still linger within the vicinity, anxiety and 
dejection are pictured in every countenance, and each one looks as though 
the next hour was that allotted for his destruction." 52 Lexington re- 
ceived a fearful visitation. Within two months, more than 500 people 
died. A letter, written soon after the plague hit the town, said the scenes 
were enough "to strike terror to the strongest nerve ; even the physicians 
wore such awful countenances, that it was enough to confound and ter- 
rify the weak and timid. Nearly all the physicians are completely pros- 
trate, and many of them now in bed ; surely there never has been such 
mortality in any place of the same number of inhabitants. * * * 
There are not enough well persons left to take care of the convalescent 
and inter the dead. * * * On yesterday and today, it has been im- 
possible to get coffins or rough boxes made sufficiently soon to put them 
away." 53 So vivid an account of the course of the scourge in Lexington 
was given in a letter to the editor of the National Gazette on June 16, 
that it is here given in full: "On Sunday, the 2d instant, that awful 
scourge of God, broke out in Lexington, and its ravages have been 
dreadful and desolating, beyond example — not excepting even New 
Orleans. It is the opinion of the best informed, that not far short of 400 
have fallen victims in about 14 days — and this too with a greatly reduced 
population. More than one-half, probably two-thirds, fled soon after 
its commencement. Not the intemperate, not the dissolute, not the 
wretched and poverty-stricken alone have fallen, but many of our best 

*o Niks' Register, Vol. 23, p. 170. 

»i Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 37, 38; Niks' Register, Vol. 43, pp. 132, 149, 
171, 201; Vol. 44, pp. 233, 259, 281, 305, 321, 353. 
C2 Quoted in Niks' Register, Vol. 44, p. 265. 
83 Niks' Register, Vol. 44, pp. 265, 266. 


citizens — men of wealth, of character, of sobriety, of religion. No less 
than ten or twelve communicants in our church, and I presume a propor- 
tional number in all the rest. Many of our most worthy and respectable 
ladies also; — among them Mrs. Scott, relict of the late Governor Scott. 
Thus the pestilence has seemed to take a more elevated range than it 
has usually done in other places. It is true, that many of the lower 
classes have fallen. It has been very severe upon the blacks, especially 
upon those who were free. They had nobody to care for them, and 
money would not command attendants. But, after all, no more than 
upon others, in proportion to their numbers. 

"The progress of the disease has been frightfully rapid. Many have 
gone to their beds well, and have been in their graves before the next 
noon. The panic has been dreadful, and the more so as it was wholly 
unexpected. All that could fly, fled. The city authorities disappeared — 
no hospital for the poor provided — no board of health formed—no medi- 
cal reports made or required — and now, no mode of ascertaining our 
exact loss. We can only guess at it by the numbers of the missing. Stores 
have been shut — hotels and taverns shut — public houses, printing offices, 
&c. all shut; and, in short, nothing open but grave yards and their pre- 
monitories — apothecaries' shops. Even butchers and bakers suspended 
their functions, and country people ceased to supply our market. In 
short, the general cry seemed to be that of Napoleon's shattered troops, 
at the battle of Waterloo — 'Sauve qui pent.' Our physicians are either 
dead or broken down. Dr. Dudley alone I believe has stood it through, 
and is still on the alert. Some others are trying to follow his example, 
a la distance. Dr. Cooke, a host in such a scene, has unfortunately been 
put hors de combat; by a fall. But, alas \ — the most they have done is by 
way of prevention. The real cholera has been cured but in a few cases. 
They tell us, indeed, that it will yield to medicine, if taken in season. 
But this I understand, before the disease fairly sets in. They can cure 
or stop the premonitory symptoms; and, this, I think, is about the whole 
amount. If the disease be under the control of medicine, why, with 
some of the ablest physicians, as I believe, in the United States, have 
we lost 400 citizens? If the disease be, truly within the control of medi- 
cine, have not those physicians, who have devoted themselves, day and 
night, to the sick, an awful responsibility resting on them unredeemed? 
But I have no doubt that all was done that was possible, in a state of 
society so completely disorganized. The general suffering has been great, 
and individual suffering beyond description. No paper has been printed, 
or handbill issued, because there was nobody to do it. All was con- 
sternation and dismay. Some, who fled, were soon brought back on the 
bier — others were buried in the country. Graves could not be dug, nor 
coffins made, so fast as they were wanted. A number of coffins, or 
boxes, were sometimes put in one hole. Ten or a dozen bodies have been 
left in the grave yard, unburied until their turn came the next day. When 
we retired, at night, we could not expect, and hardly dared to hope, to 
meet again well. Such, sir, has been the cholera in Lexington. 

"I said our city authorities had disappeared. This is true of them 
as a body. The mayor and Colonel Combs have been active. But in- 
dividuals have generally, and I may add, with a godlike zeal, devoted 
themselves to doing good, and to the mitigation of suffering. First and 
foremost, on this list, is Bishop Smith, of the Episcopal Church, who, in 
body, is but the skeleton of a man, but in heart and soul, a giant in every 
good' word and work. His whole time, day and night, rain and shine, 
has been devoted to the consolation of the dying, or the funeral services 
of the dead. From early dawn to midnight he has been constantly on 
his feet, or on his knees; and to me, it seems a miracle, that he is still 
on duty, as bright as ever! What other clergymen here have done — I 
have not heard. David Sayre, too, has devoted himself, body and soul, 


and purse, to the alleviation of misery, and deserves from the friends of 
humanity a brighter meed than ever graced the brows of a monarch. 
Many others have followed his example. Several gentlemen too in the 
country have contributed generously to our relief, by sending in and dis- 
tributing, gratuitously, beef and other necessaries. Among these I need 
not name the patriot farmer of Ashland. 

"But we trust, that the agony is nearly over. The cloud of pestilence, 
which has so long brooded over our city and burst upon it with all its 
fury, is beginning to recede. Only 10 or 12 deaths last night, and but 
few new cases. The weather is now fine, and we cannot but hope, that 
Providence, in his infinite mercy, will say to the torrent of desolation 
which has been deluging our city — thus far and no farther. But Lexing- 
ton has received a shock ; from which it cannot speedily recover." 54 

The spirit of the whole state seemed to be subdued during these 
pestilential times. On July 24, Governor Metcalfe set apart a day of 
humiliation and prayer, to be observed on August 19, by the people 
assembling in their churches to pray for the arrest of the dreaded 
scourge. 35 In much less violent forms cholera visited the state in 1849, 
and lingered in one community or another up until the Civil war. 50 The 
economic loss to the state through deaths and the lower morale of the 
people for a time played almost as much havoc with prosperity as a panic 
would have done. 

The parts played by panics have largely appeared already, whereas 
the only armed conflict, the Mexican war, was fought far from the 
borders of the state had little material effect upon it outside of the 
loss of life. Unsettled conditions during the period when the state was 
experimenting in banks and heretical relief methods marked a much 
more serious set-back to the material advancement to the state than the 
panic of 1837 or its echo of 1842. In 1854 and 1857 panic times were 
experienced in the nation, but Kentucky was far removed from the cen- 
ter of most aggravated disturbance. The crisis of 1854 was more 
severely felt here than the latter one. Notes of some of the banks at 
this time fell 50 cents on the dollar; but in 1857 the strength of Ken- 
tucky banks was more than equal to the emergency. While banks were 
failing in the surrounding states, the Kentucky banks steadily refused 
to suspend specie payment. 57 A reputation for financial soundness and 
strength had been established by Kentucky by this time, which was sur- 
passed in no state and equalled by few. The finances of the state were 
good. In 1857 there was a balance of more than $40,000 in the treas- 
ury. 58 From a material standpoint, Kentucky found herself in 1861 
in as strong a position to bear the burdens of a war as any state in the 
erstwhile Union. 

04 Quoted Ibid., 311. One of the altruistic spirits of Lexington during these 
pestilential times was a lowly person called King Solomon, who through his minis- 
trations left a grateful remembrance among the Lexingtonians. Today his grave 
in the Lexington cemetery is marked by a large slab. See the beautiful story of 
James Lane Allen, "King Solomon of Kentucky." 

55 Argus, Aug. 8, 1833. 

69 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 59, 60, 62, 65, 72, 73, 75. 

57 Lexington Observer and Reporter, Dec. 9, 1857 ; Duke, History of the Bank 
of Kentucky, 106; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 78. 

68 Lexington Obsci-cer and Reporter, Dec. 9, 1857. The finances of the state 
were generally in a good condition after the banking heresies had been outgrown, 
and after extravagant expenditures on internal improvements had ceased. In 
1842, there was a balance of over $60,000 on hand. Niles' Register, Vol. 63, p. 340. 




Despite the fact that the early statesmen of Kentucky had taken lit- 
tle interest in education, not even enough to mention it in the first two 
constitutions, still before the state had progressed far, schools of all 
grades were making their appearance. Transylvania early grew into a 
college, while academies were springing up on all sides. And the elemen- 
tary or "old field" schools were administering in a precarious way to the 
wants of the people. But ideas of education were based on the supposi- 
tion that it should be diffused downward from college to the masses 
rather than from the masses up to the college. The result was that soon 
the system became top-heavy with all the interest and endowments going 
to the upper branches of education while the elementary schools were 
left unprovided for through any state action. The academies which had 
been aided in the several counties by grants from the state of 6,000 or 
12,000 acres of land grew up in great profusion during the first two 
decades of the nineteenth century, only to die down with equally as much 
speed and certainty. This decadence had begun shortly after the War 
of 1812, and by the outbreak of the Civil war, only one of the state- 
endowed academies was left. 

The causes of the downfall of the academies were various. Their 
rise had been too easy; the state had granted land freely to persons who 
failed to realize the responsibilities they should assume, and other indul- 
gences were granted, such as freedom of taxation by the state of acad- 
emy property. The growth of these schools was unnatural and artificial, 
largely induced by the misplaced munificence of the state rather than 
by the cooperation and demand of the people at large. They were too 
far advanced for a people who were yet unprovided with the first rung 
in the educational ladder — the elementary or common school. The en- 
dowments of the state were sufficient only to attract the establishment 
of the academy without providing a fund for supporting the school after 
it was set going. When the state allowed the lands to be sold, many of 
the schools parted hastily with their properties, with little returns. The 
self-perpetuating board of trustees was soo little restrained by the state, 
and some of these boards wasted their lands in foolish speculative proj- 
ects. The law allowing the academies to part with all of their lands 
was passed in 181 5, at the time when banks were attracting more atten- 
tion than schools, with the proviso that the proceeds should be invested 
in stocks of the Bank of Kentucky, and with the result that whatever 
benefit came of this would, it was secretly hoped, accrue to the bank 
rather than to the academies. 1 Governor Slaughter, in his message to 
the Legislature in 1816, referring to the academies, said that the aid 
granted by the state had been "productive of some good, but the fund 
has proved inadequate to meet the enlightened and liberal views of the 
Legislature." - Four years later Governor Adair called attention in a 
similar way to the same situation : "Former legislatures have, perhaps 

1 Lewis, History of Higher Education in Kentucky, 26-28. 

2 Niles' Register, Vol. 1 1, p. 392. 



wisely, made considerable donations of land to the several counties, for 
the purpose of establishing primary schools or seminaries of learning, 
but little benefit has yet been produced to the community at large from 
these donations. Whether this failure has arisen from a too great 
diffusion of the means, or from a too great difficulty of procuring teach- 
ers, well qualified to take charge of these schools, or from both causes, 
is not now material to enquire." 3 Humphrey Marshall chronicled the 
demise of the Frankfort Academy thus : "But, being afflicted with the 
county disease — multiplicity and bad government — it has languished and 
revived alternately in the building erected for it, until it has neither 
acting trustee, teacher, nor student, as it is believed." 4 

But the old academies were not without their lasting good ; they 
started on the road toward fame, local and national, many Kentucky 
boys who became lawyers, doctors, statesmen, ministers, and other pro- 
fessional men. Many of the old academy buildings were afterwards 
used for school buildings in other systems that grew up, and some of 
the important colleges had their beginnings in these old academies. 

Transylvania early came under an unfortunate admixture of control 
by the state and a religious denomination, which early showed its blight- 
ing effect, and which continued through an alliance with almost every 
important denomination in the state, until the present generation, when 
they finally separated. This joint control, arousing as it did bitter re- 
ligious prejudices and hostility, was largely responsible for the failure 
of this college to fulfill its early promise of becoming and remaining 
the greatest institution of learning west of the Alleghanies. Under the 
presidency of Dr. Horace Holley, from 1818 to 1827, it had a golden 
era. The state had now come to take a closer interest in it, and by a 
reorganization of the board of trustees it had assumed virtually complete 
control. Governor Slaughter had in 181 7, in a very enlightened mes- 
sage to the Legislature, advocated a liberal policy of support. He said : 
"Colleges, or universities, upon a large scale require considerable funds, 
and cannot be numerous. The Transylvania University, which had its 
origin in the liberality of our parent state, will soon, it is believed, hold 
an eminent rank among the institutions of learning in the United States. 
I am not informed whether its funds are adequate or not, but think 
it would be wise in the Legislature to extend to this institution every 
aid necessary to place it on the most respectable footing. It is hoped 
and expected that this university, situated in one of the most healthful 
and delightful parts of the United States, will render it not only un- 
necessary for the youth of our own state to be sent to distant colleges, 
but invite the young men of other states to finish their education here. 
There are considerations in favor of a good system of education which 
strongly address themselves to our pride as a state. It should be re- 
membered that Kentucky is the first member of the Federal Union 
that emerged from the western wilderness, and that she now holds a 
very high standing in the National Government. And shall it be said 
that she is unfriendly or even indifferent to learning? Let it rather be 
our boast that Kentucky is as famed for science and the arts as for 
the valor and patriotism of her citizens." B 

This new regime began with a glowing announcement by Charles 
Wickliffe, the chairman of the board of trustees, of the session to begin 
in 1818. 6 The medical school, established during this period, advanced 
rapidly in numbers of students and in reputation. By 1826 it had grown 
to be the second largest in the country, with 282 students. 7 The law 

» Niks' Register, Vol. 19. P- VJ*. 

* Marshall, History of Kentucky, II, 336. 

» Niks' Register, Vol. 13, p. 386. See also "Transylvania University," by W. 
H. Townsend, in this work. 

• Niks Register, Vol. is, PP- 132, 133- 
' Ibid., Vol. 29, p. 326. 


school continued in its very remarkable career, having in its long his- 
tory such names associated with it on its faculty as George Nicholas, 
Henry Clay, James Brown, John Pope, John Boyle, William T. Barry, 
Jesse Bledsoe, George Robertson, Thomas A. Marshall and Madison 
C. Johnson — virtually the leadership of the state. Transylvania Uni- 
versity in 1825 granted 127 A. B., A. M., LL. D. and M. D. degrees. 8 
Rafinesque lent additional lustre to the institution during this period. 

But this phenomenal growth under the inspiring leadership of Presi- 
dent Holley was not without its dangerous elements. This was an era 
when orthodox religion had been banished from the institution, when 
not one of the board of trustees "was a professor of religion," and when 
President Holly, especially, criticized before his classes many Biblical 
tenets dear to the people. The religious denominations of the state, 
led by the Presbyterians, began a war upon Holley which became hotter 
and more intense as time went on, and which ultimately caused his res- 
ignation. In 1826 he first offered his resignation, but was prevailed 
upon by the trustees to reconsider. He remained one year longer, leav- 
ing the institution and the state in 1827. He soon afterwards died in 
a storm at sea while on his way from New Orleans to New York. 9 

One of the immediate outcomes of Holley's regime was the with- 
drawal by the Presbyterians from any further support of Transylvania, 
and their attempts to secure a charter for a new college where they 
could fit their ministers for their duties, freed from the unholy influence 
of Holley. Their efforts in 1818 to secure a charter for a college at 
Danville were defeated through the influence of Transylvania, but the 
next year the fight was renewed. The Presbyterians would endow the 
new school with certain funds they possessed, and they expected the 
state to give $30,000. To allay the opposition of other denominations 
and even enlist their support as far as possible, the plan allowed other 
denominations to fill professorships in the institution. This whole 
scheme aroused strong opposition and bitter denunciations against the 
Presbyterians. It was argued that this plan would lead to a religious 
aristocracy, with the Presbyterians dominating all other religious sects — 
it would, in fact, be an end to religious liberty and the separation of 
church and state. 10 The editor of the Kentucky Gazette said: "Upon 
liberal principles, too many academies cannot be incorporated, but surely 
no state ought to lend itself to the endowment of sectarian literary in- 
stitutions." 11 In 1819 the Legislature chartered Centre College at Dan- 
ville, but not under the control of the Presbyterian synod. The board 
of trustees was to be selected irrespective of religious belief, and "no 
religious doctrines peculiar to any one sect of Christians shall be incul- 
cated by any professor in said college." As this was not according to 
the plans of the Presbyterians, they withheld their endowment from the 
college and refused to have anything to do with the institution. Center 
was now in fact a state school, being a successor to the properties of 
the old Danville Academy and receiving for two years one-third the 
profits of the Harrodsburg branch of the Bank of the Commonwealth. 
As the outlook of the school under this arrangement was not encourag- 

8 Ibid., Vol. 28, p. 368. 

9 Niles' Register, Vol. 30, pp. 39, 366. The New York Courier said of him: 
"Our country lost a brilliant ornament in the late president of Transylvania Uni- 
versity. He was a man of such varied accomplishments, of such strength and such 
gracefulness of intellect, of such physical as well as mental beauty, that he claimed 
alike the homage of the eye and heart. Everything connected with the history 
of such a man is of peculiar interest. To trace the life of a man of genius from 
the early dawn of his intellect, to examine the habits and associations which formed 
his character and gave impulse to his feelings, is a task fraught with instruction 
and delight." Quoted Ibid., Vol. 35, p. 85. 

10 Kentucky Gazette, Jan. I, 1819. 

" Jan. 8, 1819. 


ing, in 1824 the state handed the control of the school over to the Pres- 
byterians. 12 

The other denominations, interested as they were in the religious 
turmoils of the times, set about founding colleges for themselves. Some 
of them grew out of the old academies; all were an expression of the 
rising denominational interest in education. The Roman Catholics set 
up St. Joseph College in 1819; the Methodists began Augusta College 
in 1822 as an academy, which came to be conducted as a college in 1827; 
the Cumberland Presbyterians founded Cumberland College in 1824; 
and the Baptists secured a charter for Georgetown College, which was 
founded in 1830. 13 

As heretofore intimated, the educational development of Kentucky 
had begun and long continued in an illogical, though, perhaps, a more 
practicable manner. Academies had been founded, flourished for a 
short day and had died down; and a burst of activity in founding col- 
leges had characterized the decade of the '20s. But the solid founda- 
tion for all real educational advancement had been almost wholly 
ignored, except in words. Colleges were more easily established and 
kept going than a system of common schools scattered throughout the 
rural communities, and they appeared to be greater advertising orna- 
ments for the state. Travelers were lulled into believing that Kentucky 
had nothing to desire in her educational facilities, because they saw 
in the towns of the state prosperous educational institutions, academies 
or colleges, and an enlightened view on educational matters. They 
failed to note that the rays of these lighthouses extended not far into 
the country, where the people scarcely knew the meaning of a school. 
A traveler during the '20s paid these glowing tributes to Kentucky, 
which were true for the towns alone : "The zeal for the advancement 
of Literature * * * is observable amongst the citizens in every 
village, every county, and in every neighborhood ; here there are schools 
established and conducted by competent teachers, whenever necessity or 
convenience renders them desirable." 14 With the exception of com- 
mon schools, this further observation of the traveler was correct: 
"There is, probably, no state in the Union, considering its infancy and 
finances, who has done so much to patronize Literary and Benevolent 
Institutions, as the State of Kentucky." 15 

The difficulty as well as the great desirability of educating the masses 
of the people was recognized early and became a theme of every gov- 
ernor's message, from Slaughter on down to the Civil war. In 1816 
Governor Slaughter said : "I presume you will agree with me that 
nothing in this government, whose firmest rock is public sentiment, is 
m6re worthy of your attention than the promotion of education, not 
only by endowing colleges or universities upon a liberal plan, but by 
diffusing through the country seminaries and schools for the education 
of all classes of the community; making them free to all poor children 
and the children of poor persons." He saw in the education of the 
masses the surest foundations of a republican government: "Knowledge 
and virtue are everywhere the surest basis of public happiness; the 
strongest barriers against oppression; a powerful check to mal-admin- 
istration, by rendering it necessary for those in power to secure not the 
blind, but the enlightened confidence of the people. Every child born 
in the state should be considered a child of the republic, and educated 
at the public expense, where the parents are unable to do it. Such a 
system will not only improve the minds and morals of our youths, and 

12 Lewis, History of Higher Education in Kentucky, 110-114. 

13 American Almanac, 1834, pp. 238-242; Lewis, History of Higher Education in 
Kentucky, 14, 15. 

14 Letters on the Conditions of Kentucky in 1825, p. 39. 
" Ibid., 38. 


thereby render our free institutions more endurable, but, by thus dif- 
fusing the benefits of government throughout the body politic, it will 
be strengthened in the affections of the people." Such sentiments were 
enlightened and forward-looking, but worthless if they should lead no- 
where. Realizing this, Slaughter advanced a plan for financing this 
wider diffusion of education : he would build up a fund by using for- 
feited and escheated lands, and levying a tax on "banks and such other 
corporations as from their nature are proper subjects of taxation, and 
such parts of the dividends on the bank stocks of the state as can be 
spared without materially increasing the public burdens." 10 

The following year Governor Slaughter became even more specific 
in his plans for common schools. He recommended the arrangement 
and adoption of "a plan extensive, diffusive, and convenient to every 
portion of the community." He would have all the settled parts of 
the state divided into school districts varying from five to six miles 
square, with a school in each one "free to all poor children, and to be 
supported, if not entirely, in part, at the public expense. We have many 
good schools, but nothing short of carrying education to the neighbor- 
hood of every man in the state can satisfy the just claims of the people 
or fulfill the duty of the government." A great potential asset of the 
state, he believed, was being neglected; genius and future greatness de- 
pended not upon riches if given the chance that was due them. Such 
schools would "develop the mental riches of the commonwealth. The 
experience of the world has proved that genius is not confined to any 
particular order of men; but Providence, in bestowing her choicest gift, 
intelligence, as if to mortify the pride and vanity of those who from 
their birth and fortune would exalt themselves above their fellow men, 
delights to raise up the brightest ornaments of humanity from the most 
obscure and humble conditions of life. To instruct and improve the 
rising generation is among the first duties of every American statesman. 
The American people, in establishing their independence and republican 
form of government, have done much ; but much more remains to be 
done. These states are but recently transplanted from the nursery of 
freedom and, although in a thriving and promising condition, they have 
not acquired such maturity and strength as no longer to need the care 
and skill of the political husbandman. To give success to this experi- 
ment of freedom, the youth of our country should be qualified to under- 
stand and enjoy its blessings. In vain have our ancestors bled ; in vain 
did they hazard everything on the issue of the revolutionary contest ; 
in vain has our country been distinguished by the most sublime and 
elevated patriotism, if the inestimable boon which they achieved is to 
be lost by a neglect of the means necessary to its preservation and prog- 
ress. While the utility and importance of education is generally ad- 
mitted, yet, either because the beneficial effects appear remote or uni- 
versal, the subject does not seem to excite that lively interest and zeal 
which are usually awakened by questions of a local or personal char- 
acter. When we' reflect that this government has no need of a standing 
army to sustain or enforce its authority, but for its efficiency essentially 
reposes on the patriotism and intelligence of the great body of the 
people, how obvious is the necessity of providing a system of instruc- 
tion calculated to improve the minds and moral habits of the rising 
generation." 17 

Others took up the cry for bringing the masses into an educational 
system. Amos Kendall carried on a campaign in the Argus in 1819 for 
common schools. 1 s With his characteristic appeal to and dependence 

16 Niks' Register, Vol. 11, p. 392. 

17 Niles' Register, Vol. 13, 386-388. 

18 Autobiography of Amos Kendall, 225. 


upon the common people, he raised the cry that the masses were being 
left out, while the state was liberally building up a university which 
meant nothing to the great majority of the people. "What is it to them," 
he said, "that our university and seminaries are liberally endowed? It 
only widens the distance between them and the more opulent citizens. 
It adds the aristocracy of learning to that of wealth, and increases the 
influence of the few over the minds of the many." Kentucky must 
have schools for the masses, and she could pay for them, even as many 
other states were doing. A real educational awakening in Kentucky 
would not "be equalled in true glory by the most splendid military 
achievement." 19 

Kendall and others who had sought to array the people against the 
university were met in their argument by Governor Adair, who, while 
admitting the masses should be educated, believed that it could best 
be accomplished through making a greater Transylvania, "the great 
head or fountain from which stream will flow to fertilize and improve 
the human mind in every section of the state." "By aiding our uni- 
versity," he said, "by putting it in its power to become useful in every 
department of science which it is prepared to teach, you will promote 
the real interest of the community at home, and give dignity and weight 
of character to the state abroad. Thus we may reasonably ho,pe in a 
few years to see our primary schools furnished with well qualified teach- 
ers, raised and educated amongst ourselves, possessing the morals, man- 
ners and habits of our country. Such men, too, from their connections 
in the state, will have a weight of character to support, not always at- 
tached to itinerants." 20 He did not want to appear unfriendly to com- 
mon schools, but he felt that the university was the best beginning. In 
1821 he strongly advocated that Transylvania, which was now through 
recent legislation unsupported by the state, should be immediately given 
aid. Unaided by the state, it would soon cease to flourish and perhaps 
cease to exist. Annual appropriations ought to be made, "sufficient to 
supply the deficiency of its actual receipts to meet its ordinary expendi- 
tures." But at the same time he would have "a system of general and 
cheap instruction which, in its details, shall pervade every part of the 
community, and bring home the blessings of a substantial and business 
education to the poor of every family." Such a plan, he believed, was 
not beyond the means of the state. "It is due to the present age and to 
posterity that the attempt should be made." 21 

The Legislature was no less awake to the necessities of the situation. 
It appointed a committee, on which were William T. Barry and John 
Pope, among others, to investigate the school systems of other states 
and report one suitable for Kentucky. This committee immediately set 
to work and prepared for the next Legislature a report with recom- 
mendations for Kentucky. They would have the school system to be 
all-inclusive, from the university down to the common school, for the 
masses. The idea was not new ; the common schools should prepare 
pupils for the academies and the academies for the university. All 
should be in a state system, supported by the state as far as possible 
and controlled by it. It would have less of the idea of poor schools, 
where children were singled out as poor children and thereby given a 
certain stigma which the proud spirits of many refused to bear by not 
going to school at all ; and more emphasis should be placed on the edu- 
cation of all, as far as possible, through state appropriations and local 
taxation. A report from George Robertson was included, together with 
letters on the desirability of an educational system supported by the 
state, from John Adams. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Robert 

19 Ibid., 249, quoting the Argus for September 13, 1821. 

20 Niks' Register, Vol. 19, pp. 170, 171. 

21 Ibid., Vol. 21, pp. 187, 188. 


Y. Hayne. It was further recommended that some official, such as the 
secretary of state, should be placed at the head of the schools and be 
known as the superintendent of schools. 22 The Legislature received this 
report with good intentions, but it never mustered up enough courage 
to carry it out, which was also true of the succeeding legislatures. How- 
ever, it did a certain amount of good by having the report printed and 
distributed, and thereby attracting the attention and enlisting the inter- 
est of people widely over the state. 

But good intentions and resolutions on the great value of education 
were not the only products of this period. Some substantial efforts 
were made, which resulted, however, in little lasting progress. The 
same Legislature which appointed the committee to report on a school 
system also set aside a "Literary Fund, for the establishment and the 
support of a system of general education." One-half of the net profits 
of the Bank of the Commonwealth were to be set aside and distributed 
in just proportions among the different counties. The higher institu- 
tions of learning, including Transylvania and Centre, were given per- 
centages of the profits of certain branch banks. Within a few years 
the Literary Fund was yielding annually about $60,000, but the schools 
received little benefit, as this fund was levied upon for almost every 
other purpose than schools. 23 Transylvania University received from 
the state during the period, 1821-1825, about $20,ooo. 24 In almost every 
instance, schools were linked up with banks or internal improvements 
in such a way as to always be the lesser concern — in fact, schools were 
generally the tail to some kite. So-called school funds aided banks or 
roads primarily, and then, if the conditions of these other interests per- 
mitted, some of the money trickled through for schools. 

Kentuckians realized keenly their backwardness in establishing a 
common school system, but they were prone to excuse it on the grounds 
that the Federal Government had aided all the other Western states 
by grants of land in setting up their schools. It was only natural then 
for them to ask why aid had not been given to themselves. In 1821 a 
committee of the Legislature was appointed to report on the question. 
Kentucky, it believed, had been slighted. "Why those appropriations 
should have stopped short of Kentucky, your committee are not able 
to see, especially when they take into consideration its situation in re- 
lation to the other states of the Union; the contest it has maintained in 
establishing itself, protecting at the same time the western borders of 
the old states, and extending the more northern and western settle- 
ments." Kentucky had long stood alone in the wilderness battling 
against the savages, "cut off from the succor and almost from the 
knowledge of her friends," protecting the Eastern states and giving 
timely aid to "those states and territories which now form the great 
national domain." Kentucky even should have rights in these lands 
not granted to other states on account of the role she has played ; but the 
National Government could well make land appropriations for educa- 
tion general "without materially affecting the national revenue." She 
could not help believing that the magnanimity of her sister states of the 
West would make them unanimous in Congress for granting land in 
aid of education in the other states. The resolution was then offered, 
"that each of the United States has an equal right, in its just propor- 
tion, to participate in the benefit of the public lands, the common prop- 
erty of the Union." It was further resolved that the state's representa- 

22 Lewis, History of Higher Education in Kentucky, 330 ; Collins, History of 
Kentucky, I, 502, 5<>3- 

23 McMaster, History of the People of the United States, V, 372; Lewis, His- 
tory of Higher Education in Kentucky, 330; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 30, 
502; Niks' Register, Vol. 29, p. 229; Vol. 21, p. 303; Vol. 23, p. 181. 

2* Niks' Register, Vol. 29, p. 97. 


tives in Congress should use their efforts "to procure the passage of a 
law to appropriate to the use of the State of Kentucky, for the purposes 
of education, such a part of the public lands of the United States as 
may be equitable and just." 23 Failing to secure the desired results, the 
state again, in 1829, sought to obtain public lands from the United 
States "for the purpose of diffusing Education by the establishment of 
some general system of Public Schools, in this State." 20 

Despite the apparent success of Governor Adair's drive for a public 
school system in 1821 and following, as seen in the thriving condition 
of Transylvania University, the state had really made no progress in 
solving the problem of educating the great body of Kentucky citizenry. 27 
Instead, the feeling was growing stronger that the university was being 
built up as an aristocratic institution which could never help, but might, 
perhaps, harm the great body of the common people. In 1822 additional 
appropriations for Transylvania were defeated "on the plea that the 
institution was chiefly for the benefit of the rich." 2S Governor Desha 
declared open warfare against it in his message of 1825. This school, 
he declared, had been a favorite of the state, "and had drawn with a 
liberal hand upon the funds of the people. Yet it is believed that in its 
benefits it has not equalled the reasonable expectations of the public, 
and that for several years its expenditures have been extravagant in 
amount and lavished upon objects which were calculated to make the 
state but an inadequate return for her almost unbounded liberality. The 
university, its funds and all its resources and appendages, are public 
property, and it is the duty of the representatives of the people to make 
a rigid examination into all its appropriations and accounts." It was 
reported that the president was receiving a salary twice as large as any 
officer of the state government, wholly out of proportion to his services 
or to the resources of the institution, and that some of the professors 
were being paid with little less lavish extravagance. To make up for 
this carnival of expense, the tuition rates had been increased "to a very 
high rate, which, with the habits of profusion acquired in the society 
of a large town, effectually shut the door of the university to a large 
majority of the young men of Kentucky." As that institution "is now 
managed, it seems that the state has lavished her money for the benefit 
of the rich, to the exclusion of the poor, and that the only result is to 
add to the aristocracy of wealth the advantage of superior knowledge." 
If the institutions of freedom and democracy were to be handed down 
to posterity, knowledge of their meaning must be disseminated wider 
than one college or university could do it. Schools must be carried to 
the people, so thickly studded over the state that children could board 

25 Niks' Register, Vol. 21, p. 253; American State Papers, Public Lands, III, 

503. 504- 

26 Acts of Kentucky, 1828, p. 192. 

27 In his message to the Legislature in 1822, he said : "The state university 
continues to flourish. Its recent growth is unrivaled ; and the benefits it dispenses 
are diffused far beyond the limits of our own state. When we consider how large 
a sum of money it retains among us, which would otherwise be expended abroad in 
educating our youth in habits and opinions, not the most happily adapted to render 
them useful at home ; and that it attracts from other states considerable amounts 
that could not in a different mode be obtained, this institution might well be esti- 
mated, by avarice itself, as worth all the care and expense it has cost. But when 
we regard it as a distinguished seat of science, affording all the means for the 
attainment of knowledge, which are common to any seminary of learning in the 
United States, the advantages of its rich and imperishable contributions to our 
moral strength and intellectual acquisitions, are not to be calculated by the standard 
of wealth, but of glory. We may be permitted to felicitate ourselves on the rapid 
and general dissemination of useful and liberal knowledge, through all classes of 
society, and to hail with sentiments of deep delight the auspicious era, at which 
Philosophy and the muses claim a residence in the wilderness of the west." Niles' 
Register, Vol. 23, p. 171. 

28 Niles' Register, Vol. 21, p. 304. 


at their homes and wear such garments as the family manufactured. 
"On this plan, and this only, can the patronage of the Government be 
extended equally to all and the benefit of literature be diffused through- 
out the whole body politic, and a sufficient degree of popular intelligence 
be preserved in future generations to ensure the preservation of our free 
and liberal institutions. On this plan, too, all the great geniuses of the 
country will be brought out to public usefulness ; whereas, by the pres- 
ent plan, the most energetic intellects remain bound in the chains of 
ignorance and borne down by poverty, whilst thousands of both public 
and private funds are lavished, in many instances, on those whose minds 
nature never formed for greatness." Locate the schools in the coun- 
try away from the distracting and immoral influences to be found in 
the towns, and the student would develop habits of labor and study. 
Adair declared : "Every consideration, moral, political and religious, 
urges us to go earnestly to work to put into operation a system of com- 
mon schools." The system was promulgated several years ago, and 
it seemed that the people everywhere were enthusiastic, but still no 
schools existed. He feared that traitors existed : "But there are some 
grounds for the suspicions of many that although some were sincere 
in the promotion of common schools, the project was published more 
as a feint to content the people with large appropriations of public 
money that were then made to Transylvania, than with any view to 
carry it into actual operation." 

It was time that the people's money should be used for their own 
benefit. "They have felt themselves taxed to aid in educating and ac- 
complishing the sons of the wealthy, and now there can be no difficulty 
in correcting the principle and adapting it to such a system as will re- 
quire the wealthy to contribute something toward maintaining schools 
whose advantages all can share. I beseech you then to enter upon the 
work with earnestness and with a zeal which becomes the great cause 
of learning. In means there can be no difficulty, if you determine on 
the end." 

Desha declared that he was not hostile to the university in its proper 
uses and, properly conducted, he believed it had a part in the educa- 
tional system of the state, but it should not be allowed to rob the state 
of a system of common schools. 29 

The results of this rivalry between university and common school. 
which it was claimed existed and which was so bitterly discussed, was 
to greatly injure the former and to bring very little aid to the latter. 
In 1829 the Legislature called upon Rev. Alva Woods, president of 
Transylvania, and Benjamin O. Peers, another eminent educator, to 
communicate to it any suggestions or information that would be of value 
in devising a plan of common schools. They made a report, and in 
1830 the state made another effort to give the people at large a system 
of schools. This law provided that the county court might lay off the 
county into districts of convenient size, that there should be three com- 
missioners to manage the schools, and that the people of the county 
might vote not over 50 cents poll tax and 6^ cents on the $100 for 
school purposes. This law threw the responsibility directly on the 
counties, both in organization and providing revenues. There was not 
the slightest chance of such a system succeeding at that time, for the 
people in general were not informed on the subject and their conscious- 
ness had not been aroused. Education would have to be first popular- 
ized, and even then it should be directed and managed centrally through 
the state, with state funds to assist it. 30 

Educational conditions, while being far from satisfactory in 1830, 

^Niles" Reqister, Vol. 20, pp. 222, 223. ,,,.,„,., 

3° Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 35 ; Lewis, History of Higher Education in 
Kentucky, 331-333 ; 'Niks' Register, Vol. 37, p. 400. 

Vol. 11—13 


were not as bad as might have been inferred from the opportunities the 
people had. In this year 78 out of 83 counties reported school statistics. 
The total number of children reported between five and fifteen years 
was almost 140,000. Of these, 31,834 were reported to be in school, 
leaving 107,328 not in school. There were 1,131 schools reported, with 
expenditures of $278,592. Had all the children been in school and the 
cost of their education been maintained on the average of those who 
were in school, the total expenditures for education would have been 
$1,200,052. The number of schools to the county varied from nine in 
Morgan to 53 in Henry County. Russell County had 1 school; Laurel, 
2; Harlan, 3; Knox, 4; Hickman, 5; Floyd, 6; Butler, 7; Grayson, 8; 
Anderson, 9, and a large number of others were in the class under 10. 
However, a majority of the counties had more than 10 schools. The 
average salary of the teachers was from $100 to $400 for the year, and 
the average size of the schools was from 20 to 40 pupils. The county 
with the worst attendance was Morgan, with 8<)$ children of school age 
and not one in school; the best attendance was in Bourbon County, 
where almost one-half were in school. 31 

Until the idea of common schools was popularized, no system of 
education devised could succeed. Kentuckians were becoming increas- 
ingly conscious of this fact. The subject must be agitated and carried 
before the people in every manner possible. A report on education 
made to the Legislature in 1823 emphasized this necessity. It suggested 
that if a plan were adopted before the people were prepared for it, 
failure would result and conditions would be worse than if the attempt 
had never been made. 32 There had begun to develop a consciousness 
on the part of some of the more progressive teachers, seconded by some 
of the most intelligent leaders of the state, that teaching was a profes- 
sion which was capable of organization and betterment thereby. The 
idea was also held that such organizations might be valuable aids in 
rousing the people on the subject of common schools. An ambitious 
undertaking calculated to be of tremendous importance to the state was 
the organization of the Kentucky Educational Society. A preliminary 
meeting was held in Frankfort on December 22, 1829, at which Charles 
S. Morehead, James Guthrie and Robert Wickliffe were the leading 
spirits, for the purpose of organizing a force for education in the state. 
The plan was to have a central society with branches ramifying out 
into every county, "whose object shall be to promote improvement and 
diffusion of popular education by the circulation of information, by 
enlisting the pulpit and the press, by procuring the delivery of popular 
addresses on the subject on the 4th day of July, and in different neigh- 
borhoods and by other means that may be found practicable." The 
permanent organization was made at a meeting on the 31st of Decem- 
ber. John Breathitt was elected president, and Benjamin Mills, Tames 
Allen, Robert Taylor, John Bryan and William Owsley, vice presidents. 
Among the members of the board of managers elected were Robert 
Wickliffe, Joseph Ficklin, James Guthrie and James T. Morehead. A 
constitution was adopted embodying the purposes of the society and 
its organization. John J. Crittenden was invited to address the society 
at its annual meeting on the first Tuesday in January, and it was re- 
solved that a speaker should be selected for every county in the state 
to deliver an oration on education on the following 4th of July. 33 This 
was, indeed, a splendid attempt on the part of the political leadership of 
the state to advance the education of the common people. 

81 American Almanac, 1834, pp. 236-238; Flint, History and Geography of the 
Mississippi Valley, 364-367. For an account of the public schools, see Courier- 
Journal, Jan. 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, 1881. 

32 Robertson, Scrap Book, 45-47. 

33 Argus, March 3, 1830. 


Other evidence of a determined awakening of the people to the 
necessity of better educational conditions was a meeting of the teachers 
of Lexington in 1833 f° r tne purpose of organizing a general conven- 
tion of teachers, with one of the outstanding points in the program to 
seek the establishment of a normal school where teachers might be 
trained. Lyman Beecher was among those who addressed the meeting. 
He made a plea for better educational facilities, and called on the clergy, 
editors and legislators for help. 34 The following year another move 
against educational stagnation was made in the organization of the 
Kentucky Common School Society, with Governor John Breathitt presi- 
dent and Benjamin O. Peers, James T. Morehead, John C. Young, 
Henry B. Bascom, Thomas Marshall, Daniel Breck and seven others 
as vice presidents. Peers, who was now president of Transylvania Uni- 
versity, was very active in the movement for common schools. During 
the previous year he had traveled widely over the state delivering ad- 
dresses on popular education and arousing interest in the cause.. 35 

Although nothing material seemed to develop, hope was not lost as 
long as there were people left to continue the agitation. In 1837 Robert 
Wickliffe delivered a vigorous address before the mayor and common 
council of Lexington arguing for an educational system as broad as 
the state. "Kentucky," he said, "proud as is her fame for chivalry and 
for arms, can never pluck the laurel of unmingled honor and renown 
so long as there is one single freeman on her soil that cannot read the 
constitution of his country and write his protest against oppression and 
misrule." 30 The state had been affording for a number of years past 
a considerable amount of agitation and enthusiasm, but little prospects 
of the money necessary to carry out a system of common schools were 
in sight. The United States had been asked for public lands, but with- 
out avail. But the question of the public lands and the disposition of 
the surplus revenues had been worrying the Federal authorities almost 
as much as Kentucky was agitated over having no money. In 1836 the 
Federal Government adopted the policy of distributing the surplus among 
the different states of the Union. This was hailed with delight by many 
Kentuckians as solving the problem of securing money for the educa- 
tional system. Governor Clarke, in his message to the Legislature in 
December, 1836, suggested that Kentucky's share be used on her schools 
and that the very poor be helped by direct aid. "It is a great error to 
suppose," he said, "that money appropriated in this way is money lost 
or given to the few at the expense of the many, without any correspond- 
ing good from it. This opinion is the foundation of the common preju- 
dice existing against any legislative action on the subject." 37 

Conditions were now ripe for inaugurating a general system of edu- 
cation, with strong hopes of it succeeding. Plans were aplenty, and it 
seemed that the money necessary was soon to be had. The part due 
Kentucky amounted to almost $2,000,000, and of this $1,000,000 was 
to be "set apart and forever dedicated to the founding and sustaining 
a general system of public instruction." Due to the failure of the Fed- 
eral Government to complete the payments, the amount for education 
was later reduced to $850,000. These funds were to be invested in the 
stocks of the Kentucky banks and only the interest to be used. 38 The 

34 Argus, Oct. 2, 1833. 

35 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 38, 39. 

89 A Plea for the Education of the People of Kentucky. An Address, delivered 
before the Mayor and Common Council of Lexington, on the 20th of July, 1837; 
the Anniversary of the Public School of that City (Lexington, 1837), Pamphlet, 
17 pp. Revieived in North American Review, Vol. 49, pp. 262, 263. 

87 Argus, Dec. 7, 1836. 

38 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 5, No. 914, J. M. Bullock, Secretary of State, to Crit- 
tenden, August 16, 1837; Kentucky Gazette, Dec. 6, 1838; Collins, History of Ken- 
tucky, I, 41. 


new educational system was established in an act passed by the Legis- 
lature February 16, 1838. The school fund should be distributed among 
the different counties according to the number of children of school 
age; a board of education should be established, consisting of the sec- 
retary of state, the attorney-general, and a superintendent of schools, 
who should be chairman of the board ; the counties were to be divided 
into school districts of from thirty to fifty children, five to sixteen years 
old; each district might tax its citizens for an amount equal to the 
fund received from the state ; and five commissioners should be in 
charge of each county, to report the number of school children and to 
distribute the funds, with five trustees to be elected by each district, 
who should provide school houses and organize the schools. 39 

This was quite an advance over the system provided for in 1830. 
The local districts were given aid and at the same time made to bear 
a part of the expense. But the heart of the leaders of the state, regard- 
less of former protestations, seemed not to be in education. It was 
soon evident that the state was to have no greater educational facilities, 
regardless of this new act and a fund of $1,000,000, than had obtained 
previously, for the reason that the vicious habit had long been in work- 
ing of levying on the educational fund whenever there should be a 
deficit in any other department. As early as 1840 the state treasurer 
refused to pay the interest on the school bonds, on account of a deficit 
in the treasury, and it was the amazing; fact that up to 1843 on 'y $ 2 >5°4 
had been paid the schools, despite the fact that the interest at that 
time had accumulated to the amount of $ii6,3/6. 40 Schools were now 
where they had always been — in a struggling condition or on the verge 
of dissolution. Some towns and counties sought in their own ways to 
build schools or advance them. In 1839 Paducah was allowed by the 
Legislature to hold a lottery to raise $100,000 for the purpose of 
building two seminaries and providing them with libraries and school 
furnishings, and other towns were attempting to advance by the same 
methods. 41 Nicholas County was allowed to use certain lands to pay 
for the education of her poor children. 42 

The education of poor children was no closer to a solution than be- 
fore, and, indeed, the facilities for those who were able to pay were 
generally not to be had. This was one of the fundamental mistakes of 
all the educational systems tried — as long as education was not free to 
all on an equality, the great mass of the common people could never 
be educated. In 1839 "Franklin," in the Kentucky Gazette, declared 
that any school system that did not take into account this fact would 
get hard knocks. 43 "Penn." writing to the same paper, suggested that 
the very poor, who were absolutely dependent upon the labor of their 
children, should be paid for the time the chidlren spent in school. 44 

The superintendents of schools, who came and went in rather rapid 
succession, were men of vision who attempted to make a system work 
which, it seemed, was opposed by the controlling power of the Govern- 
ment. Joseph J. Bullock was the first superintendent, and he was fol- 
lowed successively before the Civil war by Hubbard H. Kavanaugh. 
Benjamin B. Smith, George \Y. Brush, Ryland T. Dillard, Robert J. 
Breckinridge. John D. Matthews and Robert Richardson — all being 
clergymen except the last. As before stated, little or no progress was 
being' made. In 1840, conditions were relatively worse than ten years 

39 Lewis, Historv of Higher Education in Kentucky, 333, 334. 
4 ° Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 503. 

41 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 44. For Frankfort, see Crittenden MSS., 
Vol. 6, Nos. 984, 985. Letter from M. Brown to Crittenden, Jan. 24, 1838. 

42 Collins, Historx of Kentucky, I, 41. 

43 Dec. 26, 1839. 

"Kentucky Gazette, Feb. 14, 1839- 


before. There were only 32,920 children reported in school — scarcely 
over 1,000 more than were attending schools in 1830. But the school 
population had increased more than 40,000 over 1830. There were 
42,000 persons over 20 years of age in the state who were unable to 
read. Some counties were still without a single school, while others 
ministered to the educational wants in a feeble way. In Floyd County, 
with 2,055 children of school age, and in Clay County, with 1,180, not 
one was in school, while Ohio and Knox counties had a little better 
record, with 25 out of 1,714 in school in the former and 46 out of 2,566 
in the latter. The most progressive counties in education could not 
muster a half of their children in school. 43 

One superintendent after another made recommendations, but they 
fell upon deaf ears. In 1842 the superintendent recommended the "or- 
ganization by law of a profession of teachers, analogous to the other 
learned professions ; also the elevation of a number of common schools 
to the rank of academies, so that they may furnish a thorough English 
education, including the sciences connected with agriculture." 4li The 
Legislature, always profuse in good intentions expressed in resolutions, 
asked the superintendent to report on the expediency of carrying out 
the above recommendations as well as to offer suggestions on the evils 
in the educational system and the best method of eliminating them. 47 
The superintendent in 1843 made numerous forward-looking suggestions 
and recommendations. He would have teachers' societies organized, to 
meet quarterly in each county, two normal schools established for train- 
ing teachers, and libraries set up in the various school districts where 
books of "history, biography, travel, natural history, agriculture, me- 
chanics" and such-like should be placed "to neutralize the effect of the 
light, ephemeral productions which are covering the country like the 
sere leaves in autumn." He believed an important source of teachers 
had been left undeveloped, namely, women. He said : "They have been 
generally employed in the Eastern States to teach the summer common 
schools, and their salaries have been generally about one-third less than 
the salaries of male teachers. But observation and experience both 
combine to prove the worth of female instruction, until she is now rec- 
ognized not only as his equal, but in many instances his superior." 4f< 
He also believed that the people generally were not sufficiently awake 
and informed along educational lines. To remedy this, he would have 
a gentleman of influence appointed in each judicial district to bring the 
people together and address them on the subject of common schools. 
In 1845 Superintendent Dillard recommended better school houses beau- 
tified within and without, better equipment, more beautiful school 
grounds and better sanitation. 

There was no actual hostility of any consequence anywhere against 
common schools — the trouble was that the Legislature and others in 
authority were following the line of least resistance. While they be- 
lieved that common schools were a good thing for the state, they did 
not believe it with sufficient strength to prevent them from sacrificing 
school funds for other activities they deemed of greater importance. 
The school fund had been raided so often and appropriated for other 
uses that the Government relieved itself of the necessity of paying back 
the debt in 1845 by cancelling all her obligations to that fund. 49 De- 

« Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 45. 

46 Quoted in Irne T. Myers, "Report on the Archives of the State of Kentucky 
in Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1910, p. 360. 
"Acts of Kentucky, 1841, p. 303. 

48 In 1824 the following toast was offered at a Lexington dinner : "Female edu- 
cation The surest, if not the best, foundation of internal improvement." Niles' 

Register, Vol. 26, p. 227. 

49 Lewis, History of Higher Education in Kentucky, 334-336; Collins, History 
of Kentucky, I, 503. 


spite such loud-speaking actions, Legislature and governor each suc- 
ceeding year expressed the most tender considerations for common 
schools, speaking and resolving in favor of them. The situation would 
have been ludicrous had it not been so serious, but the time was not far 
distant when the cup of disgrace and hypocrisy would be filled to over- 
flowing. Governor Owsley, in his message to the Legislature in 1847, 
said, in referring to the school situation: "This is a trite subject in 
our State, and from long hearing the words, the mind is apt to turn 
away with a sort of aversion at their mention. It has become almost a 
stereotype part of messages — a reference to the Common School system 
and a kindly recommendation of it to the good will of the Legislature. 
The charge has too often been politely received and acknowledged and 
then neglected." He declared the time had now arrived when Kentucky 
must have a real system of schools, or the state would justly stand 
disgraced. 50 The Legislature realized the woeful situation keenly, in 
language, but seemed not to consider the fact that it was in any way 
to blame. In thanking the outgoing superintendent in 1847, R. T. Dil- 
lard, it took occasion to refer to the school system as "deficient in its 
character, and imbecile for want of pecuniary means to carry it into 
practical operation." 51 

But the day of the school was at hand. In 1847 the common school 
system of Kentucky really began, when Robert J. Breckinridge was ap- 
pointed superintendent. No cause ever had a more ardent champion. 
With his characteristic vigor, energy and earnestness, so strong as to 
verge on intolerance, powers which he had been constantly using for 
the past quarter of a century in disputations and causes of less conse- 
quence than this, he set out with one grim determination — to give the 
common people their much needed schools. He attacked the forces of 
reaction and ignorance wherever he found them. He carried on a cam- 
paign of speech-making over the state, and soon had the people aroused 
on the subject. When once he had set the leaven to working, crys 
came up from every quarter for him to appear and speak on education. 62 
He carried his campaign into the legislative halls of the Capitol, when 
in 1848 he delivered a powerful address on education in the Hall of the 
House of Representatives. The Legislature ordered 5,000 copies of 
this address to be printed and distributed. 33 

He also set about restoring, building up and intrenching the school 
fund. In 1847 ne shipped the Legislature into passing an act directing 
the governor to issue new bonds for all arrears of interest due the 
schools and also providing for submitting to the people the question of 
leaving an extra 2 cents on the $100 for school purposes. So thoroughly 
had he aroused school sentiment over the state that the tax carried by 
a very substantial majority — the vote being 74,637 for and 37,826 
against. 5 -* Rejoicing over the success of the proposition, Governor Crit- 
tenden said, "Let us exhibit to the nation the noble spectacle of Ken- 
tucky educated as she ought to be — her sons and daughters adding the 
grace and powers and virtues of cultured minds to their fine natural 
qualities, and those who have contributed to bring about the result will 
be entitled to the lasting gratitude of posterity." 55 The school fund was 
also increased in 1849 by the addition of the returns from the Green and 
Barren River projects, which the state "forever sets apart and dedi- 
cates." 56 

50 Kentucky Yeoman, Dec. 31, 1846. 

61 Acts of Kentucky, 1846, p. 384. Dated March 1, 1847. 

62 Numerous appeals from various counties for Breckinridge to make educa- 
tional addresses are preserved in the Breckinridge MSS. (1848). 

63 Acts of Kentucky, 1847, p. 485. Resolution dated March 1, 1848. 
54 Kentucky Yeoman, Oct. 5, 1848. 

06 N ties' Register, Vol. 75, p. 60. 

86 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 58. 


Breckinridge had successfully forced the restoration of the school 
fund and he had built it up by special taxes and otherwise; but what 
assurance did he or the people throughout the state have that the fund 
might not be mis-appropriated and destroyed again? It was his good 
fortune that the state constitutional convention had been called to meet 
at this time (fall of 1849) ; he would intrench the fund in the fundamen- 
tal law of the land, which neither Legislature nor governor could change 
or disregard. The Legislature lent its good offices by resolving that the 
convention should incorporate the school system in the new constitution, 
and such members of the convention as Larkin J. Proctor, John D. Tay- 
lor, William K. Bowling, Ira Root, Thomas J. Hood, and Charles A. 
Wickliffe successfully carried the day for education. This instrument 
(Article XI) declared that the school fund should be "held inviolable for 
the purpose of sustaining a system of common schools." 57 

Although the victory seemed complete now, still a bitter fight between 
Breckinridge and Governor Helm in 1850-1851 over the school fund had 
to be settled before the absolute status of that fund could be settled. 
The trouble arose over the attempt of Breckinridge to have the interest 
on the school fund to be paid out of the Sinking Fund, for if it were not 
thus met at that time the state would have to levy additional taxes for 
the school money, and this, it was feared, would make schools unpopular. 
A bitter struggle ensued in which the Legislature was lined up against 
the governor, finally passing a bill instructing the commissioners of the 
Sinking Fund to pay the interest due on the school bonds. Helm vetoed 
the bill, but it was passed over his objections. 08 Alluding to this contest 
and to the fact that the constitutional convention had apparently settled 
the status of the school fund, the Kentucky Yeoman said, "We had seen 
fund after fund which had been set apart and solemnly dedicated to the 
noble object of educating the children of the State, afterwards squan- 
dered on some ephemeral object, until we almost despaired of seeing 
one of the wishes of our life accomplished." 59 

The new constitution made the superintendent of education elective, 
and in the first election of state officers under it, Breckinridge was 
chosen to carry on the work he had been so vigorously engaged in. 
In 1853 he resigned but not before having given his state a real 
system of schools. When he took up his duties in 1847 ne found only 
27 counties out of the total of 99 sufficiently alive in educational 
matters to make reports on the schools; he found only 20,602 children 
in school out of a total of 173,968 of school age; and he found only 
174 school districts throughout the whole state. 60 When he resigned in 
1853 he left schools in every one of the 101 counties (and all reported 
statistics that year) ; he had raised the attendance to 201,223 out of a 
total number of 220,645 children; and he had increased the number of 
school districts to 3,1 12. 61 When he entered office he found a so-called 
school fund of $1,000,000 which yielded nothing for schools; when he 
retired he left a fund consisting of $1,326,770 in state bonds, $73,000 
in stocks of the Bank of Kentucky, 2 cents tax on the $100, and other 
smaller items — and he left the fund not at the mercy of every depart- 

57 Lewis, History of Higher Education in Kentucky, 335, 336 ; Collins, History 
of Kentucky, I, 504; Niks' Register, Vol. 75, p. 317. 
68 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 504. 
68 April 25, 1851. 

60 These were the statistics reported ; conditions were by no means as bad as 
these figures would seem to indicate. It should be remembered that although only 
27 out of the 99 counties reported school statistics, there were many more counties 
that had schools in operation. The report for the preceding year offers some cor- 
rection: 39 counties reported 27,845 children in school in 314 districts. 

61 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 507, gives important school statistics from 
1841 to 1873. The number given as attending school does not mean in school at 
one given time, but at any time throughout the year. The average attendance in 
1853 was 72,010. 


merit of the Government to levy upon to fill its deficit, but dedicated 
by the constitution of the state to schools. The combined revenues for 
schools from all sources amounted at this time to 60 cents yearly for 
every child. 62 This was a remarkable piece of work, hard to dupli- 
cate in the annals of any state. To Doctor Breckinridge, therefore, 
partly belongs the credit of establishing the common school system in 

This high standard was not allowed to deteriorate by the succeed- 
ing superintendents until the Civil war virtually destroyed the system 
during the conflict. In 1855 the people by an overwhelming majority 
voted to increase the tax from 2 cents to 5 cents on the $100 for educa- 
tional purposes. The state had not lost hope of obtaining aid from the 
Federal Government evidenced by the attempt in 1854 to convince 
Congress to set aside a part of the national domain for Kentucky 
schools. 63 

The higher institutions of learning had a steady growth during 
this period. Transylvania University had its periods of brilliancy and 
of decline, a football for politics and religion. In 1856 it was re-or- 
ganized again and made principally a school for teachers, a need which 
was being keenly felt by many in the state. Kentucky had grown 
weary of outsiders, and especially those from the North, doing her 
teaching. In explaining the purpose for establishing the Normal 
Schools the Lexington Observer and Reporter said, "We had grown 
weary of the constant importation of Yankee teachers who had sown 
the seeds of abolition broadcast throughout the borders of the state. 
We had become disgusted with the frequent instances of treachery 
and ingratitude upon the part of those imported teachers, who had 
been intrusted with the education of the young in our midst." ° 4 About 
this time the Kentucky Teachers' Association was founded as an aid 
in the movement to attract native teachers and to better the profession 
generally. 83 

After struggling along for more than half a century with few 
common schools but numerous plans for them, the state finally through 
the remarkable work of one man inaugurated a system of schools 
designed to give the state the position she deserved in the educational 
world. But one of the outstanding shames of the times was the mis- 
erable treatment of the most promising educational institution of the 
West — Transylvania University. 

62 Lewis, History of Higher Education in Kentucky, 336. 

63 Acts of Kentucky, 1853, PP- I9 2 , 193- 

64 March 28, 1857. 

86 Lexington Observer and Reporter, Jan. 10, 1858. 



The social and intellectual development of the state stood out in 
various ways and was emphasized by frequent interesting incidents. As 
has already appeared in the discussion of educational affairs, many of 
her outstanding statesmen and politicians had other interests than elec- 
tions and political problems. Their interests may not have been as per- 
sistent and compelling in these other things as in politics, but they 
nevertheless existed and played their part. But there was a leadership 
out of politics which was becoming powerful along different lines. 
Clergymen, men of science and letters, and newspaper editors were 
yielding a conspicuous influence. Then there was the great ground 
swell of progress emanating from the masses, natural as well as resul- 
tant from conscious leadership. But withal, the genius of the Kentuck- 
ians as a people was military and political more than along any other 

They were a practical people, nevertheless with a vision, who would 
attack a problem with more force and determination, when it was re- 
alized that a material benefit would result from the solution. Science 
should be encouraged and advanced but it should show that the efforts 
bestowed in its advancement should not be wasted on theory alone. 
So it was then that the public mind was early directed to a search for 
the cure of devastating diseases of both man and beast. Governor 
Adair in 1823 suggested that the medical faculty of Transylvania Uni- 
versity should "by some means, organize themselves with the physicians 
throughout the state, so as to be able to collect the earliest possible 
information of the diseases that visit us under such incessant changes, 
and discovering the most successful means of encountering them, to 
diffuse the knowledge thus acquired as speedily as possible, and thereby 
render the science of the institution as universal and efficient as practi- 
cable." ' When the worst visitation of the cholera came in the early 
'30s, a call was again made upon the medical profession to evolve a cure 
or admit that it knew little about the disease. A disease that visited the 
state at frequent intervals, and was especially malignant in the latter 
'20s was a malady popularly known as "milk sickness." This disease 
attacked cattle in the fall and spring, and often proved fatal. People 
drinking the milk from cattle so affected were also made sick and some 
died. It was reported that even the scavengers of the air which ate of 
the carcasses died. It was thought by some that the disease was caused 
by cattle eating some poisonous herb. 2 So much interest and alarm 
was aroused that the Legislature in 1828 offered $500 for the discov- 
ery of the cause and cure of "milk sickness," if made within the fol- 
lowing year, or one-half the amount of either. Two years later the 
reward was increased to $600. 3 Another disease that ran a long course 
of destruction among hogs was hog cholera. It was bringing a serious 

1 N ties' Register, Vol. 25, p. 203. Message to the Legislature. 

2 Argus, Jan. 10, 1827. 

3 Acts of Kentucky, 1827, p. 238, 239 ; Ibid., 1829, pp. 300, 301. 



economic loss to the state, which aroused the Legislature in i860 into 
offering $1,000 to any person who should discover the true cause and 
cure of the disease. 4 

If interest in science was largely actuated through the desire for 
practical results, it was no less true that the interest of the people in 
their historic past was due to the fact that they believed it was glorious, 
and its records should be preserved. Governor Breathitt in 1834 re- 
gretted that many important documents relating to the state's history 
were not to be found, and some that did exist were only in manuscript. 
The frequent destruction of the state capitol by fire had carried with it 
many priceless records; it was now encumbent upon the state to save 
the rest. "Do we not owe it to ourselves and to posterity, to rescue 
from the oblivious hand of time important papers, in which all should 
feel an interest? It is a fact not generally known, that the people 
inhabiting the district of Kentucky had many meetings. Convention 
followed convention, for several years anterior to the separation from 
the state of Virginia. The journals of those conventions have never 
been printed, and perhaps but a single copy remains in the hands of a 
private gentleman. The journal of the convention of 1799, which 
formed our constitution, I find, also, in manuscript. We are proud 
of the name of Kentuckians. There is a laudable solicitude to know 
everything in respect to our history. Those 'pioneers of the west' were 
a bold, patriotic, enterprising, and liberal people. Let us, at least, per- 
petuate their public acts in some durable manner, and be able to furnish 
a complete history of the proceedings of the various public assemblies 
in connection with our government." He recommended to the Legis- 
lature the appointment of a committee to make an investigation and 
the printing "of such document as may be regarded necessary to a per- 
petuation of our political history as a state." 5 

The historical interest of the people was considerably aroused for 
a time. Humphrey Marshall, the first one to write a systematic history 
of the state, had finished his History of Kentucky in 1812 and had in 
1824 brought out a second and enlarged edition. But having been either 
a spectator of or participant in most of the events he dealt with, and 
being a man of violent likes and dislikes, he too often forgot the role 
of the historian to vent his hatreds by violent attacks or contemptuous 
silence. In 1834 Mann Butler finished his history of the state, a much 
more reliable work than Marshall's. The Legislature had taken a cer- 
tain interest in the preparation of this history, to the extent of authoriz- 
ing the secretary of state to lend Butler any documents in his posses- 
sion, but not until Butler had executed a bond of $1,000 to return the 
material within twelve months. 6 But by far the most elaborate and 
ambitious history of the state was the work of Lewis Collins, which 
was a perfect mine of information on the history of the State. It was 
less a history and more a gazetteer. It was the first published in 
i847- 7 

* Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 82. 

6 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 38. The Governor was too late to secure for 
the state the minutes of the conventions held for the purpose of securing separation 
from Virginia and entrance into the Union. None of these records are in the state 
archives today. The celebrated Durrett Collection (now owned by the Library of 
the University of Chicago) contains the MS. minutes of the following conventions: 
Beginning July 28, 1788; November 3, 1788; July 20, 1789; July 26, 1790; and April 
2, 1792. The original minutes of the previous conventions are not known to be in 

6 Ibid., 39. 

7 A second edition much enlarged by Richard H. Collins, son of the author of 
the first edition, and brought out virtually under the patronage of the state govern- 
ment, appeared in 1874. This is the dedication statement : "To his Father, judge 
lewis Collins, whose Labors, in 1846-7, as a Historian of Kentucky, were 
most appreciated after his Death, in 1870; to the Kentucky Legislature of 1869-71; 


In 1836 the Kentucky Historical Society was founded in Frank- 
fort. It was organized largely out of a rising patriotic fervor for Ken- 
tucky and her past. At first its membership was restricted to native 
Kentuckians, or those intermarried with native Kentuckians, or those 
emigrating to Kentucky before June 1, 1792, when it became a state. 
"One of the main objects of the association shall be to celebrate, in such 
a manner as shall be deemed most expedient, the anniversary of the 
first settlement of Kentucky on the spot where the settlement was 
made." 8 In preparing for its historical celebrations, it was expected 
that as many as possible of the old settlers would attend "for the pur- 
pose of communicating the incidents connected with the early history 
of Kentucky." In May, 1840, the celebration of the settlement at Boones- 
borough was held, where from 7,000 to 10,000 people assembled, with 
over 3,000 ladies present. Governor Wickliffe was present, and reviewed 
eleven military companies, which were there to add splendor to the 
occasion. The state was not so old that it did not have still interesting 
connecting links with the past. Some of those who were in the fort 
during the siege in 1777 and other interesting pioneers made the celebra- 
tion much more vivid. Lewis W. Green preached the anniversary ser- 
mon, and James T. Morehead delivered his celebrated historical ad- 
dress. 9 The following year the settlement of Harrodsburg was cele- 
brated by equally as large an assemblage, with Benjamin Hardin, deliv- 
ering the historical address. 10 During this burst of interest in her his- 
tory Kentucky remembered Daniel Boone particularly and affectionately. 
In 1839 a full length portrait of Boone, was presented to the state and 
was given a place on the walls of the House of Representatives. 11 And 
in 1845 in pursuance of an act of the Legislature the remains of Boone 
and his wife were brought from Missouri and interred on a high 
bluff overlooking the Kentucky River in the Frankfort Cemetery. Elab- 
orate ceremonies marked the occasion, with John J. Crittenden deliver- 
ing the oration before a great concourse of people. 12 In 1850 a military 

which, by contracting for Copies of it as a foundation for Public School Libraries 
throughout the State, generously and confidingly encouraged its Publication; to 
those Members of the Kentucky Legislature of 1871-73 and 1873-75, whose Justice 
and Liberality sustained the Action of that of 1869-71 ; and to the Hon. Francis 
Ford, of Covington, and other noble Friends, whose generous and hearty Approval 
and kind Words encouraged him, amid unworthy Opposition and unforeseen Ob- 
stacles, during the four Years of its Preparation; this Work is affectionately in- 
scribed by THE AUTHORS. .... . . 

8 John Rowan was its first president and the moving spirit in its organization 
and growth. After Rowan's death in 1843, the society gradually died down until 
it was completely discontinued with the Civil War. It was not re-organized until 
1878. In 1880 it was given quarters in the state capitol and in 1906 it was given 
an appropriation by the state of $5,000 annually. J. W. Townsend, Kentuckians in 
History and Literature (New York, 1907), 129 et seq. ; North American Review, 
Vol. 47, pp. 253, 255; Nilcs' Register, Vol. 69, p. 13; Annual Report of the American 
Historical Association, 1892, p. 12; 1905, I, 286, 307; 1905, II, 228-234. 

9 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 45. This address was published in a pamphlet 
cf 181 pages: An Address in Commemoration of the first Settlement in Kentucky, 
delivered at Boonesborough, May 25th, 1840 (Frankfort, 1840). 

10 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 46. Other historical events were celebrated 
hereafter, with particular interests attaching to them after the Civil War. 

11 Ibid., 44. 

12 In the words of Collins, History of Kentucky, II, 251, "There seemed to be a 
peculiar propriety in this testimonial of the veneration borne by the commonwealth 
for the memory of the illustrious dead; and it was fitting that the soil of Kentucky 
should afford the final resting place of his remains, whose blood in life had been 
so often shed to protect it from the fury of savage hostility. It was the beautiful 
and touching manifestation of filial affection shown by children to the memory 
of a beloved parent ; and it was right that the generation who were reaping in peace 
the fruits of his toils and dangers, should desire to have in their midst, and decorate 
with the tokens of their love, the sepulchre of their primeval patriarch, whose stout 
heart watched by the cradle of this now powerful commonwealth, in its weak and 
helpless infancy, shielding it with his body from all those appalling dangers which 


monument, commemorating the famous events in the military history of 
the state was completed, indicative of the people's interest in their his- 
toric past as well as a reminder of their military prowess. 

The state was ever mindful of its military past as evidenced in monu- 
ments as well as generous consideration for those soldiers who were still 
living. It maintained a close interest in the old soldiers and their de- 
pendents by seeing that all who were deserving should receive pensions. 13 
A rather remarkable interest in the living Revolutionary soldiers was 
marked in 1842, when the Legislature suggested that the names and resi- 
dences of all the survivors be secured and some way be devised "in 
which a grateful people may do honor to the memory and character to 
the immortal heroes and patriots, collectively, by whose toil and valor 
the boon of freedom is inherited." 14 

Apart from a historical interest in military affairs, the state had its 
current military problems and interests. From the War of 1812 to the 
Civil war almost every governor found occasion to recommend changes 
in the militia laws. The military ardor of the people was quickly enough 
aroused when wars threatened or came, but it failed to respond to the 
hum-drum of state militia organizations. Governor Desha's reference 
in 1825 to the disorganized and lifeless condition of the state militia was 
characteristic of the period. He said, "From the deranged state of our 
militia, neither improvement in discipline, nor any other material benefit, 
is to be expected from it. A general revision of the system would seem 
to be desirable, by which the establishment may be placed on a more 
respectable footing. The scanty attendance on parades, arising from a 
want of discretionary power in the courts for the assessment of fines, 
under proper limits, produces numerous resignations, which not only de- 
range the system but have become expensive to government." 15 Fre- 
quent requests were made by the Legislature to Congress to set up 
armories and military schools in Kentucky, and this same desire went 
down to the individual as seen in the petition of the inhabitants of Pen- 
dleton County in 1825 to Congress to set up an armory on the Licking 
River. 10 

Apart from the military and historical interest in the collection and 
preservation of books and documents, there was early felt the current 
need of a library where the officers of the Government might obtain 
easily various kinds of information which they so often needed. In 1817 
Governor Slaughter referred to the need of a state library. "A state 
library at the seat of government," he said, "would be very useful and 
convenient. The members of the Legislature, public officers and judges, 
who attend the courts held at Frankfort, ought not to be entirely de- 
pendent on the private libraries of gentlemen of the bar, and other 
citizens. The surplus reports of the decisions of the court of appeals 
belonging to the commonwealth might be sold or exchanged for books. 
This fund with a small annual appropriation would probably be suffi- 
cient." 17 The Legislature in 1820 made a small beginning by providing 
for a library to be established in the office of the Secretary of State or 
in some other place which it might determine upon. In 1833 a further 

threatened its safety and existence." Also see Library of Southern Literature, 
XVIm 82. 

13 For example, note Governor Shelby's solicitous interest, as expressed in his 
message in December, 1815. Niks' Register, Vol. 9, p. 319. 

14 Acts of Kentucky, 1841, pp. 296, 297. A list of Revolutionary soldiers living 
in Kentucky in 1840 may be found in Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 5-9. 

15 Niks' Register, Vol. 29, p. 224. Governor Shelby, directly after the end of 
the War of 1812, was strongly in favor of building fortifications and keeping well 
armed the state and nation as the best assurance of peace or victory in war. See 
Niles" Register, Vol. 9, p. 318. 

16 American State Papers, Military Affairs, III, 154-156; V, 514, 515. 

17 Niks' Register, Vol. 13, p. 388. 


step was taken when a provision was made for the election of a librarian. 
At the same time an appropriation of $500 annually for five years was 
made. The librarian was far from being a person trained for the work ; 
in 1838 the Legislature passed an act requiring the books to be num- 
bered. The so-called librarian's duties in the library were the least of 
his cares : He was "superintendent of the public property of the Com- 
monwealth at the seat of government," which included among other 
things the protection from injury of the capitol, the airing and cleaning 
of the various rooms and their carpets and furniture, and the protection 
and caring for the capitol grounds. A respectable number of books were 
on hand by 1833, when the total reached 500. 18 Five years later the Leg- 
islature directed the deposit in the library of fifty copies of the acts and 
twenty-five copies of the journals. A few years later the Government 
sought to have the manuscript journals of the constitutional conven- 
tions of 1792 and 1799, a History of the Indian Tribes of North America, 
and the best set of works on agriculture that could be purchased for 
$100, placed in the library. 19 Benjamin Shelby, the librarian, in 1851, 
with the true sense of a collector and with a keen insight into the value 
of records, invited all the editors over the state to send him copies of 
their issues and help him in educating the public to preserve in the 
state library copies of all the newspapers published in the state, as "such 
a record will furnish to the country the very best history of the age." 20 

Another valuable collection of books that was in the process of being 
built up was the library of the Kentucky Historical Society. In 1841 
the Legislature provided for the depositing in the historical library of 
one copy of all the books published by the state. 21 The Legislature 
took the attitude that intellectual advancement should come before con- 
siderations of national revenues or protection. In 1847 it declared that 
the tariff laws should be so amended "as to admit and allow of the im- 
portation of books, chemicals and philosophical apparatus, designed and 
imported for the use of colleges, seminaries of learning, and schools, and 
not for sale or merchandise, free of duty." 22 The state was also inter- 
ested in the quick dispatch of intelligence through the use of the newly 
invented electric telegraph. Before 1848 lines were being constructed 
from Maysville to Cincinnati and from Maysville across the state through 
Lexington, Frankfort, Louisville, Bardstown, and Bowling Green to 
Nashville. 23 

The press of the state which has advanced so rapidly during the 
first two decades of the nineteenth century in numbers of papers, gradu- 
ally slowed down to a more consistent and healthful growth. In 1810 
there were 17 in existence out of the larger number that had been set 
going since John Bradford had begun his Kentucke Gazette in 1787. In 
1828 there were 23, and six years later the number had increased to 25. 
Out of these there were two dailies (both in Louisville), two semi-week- 
lies, and the remainder, weeklies. 24 In 1839 there were twenty-one 
newspapers, which took an active part in politics, with the whigs over- 
whelmingly outnumbering the democrats. 25 An editors' convention was 

18 American Almanac, 1836, p. 244. 

™Acts of Kentucky, 1837, p. 356. 

~ n Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 62, 63. 

21 Townsend, Kentuckians in History and Literature, 131-134; Collins, History 
of Kentuckv, I, 46. 

22 Acts of Kentucky, 1847, P- 382. 

23 Collins, Historv of Kentucky, I, 56. 

24 American Almanac, 183S. 247- The list is given here. 

25 The list as given in the Kentucky Gazette, October 24, 1839, follows: Whigs: 
Maysville Eagle, Flemingsburg Kentuckians, Paris Citizen, Lexington Observer, 
Lexington Intelligencer, Richmond Chronicle, Danville Olive Branch, Bardstown 
Herald, Bowling Green Gazette, Russellville Advertiser, Paducah Express, Prince- 
ton Examiner, Louisville Journal, Louisville Gazette, Frankfort Commonwealth, 


held in Lexington in 1837, consisting of most of the editors of the state. 
The main purpose was to elevate the newspaper standards and to make 
the work and salaries of newspaper men more attractive. The peculiar 
power of the newspaper editor had risen high by this time and he re- 
alized the fact. The heat of politics had tended to make the editors 
forgetful of the ordinary etiquette of life and had caused many to degen- 
erate into cutting and bitter personalities, which had the effect of lower- 
ing the standards of journalism. This convention had a full realization 
of the unfortunate conditions, and sought to build up an unwritten 
code of courtesy and ethics in the profession. This resolution was 
adopted, striking at the heart of the matter: "Resolved, That in all 
future discussions, whether political or otherwise, the Editors of the 
Kentucky press shall carefully abstain from all disrespectful personal 
allusions or epithets toward each other; that they shall not name each 
other, or apply nicknames, but shall conduct all controversies between 
themselves, with decency, decorum and moderation; and, that it be also 
recommended to them to cultivate each others good will, and on all proper 
occasions to advance other interests." 2li The outstanding figure in Ken- 
tucky journalism during the period before the Civil war was George 
D. Prentice. He exercised a powerful influence over the state for the 
whigs in politics, and for every cause that he undertook to advance. 
Henry Watterson, who adorned equally the period after the war, said 
of him, "From 1830 to 1861 the influence of Prentice was perhaps greater 
than the influence of any political writer who ever lived; it was an in- 
fluence directly positive and personal.'' '-' , 

Kentucky politics continued spectacular and absorbingly interesting 
to the average individual. A traveller declared in 1825 that the "popula- 
tion of Kentucky are the most intelligent and are best informed in all 
matters connected with the politics of the state, of any whom I have 
ever met with in any other country." 2S Duels were still fought and 
barbecues were still in fashion. The former under the ban of the law 
were somewhat less frequent than formerly, and when challenged it was 
possible by skillful maneuvering to escape fighting a duel at all and at the 
same time escape social and political ostracism. Some escaped fighting 
duels by contemptuously dismissing the challenge as coming from one 
whose station in life was so low as not to entitle him to claim the right 
to feel insulted and to issue a challenge. Others turned their answers 
to challenges on other points. Robert Wickliffe in 1825, parried the 
challenge for a contest "with flint and steel" by spreading his answer 
on a handbill which he issued in which he declared that if the chal- 
lenger "thinks he is fit to live, without becoming a better man, after the 
expose I shall now and hereafter make of his conduct to me, * * * 
I have no wish to take his life; nor have I the least intention of permit- 
ting the man, who by tears and address extracted from me nearly half 
my fortune, to take mine- — at all events until he pays me what he owes 
me." 29 Barbecues not only served to draw great throngs of people to- 
gether to feast on choice viands and oratory, but they served as an occa- 

Georgetown Banner, and Warsaw Patriot. Democratic : Louisville Advertiser, 
Lexington Gazette, Maysville Monitor, and Covington Globe. There were 17 Whig 
and 4 Democratic. 

28 Kentucky Gazette, March 9, 1837. Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 520, 
erroneously refers to this as the first meeting of newspaper editors ever held in 
the state. The vigor of the language used by the newspaper editors in referring 
to each other is seen in the characterization by a Covington editor of his opponent 
as "a little Implement of Sophistry — a little forked upstart of a whistle-toot. A 
glass-eyed little skunk — a puny blow-toot of a Whig editor." 

27 Quoted in Library of Southern Literature, IX, 4191. For a short appreciation 
of Prentice see Ibid., 4189-4195- 

28 Letters on the Conditions of Kentucky in 1825, p. 39. 

29 One of these handbills is preserved in Breckinridge MSS. (1825). 

George D. Prentice, 1802-1870 
(Courtesy of The Filson Club) 


sion for which the political leaders of the party throughout the nation 
could be invited to be present. Not that it was believed that they could 
be present, but the replies of regrets, in which occasion was always 
taken to extol the party and its lofty principles, formed valuable propa- 
ganda. 30 

As late as the early '20s the political practice still persisted on the 
part of candidates for office of maintaining the dignified position that 
presidential candidates at one time were wont to occupy, but have now 
long since abandoned. No candidate should so far forget himself as to 
go on a tour of speech-making; at most he might write his opinions in 
the papers. The ideal candidate was the one whose friends had brought 
about his nomination, and whose friends should see that he was elected. 
It was even held by some of the ultra-conservative that the people really 
had no right to know what the candidate thought about the important 
questions of the day. But curiosity has always been a strong human 
trait; and people also have the habit of wanting to know some things 
for good and sufficient reasons. They, therefore, often annoyed certain 
candidates by addressing a series of questions to them concerning the is- 
sues that were supposed to be before the people in the campaign. In 
1818 a candidate for office on receiving a set of questions finally agreed 
to answer them, but not before making the following statement : "Altho' 
I am confident the object of the writer is to produce an effect upon the 
approaching election, and in that view of the subject do not feel myself 
bound to answer his questions ; yet as they embrace general interests 
and silence might be construed into a fear to make an avowal of my 
opinions, I will briefly answer them." 31 A set of questions that appeared 
in the campaign in 1822 follows: "The following queries are put to each 
of the candidates in Fayette County for the next Legislature, to each 
of which candid answers are required. 

"Do you or do you not believe that the Bank of the Commonwealth 
to have been constitutionally created? 

"Will you (if elected) give all the aid in your power to measures cal- 
culated to support that institution, and to raise the credit of its paper? 

"Do you or do you not believe that the Replevin and endorsement 
laws to be constitutional — and will you (if elected) exert yourself 
to support and maintain those laws? 

"Do you or do you not believe that the legislature possess the right 
by the constitution of removing the Judges of the Circuit Court and 
Court of Appeals by address of two thirds 'upon reasonable grounds?' 

"Do you or do you not believe that error as well as corruption in 
Judicial opinions is reasonable grounds of removal — if the error be pro- 
ductive of effects ruinous to the prospects and happiness of the people? 

"It is hoped that no candidate will shrink from answering those 
questions strictly and unequivocally. He that does so deserves not the 
confidence of the people ; he shall not have mine, one of the people." m 

But a candidate conducting a campaign with arms folded in the pre- 
cincts of his home, appealed no more to many candidates than it did to 
the Kentucky voters, who always liked a fight vigorous and open. 
There was growing up much opposition and criticism against a few 
political bosses managing their candidate before the election and per- 
haps more so after his election. The Kentucky Gazette thought that 
this practice was a relic of aristocracy, and that the method of sending 
the candidate before the people and making him stand on his own feet 
was "the only plan consistent with the freedom of our government." 33 

30 For example, see Frankfort Comnwnivealth, Nov. I, 1842, etc. 

31 Richard Barbour in the Louisville Public Advertiser, July 21, 1818. 

32 Kentucky Gazette, July 18, 1822. One candidate who hoped to win the votes 
of the Relief' Party replied that "to each and every of the above interrogates, 
I answer unhesitatingly in the affirmative." Ibid., Aug. I, 1822. 

83 May 29, 1823. 


From the same source came this further argument : "The opposition to 
candidates for mixing freely with the people tends to destroy one of the 
improvements of the western country over the eastern states in county 
elections particularly. Where we see any of our fellow citizens who 
have embibed the erroneous notion of shutting themselves up at home 
with folded arms pending an election at which they are to poll, we would 
recommend to them the study of the principles of our Government, in 
which they will find that the power in the possession of the people so 
neglected will become a feather in the scale when opposed to the execu- 
tive and judiciary branches of the Government. Once learn the people 
to vote for those they neither know or care any thing about, their pride 
falls and they will soon learn to be lukewarm and careless about the 
affairs of their country. An election in seven years would be too often 
for such a people — no election at all would suit them better." 34 With the 
rise of real political parties during the '20s this old practice was given a 
speedy death. Soon the most vigorous men in the state were the candi- 
dates, carrying their speaking campaign all over the country. Hereafter 
candidates vied with each other in the endurance tests which the cam- 
paigns set. 

The dangerous and unrepublican custom of selling offices early ap- 
peared in Kentucky. This practice had its basis in the fact that large 
numbers of officers were then appointed, which have later come to be 
elective. One of the most flagrant examples of office-selling was in the 
case of sheriffs. By the constitution of 1799 (under which the state con- 
tinued to live until 1850) the county court should recommend every two 
years two of the senior members of its body for sheriff to the governor, 
whose duty it was to appoint one of them. This was designed as a 
reward toward which the county justices could look. But it too often 
happened that the justice instead of accepting the appointment, sold the 
office to some other persons not on the court bench, and then refused the 
appointment with the understanding that the governor would appoint 
the man he had sold out to. This was so glaringly corrupt, that Gov- 
ernor Desha served notice that he would appoint no one who was not a 
member of the county court. 33 

Governor Slaughter in 1816 had noted the practice and councelled 
legislation against it. He feared for the state if the practice were con- 
tinued. "To furnish the strongest motives to men, to deserve well of 
their country," he said, "and to make public office and station the reward 
of qualifications and integrity, would seem to me congenial with the 
spirit and character of such a government. A practice, therefore, which 
tends to place merit without wealth in the shade, and to enable the rich 
to monopolize the offices of government, has at least an aristocratic ten- 
dency, and demands severe reprehension. I therefore recommend to the 
legislature a revision of the laws against selling offices, and the enaction 
of such provisions and penalties as are best calculated to suppress the 
mischief which seems of late to be increasing." 36 The following year 
he issued a further warning against the dangers of such a practice : "I 
regret the necessity of once more pressing on your attention the anti- 
republican and highly critical practice of selling offices which is becom- 
ing too common and indeed fashionable. Shall the public offices in the 
republic of Kentucky be an article of sale in the market, or the reward 
of qualifications and integrity? This is the question to be decided. If 
this practice is sanctioned or even winked at, it will prove that while we 
profess that the road to public station is open to all, the poor as well 
as the rich, that they are in fact confined exclusively to the latter. The 

34 Kentucky Gazette, Aug. 9, 1821. For further information on the old system, 
see Ibid., Aug. 3, 1820, et passim, and Kentucky Reporter, April 24, 1826. 

35 Kentucky Gazette, Dec. 2, 1824. 
3e Niles' Register, Vol. 11, p. 392. 

Vol. 11—14 


prevalence of such practice, especially if countenanced, is evidence of the 
decline, if not of the state, of the republican purity of the government." 
Again he recommended the enactment of laws to stop "this pernicious 
and illicit traffic." 37 

Only one degree removed from selling offices outright was the prac- 
tice of hiring someone to perform the duties for a small fraction of the 
salary paid by the state, and of keeping the remainder. Governor 
Desha extended his warfare against office-selling to the holding of sine- 
cure offices. In 1825, he said, "It is worthy to enquire whether there 
are not now offices in this state, held by men who perform none of their 
duties, finding their salaries sufficiently liberal to hire deputies with a 
portion thereof, and live upon the residue. Why should not the state 
pay the deputies directly, and discharge the principals, thereby saving 
what she now pays for the support of incompetency or idleness?" 38 

Betting on elections also grew into an evil which engaged the atten- 
tion of the officers of the Government frequently. It was not only op- 
posed as a species of gambling, but it received the stronger condemna- 
tion because of the incentive it presented of using money to influence 
elections. Elections were carried on over a period of three days, and 
opportunities of buying votes as well as repeating the vote were thus 
more easily found. 39 A law was passed against this form of corruption 
and afterwards repealed, which lead Governor Powell in 1853 to say, 
to the Legislature, "I recommend that you pass such laws, as will sup- 
press, if possible, this evil, which has increased to an alarming extent, 
since the laws prohibiting it were repealed." 40 In response to this ap- 
peal, the Legislature passed a law imposing a fine of $100 for betting on 
elections and forfeiting to the state the money or property won. 41 But 
this legislation seemed to have very little effect on the practice, for in 
1857 Governor Morehead issued the following complaint : "The habit 
of betting on elections, with the almost necessary consequence of using 
money to procure or influence votes, is a great and growing evil, which 
demands your careful consideration." 42 It must not be inferred that 
the standards of honesty of state officials were low. As a general rule 
the members of the state government took a high and honorable view 
of their duties — sometimes rather grandiloquently on the part of the 
legislators especially. The state treasurer in 1817 was rather lax with 
the state funds, and when a shortage was discovered, he resigned. 43 

To make government more effective and render those in authority 
more efficient the revisal of the state laws was advocated by Governor 
Adair in 1821. He presented the situation then existing thus: "When 
laws have become so voluminous that none but men of leisure can read 
them — when they have been rendered by repeated amendments, repeals, 
and re-enactments, so intricate that they are difficult to be understood, 
except by men whose profession is to study and illustrate them — and 
when, by these frequent changes, they have been rendered so uncertain, 
that the people are afraid to contract on the face of them, lest they may 
have been repealed before the period of their general dissemination, it 
may, with justice be pronounced, that the protection of the citizen has 
measurably ceased to be secured by such laws." He feared that many 
magistrates would be deterred from searching out what was really law, 
and others would resign their stations. 44 The Legislature authorized a 

« Niks' Register, Vol. 13, P- 388; Port Folio, Vol. 6, p. 70. 

38 Ibid., Vol. 29, p. 222. For the salaries of state officials in 1831, see American 
Almanac, 1831, II, 244-247; for 1834, Ibid., 1834, 235. 

39 See Kentucky Gazette, Aug., 1822; Niks' Register, Vol. 40, p. 401. 
*° Kentucky Yeoman, Jan. 6, 1854. 

41 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 70. 

42 Lexington Observer and Reporter, Dec. 9, 1857. 

43 Niks' Register, Vol. 14, PP- 14, 44°. 
"Niks' Register, Vol. 21, p. 190. 


revisal of the laws, and almost within a year the legislation of the state 
from the first days of statehood on down to 1821 was put in a work- 
able form which might be used and understood by all. 45 As an addi- 
tional aid to state officials as well as to the officers of all other states, the 
Legislature in 1843 suggested the desirability of a digest of all the deci- 
sions of the Supreme Court of the United States. 48 

The popular estimation of the Legislature was not always as high 
as the legislators, themselves, would have liked. Although the state's 
greatest statemen were cradled in this body, the general ability of the 
Legislature was most of the time mediocre. Some sessions passed 
dangerous legislation of a fundamental character, while others whiled 
away their time on local legislation, which the courts should have more 
properly handled. Governor Adair cautioned the legislators against 
"the prodigious increase" in such laws, and suggested that they should 
refrain from it for economy's sake if for no other reason. 47 The Ken- 
tucky Gazette summed up a general feeling concerning that body, which 
represented others than its own : "The waste of time by legislative bodies 
has always been a subject of complaint, and will no doubt continue so 
long as it is necessary for the people to have a number instead of a 
few to guard their rights ; but the waste of so much time on one bill has 
surely some remedy. It is said the laws of China punish a doctor with 
death for suffering a patient under his care to die. It might be a useful 

law in Kentucky, to render every member ineligible for years that 

was present at the death of any bill more than one month old, or who ad- 
journed leaving any such bill to perish. We do not pretend to say that 
the public is much concerned in preserving the lives of such bills; but 
it might benefit the public by directing the attention of the state physi- 
cians to other patients and thereby save time which has always been 
considered as valuable as money." 48 

The feeling that the Government ought to be of distinct service to the 
people, coupled with the broad ideas of humanitarianism that were sweep- 
ing over the land and which attained their great strength in the '30s, was 
well expressed in the attitude of the state toward the unfortunate mem- 
bers of its society. In early times the state cared for the insane in a very 
meagre way, but not in a central institution were they could receive 
competent medical attention and be surrounded by prospects that would 
ease their minds. In 1816 a private hospital for the insane had been or- 
ganized in Lexington by some of her philanthropic and benevolently in- 
clined citizens, but the existence of this institution was precarious from 
the beginning. However, it gave the idea and afforded the opportunity 
to the state of caring for the insane throughout the state in a more 
effective way. Governor Adair in 1820 advocated the taking over of this 
hospital by the state. There the insane could have "the best medical 
aid the state affords gratis — and if only one in twenty of those unfor- 
tunate beings, laboring under the most dreadful- of maladies, should be 
restored, will it not be a cause of gratulation to a humane and generous 
public!" 49 The next year he referred again to the melancholy condition 
of the insane: "It is not among the fragments of mouldering columns, 
scattered over the sands of the desert ; it is not beneath a solitary arch 
of some decayed citadel of subverted empire, that, in the retrospect of 
the instability of human affairs, we learn the most instructive lesson of 
the vanity of human hopes. It is when we pause amid the ruins of the 
human mind ; when we contemplate the destruction of those intellectual 
powers, which rendered their possessor lord of creation ; and behold the 

45 Ibid., Vol. 23, p. 171. 

46 Acts of Kentucky, 1843, p. 267. 

47 Message of October 22, 1822, in Niles' Register, Vol. 23, p. 172. 

48 Jan. 4, 1821. 

49 Niles" Register, Vol. 19, p. 171 ; Collins, History of Kentucky, II, 223. 

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imbruted madman, roving with dark and savage purpose through an 
afrighted land, which his philosophy had enlightened, his eloquence en- 
raptured, this valor emancipated, and his benevolence blessed, that we 
impressively feel the worthlessness of every attainment that does not 
dignify our motives, ennoble our pursuits, benefit our kind, and merit an 
everlasting reward. As the possession of reason is the glory and dis- 
tinction of our nature, so its deprivation may be regarded as its heavi- 
est calamity. The duties which we owe to the objects of such depriva- 
tion are of most sacred obligation." Again he suggested the use of the 
Lexington hospital. 50 

In 1824 the state took control of this institution, being among the 
earliest if not the first state to so care for its insane. 51 In 1848 a second 
insane asylum was founded near Hopkinsville in Christian County. 52 
Even before the state had entered onto the program of taking better care 
of the insane, it had provided for an institution for the deaf and dumb, 
which was established in Danville in 1823. 53 The blind were cared for 
in an institution set up for them in Louisville in 1842, and endowed in 
the beginning with $10,000 from the common school fund. 54 

The penitentiary, which had been made necessary when the state re- 
vised her criminal code from the death penalty for almost every crime, 
to imprisonment, had early come to be managed as a source of revenue 
for the state. Numerous articles were manufactured within the walls 
of the prison and sold throughout the state. 55 In 1817 Governor Slaugh- 
ter called attention to the need for repairs to the building, which had 
become so insecure that the convicts often made their escape. Was it 
fair, he asked, to increase the sentence of those who were led to escape 
because of the ease with which it might be accomplished or the negli- 
gence of guards to perform their duties? "This institution, which origi- 
nated in a spirit of philanthropy, and a liberal, and enlightened humanity, 
ought not to be abandoned, or neglected." This institution had attracted 
the favorable attention of other states, and the state ought to see to it 
that it was not suffered to deteriorate. The penitentiary ought not to be 
solely considered as an instrument of punishment, and vengeance against 
the offending members of society, it ought to be used to reform the 
prisoner as well. He advised that "bibles, and books of morality" should 
be furnished the prisoners, and that "religious and moral instruction" 
should be given. "But little good is done," he said, "if the offenders 
go forth into the world unredeemed in any degree from the depravity 
for which they were cut off from their social state." 5S 

During the '20s prison reform was attracting attention throughout 
the country. More reformation and less vengeance was being urged by 
many individuals and by societies organized for the purpose. 57 Governor 
John Adair became the champion for reform in Kentucky, urging at 
great length in his successive messages to the Legislature an ameliora- 
tion of the condition of the prisoners. He declared that the penitentiary 
had arisen out of the "wise and humane purpose of uniting mercy with 
justice," but it had sadly departed far from those principles. 58 "By a 
public and prolonged exhibition of ignominious punishment, calculated 
to humble and debase a being, whose want of self-respect has betrayed 
him to the commission of meanness or of crime, by consigning to one 

bo Niles' Register, Vol. 21, p. 189. 

si Collins, History of Kentucky, II, 223; North American Review, Vol. 44, pp. 

112, 560. 

52 Collins, History of Kentucky, II, 126. 

5 3 Collins, History of Kentucky, II, 85. 
04 Ibid., I, 47. See also Ibid., 69. 

™Nilcs' Register, Vol. 5, P- 337; Vol. n, p. 392. 

«« Niles 1 Register, Vol. 13, p. 386. 

67 McMaster, History of the People of the United States, IV, 540-549- 

58 Message to Legislature, October 17, 1820, in Niks' Register, Vol. 19, p. 170. 























common mansion of guilt, all convicts of whatsoever grade, and com- 
pelling the high-minded, the enlightened, the unfortunate victim of a 
venial error, to consort with the atrocious murderer or ignoble thief ; 
and from the influence of such a system, and the contagion of such as- 
sociations to hope for final reformation, bespeaks a lamentable ignorance 
of human character. The pride of our legislation has never stooped to 
the ball and chain — its humanity admits, but on awful exigencies, the 
horrors of the gallows. To the honor of Kentucky it will hereafter be 
recorded among the acts on which posterity will love to dwell, that in 
the very infancy of her government, she was among the first to assert 
the permanent triumph of civilization over the barbarous infliction of 
sanguinary punishments." He advocated the institution of a number of 
reforms. Solitary confinement should be adopted to induce introspection 
and to bring the criminal to a sense of the enormity of his sins against 
society. "Virtue herself wanders with melancholy aspect in the regions 
of exile — and sinks with disparaging anguish amid the gloom of the 
dungeon, from which she is never to emerge. But absolute and compul- 
sory solitude, when adopted as a punishment, and inflicted for a season 
only, has been found productive of the most beneficial results. It is the 
inquisitor of the soul, and the tyrant of every vice." Religious and edu- 
cational instruction should be given the prisoner, and a small pittance 
with which to begin life over again, when he shall have been freed, 
should be afforded him. Was it too much to hope, he asked, that the 
Legislature would make a small appropriation "sufficient to enable some 
pious, respectable clergyman to devote his sabbaths to the benevolent 
purpose of instructing this unfortunate and degraded class of men?" 
The penitentiary was not "a money making or money saving project. 
It is a magnificent plan, devised by the spirit of philanthropy and ap- 
proved by the profoundest wisdom, to accelerate the progress of civiliza- 
tion, to diminish the sufferings, and amend the morals of human kind." 
There ought to be reward for merit and the infliction of corporal pun- 
ishment ought to be stopped. 60 

The state found it hard to get away from the idea that this institu- 
tion should be used as a money maker. 80 Various plans were carried 
out, with the penitentiary at times being sold for a stated sum to a private 
individual who used it for his own gain. 61 

Not directly connected with the state, but still of considerable inter- 
est to the people of the state was an Indian school set up at Blue Springs 
in Scott County, known as the Choctaw Academy. By a treaty with 
the Choctaws in 1825 the United States agreed to give them annually 
forever a sum of $6,000, which for twenty years should be devoted to 
the education of the Choctaw youths. 62 Richard M. Johnson was in- 
terested in the project, and it was largely through his efforts that the 
school was set up in Kentucky, near his home. The direct management 
of the institution was vested in the Baptist Church, which made its re- 
ports of the work directly to the United States Indian Office. It was the 
desire of the Indians that their boys should be educated away from the 
tribe itself, and that they should be taught things that would fit them for 
ordinary American citizenship. The regulations for the management of 
the school stated that "The system of education shall embrace reading, 
writing, arithmetic, English grammar, geography, practical surveying, 

so Message of October 16, 1821, in Niks' Register, Vol. 21, pp. 188, 189; message 
of October 22, 1822, Ibid., Vol. 23, p. 172; message of November 4, 1823, Ibid., Vol. 

<&From March, 1839, to November, 1840, the state made a profit of $42,512.12 from 
the penitentiary. Niles' Register, Vol. 59, P- 342. See also Ibid., Vol. 29, p. 224 

«i In 1858 it was rented for a period of four years for $12,000 annually. Collins, 

History of Kentucky, I, 79- . „ . . , ,■ , j- a a • ,*a 

92 Indian Treaties and Laws and Regulations relating to Indian Affairs, 171-174- 

Date of treaty January 20, 1825. 


astronomy, natural philosophy, and vocal music." C3 In line with the idea 
of making Americans out of the youths, they were given in addition to 
their tribal names well-known American names. John C. Calhoun, 
Thomas H. Benton, Richard M. Johnson, Andrew Jackson, and Henry 
Clay, were all Indian boys at the Choctaw Academy, striving, no doubt, 
to emulate the lives of the men whose names they bore. 64 Other tribes 
made arrangements to patronize this school. In 1826 the Creeks prepared 
to send twenty of their boys, and in the same year the Pottawatomies 
set aside $2,000 from the amount due them from the United States, for 
the purpose of sending youths to the school. 65 In 1826 there were 53 
Choctaw youths in attendance, and their "examination exercises" were 
attended by 500 people, who were much pleased at the progress being 
made. 66 

The academy was soon in a thriving condition with 174 boys of the 
various Indian nations there in 1835 — this being the greatest number 
ever in attendance at one time. But by the early '40s the school had 
begun to decay, and it soon ceased to exist. 07 The Indians, themselves 
had by this time lost interest in the academy, as they now believed that 
the education received by their boys made them lose their tribal customs 
and attachments, and caused them to become effeminate. 88 Also many 
Americans, who disagreed with the policy of removing the Indians to 
the regions west of the Mississippi and thereby disrupting their homes 
and civilization, believed that no good could come from educating the 
Indians to be again turned loose in a wild life. Hezekiah Niles said, 
"If these children, when educated, are to be driven into the wilderness, 
remote from the seats of civilized life, they had better be discharged 
from school before they are disqualified to enjoy the small portion of 
solid comfort that belongs to the hunter-state." 69 

The interest of Kentucky in the political welfare of people was not 
bounded by their own limits. They hated tyranny wherever they knew 
it existed, and some of the more impetuous ones were not content to 
oppose it with words, as will appear hereafter. But hardly had Ameri- 
can independence been won from perpetual European entanglements 
before Kentucky was cheering for the South Americans in their con- 
test to win independence from Spain. Governor Slaughter in 1817 could 
not refrain from imploring Providence "to extend his kind and protect- 
ing care to our southern brethren now struggling for freedom and inde- 
pendence. As republicans we cannot be indifferent to their cause. That 
they ought to be independent of the powers of Europe, nature herself 
has decreed. From the school of freedom which we have established, 
there is reason to hope they will learn to institute republican forms 
of Government ; and although it may not be necessary or expedient for 
us to participate in their contests, let us beseech the same kind Provi- 
dence that watched over us in times of difficulty- and trial, to crown their 
efforts with success." 70 

These were not the sentiments of the governor alone ; both branches 
of the Legislature brought up separate series of resolutions condemning 
the tyrannies of Europe and expressing sympathy for the struggling 
South Americans. The Senate hoped to see the South Americans 

63 "Choctaw Treaty — Dancing Rabbit Creek" in Executive Documents, 26th Cong., 
2 Sess., No. 109, p. 22. 

64 Ibid., 40, 41. 

66 Ibid., U7-I79- 

06 Niles" Register, Vol. 31, p. 159. 

67 The funds from the United States were appropriated for only twenty years for 
school purposes. 

68 Josiah Gregg, "Commerce of the Prairies" ; in Thwaites, Early Western Travels, 
XX, 306. 

68 Niles" Register, Vol. 32, p. 322. 

70 Message to Legislature, December 2, 1817, in Niles" Register, Vol. 13, p. 389. 


"throw off and break in pieces the yoke of Spanish despotism," and al- 
though there were the blessings of peace in preserving a just neutrality, 
still it could not be insensible to the great importance of independent 
countries in South America "as respects the probable commercial and 
political relations between the two portions of the same great conti- 
nent." We were under no obligations to favor "old Spain" in this con- 
test, and it would be well for us not to read too much into our duties 
as a neutral. And it were well also to remember that "if the general 
government of the United States is prepared to take a side in this con- 
test, the many unredressed wrongs, and the outrageous insults of old 
Spain to this government, together with the strong claims of suffering 
humanity upon our sympathy, leave no room to doubt which side the 
free people of the only republic upon earth are prepared to take." The 
House entered into a more philosophical examination of liberty, and 
found that the South Americans were entitled to it, and that the United 
States Government ought to recognize forthwith those provinces which 
"have declared themselves free and independent, and have shown a rea- 
sonable ability to maintain their independence." 71 Clay, who had become 
so thoroughly interested in South American independence and its imme- 
diate recognition by the United States, took occasion to keep his fellow 
Kentuckians interested in the subject by referring to it in his speeches 
to them. 72 

The Kentuckians also noted with lively interest the struggle of the 
Greeks for independence from the tyranny of the Turks, and in the ses- 
sion of 1823-1824, the Legislature took occasion to voice its accord with 
the United States in recognizing the South American republics, and to 
heartily agree with President Monroe in his doctrines concerning the 
attempts that might be made by European nations "to reduce those re- 
publics to provincial subjection." 73 By 1842 the Irish had come to 
attract the sympathetic interest and concern of Kentuckians to a rather 
remarkable degree. It had advanced beyond more or less perfunctory 
resolutions of the Legislature, for at this time a "highly respectable" 
gathering came together in the legislative chamber in Frankfort to express 
their sympathy for Ireland and to condemn the tyranny and misrule 
of England. The editor of the Frankfort Commonwealth said that Irish- 
men and Kentuckians were after all much alike. "They are both con- 
stitutional lovers of fun — both indomitable foes to oppression, and a 
fiery, soul-stirring species of eloquence is peculiar to each." 74 

One of the most remarkable examples of the patriotic fervor of Ken- 
tuckians for downtrodden peoples was the part they played in the Lopez 
expeditions to free Cuba from the Spanish power. Although chiefly 
actuated by patriotic impulse, Kentuckians also had a deep-rooted dis- 
trust of foreign nations controlling the island approaches to the United 
States. As early as 1823, Kendall had said of the likelihood of England 
getting Cuba that "its possession by that power ought to be prevented 
by all hazards ; for it would be almost as fatal to the western country 
as the occupation of her of the mouth of the Mississippi." 75 In an era 
when filibustering was a favorite pastime with too many Americans, 
Gen. Narcisco Lopez, a Cuban leader sought to engage as much of that 
activity as possible to the purpose of freeing Cuba. In 1850 he visited 
the United States, passing down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and 
visiting Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. He organized 
three regiments, with the largest one from Kentucky under the com- 
mand of Theodore O'Hara with 240 men. This force landed at Cardenas 

71 Niles' Register, Vol. 13, pp. 371, 372. 

72 Ibid., Vol. 20, p. 301. 

73 Ibid., Vol. 25, pp. 372, 373. 

74 Jan. II, 1842. 

75 Autobiography of Amos Kendall, 263. 


and captured the town with the governor. A few Kentuckians including 
Capt. John A. Logan, were killed in the fighting. The town was soon 
abandoned, the governor turned loose, and the expedition abandoned. 78 
The next year enthusiasm was booming high again in Kentucky. Popu- 
lar meetings were held at different places over the state to arouse volun- 
teering and to give vent to the people's anger at the Spanish regime. 
At Frankfort a meeting was held on August 26 at which a demand 
for Cuban independence was made and a resolution passed promising to 
"use all lawful and honorable means to assist the struggling patriots 
and hasten the triumph of Cuban liberty." 77 A Kentucky regiment of 
almost 700 men was recruited; but only about fifty under Col. William 
L. Crittenden and Capt. Victor Kerr actually reached Cuba. Again the 
expedition was unsuccessful. Most of the Lopez forces were captured 
and shot. Among these were a considerable number of Kentuckians, in- 
cluding Crittenden, who made the celebrated remark just before his 
death : "A Kentuckian kneels to none except his God and always dies 
facing the enemy." 78 

The hospitality of the state was extended on several occasions to 
distinguished men who came on visits. The people delighted to show a 
warm friendship for such visitors that characterized generally close 
acquaintanceships more than the colder formalities that were commonly 
associated with public functions. General Lafayette, in his tour of the 
United States during 1824-1825, visited Kentucky and received a noisy 
as well as warm reception. Although the state received him first upon 
her soil as a shipwrecked victim from an unfortunate steamer on the 
Ohio, she soon caused him to forget in the whirl of her reception his 
mishap. Louisville had the honor of receiving him first and made good 
use of her opportunities. From here he set out across the state by way 
of Shelbyville "a large and flourishing village, situated in the midst 
of a most fertile and diversified country," to Frankfort. The capital was 
decorated and all aglow with arches and American flags. According to 
the description in the Argus of Western America, "As the procession 
entered the limits of South Frankfort, a national salute was fired from 
a piece of ordnance stationed on the heights above the capitol upon 
the Lexington road. The long and brilliant procession winding down 
the hill and through the streets of South Frankfort, the sound of the 
bugles, the thrill notes of the fifes, the rattling of the drums and the 
reports of the cannon which echoing from a hundred hills resembled 
peals of thunder, rendered this the most imposing and interesting spec- 
tacle ever exhibited in the capital of Kentucky." 79 The governor of 
the state made an address of welcome, to which Lafayette made an 
appropriate reply. A dinner was then served in the public square at- 
tended by 800 people. Lafayette's secretary said of the Frankfort visit, 
"The entertainment given on this occasion by the inhabitants of the town, 
to which were joined those of the neighboring counties, were very bril- 
liant, and strongly impressed with that ardent and patriotic character 
which distinguishes all the states of the Union, but which, among the 

76 A. C. Quisenberry, Lopez's Expeditions to Cuba (Louisville, 1906), Filson Club 
Publication, Number 21, pp. 32-65; also see "Col. M. C. Taylor's Diary in Lopez Car- 
denas Expedition, 1850" in The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, 
Vol. 19, No. 57 (September, 1921), pp. 79-89. 

77 Kentucky Yeoman, Aug. 29, 1851. 

78 Quisenberry, Lopez Expedition, 69; Fish, American Diplomacy, 298, 299; James 
F. Rhodes, History of the United States (New York, 1902), I, 216-220; Collins, His- 
tory of Kentucky, I, 62. Taking Crittenden's words as a theme, Mrs. Morgan L. 
Betts (Mrs. Mary E. Wilson Betts) wrote the poem "A Kentuckian Kneels to None 
but God." This poem may be found Ibid., 584. See also Library of Southern Litera- 
ture, XVI, 6106. William L. Crittenden was a nephew of John J. Crittenden. 

7 » May 18, 1825. 


Kentuckians, is more manifest, and expressed with all the energy of a 
young people, enthusiastic in the cause of liberty." 80 

Leaving Frankfort, he continued his journey on to Lexington through 
"the pretty little town of Versailles, where we remained some hours, to 
attend a public dinner, given by the citizens of the town and the sur- 
rounding country." He entered Lexington amidst enthusiastic throngs 
and the reverberation of the booming artillery "The entertainments at 
Lexington were extremely brilliant ; but of the proofs of public felicity, 
that which most attracted the general's attention, was the development 
and rapid progress of instruction among all classes of people. In fact is 
it not an admirable and astonishing circumstance, to find in a country, 
which not forty years ago was covered with immense forests, inhabited 
by savages, a handsome town of six thousand inhabitants, and contain- 
ing two establishments for public instruction, which, by the number of 
their pupils, and the variety and nature of the branches taught, may 
rival the most celebrated colleges and universities in the principal towns 
of Europe?" 81 He visited Transylvania University, where President 
Holley, "received the general at the door of the establishment, and ad- 
dressed him in an eloquent speech." Further exercises were carried out 
with three students addressing Lafayette in Latin, English, and French, 
"whose compositions, as eloquently written as well delivered, merited the 
plaudits of the auditors." Lafayette replied to each in the language in 
kind. He also visited Lafayette Academy, a school for young ladies, 
where 150 pupils "received him with the harmonious sound of a patriotic 
song composed by Mrs. Holley, and accompanied on the piano by Miss 
Hammond." He was then complimented by several young ladies, some 
in prose and others in verse, of their own composition. "The discourse 
of Miss M'Intosh and the beautiful ode of Miss Nephew, produced a 
great effect on the audience, and drew tears from eyes little accustomed 
to such emotions." Before leaving Lexington Lafayette visited the 
widow of General Scott to pay his respects to the wife of the man whom 
he had known and admired during the Revolution. He also visited Ash- 
land, and in the absence of Mr. Clay, "Mrs. Clay and her children per- 
formed all the honours of the house with the most amiable cordiality." 

After spending two days in Lexington, Lafayette left for Cincinnati 
through a region, which according to his secretary gave the party "the 
advantage of seeing the prodigies of art effected by liberty, in a country 
which civilization has scarcely snatched from savage nature." In his 
message to the Legislature in November, 1825, Governor Desha referred 
to Lafayette's visit thus : "The appearance among us of the venerable 
soldier, the principal object of whose life, as evinced by the uniform 
tenor of his actions, has been the establishment of rational freedom in 
both hemispheres, was well calculated to diffuse joy throughout the com- 
munity. His presence revived in the old recollections of that eventful 
period when his accession to our cause brought new hopes of success; 
while in the young it increased the admiration with which he has ever 
been regarded, Kentucky, it is hoped, has not fallen short of her sis- 
ters in demonstrations of respect to their common benefactor. She has 
bestowed on him the sincerest tributes of her esteem and affection, and 
her best wishes attend him to his native country." 82 

Other men of note, less interesting to Kentuckians than Lafayette, 
but still men not often seen in the West, also visited the state and at- 
tracted much attention. Daniel Webster, who had contemplated a trip 
in 1833, but was deterred by the cholera, made a visit in 1837, and 
John Quincy Adams touched the state's borders in 1843 at Covington 

80 A. Lavasseur, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825; or, Journal of a Voyage 
to the United States (Philadelphia, 1829), translated by John D. Godman, II, 166. 

81 Lavasseur, Lafayette in America, II, 168. 

82 Niks' Register, Vol. 29, p. 224. 


and Newport. Both were received with great cordiality and hearty 
applause. 83 Webster had come out especially to show himself to the 
whigs of the West, who were clamoring to see him. He was accom- 
panied by William Pitt Fessenden, later to become almost as prominent 
for a time as Webster himself. The journey was made down the Ohio 
to Maysville and thence to Lexington and on through Frankfort to 
Louisville. Fessenden wrote an intimate and interesting account of 
the trip. "Mr. Webster meets," he said, "with so warm a reception 
all along the shore that what with guns, dinners, speeches and the like, 
one is continually excited. Those Kentucky boys especially are the 
right sort. We arrived here in exactly the right season to see the last 
of the spring races. Four horses were entered. I lost eight 'hailstorms' 
on Maria Louisa. * * * The Kentuckians, as you are probably 
aware, value themselves greatly on their breed of horses, and enter 
into the spirit of such an occasion, and it was not disagreeable to see 
such men as Clay, Crittenden, Robinson and others of that stamp ap- 
parently as much excited, talking as loudly, betting as freely, drinking 
as deeply, and swearing as excessively as the jockeys themselves. 
A 'hailstorm' is a brandy julep ; a 'snow-storm' is a weaker 
one. The way they drink those things in Kentucky is a caution to 
sinners." He of necessity had to refer to the ladies, for which the 
state was already as famous as it was for its horses, but his first im- 
pressions were that they were no more to be admired than the New 
England girls. While at Lexington he said: "Give me New England 
ladies as yet." But he was fast changing his mind. At Frankfort he 
became infatuated with some, and at Louisville he saw one whom he 
gave "all the attention she would receive. Have since learned that 
she was noted for her powers of fasciantion, arising more from her 
delightful manners than from her personal beauty; was told thaf she 
was a terrible mankiller and whistled her lovers off without ceremony." 
Webster and his party had nothing but praise for the Kentucky hos- 
pitality shown them. 84 

The character of Kentuckians, indeed, seemed to stand out in the 
minds of all who visited the state. Kentuckians were Westerners, as 
distinguished from Easterners, but all Westerners were not like the 
Kentuckians. In the early '30s Timothy Flint gave this general sum- 
ming up of the character of the Kentuckians: "The people of this 
state have a character as strongly marked by nationality as those of 
any state of the Union. It is a character extremely difficult to describe, 
although all the shades of it are strongly marked to the eye of a person 
who has been long acquainted with them. They are not only unique 
in their manners, but in their origin. They are scions from a noble 
stock — the descendants from affluent and respectable planters from Vir- 
ginia and North Carolina. They are in that condition in life which 
is perhaps best calculated to develop high-mindedness and self respect. 
They have a distinct and striking moral physiognomy, an enthusiasm, 
a vivacity and ardor of character, courage, frankness and generosity, 
that have been developed with the peculiar circumstances under which 
they have been placed. They have a delightful frankness of hospitality 
which renders a sojourn among them exceedingly pleasant to a stranger. 
Their language, the very amusing dialect of the common people, their 
opinions and modes of thinking, from various circumstances, have been 
very excessively communicated and impressed upon the general char- 
acter of the people of the West. Their bravery has been evinced in 
field and forest from Louisiana to Canada. Their enthusiasm of char- 
acter is very observable in the ardor with which all classes of people 

83 Niks' Register, Vol. 44. p. 364; Vol. 65, pp. 219, 220. 

84 Francis Fessenden, Life and Public Services of William Pitt Fessenden (Bos- 
ton, 1907). I. 13-16. 


express themselves in reference to their favorite views and opinions. 
All their feelings tend to extremes. It is not altogether in burlesque 
that they are described as boastful and accustomed to assume to them- 
selves the best horse, dog, gun, wife, statesmen and country. Their 
fearless ardor and frankness and self confidence become to their young 
men in other parts of the West, in competition for place and precedence, 
as a good star. When a Kentuckian presents himself in another state 
as a candidate for an office, other circumstances being equal, the Ken- 
tuckian carries it. Whenever the Kentuckian travels, he earnestly and 
affectionately remembers his native hills and plains. His thoughts as 
incessantly turn toward home as those of the Swiss. He invokes the 
genius of his country, in trouble, danger and solitude. It is to him 
the home of plenty, beauty, greatness and everything that he desires 
or respects. This nationality never deserts him. Xo country will bear 
a comparison with his country; no people with his own people. Eng- 
lish are said to go into a battle with songs about roast beef in their 
mouths. When the Kentuckian encounters dangers of battle, or of any 
kind, when he is even on board a foundering ship, his last exclamation 
is, 'Hurrah for old Kentucky. 1 " s "' 

Frontier conditions had gone, but their effects on Kentucky char- 
acter remained. Directly after the War of 1812 an observer said, of 
Lexington society in particular: "The log cabins had disappeared, and 
in their places stood costly brick mansions, well painted and enclosed 
by fine yards, bespeaking the taste and wealth of their possessors. The 
leathern pantaloons, the hunting shirts and leggins have been discarded, 
for the dress and manners of the inhabitants had entirely changed. 
* * * The inhabitants are as polished, and, I regret to add, as lux- 
urious as those of Boston, New York or Baltimore, and their assemblies 
and parties are conducted with as much ease and grace as in the oldest 
towns in the Union." SG James Lane Allen spoke of the transition, es- 
pecially in an economic sense, thus: "But from the opening of the 
nineteenth century things grew easier. The people, rescued from the 
necessity of trying to be safe, began to indulge the luxury of wishing 
to be happy. Life ceased to be a warfare and became an industry; 
the hand left off defending and commenced acquiring: the moulding 
of bullets was succeeded by the coming of dollars." ST The typical 
Kentucky character had a strong commingling of pioneer days in it-- 
make-up ; and indeed in some souls it was so deeply impressed as to 
make it almost impossible for them to forget ''the good old times." It 
was noted in the early '30s that the "aged settlers look back to the period 
of this first settlement as a golden age. To them the earth seems to 
have been cursed with natural and moral degeneracy, deformity and 
sterility, in consequence of having been settled." ss 

But the rough mould in which Kentucky character began left 
and finesse impressed upon it. "The patriarchial pioneers of these 
backwoods men were people of a peculiar and remarkable order, trained 
by circumstances to a character which united force, hardihood and 
energy in an astonishing degree. Opinion has generally invested them 
with a predominance of rough traits and rough habits, approximating 
the character of the Indians. They were in fact as much distinguished 
by an ample basis of gentlemanly character and chivalrous notions of 

85 Flint, History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley, I, 368, 369. 

86 Samuel R. Brown, The Western Gazetteer or Emigrant's Directory (Auburn, 

N. Y., 1817), 91-94. 

87 James Lane Allen, "Kentucky Fairs" in Harper's Magazine, Vol. 79 (Septem- 
ber, 1889), 555- 

88 Flint, History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley, II, 351. The present 
writer has heard the same sentiments expressed by old inhabitants of the present 


honor and justice as for strength, firmness and bravery." The para- 
doxical and antithetical character of the Kentuckians was vividly set 
forth by Jacob Burnet as he had known and observed it in the early 
'40s. As a person traveled through the country, he said, he might note 
the mistress of the farm-house whiling her time in the rocking chair, 
and when he should reach the town he would find her helpmate "talk- 
ing politics at the tavern door." He described the typical small town 
as looking old and decrepit, houses there were with chimneys that 
looked "more ancient than the Pyramids," and the hotel "red and brick, 
and brazen, is the symbol of impudence and brutality — of that Heathen 
Democracy whose life-blood is whiskey, and whose breath is oaths. 

"Let us join the group round the old gentleman who, with his chair 
in the street, his feet on the window-sill, his left hand in his ruffled 
shirt-bosom, and his cud in his cheek, is laying down the law, pointed 
off with spurts of tobacco juice. These men. common as they look, 
are not common men; lazy as they appear, leaning against the shoulder- 
polished door-posts, they are full of energy and ability. Such men as 
these won the battle of Buena Vista, and will rule the world if they 
choose to. Here is one, hard-featured and stern, with full veins, with 
a complexion like half-tanned ox-hide, who would, like Harry Daniel, 
of Mount Sterling, murder the brother of his wife and see her go 
crazy, and yet walk his way with an easy conscience, or, at any rate, 
the pretense of one. Next to him sits a man who could wage war with 
the human race for a lifetime and enjoy it — a man of the Middle Ages, 
with all the vices of feudalism and all those of our money-seeking age 
combined. He has made his fortune by hunting up invalid titles, pur- 
chasing and prosecuting the legal claim, and turning the innocent holder 
to the dogs. And yet at home no one is kinder, more thoughtful, almost 
self-sacrificing. Send him to Mexico, and humanity is capable of no 
crime from which he would turn, or at which he would shudder. Take 
him to Boston, and his manner will be as pleasing as his conversation 
will be original. Search his pockets, and you will find a plan for de- 
frauding a neighbor of his farm, a most affectionate letter to an absent 
daughter, a bowie-knife, and 'Paradise Lost.' 

"Beyond him, notice that face. How clear the eye, how confident 
the mouth, how strong and firm the chin ! If he speaks, you will hear 
a voice like the Eolian harp, pouring forth words of such sweetness 
that the bees might cling upon his lips. If he moves, it is the Indian 
motion, quiet and strong as sunlight. In his mind the Higher Democ- 
racy is forming itself a home, and amid the low contests of politics he 
will be unconsciously acting as the messenger of the great Friend of man. 
Another comes by with a quick, springy step, as if with ankle-joints 
of India rubber; he stops, joins in the discussion; words pour from 
his tongue more rapidly than the ear can drink them in ; he looks 'round, 
his eye all seriousness and his mouth all smiles: men catch his idea, 
though they cannot his syllables, and their nods shows that he has hit 
some nail on the head. That man. slight as a girl, might be safely 
trusted to lead any corps in any battle, and yet in his life he never 
struck a blow. Go for ten miles 'round, inquire in any household, and 
vou will hear of him as the kind adviser, the steadiest friend, the unos- 
tentatious helper; many a son has he saved from the gambling-table, the 
race-course, or the deadly duel, begun with rifles and finished with knives 
— and he, too. is a child of the soil. 

"Now consider that, while the murderer and the victim of assas- 
sination become known to you through the press, the virtues of the 
patriotic politician or the village philanthropist make no noise in the 
world. Believe us. also, that, while the towns and taverns of these 
Western States, reeking with tobacco and whiskey, are symbols of the 
evil Democracy of our land, and the bullies and cut-throats, the knaves 


and robbers, are its true children; and though you might, on first look- 
ing at such a society as you may see in almost any Western town, think 
anarchy was close at hand, yet are the villages ever improving, the 
taverns themselves growing more decent, and anarchy is going farther 
and farther away. * * * You find, consequently strange mixtures 
of statute law and Lynch law, of heathen brutality and the most Chris- 
tian excellence, of disregard for human life and self-forgetting philan- 
thropy. But amid all the confusion you may find evidence, we believe, 
that the Higher Democracy, the rule of God, is advancing." It should 
be remembered that "Kentucky began in anarchy and has risen to law 
— that she was once the Alsatia of the United States, and is now in 
comparison quiet and peaceable — that she once hung to the Union but 
by a thread, and is now bound to it by clamps of iron ; and you cannot 
but have some faith in the workings of Democracy." 89 

The convivial nature of Kentuckians, as well as their strong ideas 
of freedom and belief in their ability to protect it, was shown in an 
incident related by Lafayette's secretary. On passing out of the state 
toward Cincinnati he has chanced to meet with a Kentuckian "who was 
smoking his segar at the door of his house" and who invited him in, 
offered him whiskey and tobacco, and began to bombard him with ques- 
tions. Napoleon was mentioned in the course of the conversation, 
whereupon the Kentuckian commiserated freely with the lot of the 
famous Corsican and blamed him for giving himself up "to the English 
government, whose perfidy he has so often experienced." He added 
that Napoleon could have found a hospitable home in America. On 
being told that Napoleon might have developed designs against the lib- 
erties of the American people, he replied : "We should have considered 
such an attempt as an act of madness, but if, against all probabilities, 
we had submitted for a moment to his tyrannous ascendency, his suc- 
cess would have been fatal to him. Look at that rifle [pointing to one 
in the corner of the room] ; with that I never miss a pheasant in our 
woods at a hundred yards ; a tyrant is larger than a pheasant, and 
there is not a Kentuckian who is not as patriotic and skilful as 
myself." 90 

Among the institutions growing up which had a distinct social sig- 
nificance, the fair, already mentioned in connection with its economic 
importance, was perhaps the most spectacular. Not until the period of 
the '30s and '40s did the social features develop. Now it was much 
more than a cattle show; it marked a week or more of festivities, looked 
forward to by young and old, slave and free, when love-making, elec- 
tioneering, fighting, racing, and general jollification reigned. Numerous 
visitors from the South timed their trips to the state for this occasion, 
both to visit relatives and to make friends. For the slaves, fair days 
were gala days; acres of them came and were glad in their simple 
way. 91 

Another institution of much social importance (for an institution 
it really was) was County Court Day. This was the day, coming as 
regularly as the months, when the judges of the county held court and 
dealt out justice. It was a day that the whole county observed by com- 

69 Jacob Burnet, "Notes on the Early Settlement of the Northwestern Territory" 
in North American Review, Vol. 65 (October, 1847), 335-338, 348. For other points 
in Kentucky social conditions and character, see Capt. Marryat, A Diary in America 
with Remarks on Its Institutions (Philadelphia, 1839), II, 20; Harriet Martineau, 
Society in America (New York, 1837), I, 203. Charles Dickens sang the praises of 
Louisville's fine hotel, the Gait House : "We slept at the Gait House ; a splendid 
hotel : and were as handsomely lodged as though we had been in Paris, rather than 
hundreds of miles beyond the Alleghanies." Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy 
and American Notes (New York, 1885), 369. 

B0 Lavasseur, Lafayette in America, II, 171, 172. 

91 Allen, Kentucky Fairs, 555-568 (Harper's Magazine, Vol. 79). 


ing to the county seat for the occasion. The aristocrat rode in his 
coach with servants, the more lowly came in various wheeled vehicles, 
rode horsehack, or trudged along on foot. Activities of all sorts de- 
veloped ; athletic contests were staged, politics made and unmade, wars 
declared and peace concluded, and trading in the products of the coun- 
tryside engaged in. This was especially the day of all days when grudges 
were aired and quarrels settled. According to James Lane Allen : "The 
justices sat quietly on the bench inside, and the people fought quietly 
in the streets outside, and the day of all the month set apart for the 
conservation of the peace became the approved day for carrying on in- 
dividual war." He who would settle his quarrels "availed himself lib- 
erally of election day, it is true, and of regimental muster in the spring 
and battalion muster in the fall — great gala occasions ; but county court 
flay was by all odds the preferred and highly prized season. It was 
periodical and could be relied upon, being written in the law, noted 
in the almanac, and registered in the heavens." But these fights were 
after all not vicious, for they were most commonly ended in hand-shak- 
ing and sealed in drinking. 92 

As a magnet for the more elite social gatherings the various mineral 
springs were developed early and were kept going in varying splendor 
down until the Civil war. The nineteenth century had scarcely begun 
before the Olympian Springs were attracting visitors. Prior to 1805 a 
central hotel building had been constructed here, a number of cottages 
set up, and a dining hall provided to accommodate 100 guests. Ample 
room and accommodations were promised for all who, "prompted by 
disease or pleasure," wished to come. 03 Greenville, or Harrodsburg 
Springs, was also developed early and had a long life as a summer re- 
sort. 94 Among the other resorts that attained fame in their day were 
White Sulphur Springs, established by Col. Richard M. Johnson ; Blue 
Lick Springs, and Drennon Springs. 95 A gay and gorgeous whirl of 
society grew up at these resorts, composed of belles and beaux from 
throughout the South, with a strong admixture of politicians and pros- 
perous business men. Some of the leaders of the nation sought rest 
here from their arduous duties and held conferences and made plans 
for the future. At some of these resorts as many as 500 people might 
be present at one time, and perhaps 1,000 for the whole season. The 
hot climate of the South drove many each summer to the Kentucky re- 
sorts, and tied tighter the social bonds of the state with the rest of the 
South. As was said by one : "It was the grand summer rallying of 
Southern belles and beaux ; it was the realm of romance and flirta- 
tion." n<3 In 1823 the rates at Harrodsburg Springs were, for adults, 
$16 in specie per month ; for children and servants, one-half the regular 
price; and for horses, $6 per month.' 17 In 1822 Olympian Springs prom- 
ised its guests the best food the country could produce and particularly 
called their attention to the "fine venison" served to its patrons. It 
also announced that it had supplied its "bar with choice liquors," and 
that for those wishing to hunt, "as fine a pack as ever went in a chase" 
would be at their service. 98 

92 James Lane Allen, "County Court Day in Kentucky" in Harper's Magazine, 
Vol. 79 (August, 1889), pp. 383-397- 

93 Kentucky Gazette, April 9, 1805. Also see life there Ibid., Sept. 17. 

94 See advertisements in Reporter, June 3, 1809, Kentucky Gazette, July, 1822 

95 See Kentucky Gazette, Oct. 3, 1839, etc., and other Kentucky papers for ad- 
vertisements and accounts. 

96 Sally E. M. Hardy, "Old Kentucky Watering Places" in American Historical 
Register, II (1895), 1385-1400. See also Letters on the Conditions of Kentucky in 

1825, P- 55- 

97 Kentucky Gazette, Aug. 14, 1823. 

9S Ibid., July, 1822. For other facts concerning Kentucky watering-places see 
Flint, History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley, I, 354. 



Amusements as afforded by the theatre and travelling shows and 
menageries made their appearance during this general period and grew 
to considerable proportions before the Civil war. An elephant, as already 
noted, had been shown to Kentuckians in the early years of the nine- 
teenth century; other "wonderful works of nature," such as lions and 
leopards, soon made their appearance, and by 1830 the Egyptian 
mummy," this interesting "remnant of antiquity," was being shown to 
an amazed people in Frankfort. According to the announcement, "Those 
who would make up an acquaintance with the subject of one of the 
Kings of Egypt, who built the Pyramids, should pay a visit to this rem- 
nant of antiquity." ;i '' The theatres nol only produced their outside 

Episcopal Church, First in Kentucky 
Over One Hundred Years Old 

attractions, but also their home productions. In 1823 a Lexingtonian 
wrote for a local theatre a play entitled "Daniel Boone, or the First Set- 
tlers of Kentucky." 10 ° 

The intellectual and moral renaissance which characterized the na- 
tional consciousness from 1830 to i860 was well reflected in Kentucky. 
Such activities as newspapers, free public education, temperance and 
prohibition laws, slavery opposition, and religious development, have 
either been treated already or yet remain to be taken up. 

Religious feeling in some of the denominations still expressed itself 
in the spectacular camp-meeting. A traveler described one he attended 
near Harrodsburg: "Our camp meetings in New York bear no com- 

89 Argus, Sept. 22, 1830. 

i°° Kentucky Gazette, Dec. 25, 1823. 

Vnl. IT— 15 


parison to it in point of numbers. The day was favorable ; the minister 
stood on a scaffolding erected for the occasion, in the center of a hand- 
some woods, free from brush or logs ; the hearers to the number, as I 
judged, of at least 10,000, stood in concentric circles around the orator. 
The number of horses and carriages was absolutely incredible ; and I 
do not enlarge when I say that they literally covered twenty acres of 
ground." 101 Another contemporary observed that "Religious excite- 
ments are common and carried to the highest point of emotion. Re- 
ligion, in some form, seems to be generally respected, and there is scarcely 
a village or populous settlement in the state that has not one or more 
favorite preachers. * * * But notwithstanding the marked enthus: 
asm of the character of this people, notwithstanding they are much 
addicted to bitter political disputation, notwithstanding all the collisions 
from opposite parties and clans, as a state the people have uniformly 
distinguished themselves for religious order, quiet and tolerant." 102 

■ As a general practice, the denominations of the state did not leave 
their purely religious field, restricted as orthodoxy had made it, to en- 
gage in the more secular problems of the day. Although slavery still cast 
its shadows across their paths, they took a less conspicuous part in that 
burning question than their earlier attitude had warranted, until the 
approaching dissolution of the Union forced it upon them again. Now 
and then a denomination took note of political or economic problems 
that seemed to fall within its ken as a religious organization. Usurious 
rates of interest were no less, according to the Presbyterian Synod, and 
it exhorted Presbyterians to exact no more than six per cent, which the 
laws of the state allowed. 103 There was also a rather persistent, if not 
wide, opposition against carrying mails on Sunday. In 1830 petitions 
were sent in to Congress against a continuance of this practice. Accord- 
ing to a memorial, "Your memorialists plead that respect which is due 
to Bible duties, in all Christian communities, as a sufficient argument to 
induce the Government to abstain from Sabbath violations.'' It was 
argued that Sunday mails would "tend to impair the moral influence of 
that day." and it was urged, with rather unfortunate imputations to the 
petitioners' motives, "that conscientious Christians are precluded from 
an equal participation in the emoluments of office." 104 Opposition im- 
mediately sprang up against this attempt to interfere with the regularly 
ordered life of the nation. Petitions were sent in asking Congress not 
to interfere with the carrying of mails on Sunday, arguing the incon- 
venience it would cause, and warning it of the unfortunate precedent 
it would establish of the state interfering in religious questions. It was 
also added: "And, if we may judge by the number and respectability 
of those who have filled the offices of the Department, from the highest 
to the lowest, many of them professors of religion, we must believe that 
the number who would be excluded from office by their conscientious 
scruples would be astonishingly small." 10S The Baptists, Methodists 
and Presbyterians continued to be the predominating religious denomina- 
tions in the state, with Episcopalians and Roman Catholics not without 
their influence and numbers. 1015 

The temperate movement, which had flared up in certain parts of 

101 Brown, Gazetteer, 114. 

102 Flint, History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley, I, 369. 

103 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 47. The discussion of interest rates was be- 
fore the people for many years. In i8.=;6 the Legislature resolved, "That the banks 
of the State by usurious dealings in bills to an unprecedented and alarming extent, 
have preverted the great powers and privileges conferred upon them by their 
charters, and disappointed the just expectations of the people of Kentucky." Acts of 
Kentucky, i8s5» I. 139- 

104 American State Papers. Post Office, 235, 261. 
™ s Ibid., 261. 

106 For religious statistics in 1832 see American Almanac, 1832, 251. 


the nation at different limes since the War of 1812 and which was 
marked by a wider and more persistent agitation about 1826, made its 
appearance in considerable force in Kentucky in the early '30s. 1 " 7 The 
movement first expressed itself in the organization of small local societies 
as auxiliaries of church congregations. Robert J. Breckinridge early en- 
listed in the movement and was a power in its spread over the state. 
He was in constant demand as a speaker for the societies. In 1831 he 
delivered an address before the Woodford Church Temperance Society, 
which was published in pamphlet form and was distributed widely over 
the state. lus Besides the numerous local societies, there existed the Ken- 
tucky Temperance Society, which had about 250 members in 1831. It 
was suggested that branch societies be formed "in the neighborhood of 
each church and religious society." 109 These societies stood for a total 
abstinence from the use of ardent spirits and wines in a state that had 
already established a far-flung reputation for its fine whiskies. Moral 
suasion was the general method resorted to at first, but not a great deal 
of success was had, and so the political weapons were soon threatened 
and later taken up. The temperance society founded at Augusta an- 
nounced that it would "use all prudent means against the use of ardent 
spirits and wines, except for medicine or wine for sacramental occasions, 
and refuses to support candidates for office who use ardent spirits for 
electioneering purposes, or are themselves addicted to their intemperate 
use." no A wave of enthusiasm swept over the state in 1842 when 
two reformed drunkards carried on a campaign of speech-making for 
total abstinence. Whole communities signed the pledge, and saloon- 
keepers at some places were converted and closed their shops. 111 With 
the approach of the Civil war, when old parties were going to pieces 
and people were groping for new party allegiances, the temperance 
party suddenly arose into considerable political prominence, to be noted 

With the coming of the Civil war, the life of the state was thrown 
into war conditions, and it emerged greatly changed from ante-bellum 
times, with new concerns and a different outlook. 

107 See McMaster, History of the People of the United States, IV, 527-532; Fish, 
The Development of American Nationality, 288, 289. 

108 One of these pamphlets is preserved in Breckinridge MSS. (1831). 

109 Argus, March 2, 1831. A society was formed at Perryville (said to be the 
first in the state) in 1831 with 507 persons signed on its rolls. Autobiography of J. J. 
Polk. 80, 81. 

110 This was an early example of the threat to take the question into politics — 
1831. Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 36. 

111 Ibid., I, 47- 


The development of the state along every line was either directly or 
indirectly affected by slavery. Its shadows fell across every path of 
progress; it obtruded itself, either secretly or openly, into almost every 
question of the day. Travelers in the state noted with regret its pres- 
ence. "A Pedestrian" in 1818 observed that a great many of the settlers 
"came from Virginia, and, unfortunately for our common country, they 
brought with them their slaves. What a source of regret is it, that 
Kentucky did not prohibit, within her jurisdiction, the bondage of those 
friendless beings !" 1 Substantial opposition to slavery was first based 
on economic considerations. Henry Clay declared in 1829 that slavery 
had placed "us in the rear of our neighbors, who are exempt from 
slavery, in the state of agriculture, the progress of manufactures, the 
advance of improvements, and the general prosperity of society." 2 ft 
not only prevented many settlers from coming to Kentucky, but it actually 
drove away many Kentuckians to the free states north of the Ohio. 3 
A Kentuckian in 1833 made a sweeping indictment of the institution, 
charging it with widespread evil effects. He asserted that the slaves 
"have done grievous harm already, by hindering our growth, keeping us 
far behind our sister states, impoverishing our soil, corrupting our morals 
and manners. * * * We believe that slavery in our state is unprof- 
itable and ruinous, to say nothing of other objections; and as a question 
of political economy we assert that it imposes upon us a heavy and 
ever increasing tax which must be taken off or sooner or later beggary 
and decay must be our portion. It is madness to try to wink these things 
out of sight; it is folly to pretend to deny them. All experience and 
observation, all history and the present condition of Virginia and Mary- 
land speak with a trumpet voice. * * * The latter has already be- 
gun to take measures to regenerate its sinking fortune. * * * 
Though blessed with a fruitful soil, with many natural advantages, they 
see and acknowledge that their lands have every year been growing 
poorer, that they are slowly but certainly sinking in political importance." * 

Slavery here had its usual effects on social classes, but with less 
marked emphasis. The "poor whites" were not quite so hopeless or so 
numerous as in the states further south. But the inevitable result of 
slavery in creating an aristocracy, marked by a spirit of superiority as 
well as the possession of greater wealth, was quite evident. A visitor 
in 1816 noted that "the rich hold labor in contempt, and frequently make 
the possession of slaves a criterion of merit ; that is, most farmers would 
make a marked distinction between two young gentlemen, one possessing 
slaves, the other not, but equal in point of property, personal accomplish- 

1 Estwick Evans, "A Pedestrians Tour of Four Thousand Miles Through the 
Western States and Territories during the Winter and Spring of 1818" in Thwaites, 
Early Western Travels, VIII, 94-364. 

2 Colton, Life and Times of Henry Clay, I, 190. 

3 See Sir Charles Lyell, A Second Visit _ to the United States of North America 
(New York, 1849), II, 210. Chillicothe, Ohio, was settled largely by emancipationists 
from Bourbon County, Kentucky. 

* Louisville Herald, May 16, 1833. quoted in I. E. McDougle, Slavery in Kentucky, 
1792-1865. (Reprinted from Journal of Negro History, III, No. 3, July, 1918), 67.' 



ments and moral endowment, who should pay their addresses to his 
daughter, the suit of the slaveholder would be favorably received, while 
that of his rival. would be disdainfully rejected." 5 

The position of the slaves was not marked by excessive severity. 
The nature of the labor to be performed made their lot fairly easy. No 
great cotton, rice, or cane fields in malignant climates under a torrid 
sun wore out the life of a Kentucky slave. Great gangs of slaves were 
seldom met with ; rather a few made up the possession of the average 
Kentucky slaveholder, and they were used as household servants or field 
hands, working with their masters often. 6 The custom gradually grew 
up among many masters of letting their slaves go out and hire them- 
selves wherever opportunity offered. Many of these wandering slaves 
congregated in Lexington and other towns and became a nuisance, if not 
a danger, to the community, with their petty larcenies — stealing and 
concealing. Lexington passed ordinances imposing a fine upon masters 
who allowed their slaves these liberties, but conditions were little rem- 
edied. 7 Up until the last decade before the Civil war, selling slaves 
to the far South was little engaged in as an ordinary business. What 
commerce in slaves actually existed was not generally based on the sole 
motive of profit or gain. A master in urgent need of money would sell 
his slaves, so would a master who wished to solve the problem of unruly 
slaves. But often this latter problem could be settled by the mere threat 
"to sell him south." Slaves were also sold on the interstate slave trade 
to satisfy legal and technical requirements. In order to settle an estate 
slaves often had to be sold, and runaway slaves captured and held for 
one year unclaimed were required by law to be sold, and often found 
their way into the slave trade. Of course, there was much more slave 
traffic within the state than to other states and was much less objec- 
tionable. Breaking up families was condemned by the best sentiment 
in the sale of slaves. The concern for family integrity in one instance 
is illustrated in a letter from James Porter to Robert J. Breckinridge, 
which follows in part : "I have a boy, Jack, that has married a girl 
belonging to Alf. Shelby's Estate. And as I propose moving to Missouri 
in a short time, I propose to you either to buy his wife or to sell you 
the boy. If you are wanting a boy, you cannot get a better servant, or 
one that is more valuable. I am now offered and can get at any time 
one hundred dollars a year hire. If you do not wish to buy, I will give 
a fair price for his wife, to keep from parting them, for I should dislike 
very much to do it, as he is a favorite servant and a good boy." 8 

Many people in the state were opposed to slavery in varying degrees. 
Perhaps a majority of them would at any time have welcomed a miracu- 
lous metamorphosis of the state with slavery and all its effects left out. 
But slavery was a condition and not a theory in Kentucky, as it was 
indeed fo: ihe rest of the South, and it was therefore necessary to 
deal with it in a practical rather than visionary way. The freeing of 
the slave did not remove one of the great evils of the system, and it 
indeed immediately brought about problems of even greater moment. 

5 Broivn, Gazetteer, 113, 114. N. S. Shaler said "Short of a great difference of 
race, there is no basis of social distinction that man has invented which is so trenchant 
as that which separates the slave-owner from the non slave-owner." Kentucky, 225. 

For statistics see Eighth Census (i860). Also see N. S. Shaler, "Chapters from 
an Autobiography" in Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 103 (January, 1909), 45-57. In a strong 
anti-slavery manifesto, John C. Young admitted that "Many circumstances operate 
here to mitigate the rigors of perpetual servitude ; and it is probably the fact that no 
body of slaves have been better fed, better clothed, and less abused, than the slaves 
of Kentucky." "An Address to the Presbyterians of Kentucky, proposing a Plan for 
the Instruction and Emancipation of their Slaves, by a Committee of the Synod of 
Kentucky" in Stanton, The Church and the Rebellion, 431. 

7 Kentucky Gazette, Jan. 16, 1823. 

8 Breckinridge MSS. (1848). Letter dated Danville, June 12, 1848. 


Emancipation did not give education to the freedman, neither did it 
make him a good citizen. The problem of emancipation to most Ken- 
tuckians could only be solved by the removal of the negro freed. And 
this idea was embraced more or less prominently in all the early emanci- 
pation or abolition societies in the state. In 1815 the Kentucky Abolition 
Society petitioned Congress to set apart a portion of the public domain 
somewhere for the colonization upon it of all negroes set free. In its 
plea it observed that the free negroes "from their poor and degraded 
situation where they at present reside * * * are suffering many 
privations for the want of room and opportunities for the expansion of 
genius and encouragement to industry." Congress, refusing to pursue 
a policy partial to any group of people, dismissed the petition. 9 But it 
was nevertheless true that the lot of the free negro was precarious and 
uncertain in the extreme. He was an anomaly in the scheme of society, 
an outcast in the eyes of all whites and spurned by the slaves. He 
had no political privileges, and was in constant danger of being reenslaved 
through mistake or design. According to Henry Clay, "Of all the de- 
scriptions of our population, and of either portion of the African race, 
the free people of color are by far, as a class, the most corrupt, depraved 
and abandoned. * * * They are not slaves, and yet they are not 
free. The laws, it is true, proclaim them free, but prejudices more 
powerful than any law deny them the privileges of freemen. They 
occupy a middle station between the free white population and the slaves 
of the United States, and the tendency of their habits is to corrupt 
both." 10 

It was, therefore, with eagerness that the American Colonization So- 
ciety, an organization founded in 181 6 principally by Southerners for 
the purpose of transporting slaves to Africa, was seized as a solution 
to the problem. The Kentucky Colonization Society was organized in 
1823 as an auxiliary to the national society, and was followed four years 
later by another branch. In 1832 there were thirty-one divisions scat- 
tered over the state. The opposition that had greeted the early emanci- 
pation societies of the state was lacking in connection with the coloniza- 
tion societies. Many of the most conservative and respectable citizens 
of the state belonged to these societies and worked for their success. 
For a time the interest of the state in the slavery question was directed 
toward them as offering the only solution. The Legislature declared in 
1827 that no jealousies or opposition ought to exist in Kentucky or in 
any other slave state toward the colonization society, "on the objects of 
this society, or the effects of its labors." It also resolved that it viewed 
"with deep and friendly interest the exertions of the American Col- 
onization Society in establishing an asylum on the coast of Africa, for 
the free people of color of the United States." 11 A call was made 
upon the Federal Government to protect the movement and to appro- 
priate money in its aid. 12 During 1832 numerous petitions were circu- 
lated through the state for signatures, to be forwarded to Congress, 
calling upon the United States to help send the free blacks to Africa, 
suggesting that the surplus revenues from the sale of public lands might 
be so used, and calling attention to the dangers of the increasing free 
black poulation. 13 

Henry Clay, who had been identified with the gradual emancipa- 
tionists from almost his first day in the state and who was at one time 
president of the American Colonization Society, took a great interest 

9 American State Papers, Miscellaneous, II, 278, 279. 

10 Quoted in Martin, Anti-Slavery Movement in Kentucky, 49. 

11 Acts of Kentucky, 1826, pp. 196, 197. Resolution dated January 16, 1827. 
Also see Nilcs' Register, Vol. 32, p. 80. 

12 Nibs' Register, Vol. 35, p. 387. 

13 A sample copy may be found in Breckinridge MSS. (1832). 


in the colonization movement in Kentucky. At the meeting of the state 
society in 1829 at Frankfort, he said: "If we were to invoke the great- 
est blessing on earth, which heaven, in its mercy, could now bestow on 
this nation, it would be the separation of the two most numerous races 
of its population and their comfortable establishment in distinct and 
distant countries. * * * Who, if this promiscuous residence of 
whites and blacks, of freemen and slaves, is forever to continue, can 
imagine the servile wars, the carnage and the crimes which will be its 
probable consequences, without shuddering with horror?'' 14 

The movement was soon bearing fruit. In 1833, Rev. Richard Bibb 
liberated thirty-two of his slaves, provided them with $444 and started 
them on their way to Liberia. In March of the same year 106 negroes 
left Louisville for the same destination, all but ten being from Kentucky. 
According to the report, "The emigrants left Louisville in high spirits, 
having been liberally provided with money and provisioned by the peo- 
ple of Kentucky. They were to be conveyed to New Orleans, free of 
expense, in the elegant steamboat, Mediterranean, accompanied by the 
secretary of the Kentucky Colonization Society." 15 As a method cal- 
culated to make success more certain from the standpoint both of the 
blacks after they should arrive in Liberia and also of the Kentuckians 
in arousing enthusiasm, a "Kentucky in Liberia" was set up. This was 
a separate tract of land in Liberia where all negroes from Kentucky 
should be sent, where they might work and build up their destinies 
together. Each year a few negroes were sent out, but never a very 
appreciable number. Preparations were being made in 1845 to send 200, 
but the number who actually went each year was much less. In 1853, 
63 were sent in a party; in 1855, 58, and in 1856, 61. 1G In 1845 an 
attempt was made to have the Legislature send all the free negroes in 
the state to Liberia, the state agreeing to pay their passage thither and 
afford them provisions. 17 Those who actually went to Liberia were 
made up of free negroes, as well as those liberated for the purpose. 

The national society agreed to let Kentucky spend all the money 
she should collect for sending her own negroes to Liberia. Efforts were 
early made to secure state aid, but not until 1856 was anything substan- 
tial received, when in this year the Legislature appropriated $5,000 an- 
nually for the purpose. IS But the colonization plan was a forlorn hope 
from the very outset. The amount of money necessary was many times 
larger than could ever have been raised, even had all slave-owners been 
willing to free their slaves without compensation — which was, of course, 
never the case. The whole colonization movement throughout the entire 
country is said to have removed in nineteen years the natural increase 
of only g l / 2 days. 19 

For a time the Kentucky Colonization Society engaged the main in- 
terest of the state on the slavery question. Prior to this the Kentucky 
Abolition Society, which had grown out of the Baptist slavery activities 
in 1808, had thrived for a time, and efforts were made in 1817 to 
strengthen the society by organizing a branch in Frankfort among the 
legislators. Nothing, however, came of this attempt. 20 In 1822 it had 
established a newspaper at Shelbyville, called the Abolition Intelligencer 
and Missionary Magazine. It came out only once a month, but it found 
a sentiment too weak to support it, and, being unable to strengthen it. 

14 Colton, Life and Times of Henry Clay, I, 191. 

15 Niles' Register, Vol. 44, p. 98. 

10 Ibid.. Vol. 68, p. 362; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 68, 74, 76. 

17 Martin, Anti-Slavery Movement in Kentucky, 52-54. 

18 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 76. 

19 Fish, Development of American Nationality, 164. 

20 Breckinridge MSS. (1817). Letter from N. Burrows to Joseph C. Breckin- 
ridge, Jan. 23, 1817. 


after issuing twelve numbers, it ceased to exist. About 1827 the society 
itself died a natural death; the colonization society was by this time 
monopolizing the public interest. 21 

But there was of necessity some purely emancipation sentiment left, 
despite the popularity of colonization. Many people saw that what little 
emancipating was done to afford freedmen to take to Liberia could never 
touch the real solution of slavery, and some refused to deny themselves 
the opportunity to work for general emancipation, gradual though it 
might be. In 1828 a petition came up to the Legislature from Hopkins 
County praying that body that something be done toward the cause of 
emancipation. In its answer the Legislature admitted that slavery was 
an evil that all wished to be rid of, but it reminded the petitioners that 
Kentucky could not deal with the question like the Northern States, 
which had no negro population. "With them," it said, "the evil to be 
subdued was a pigmy ; with us it is a monster ; with them a superfluous 
and decaying limb was to be removed ; with us the destroying worm is 
to be sought in the roots. There the system, full of health and vigor, 
submitted cheerfully to the simple cure; here the disease, exhibiting 
itself in its greatest strength and worst form, must receive a different 
treatment and be gradually subdued by persevering but not abrupt rem- 
edies." 22 A new emancipation society was desired, which should be very 
considerate of the slaveholders, but which would carry forward a definite 
program toward the ultimate freeing of all slaves. Different plans were 
being considered, but all pointed toward gradual emancipation. In 183 1 
John Green wrote Robert J. Breckinridge advocating the organization of 
a society whose members should pledge themselves to free all their slaves 
born after the following Fourth of July, the males at twenty-five and the 
females at twenty-one. He also suggested that prizes be offered for the 
best essays on the subject of emancipation and that they be published 
and distributed. "Let us proceed circumspectly," he said, "and fortify 
as we go. Let no untenable ground be occupied — and above all avoid 
mystery." 23 

Breckinridge was interested in the movement, but apparently was 
not proceeding fast enough to suit Green. The latter was very anxious 
to organize the society as soon as possible. In a later letter he said: 
"Public opinion will not remain stationary. The spirit of emancipa- 
tion must advance or its antagonist, the slave-holding policy, will prevail, 
and we shall soon have gag laws passed, as in the South, which will put 
an effectual stop to all our efforts. Let us then have our meeting, organ- 
ize the society and commence publishing our sentiments in every quarter 
of the state. We can take the non-slaveholders with us, and they con- 
stitute the majority. With the slaveholders, the principal danger arises 
from insisting too much on the present tense. If you invite them to 
consider the measure as a work to be effected at some indefinite future 
day, they look on it as a thing that does not immediately effect [sic] 
their interests. It is only when you call on them to act now that their 
feelings revolt from it as from present death." 24 A few societies were 
organized within the following few years, but were or short lives. In 
1833, under the influence of James G. Birney, a Kentuckian born in 
Danville, "The Kentucky Sociefy for the Relief of the State from 
Slavery" was formed, with only nine members to begin with. For the 
next year or two it seemed to show some life, increasing to about seventy 
members and building up a few branches, but it soon thereafter died 
down. Another society was formed about the same time, known as the 

21 Martin, Anti-Slavery Movement in Kentucky, 40-48. 
™ Breckinridge MSS. (1828). 

23 Breckinridge MSS. (1831). Letter dated January 12, 1831 

24 Breckinridge MSS. (1832). To Robert J. Breckinridge, dated September 17, 


Ashmum Association, but it had even a more speedy death than the for- 
mer. 26 As the first move in the effort to emancipate the offspring of 
slaves at a given time, fifty slaveholders agreed to meet in Lexington on 
July 4, 1832, "under the conviction that there are insurmountable obsta- 
cles to the general emancipation of the present generation of slaves, but 
equally convinced of the necessity and practicability of emancipating their 
future offspring." 26 

Attacks on slavery wherever it existed were now moving forward 
with uncompromising vigor and intoleration, carried forward by Benja- 
min Lundy and William Lloyd Garrison. This was to be a war of 
aggression against a union with slaveholders; and the Constitution, 
which supported such a union was "a league with death and a covenant 
with Hell." Birney succeeded in bringing Kentucky directly into the 
movement by organizing in 1835 the Kentucky Abolition Society as a 
branch of the American Anti-Slavery Society, founded by Garrison two 
years previously. This represented a brand of slavery opposition which 
was new to Kentuckians ; no half-way measures, such as gradual emanci- 
pation, were now to be used to waste time upon. Emancipation, imme- 
diate and complete, obtained by fair means or foul (for the cause hal- 
lowed the means), was now the battle-cry. This had the direct effect 
of killing at one blow the various emancipation organizations in the 
state, for the great body of Kentuckians were not yet willing to try so 
desperate a remedy as immediate emancipation, neither were they ready 
to be given advice by outsiders on a question which they considered to be 
peculiarly their own concern. When Kentuckians caught the significance 
of the movement almost consternation reigned. Meetings were held 
widely over the state, which passed resolutions of denunciation. One 
of the main causes that precipitated this outburst of feelings was the 
announcement of Birney that he would set up an anti-slavery paper, 
"The Philanthropist," at Danville. The indignation meeting held at 
Danville appointed thirty-three on a committee to draw up an address to 
Birney. The people were profoundly moved; they seriously proceeded 
to express their inalterable determination to stop Birney's paper. They 
said in part : "We address you now in calmness and candor that should 
characterize law-abiding men, as willing to avoid violence as they are 
willing to meet extremity, and advise you of the peril that must and 
immediately will attend the .execution of your purpose. We propose to 
you to postpone the setting up of your press and the publication of your 
paper until application can be had to the Legislature, who will by a posi- 
tive law set. rules for your observance, or, by a refusal to act, admonish 
us of our duty. We admonish you, sir, as citizens of the same neigh- 
borhood, as members of the same society in which you live and move, 
and for whose harmony and, quiet we feel the most sincere solicitude, to 
beware how you make an experiment here which no American slavehold- 
ing community has found itself able to bear." Birney, refusing to be 
intimidated, made preparations to establish this paper. . The committee 
then, in order to avoid violence, bought out the printer and threatened 
anyone who should aid the project. The postmaster declared he would 
receive no abolition papers in .the postoffice, if Birney published them ; 
whereupon the latter now became convinced of the impossibility of his 
task and left for Cincinnati. 27 

Although Birney was now removed from ,the state and played no 
direct part in its slavery discussion and agitation, he left behind others 
who were willing to carry the fight on. In 1835 a meeting was held in 
Shelby County, which passed resolutions condemning slavery as "both a 

25 Martin, Anti-Slavery Movement in Kentucky, 68-72. 

28 Niles' Register, Vol. 42, p. 300. 

27 Martin, Anti-Slavery Movement in Kentucky, 74-78. 


moral and a political evil, and a violation of the natural rights of man." 
But this meeting was not actuated by an unreasoning abolition sen- 
timent, which had characterized Birney's latter course in -the state. It 
declared that "the additional value which would be given to our property 
and its products by the introduction of free white labor, would in itself 
be sufficient^ under a system of gradual emancipation, to transport the 
whole of our colored population." Its conservatism was further attested 
by the resolution, "That no system of emancipation will meet with our 
approbation, unless colonization be inseparably connected with it, and 
that any scheme of emancipation which will leave the blacks within our 
borders, is more to be depreciated than slavery itself." 28 

The Presbyterians, who had long been interested as a religious de- 
nomination in slavery, in 1835 issued "An Address to the Presbyterians 
of Kentucky, proposing a Plan for the Instruction and Emancipation 
of their Slaves." John C. Young, president of Centre College, was the 
author of the, address. "We all admit," he said, "that the system of 
slavery which exists among us is not right. Why then do we assist in 
perpetuating it? Why do we make no serious efforts to terminate it? 
Is it not because our perception of its sinfulness is very feeble and indis- 
tinct, while our perception of the difficulties of instructing and emanci- 
pating our slaves is strong and clear ? As long as we believe that slavery, 
as it exists among us, is a light ei'il in the sight of God, so long will we 
feel inclined to pronounce every plan that can be devised for its termina- 
tion inexpedient or impracticable." 29 Slavery was declared to be bad 
and "in violation of the laws of God" because it deprived people of the 
rights of property, personal liberty, and personal security, and because 
it produced great cruelty on the part of master, and licentiousness among 
slaves, and demoralized both whites and blacks. It was a "system which 
exhibits powers without responsibility, toil without recompense, life with- 
out liberty, law without justice, wrongs without redress, infamy without 
crime, punishment without guilt, and families without marriage — a sys- 
tem which will not only make victims of the present unhappy genera- 
tion, inflicting upon them the degradation, the contempt, the lassitude, 
and the anguish of hopeless oppression, but which even aims at trans- 
mitting this heritage of injury and woe to their children and their chil- 
dren's children, down to their latest posterity." But with all this right- 
eous indignation, the radical abolition plans emanating from the North 
were not urged. Emancipation should be gradual and according to a 
system — a period should be set for each slave at the end of which a 
termination of his servitude should result. But in the meantime he 
should be educated for citizenship; he should be prepared to stand alone 
when freedom should come. According to the plan, "Let the full future 
liberty of the slave be secured against all contingencies by a recorded 
deed of emancipation, to take effect at a specified time. In the mean- 
while, let the servant be treated with kindness ; let all those things which 
degrade him be removed; let, him enjoy means of instruction; let his 
moral and religious improvement be sought ; let his prospects be pre- 
sented before him, to stimulate him to acquire those habits of foresight, 
economy, industry, activity, skill, and integrity, which will fit him for 
-using well the liberty he is soon to enjoy." 30 

But during the period, 1830-1840, the progress toward emancipa- 
tion, gradual or immediate, lost ground. A reaction was setting in. The 
activity of northern abolitionists did an infinite deal of harm to the 
gradual emancipation cause in Kentucky. In the. face of the onset of 
outside meddling, the opinion of the state tended to unite in solid opposi- 

28 Niles' Register, Vol. 48, p. 312. 

29 R. L. Stanton, The Church and the Rebellion (New York, 1864), 424. 

30 Stanton, The Church and the Rebellion, 438, 439. 


tion against interference with slavery in any way. Many who had here- 
tofore joined heartily ,in the movement for gradual emancipation either 
became lukewarm or deserted it altogether. Henry Clay, who had 
always been the friend of emancipation, was ill pleased at the meddling 
by outside abolitionists. On this he said in 1839, "Instead .of advancing 
that cause [emancipation] by their efforts, they have thrown back for 
half a century, the prospect of any species of emancipation of the Afri- 
can , race, gradual or immediate, in any of the states. The proposition 
in Kentucky for a gradual emancipation, did not prevail; but it was sus- 
tained by a large and respectable minority. That minority had increased, 
and was increasing, until the abolitionists began their operations. The 
effect has been to dissipate all prospects whatever, for the present, 
of any scheme of gradual or other emancipation. The people of that 
state have become shocked and alarmed by these abolition movements, 
and the number, who would now favor a system even of gradual eman- 
cipation, is probably less than it was in the years ijgS-'g." A movement 
for a constitutional convention, in which the friends of emancipation 
were expecting to redeem Kentucky from slavery had gained great 
headway, and a vote was taken on the question in 1838, but disastrous 
failure resulted. Clay laid the failure directly to the Northern abolition- 
ists. "But for the agitation of the question of abolition," said Clay, "in 
states, whose population, in the opinion of the people of Kentucky, had 
no right to interfere in the matter, the vote for a convention would have 
been much larger, if it had not been carried. Only about one-fourth of 
the people voted for it." "Prior to the agitation of this question of 
abolition," he continued, "there was a progressive melioration in the 
condition of slaves throughout all the slave states. In some of them, 
schools of instruction were opened by humane and religious persons. 
These are all now checked; and a spirit of insubordination having, shown 
itself in some localities, traceable, it is believed, to abolition movements 
and exertions, the legislative authorities have found it expedient to in- 
fuse fresh vigor into the police, and laws which regulate the conduct 
of the slaves." 31 

The Legislature in a set of resolutions in 1836 resented the officious- 
ness of the Northern abolition societies. It declared that for the institu- 
tion of slavery, "the people of Kentucky hold themselves responsible to 
no earthly tribunal, but will refer their case to Him alone, through the 
mysterious dispensations of whose Providence, dominion has been given 
to the white man over the black. He alone may judge of its compati- 
bilitv with his will, and of its political expediency, we who witness its 
practical operation, are best competent to speak." As to the charges of 
throttling the freedom of speech and discussion, "Enough has transpired 
to convince them, that under the miserable perverted name of free dis- 
cussion, these incendiaries will be permitted to scatter their fire-brands 
throughout the country, with no check but that which may be imposed 
by the feeble operation of public opinion. * * * The freedom of 
the press is one thing — licentiousness another." And Kentucky pub- 
lished to the country that the slave states "are hereby assured of the 
earnest co-operation of the state of Kentucky, to resist, at all hazards, 
every effort to interfere with that subject either by Congress, any state, 
or combination of private persons." 32 From now on, opposition of a 
bitter kind was constantly the result of the abolition missionaries' attempt 
to convert Kentucky. Governor Clark in 1838 warned the abolitionists 
of the danger of their course. He advocated the passing of laws which 
would keep their propaganda out of the state, as their real purpose, he 

31 Colton, Life and Times of Henry Clay, I, 195. 

32 Acts of Kentucky, 183S, pp. 683-686. Resolutions dated March 1. 


believed, was to inflame the minds of the slaves rather than convert the 
slaveholder. 33 

Kentucky was developing more and more into a common interest with 
the rest of the slave holding states, and her leadership was .coming to 
be identified with the leadership of the South. The Missouri Compro- 
mise had played an important part in the development of Kentucky 
feeling on the subject of slavery. She not only saw an attempt being 
made by a growing power to exclude slavery from a state, but she 
saw something even more dangerous, the subversion of the constitution 
by imposing conditions on one state not required of the others. The 
Legislature preferring to place its main objection on the former prin- 
ciple, rather than on the latter, declared that it "refrains from expressing 
any opinion either in favor or against the principle of slavery." 34 The 
St. Tammany Society of Lexington expressed in a toast at a banquet 
a more resolute feeling: "The Sovereign and Independent State of 
Missouri. 'Bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.' Her enemies in strik- 
ing at her must pierce us through the heart." 35 This same growing in- 
toleration of slavery expressed itself in 1844 in the recommendation of 
Massachusetts to amend the constitution so as to abolish the additional 
representation in Congress given the slave state through the operation of 
the "Three-fifths Rule" on slavery. In answer to this Kentucky said 
that she believed this attempt at amendment "would not only tend, by its 
agitation, to weaken the bonds of union that now holds them together, 
but that any effort to carry, their views out would most undoubtedly dis- 
solve the union on the States." 38 

Kentucky was brought into direct collision with Northern states on 
the slavery question at a very early time, in connection with runaway 
slaves. The long line of the northern border of the state abutted on 
three free states, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and the barrier of the 
Ohio River could easily be crossed by the fugitive slave, especially when 
aided by sympathizers from beyond the river. Almost with the begin- . 
ning of the nineteenth century slaves were making their escape across 
the Ohio, and the difficulties surrounding attempts to recover them 
were growing and becoming more exasperating. In 1816 the Legisla- 
ture complained that there was too much obstruction in the states of 
Ohio and Indiana against the apprehension of fugitive slaves, and called 
upon the governor to enter into correspondence with the governors 
of those states to secure better laws against runaways. 37 In 1817 Gov- 
ernor Slaughter reported to the Legislature that he had complied with 
their resolution and was happy to inform them that the governors beyond 
the river had promised "to remove as far as practicable every cause of 
complaint." 38 The Ohio governor replied that he was informed "there 
is neither a defect in the laws or want of energy on the part of those 
who execute them." "That a universal prejudice," he said, "against 
slavery does exist and is cherished is to be expected, and that a desire 
as universal to get rid of every species of negro population exists, is, 
in my opinion, as certain." 39 

With the agitation of gradual emancipation, the slaves became mildly 
restless ; but when the abolition movement got well started and began 
to send out its emissaries, who not only sought to make the slaves dis- 
contented, but even concocted plots and assisted them to escape beyond 
the Ohio, the slaves began to run away in ever increasing numbers. 

83 Kentucky Gazette, Dec. 6, 1838. Message to the Legislature of December 4th. 

34 N lies' Register, Vol. 17, p. 344- 

35 Kentucky Gazette, May 19, 1820. 

36 Acts of Kentucky, 1843, pp. 269-279. 

37 Acts of Kentucky, 1816, p. 282. 

3S Niles' Register, Vol. 13, p. 386. Message to Legislature, December 2, 1817. 

38 W. H. Smith, A Political History of Slavery (New York, 1903), I, 21. 


The elements of continual friction were called into play ; the northern 
banks of the river were swarming with people ready and anxious to help 
slaves escape and not averse to crossing into Kentucky to carry on their 
work, and the southern banks afforded many hunters who carried on 
their quests with increasing exasperation to the inhabitants of Ohio, 
Indiana, and Illinois. There were abuses on both sides. To assist a 
slave to escape was in direct violation of a law of Congress, and as 
slave-owners had some reason to think, as objectionable as to steal any 
other portions of their property. On the other hand, slave-hunters north 
of the Ohio developed too often into kidnapping expeditions. Free ne- 
groes were brought back either through mistake or design, too often. 
In 1 819 a free negro was kidnapped in Ohio and sold in Kentucky by 
one Bell, who upon the requisition of the Ohio Governor, was promptly 
delivered over by the Governor of Kentucky. In this connection the 
former said, "While enormities like the one complained of are committed, 
the citizens of Kentucky should not complain that those of Ohio should 
feel an interest in requiring proof of ownership however inconvenient to 
the proprietors, before they consent to the removal of negroes against 
their will. The want of such evidence and the violence of attempting to 
remove them without the warrant of the constituted authority, I suspect, 
have been the chief causes of the difficulty which actual proprietors have 
experienced in reclaiming their slaves in Ohio ; and the villainy of un- 
principled kidnappers has aroused the people in some districts into a ven- 
geance which I hope you will think laudable, to guard against the per- 
petrators of so dark a crime." 40 Kentucky's laws were, perhaps, unduly 
generous to the person wanted beyond the river for carrying off free 
negroes. He was given the right to prove before a Kentucky court that 
he was not the person wanted or that he was the actual owner of the slave, 
and on the establishment of proof in either case he was relieved from 
extradition. 41 

In the latter '30s the fugitive slaves crossing the Ohio greatly in- 
creased. The trial in 1838 of John B. Mahan, a Methodist preacher, 
in the Circuit Court of Mason County, for assisting slaves to escape from 
Kentucky, attracted much attention. It was proved that he had aided 
fifteen, but as it had been done in Ohio, the court dismissed the case on 
the ground of want of jurisdiction. 42 Escapes were becoming so fre- 
quent and enticements so clever that the Legislature often took occasion 
to call upon the governor to bring the state's northern neighbors to a 
sense of their duty. In one set of resolutions it was declared that a 
master could hardly risk his slaves on a steamer with himself any more 
for fear of their escape. Although feeling that there were only a few 
people across the river "by whose artful, cruel, ill digested and fanatic 
notions of civil rights, the injuries referred to are inflicted," yet, fearing 
a continuance of this practice might strain good relations, the Legislature 
called for better legislation on the question from Ohio, Indiana, and Illi- 
nois. 43 The charges of kidnapping were made often without any basis 
in fact. Those seeking slaves, after recovering them, were often set upon 
by mobs and the slaves freed, or they were arrested and held as kidnap- 
pers, before they could take their slaves to a magistrate to establish own- 
ership. According to the Legislature "The master thus finds himself a 
prisoner and the servant set free." As a result of such conditions, the 
masters looking for their slaves had to work with great secrecy and 
often with little effect. The Legislature declared that it wanted laws to 
protect free negroes in the states north of the Ohio, but at the same time 

40 Smith, Political History of Slavery, 21, 22. 

41 See Ibid., 45. 

42 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 43 ; Smith, Political History of Slavery, I, 44. 

43 Acts of Kentucky, 1836, pp. 353, 354- Dated February 3, 1837. 


it also desired laws lhat would not obstruct the recovery of bona fide 
slaves. Ohio was declared to be one of the worst offenders in this re- 
spect. 44 

As the periodical resolutions of protest of the Kentucky Legislature 
seemed to have very little effect on Ohio, in 1839 it was decided to send 
a commission of two to the governor and Legislature of Ohio to demand 
protection for Kentucky slavery against evil-disposed citizens of that 
state. 45 James T. Morehead and John Speed Smith were appointed to 
carry on the negotiations. At first it seemed that they were to be received 
with little civility and consideration, when they were refused permis- 
sion to address the Legislature. This caused a momentary flurry of 
resentment in Kentucky. The editor of the Kentucky Gazette said, 
"The want of courtesy on the part of Ohio may, we fear, lead to events 
calculated to sour the feelings of the citizens of the two States, mani- 
festly injurious to the interests and fraternal harmony which should 
subsist between neighboring States." 40 But first impressions were 
wrong; Ohio showed commendable zeal in bringing about the much 
needed understanding. A law was passed, 23 to 11 in the Senate and 
53 to 15 in the House, punishing those who abducted slaves or aided in 
their abduction or escape by a fine not exceeding S500, or imprisonment 
not exceeding sixty days, and by levying on the offenders all damages to 
the aggrieved persons. 47 

The situation in Indiana was much less exasperating than in Ohio. 
Outside of a few unpleasant incidents that were more or less forgotten 
by this time, the relations of the two states on the slavery question 
had been marked by cordiality and good understanding. 48 There were 
fewer underground railways through this state than through Ohio — 
the main stations on the Kentucky border being Lawrenceburg, Madi- 
son. New Albany, Leavenworth, and Evansville. At the same time Ken- 
tucky was attempting to settle her long-standing troubles with Ohio, she 
was complimenting Indiana for her recent declaration (passed in the 
House 87 to 1 and in the Senate 40 to 1) that the interference by a state 
or by Congress with a state's domestic institutions "is highly reprehen- 
sible, unpatriotic, and injurious to the peace and stability of the Union 
of the States." * 9 The continued good relations of the two states were 
shown in the promptness that generally marked the Indiana governor's 
compliance with the requisitions of the Kentucky governor for persons 
wanted in connection with slave-stealing. 50 In 1854 Governor Wright 
of Indiana was invited by Governor Powell to visit Kentucky. He was 
met at Louisville by a committee of the Legislature and taken to Frank- 
fort, where he was given an enthusiastic welcome. 51 

Illinois did not enter seriously into Kentucky's fugitive slave troubles. 
There was only one important underground railway station on the state's 
Illinois border — that being Cairo. 

But notwithstanding the laws of one state and the good intentions of 
another, the number of slaves carried away increased by leaps and 

44 Acts of Kentucky, 1834, PP- 436-438. Dated February 16, 1835. 

45 Ibid., 1839, pp. 389. 39°- Dated January 4, 1839. 

46 Jan. 31, 1839. 

47 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 44. 

48 In 1820 the Indiana governor demanded of Kentucky the delivery of the Breck- 
inridge County representative in the Legislature for "apprehending and bringing away 
a runaway slave from that state." The Kentucky House unanimously refused to 
surrender the member in question. Kentucky Gazette, Feb. 4, 1820. 

49 Acts of Kentucky, 1838, pp. 390, 391. Kentucky resolution dated February 23, 

60 For example the case in 1845 where a free mulatto was delivered over to the 
Kentucky authorities for his part in stealing slaves from Harrodsburg. Collins. 
History of Kentucky, I, 50. 

51 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 70. 


bounds, beginning about 1841. Now began a well-knit, systematic under- 
ground railway organization with its agents and its stations. The losses 
to Kentucky in runaway slaves was said to be $200,000 annually. 52 The 
reward offered for the capture of fugitive slaves was increased at dif- 
ferent times, until in i860 it was $150. Some unprincipled abolitionists 
took advantage of this reward at the expense of their honor by abducting 
slaves, hiding them until the reward was offered, and then, double- 
crossing the slave, leading him back to his master. 53 Abolitionists became 
bold in their work. Many were not content to simply aid the fugitives 
cross the Ohio and pilot them to places of safety, but they carried the 
war into the heart of the enemy's country. Some went through purely 
humanitarian feeling, while others added a feature of gain. In 1849 an 
abolitionist appeared in Fayette and Bourbon counties, offering to pilot 
slaves to safety for $10 each. He soon gathered up a party of more than 
forty slaves and set out for the Ohio River. Efforts were immediately 
made to stop them; and a battle took place in which the negroes were 
scattered and captured and the ringleader taken. The abolitionist was 
brought to Lexington, tried for enticing slaves away, convicted of the 
charge, and sentenced to the state penitentiary for twenty years. 54 Soon 
after this a plot engineered by abolitionists to lead off about forty 
negroes in Woodford County was discovered and frustrated. 55 But 
more often these plots were successful and groups of slaves made their 
way into free states. On one day in 1852 no less than fifty-five crossed 
the river. 50 A case of persistent plotting and scheming to lead slaves out 
of the state was that of Miss Delia A. Webster, of Vermont, who was 
apprehended in abducting slaves and was sentenced to two years in the 
state penitentiary. On account of her sex, the jury recommended a 
pardon to the governor, who gave it. Calvin Fairbanks, who was an 
accomplice of Miss Webster, was sentenced to fifteen years in the peni- 
tentiary. Nine years later, in 1854, Miss Webster began her operations 
again. She first settled in Madison, across the river in Indiana, where 
she assisted escaping slaves; but soon becoming bolder she moved to the 
Kentucky side. Meetings of indignant citizens in the surrounding coun- 
ties were immediately held, and Miss Webster was forced to leave the 
state again. 57 

Attempts to recover slaves were generally impeded by private in- 
dividuals as well as the officers of justice in the states north of the 
Ohio. In 1845, a Kentuckian found certain escaped slaves in San- 
dusky, Ohio, and attempted to bring them back to their master ; but 
through the machinations of the officers of the government and certain 
abolitionists, the rescued slaves were freed again. 58 An incident that 
created great excitement in Kentucky took place in Marshall, Michigan, 
in 1847 where some Kentuckians were attempting to recover six runaway 
slaves found there. As they were about to lead the fugitives before a 
magistrate, a mob gathered, composed of free negroes, runaway slaves, 
and white men to the number of from 200 to 300, and armed with guns, 
clubs and other weapons, and informed the Kentuckians that no trial was 
necessary, as the fugitives would not be permitted to be taken away under 
any circumstances, by moral, physical, or legal force — that though the 
law might be on the side of the Kentuckians, popular sentiment was 
against the law. Having through mob force carried out its purpose, the 

62 W. H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom (New 
York, 1899), 352. 

53 Marryat, Diary in America, I, 235. 

54 Kentucky Yeoman, 1848; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 57 

55 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 57. 
60 Ibid., 57, 66. 

57 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 50, 71. 

58 Ibid., 50. j 


crowd now resolved itself into a mass meeting to ratify its actions. The 
question was put whether or not the negroes should be taken before a 
magistrate, and it was promptly decided in the negative. A resolution 
was then carried calling upon the Kentucky agents to leave town within 
two hours; but before this could be done, they were arrested, found 
guilty of trespass, and fined $100. One of them was bound over to the 
next court on the charge of drawing a pistol. According to an affidavit 
of one of the agents, "Many were the insults offered affiant by the lead- 
ing members of the mob, who informed him at the same time that it 
was just such treatment as a Kentuckian deserves when attempting to 
recapture a slave, and that they intended to make an example of him, 
that others might take warning." Regardless of the evils of slavery and 
of all of its results, this treatment of the Kentuckians was a travesty on 
justice and it could not do otherwise than arouse the bitter resentment 
of the State of Kentucky against Michigan. She called on that state 
"to give the subject that consideration which its importance demands, 
and to take such action thereon as in the judgment of said Legislature is 
deemed proper and right, with a view to maintain that peace, amity 
and good feeling which ought to exist between the citizens of the States 
of Michigan and Kentucky." Kentucky further declared that "such con- 
duct and such outrages committed upon the rights and citizens of the 
State of Kentucky, or any other State of the Union, must necessarily 
result in great mischief, and is well calculated, and must, if persisted 
in by the citizens of Michigan, or any other free States of the Union, 
terminate in breaking up and destroying the peace and harmony that is 
desirable by every good citizen of all the States of this Union, should 
exist between the several States and the constitutional rights of the 
citizens of the slave States," and called upon Congress to pass such 
legislation as would protect the slave states in their rights to recover their 
runaway slaves. 59 

Little satisfaction was ever had from free state courts and officials 
in attempts to recover fugitives. It was always easy for governors to 
cater to public sentiment and find reasons for not delivering up persons 
wanted in Kentucky. Ohio was the greatest sinner in this respect. 60 
But when the cases were brought in the Federal courts, Kentucky re- 
ceived the benefits of the laws. In 1843 J onn Van Zandt was tried in 
the Federal Court at Cincinnati on the charge of aiding fugitive slaves 
and was assessed $1,200 damages, and a few days later in another similar 
action another verdict of S500 was entered against him. 81 A few years 
later in the Federal District Court at Columbus, Ohio, a Sandusky lawyer 
was fined S3 ,000 for assisting runaways from Kentucky. 62 In Indian- 
apolis the Federal Circuit Court in 1850 entered a verdict against a 
group of abolitionists who had forcibly taken fugitives from their 
owner after he had recovered them. 83 

69 "Resolutions of the Legislature of Kentucky in Favor of the Passage of a Law 
by Congress ... to recover Slaves . . ." in Senate Misc. Docs., 30 Cong., 
1 Sess., No. 19; Acts of Kentucky, 1846, pp. 385-388. 

60 In 1845 Governor Bartley of Ohio refused the requisition of the Kentucky 
governor for a person charged with kidnapping slaves. There were many other 
instances of this kind. Coflins, History of Kentucky, I, 50. The most celebrated^ in- 
stance of this kind of trouble was in the case which was appealed to the United 
States Supreme Court decided in Kentucky versus Dennison in 1861. The court 
was asked to issue a writ of mandamus to compel the Ohio governor to deliver a 
person wanted in Kentucky for aiding a slave to escape. Chief Justice Taney 
declared it was the duty of the Ohio governor to deliver over the person, but 
admitted the court had no means of compelling it. For the decision see Kentucky 
Z'S. Dennison, 24 Howard, 66. 

61 Ibid., 48, 49. Salmon P. Chase was one of his attorneys. 

62 Ibid., 73- 

63 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 60. See also Ibid., 61. For successful actions 
in state courts, see Ibid., 46. 


Athough many fugitive slaves stopped in the free states and entered 
into the life of the community, still there was always the danger of 
detection and return to their masters, as was provided for in the Fugi- 
tive Slave Law. It was therefore the ultimate hope of most fugitives to 
reach Canada, where they could be forever safe from their master's 
searches. The slaves learned of the Canadian refuge, as early as the 
end of the War of 1812, and it was the hope of reaching it that set 
many of them in motion in the beginning of the fugitive slave movement. 
In 1823 Kentucky said that since "large numbers of slaves, the property 
of the citizens of this commonwealth, escape from the service of their 
masters, and get into the British provinces of Canada," where it was 
impossible to get them, and since "this evil of late has been growing 
to such magnitude, that unless it is checked, may ultimately mar the 
peace and harmony which at present fortunately exists between the 
government of the United States and that of Great Britain," the Fed- 
eral Government should make treaty arrangements with that nation in 
the interest of returning fugitive slaves. 64 But England's advanced 
ideas on slavery made such a negotiation very difficult if not impossible. 
Such a treaty was never made, despite the state's frequent attempts to 
have one negotiated. On the very eve of the Civil war, Kentucky again 
was calling on the Federal Government to secure such a treaty. 63 

The determination of the state to protect the institution of slavery 
continued to increase as time went on despite the fact that slavery was 
becoming relatively less important in the commonwealth. The old idea 
inherited from Virginia that no slaves should be imported into the state 
for sale was greatly modified by laws passed in 1814 and 181 5. The 
original intention of the person bringing in slaves was made the test, 
and no person or agency could establish that intention except the master 
himself. Original intentions could be easily changed, and imported 
slaves might then be sold as Kentucky slaves ; or indeed might they not 
be hired out for ninety-nine years? This, in fact, was done. In 1833, 
a new law was passed which restored the original practice — thereby 
prohibiting the importation of slaves except by bona fide emigrants, or 
where they were inherited by residents. 66 This law was not brought 
about by abolition sentiment, but rather by the desire of Kentuckians 
generally, to control the institution and prevent its growth into a more 
menacing problem. 

As a majority of Kentuckians were not slaveholders, there existed 
a widespread sentiment that the laws of the state which provided for 
the payment to the master of the value of any slave that should be 
executed for crimes, should be repealed or amended to work in a more 
equitable manner. By the act of 181 1, there were four crimes committed 
by slaves punishable with death. These were conspiracy and rebellion, 
poisoning with intent to kill, voluntary manslaughter, and rape. 67 Slave 
executions were not infrequent. In 1831 four slaves were hanged in 
Lexington, witnessed by a vast crowd estimated to be from 10,000 to 
20,ooo. 68 The amount of money paid out of the state treasury for 
slaves hanged was said to be $68,000 by 1830. 69 It was also asserted 
that only one-fifth of the tax-payers owned slaves. An attempt was 
made in 1830 to repeal the law allowing payment for executed slaves. 
Much exciting debate followed, resulting in the laying of the bill on the 
table to make way for a substitute which provided for a tax of one- 
s' 4 ^cta of Kentucky, 1823. 

65 Acts of Kentucky, 1859, I. This resolution was dated December 19, 1859. See 
also Ibid., 1826, 197, 198. 

66 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 37. Also see Niks' Register, Vol. 37, p. 399. 

67 McDougle, Slavery in Kentucky, 37, 38. Other crimes were added later. 

68 Argus, Aug. 17, 1831. 

69 Niks' Register, Vol. 37, p. 399. 

T7„1 TT 


fourth of i per cent to be laid on slaves to afford a fund for those 
expenses connected with slavery. This substitute was also killed, leaving 
considerable resentment among the non-slave owning population. 7 " 

As has appeared heretofore, the great weight of public sentiment in 
the state was against the precipitate dealing with the question of slavery. 
Emancipation in the indefinite future was desired by the great majority 
of the people, but the utter impracticability of it was impressing itself 
on a larger and larger number. The constant assault from the Northern 
abolitionists by propaganda and by slave stealings and enticings was fast 
exhausting the patience of the people, and making them more suspicious 
of any dealing with the question at all. An abolition society could not 
exist in Kentucky, although organized and engineered by natives; neither 
could an emancipation society, with no direct plan of action, thrive — 
a hostile sentiment prevented the former, and a lack of interest made the 
latter impossible. But there were certain persons, native Kentuckians, 
who had caught the contagion of abolition and could not repress them- 
selves. The foremost of these was Cassius M. Clay, who had received 
his education at Yale College and had there heard William Lloyd Gar- 
rison on slavery. He came back to Kentucky determined to fight slavery 
against every opposition and at all costs. He made anti-slavery speeches 
and wrote his views in the state press until his communications were 
no longer acceptable. He then determined to set up an abolition paper, 
and pour out his bitter arraignments of the "slaveocracy" without re- 
straint. According to his account, he proceeded in a heroic mood on an 
enterprise of great danger. Preparing for every form of opposition 
and attack he set up a printing office in Lexington in 1845, converting 
a brick building into a veritable arsenal. He covered the outside doors 
with sheet iron to prevent them being burned, and rolled two four- 
pounders inside, loaded them with shot and nails, and mounted them 
on a table breast high where the doors might be swung open for the 
play of the cannon on any attackers. He stocked the building with 
Mexican lances and guns, and held in readiness six or eight men pledged 
to defend him. "If defeated," he said, "they were to escape by a trap 
door in the roof ; and I had placed a keg of powder with a match, which 
I could set off, and blow up the office and all my invaders ; and this I 
should most certainly have done, in case of the last extremity." 71 

Thus prepared, he began to pour out bitter and vitriolic attacks 
against slavery in his newspaper, called The True American. He very 
quickly overshot his mark, and aroused the most solemn and fundamen- 
tal feelings of the people of Lexington and the surrounding country. 
The audacity of this apostate and renegade was impenetrable. In all 
the seriousness and with all the determination that they were capable of, 
the most respected and capable men of the times acted swiftly and 
surely, but no less orderly. On August 14, a considerable number of 
Lexington citizens met at the court house and appointed a committee to 
wait on Cassius M. Clay and request him to discontinue his paper, "as 
its further continuance, in our judgment, is dangerous to the peace of 
our community, and to the safety of our homes and families." 72 In 
their letter delivered to him, the committee said. "We do not approach 
you in the form of a threat. But we owe it to you to state, that in our 
judgment, your own safety, as well as the repose and peace of the 
community, are involved in your answer." 73 Clay from his sick bed 

■"> Ibid. 

71 The Life of Cassins Marcellus Clay. Memoirs, Writings and Speeches (Cin- 
cinnati, 1886), I, 107, 108. 

72 Collins. History of Kentucky, I. 51. The committee was composed of B. W. 
Dudley, T. H. Waters, and J. W. Hunt. 

73 Extra handbill issued by the True American, Aug. 15, 1845. A copy may be 
found in Pnrrctt Collection. 


sent a defiant answer. He declared that the statement made by the com- 
mittee that they represented a respectable portion of the community could 
not be true. He continued, "Traitors to the laws and Constitution cannot 
be deemed respectable by any but assassins, pirates, and highway rob- 
bers. * * * I treat them with the burning contempt of a brave heart 
and a loyal citizen. I deny their power and defy their action. Your 
advice with reference to my personal safety is worthy of the source 
whence it emanated, and meets with the same contempt from me which 
the purposes of your mission excite, (iu tell your secret conclave of 
cowardly assassins that Cassius M. Clay knows his rights and knows how 
to defend them." 

On receiving this challenging reply, the original meeting, which had 
adjourned to a later time in the day, immediately issued a call to the 
city and surrounding country to gather on the 18th at the court house 
"to take into consideration the most effectual steps to secure their inter- 
ests from the efforts of abolition fanatics and incendiaries." Hundreds 
of people gathered at the appointed time, and Thomas F. Marshall, a 
nephew of Chief Justice John Marshall and noted for his powers of ora- 
tory, presented an address setting forth the incendiary character of 
Clay's True American and arraigning him for his course. "On the fron- 
tier of slavery," it was declared, "with three free States fronting and 
touching us along a border of seven hundred miles, we are peculiarly 
exposed to the assaults to abolition. The plunder of our property, the 
kidnapping, stealing and abduction of our slaves, is a light evil in com- 
parison with planting a seminary for their infernal doctrines in the very 
heart of our densest slave population." An abolition newspaper in a 
slave state, it was further set forth, "is a blazing brand in the hand of 
an incendiary or madman, which may scatter ruin, conflagration, revo- 
lution, crime unnameable, over everything dear in domestic life, sacred 
in religion or respectable in modesty." 7i 

This address together with six resolutions was unanimously adopted 
by the meeting. Among the resolutions were these : that no abolition 
newspaper be allowed in Lexington, that if the True American were sur- 
rendered peaceably no injury would be done and the press should be 
sent out of the state, and "That we hope C. M. Clay will be advised. For 
by our regard to our wives, our children, our homes, our property, our 
country, our honor, wear what name he may, be connected with whom 
he may, whatever arm or party here or elsewhere may sustain him, he 
shall not publish an abolition paper here, and this we affirm at the risk, 
be it of his blood, or our own, or both ; or of all he may bring, of bond 
or free, to aid his murderous hand." A committee of sixty, composed 
of some of the leading men of Lexington, as well as of the state such as 
James B. Clay, George W. Johnson, and William B. Kinkead, was ap- 
pointed to proceed in an orderly manner to take possession of the print- 
ing office, pack up the printing apparatus, and take it to the railway 
office for transportation to Cincinnati. The committee proceeded in the 
most circumspect manner to carry out its task. The mayor of the city 
met them at the door of the printing office and informed them that their 
actions were illegal but that the city authorities were not able to resist 
them. The roll of the committee was called and the building was en- 
tered and the door closed behind. Still acting in the most orderly and 
precise fashion, the committee resolved to hold itself responsible for any- 
thing that might be lost or destroyed while they were carrying out their 
duty. Everything was carefully taken down and packed in boxes and 
lists made of the whole amount. The work was carried on so circum- 
spectly that by two o'clock when the committee was requested to report 
back to the general meeting, the task had not yet been finished. Mes- 

7i Niles' Register, Vol. 69, p. 15. 


sengers were therefore appointed to report progress to the meeting at 
the court house, and the work was continued. Clay's private papers were 
sent to him with a note of what had been done, with the further informa- 
tion that all transportation charges and expenses had been paid. In the 
meantime ex-Governor Metcalfe had addressed the general meeting. 75 

This was not the action of a mob ; it was the bursting determination 
as irresistible as any human passion aroused by the exasperation of out- 
raged feelings, but withal orderly and measured. In the words of an 
observer, it was a non-partisan meeting, "a rare spectacle of an innumer- 
able body of citizens, meeting as a matter of course with highly excited 
feelings, yet so far subduing and modifying their spirit as to accomplish 
their purpose without the slightest damage to property or their effusion 
of a drop of blood." 70 It was further added : "Man may write books 
if they please to prove that this was a lazi'lcss procedure, and in utter 
violation of the principles of the Constitution and laws, by which our 
rights and property are protected. It will avail nothing. There may be a 
state of things in which Constitution and laws are totally inadequate to 
the public protection from dire calamity, and in that event popular action 
(though usually to be deprecated) must be excused." 77 

But as this procedure had not been according to law, and as Clay 
was not disposed to surrender without an attempt at redress, a warrant 
for riot was brought against the leaders, and the trial was held in Sep- 
tember. The defendants argued that their whole intent had been to do 
a public service, that a nuisance existed which had to be abated. It 
was argued at length that the slaves had assumed a bold and menacing 
attitude toward white people since Clay had begun his activities, that 
they read his paper, that they congregated in places and became boister- 
ous, that they traveled the highways at night in the possession of fire- 
arms. The Lexington mayor testified that negroes had marched by his 
home at night with boisterous conduct as if to show their contempt and 
disdain for his authority. Judge Trotter, of the Lexington City Court, 
first instructed the jury as follows, "That if the Jury believes from the 
evidence in their cases, that the defendants to this prosecution, assem- 
bled with the intent, and did with violence and by force take posses- 
sion of the True American office, they are guilty of a riot, and they must 
find them guilty, and assess their fine in their discretion from one cent 
to one hundred dollars." The defense objected to the charge and by 
further argument and citation of cases convinced the court that it should 
give the following charge : "That if the jury believe that the True 
American press was a public nuisance, and could not exist in its then 
present location and condition, without being a nuisance, the defendants 
were justified in abating it." The case was ended by the jury giving a 
verdict of not guilty. 78 After the Mexican war, Clay sued the com- 
mittee that entered his office and recovered $2,500 damages. Clay said 
of the whole affair: " * * * I need only say here that the mob 
was utterly defeated in all their ends. I was not killed, and the Amer- 
ican, published in Cincinnati and edited by me at Lexington, increased 
in circulation in Kentucky and the Union generally, till I went to the 
Mexican War." 79 

The net result of this whole procedure was to greatly increase the 

76 Niles' Register, Vol. 69, pp. 13-15 ; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 51. 
Among the members of this committee besides those already mentioned were : Moses 
Morrison, Richard Higgins, Hiram Shaw, James B. Waller, George W. Norton, 
Franklin Til ford, Thomas H. Shelby, Thomas S. Redd, Dr. J. C. Darby, William 
R. McKee, Richard Spurr, Edward Oldham, and Dr. J. Bush. 

76 Editorial in Lexington Observer and Reporter, Aug. 20, 1845. 

77 Editorial in Lexington Observer and Reporter, Aug. 23, 1845. 

78 Lexington Observer and Reporter, Oct. 8, 1845. 

79 Life of Cassius Marcellus Clay, I, 108. 


excitement over the state against abolition doctrines and abolition med- 
dling. Jefferson, Nelson and other counties held meetings to consider 
the action of the Lexingtonians. In Mason County a meeting of the 
citizens condemned "the intemperate and inflammatory character" of 
the True American and held that Clay's reply to the first Lexington 
meeting was "conceived in a spirit of outrage, wholly unjustifiable, and 
meriting the severest reprobation, and recommended the passage of a 
law to prevent the circulation of abolition papers in the state." 80 This 
was the outgrowth of a previous meeting of Mason County citizens, 
which condemned Clay's actions as indiscreet, but by a vote of 58 to 49 
refused to sanction the action at Lexington. But Mason County still 
was not satisfied with the vigor of the resolutions that shoulld be passed 
condemning Clay, so on November 10, in pursuance to a call of 456 
citizens, another meeting was held that supplied what was wanting in 
the vigor of denunciation merited by Clay. 81 At the outbreak of the 
Mexican War, Clay joined the American forces more for the purpose 
of building up a reputation and influence which he could use in further- 
ing his attacks on slavery than for any other reason. 
. The climax in the emancipation movement came in 1849. There had 
long been 'a desire, widespread and persistent, for a convention to re- 
vise the Constitution. Numerous and varied reforms were wanted, but 
progress toward securing the convention had been greatly retarded by 
the bugaboo of tampering with slavery, that was always held out. But 
in spite of this, success was had, and the convention was called to meet 
in Frankfort in October, 1849. The expression of the state through its 
Legislature had been strong and steady in favor of slavery. In 1841 
the ultra-conservative slave leadership sought to amend the law of 1833 
prohibiting the bringing of slaves into the state for sale. A hard fight 
was carried out in the Legislature, which resulted in their defeat, how- 
ever, in the House by a vote of 53 to 34. According to the Louisville 
Journal, "No question which has come before the Kentucky Legislature 
for years has produced so much excitement as this." 82 But their 
aggressive power was growing. In 1849 the House declared unani- 
mously that it was "opposed to abolition or emancipation of slavery in 
any form or shape whatever, except as now provided for by the con- 
stitution and laws of the state." 83 A few weeks later, on February 24, 
a complete victory was secured in the repeal of the law of 1833. All 
the progress toward the final extinction of slavery made since 181 5 
was now gone; slaves could again be brought into the state for sale. 84 
The emancipationists, conscious of the great difficulty of securing state- 
wide legislation looking toward emancipation, sought to have local option 
adopted. They would have the right given to the counties to vote 
slavery out by a two-thirds majority, and thus, little by little, reclaim 
the state for freedom. Nothing came of these efforts. 85 

The election of the Constitutional Convention afforded the oppor- 
tunity for the greatest conflict between the emancipationists and the pro- 
slavery adherents, whose decision would be immutable and final. The 
former especially began early to prepare for the fight to capture as 
many of the delegates to the convention as possible. They had some 
strong leaders, who were powers in the state. Henry Clay had never 
swerved from his earliest principles on slavery, viz : gradual emancipa- 
te Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 52. 

81 Lexington Observer and Reporter, Oct. 18, 1845 ; Collins, History of Kentucky, 

I, 52. i a . _ 1 

82 Quoted in Niks' Register, Vol. 59, p. 323. 

83 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 58 ; Niles' Register, Vol. 75, p. 109. 

84 McDougle, Slavery in Kentucky, 46 ; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 58. 

86 Martin, Anti-Slavery Movement in Kentucky, 121. The Louisville Examiner, 
of abolition leanings, advocated this plan. 


tion with colonization, and he had never ceased to fight for them. In 
February, 1849, he restated them in his well-known letter to Richard 
Pindell, of Lexington. Again he argued for emancipation so gradual 
as not to disturb society. Colonization was the key-stone in his arch; 
the freed negroes should be sent to Africa, and he stated his plan. 
The slave, on receiving his freedom, should be hired out for three 
years and the funds thus accumulated from his labors should be used 
in paying for transportation and six months' subsistence. 88 Clay thus 
lent his influence toward furthering the movement to provide for 
emancipation in the new constitution. 

In organizing for the campaign the emancipationists held a meeting 
in Lexington on April 14, where they expressed the sentiments that 
slavery was contrary to the natural rights of man, was opposed to the 
fundamental principles of free government, was inconsistent with a state 
of sound morality, and was hostile to the prosperity of the common- 
wealth. A state-wide convention was recommended to meet in Frank- 
fort on April 25, where the policy of the emancipationists could be formu- 
lated and agreed upon. Henry Clay and Robert J. Breckinridge were 
the moving spirits in this Lexington meeting. 87 

On the appointed time the convention met in the capitol building with 
150 delegates from 24 counties. Both parties and all classes of opponents 
of slavery were represented, from such extremists as Cassius M. Clay 
and John G. Fee through the more moderate, such as Robert J. Breck- 
inridge to sound rationalists like Henry Clay. According to the press 
report, "The Convention is quite large, presenting a highly respectable 
appearance, and composed of intelligent looking men — many of them 
divines of different denominations.'' 8S In order to prevent division and 
also escape the dangers of being too specific, the convention adopted no 
direct plan of emancipation, but reasserted the old principle of gradual 
emancipation, to operate only on those born after the system should 
be set up, and to be connected with colonization. With this general 
statement of principles, it was resolved that only those candidates should 
be voted for who were against the further importation of slaves into the 
state, and for the right of the people, incorporated in the new constitution, 
to institute "a system of gradual, prospective emancipation of slaves." 80 

A vigorous campaign was carried on. Henry Clay, Robert J. Breck- 
inridge, John C. Young, William L. Breckinridge, Stuart Robinson, John 
R. Underwood, and many other men of recognized leadership supported 
the movement. Robert J. Breckinridge was a candidate, and made a 
very active fight for election. He was being constantly called upon by 
the emancipationists for speeches. 90 He issued an address to the people 
on "The Question of Negro Slavery and the New Constitution," reiterat- 
ing the evils of slavery and calling upon the people now to take advantage 
of the opportunity to rid themselves of the blight. "Now is it," he said, 
"for the interest, the honor, the riches, the power, the glory, the peace, 
the advancement, the happiness, of this great Commonwealth, to exert 
her sovereign power in such a way, and to the intent, that involuntary, 
hereditary, domestic, negro slavery shall be indefinitely increased and 
everlastingly established in her bosom? Men of Kentucky, ask yourselves 
the question !" 91 The strong conservatives of both parties became 
frightened and in some instances united on their candidates against the 

80 Martin, Anti-Slavery Movement in Kentucky, 124-126. 

87 Stanton, The Church and the Rebellion, 441. 

88 Kentucky Yeoman, April 26, 1849. 

89 Kentucky Yeoman, May 3, 1849; Martin, Anti-Slavery Movement in Ken- 
tucky, 129-132; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 59; Stanton, The Church and the 
Rebellion, 442. 

90 Breckinridge MSS. (1849). Numerous letters calling for his service. 

81 Stanton, The Church and the Rebellion, 447. 

Rev. Stuart Robinson 


emancipationists. 92 The democrats had a more consistent record against 
emancipation than the whigs, with such leaders as Clay, and as a result 
the union candidate was generally a democrat. The two parties in Fay- 
ette County united and divided the offices between themselves. They 
agreed on one democrat and one whig for the convention, one whig for 
the senate, and one democrat and one whig for the House. The election 
turned out to be a complete disaster for the emancipationists. Robert J. 
Breckinridge, the most powerful candidate of this group, was defeated, 
and not a single out-and-out emancipation candidate was elected. The 
conservative democrats carried the day. In the same election that gave 
the whigs a majority on a joint ballot in the Legislature of thirty votes, 
the democrats captured the convention by a majority of six. As Horace 
Greeley remarked, "Slavery was afraid to trust itself in the hands of a 
whig majority." 93 

The result of this election was a considerable surprise to most Ken- 
tuckians. A vast majority of the voters held no slaves whatever. It 
was certainly largely true, as was often remarked at the time, "that, 
while many of the largest slaveholders were in favor of emancipation, 
the non-slaveholding vote gave the state to the pro-slavery power." There 
were numerous elements that entered the situation. In the first place, 
among those who did own slaves but who were not converted to emanci- 
pation, the influence of such radicals as Cassius M. Clay was disastrous. 
Those opposed to slavery were far from being of the same mind — the 
degree of their opposition varied greatly, and the tendency was too preva- 
lent to judge all by the worst. Those who owned no slaves but voted 
against the emancipationists were influenced by various reasons. It was 
not the actual possession of slaves that played an important role with 
many Kentuckians ; it was the constituted question involved. The voter 
was first a Kentuckian and all that that carried with it ; he was beholden 
to no one for his ideas and convictions of his rights under the consti- 
tution — and least of all to those abolitionists from outside the state. The 
question was more a constitutional habit of thinking than a practical 
problem crying for a solution. Leaders, however successful in their 
leadership in other lines, failed to move them from this position. As 
was said by an emancipationists of the day, "The failure of the cause of 
emancipation is not to be referred to any want of ability on the part of 
its advocates. Those advocates comprise some of the most distinguished 
men not only of Kentucky but of the Union; men who have no superiors 
in the power to control public sentiment. If the cause of freedom could 
have been carried, it must have been carried by such men." There was 
also that tenacity of belief that can so easily develop into unreasoning 
prejudice. There was undoubtedly some truth in this charge of the 
emancipationists: "Self-interest, ignorance and prejudice are proof 
against anything, but the human mind, when unbiased and sufficiently 
enlightened to comprehend their import, cannot resist such argument, 
nor harden itself against such sentiments as are here presented. It must 
be conceded then, that the cause of emancipation in Kentucky has failed 
for the present, in spite of the exertions of men of the highest order of 
talents of which the country can boast." 94 

The power which the people possessed to deal with slavery had been 
thrown away in the election of the convention; slavery leadership was in 
control, and slavery would not only be protected in the new constitution, 
but further intrenched. The majority had so willed. But the pity of 
it, thought M. P. Marshall, who said in a speech in the convention : "Five- 
sevenths of them own no slaves; the other two-sevenths trembled under 

92 Breckinridge MSS. (1849). For example at Taylorsville. 

* 3 New York Tribune, Sept. 12, 1849. 

84 The Repertory quoted in Stanton, The Church and the Rebellion, 443. 


the call of this convention for the security of their property, at once 
great and feeble, vast in point of interest, insignificant almost in numer- 
ical force, the political strength directly interested in its support. In 
this state of things this overwhelming majority of five-sevenths, forget- 
ting all other feelings, discarding, merging all other considerations of 
reasons or policy, or of a separate interest, in a regard for what they 
considered the vested rights of a minority thus feeble, surrendered this 
convention to their control. They have excluded from this hall some 
of the wisest and ablest men of the State, merely because they feared, 
rather than believed, they might desire to interfere with these rights of 
the weak. They have sent a pro-slavery convention, merely because of 
their sense of justice and honor, their respect to a property peculiar to 
its kind, feeble and comparatively limited as to the number interested." 95 

As heretofore stated, the democrats controlled the convention, with 
James Guthrie, a staunch party man, as president. Although no emanci- 
pationists had been elected as such, there were members who stood for 
some system of gradual emancipation and fought for it at almost every 
step. In fact, the question of slavery protruded itself into almost every 
question. For instance, the discussion of the question of city representa- 
tion in the Legislature apart from the counties hinged largely around 
slavery considerations, as the largest cities were on the Ohio River, where 
a large Northern element was present in the population. 98 Garrett Davis 
was in favor of some action looking toward the final extinction of 
slavery. He said : "But it appears to me that any intelligent and care- 
fully reflecting mind must come to the conclusion that slavery is to have 
but a transitory existence in Kentucky. The general sentiment of the 
world is against it, before which, in fifty years, it has receded vastly; 
and this sentiment is deeply and widely formed in our limits and among 
our own people. * * * The history of slavery, as we have it, proves 
in all ages of the past that it is progressing to its end. That consumma- 
tion is in the course of events, and when men throw themselves in the 
current of events to hasten, or to retard, they are but straws. Let all 
straws be kept out of that section of this resistless current which flows 
through Kentucky, and let it roll on in its undisturbed power." 97 

Slavery was completely intrenched in the new constitution. The 
wording of the old provision was left almost unchanged, and new safe- 
guards were added. To forever end the menace of a free negro popula- 
tion, it was provided that no slave might be emancipated unless means 
were provided for his removal from the state, and that no free negro 
might come into the state. According to the convention, "The free negro 
population among us is conceded by all to be worthless and highly detri- 
mental to the value of our slaves, as well as the security of the owner." 98 
In addition there was placed in the bill of rights the clause that "the right 
of property is before and higher than any constitutional sanction, and the 
right of the owner of a slave, and its increase, is the same and is as 
inviolable as the right of the owner to any property whatever." To place 
the power far from the multitudes to change these provisions, an almost 
impossible method of amendment was adopted. 99 

The legislatures hereafter carried out the spirit of this constitution 
in their dealings with the institution of slavery. In 185 1 it declared that 
alb slaves emancipated must leave the state, and that any free negro 

96 Quoted in Bruce, "Constitution and Constitutional Convention of 1849," pp. 142, 


96 See H. Bruce, "Constitution and Constitutional Convention of 1849" in Pro- 
ceedings of Kentucky State Bar Association, 1918, pp. 131-162. 

97 Stanton, The Church and the Rebellion, 450. 

98 The New Constitution of the State of Kentucky (pamphlet, 15 pp.), 14. 

69 The constitution may be found in Thorpe, American Charters, Constitutions, 
and Original Laws; Poore, Federal and State Constitutions. 


entering the state and remaining over thirty days should be guilty of a 
felony and punished by not over one year's confinement in the peniten- 
tiary. 100 This principle was reiterated and emphasized in a law of i860; 
also all laws prohibiting the importation of slaves into the state were 
repealed. 101 There was strong resentment against many ministers for 
their restless activity in the emancipation movement. The Presbyterians 
took the lead among the denominations in this struggle. The constitution 
dealt with the ministers by providing that none might hold public office 
or place of public trust. 1 " 2 Resentment was so keen that the Senate on 
the convening of the session of 1849-1850, debated a resolution that no 
one "who was a delegate, or attended and took part in the Emancipation 
Convention that met in Frankfort in the summer of 1849" should be 
invited to become chaplain of their body. 103 The resolution was finally 
defeated by a vote of 14 to 11. 

The emancipationists were left stunned for a time. They were in 
doubt as to what course of action to pursue at first, but soon plans were 
being suggested and the determination was expressed to forget their dis- 
astrous defeat and to work with redoubled vigor. Robert J. Breckinridge 
was looked to as the recognized head and leader. Many interested in the 
fight gave him their suggestions and asked for his. Directly after the 
election and before the convention met, he received a letter from J. A. 
Jacoby suggesting that an emancipation paper be set up at Lexington, 
with preferably Breckinridge at the head of it. He also believed that 
meetings should be called widely over the state to reorganize their forces 
and to prevent their temporary demoralization from completely destoy- 
ing the movement. "Such a proceeding," he said, "would have a happy 
effect upon our friends & show our opponents that we were not dead & 
did not intend to die & could not be killed." 104 The question of operating 
as a separate party and running its own candidates, or of simply using 
their position strategically by influencing the democrats and whigs was 
also considered. Both lines of procedure had their advocates. An eman- 
cipationist from Glasgow wrote Breckinridge in 185 1 : "If a man has 
the independence here to vote for an emancipationist he is proscribed. 
But notwithstanding their proscription, there are some of us that think 
we ought to form a third party, that it is the only way to make them 
respect our views." He also thought that the emancipation candidates 
would get more votes when the people could be convinced that some of 
them could be elected. 105 A number of citizens of Maysville, according 
to the plan they sent Breckinridge, would organize immediately, but 
silently and unobtrusively, an emancipation party, ramifying into every 
county in the state. Let the emancipationist work slowly but surely ; 
let them be prepared before they make another big attempt. By 1855 
their organization ought to be strong enough to run a candidate for gov- 
ernor, who would doubtless be defeated, but he would most likely poll 
from 30.000 to 40,000 votes, which would be no mean beginning. In 
the election of 1859, they would have excellent chances for success. 
Then they should set to work definitely to gain gradual emancipation. 
According to the constitutional method of amendment, it would take 
eight years at the least to call a convention. Emancipation would be pro- 
vided for through plans that would require about fifteen years to per- 
fect, so that emancipation itself would not begin in less than thirty years. 
Would that not be time enough for all, they asked. Could anyone ac- 

i°o Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 61. 

101 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 83. 

i° 2 See Kentucky Yeoman, Dec. 20, 1849. 

103 Lexington Observer and Reporter, Jan. 5. 1850. 

" 4 Breckinridge MSS. (1849). Letter dated Aug. 24, 1849. 

106 Ibid. (1850). I. G. Davis to Breckinridge, June 27, 1851. 


cuse them of haste or of fanatical abolitionism? They believed that if 
the conservative emancipationists did not take hold and act immediately, 
the radical abolitionists would become actively engaged in pushing their 
propaganda in the state, and would forever end any possibility of eman- 
cipation. 108 Cassius M. Clay boldly jumped into the gubernatorial race 
in 1851 as the emancipationist candidate, but he had a very slight follow- 
ing. He polled only about 3,000 votes. 

The gradual emancipationists never attained to the success they de- 
served; their altruism and high principles fell on deaf ears. And, just 
as they predicted, the abolitionists took the field and, with their various 
doings, greatly excited the state. The True South, an abolition paper 
in Newport, fell before an angry mob, and serious disturbances were 
the main results of certain abolition activities in Madison County from 
1853 to i860. Berea was the storm center. 1 " 7 The leaders in this 
movement were John G. Fee and John G. Hanson, and their tenets and 
methods were so radical that even Cassius M. Clay cut loose from them 
and refused to be identified with the movement. The people soon rose 
and drove them out. James S. Davis, one of Fee's coworkers who settled 
in Lewis County, was informed by a meeting of Mason County citizens 
that he must remove from the state within seven days, and the action 
of the Madison County citizens were approved. A few days later Davis 
was called upon to give up copies of Helper's Impending Crisis of the 
South, which he held for distribution among the people. He first re- 
fused, but later agreed to burn them. A few days later Bracken County 
citizens met for the purpose of informing Fee and Hanson, who had 
settled in that county, that they were "enemies to the state and dangerous 
to the security of our lives and property" and that they must leave the 
state before February 4. Fifty prominent citizens were appointed to 
see that the men departed. Instead of leaving the state, Hanson drifted 
back into Madison County, where trouble immediately ensued, in which 
several persons were wounded. The so-called Revolutionary Committee, 
made up of pro-slavery groups, resolving to drive out the abolitionists, 
ordered from Lexington "a canon to whip them out." lu8 . As a further 
effort to stop abolition activities, the Legislature in i860 passed a law 
prohibiting the writing, printing or circulation of any incendiary docu- 
ments in the state, with the penalty of imprisonment in the penitentiary. 109 

Despite the tenacity with which Kentucky clung to slavery, that insti- 
tution was comparatively dying out in the state. The increase in per- 
centage from 1790 to 1830 had been by decades as follows: 241, 99, 57 
and 30. In 1790 she ranked seventh among the states of the Union in 
numbers of slaves; in 1830 she held fifth place. 110 During this period 
the percentage of increase for slaves had been greater than for whites, 
the percentage for the latter being 194 in 1790 and 19 in 1830. But at 
this latter date the process was reversed. The rapid relative decrease of 
slavery was marked. For the decade following 1830 the percentage 
was 10, and for the decade preceding i860 it had dropped to 7. But 
for the whites the percentages of increase for the corresponding times 

106 Breckinridge MSS. (1851). Plan submitted by citizens of Maysville to Breck- 
inridge, August 11, 1851. 

107 Cassius M. Clay, noting that the mountaineers owned no slaves, resolved to 
build them into a strong anti-slavery force. At his instigation John G. Fee founded 
an anti-slavery church and village in Madison County, which grew into the town 
of Berea. A school was begun in 1855, and a college was soon afterwards established 
the Berea College of today. The school was forced to close just before the out- 
break of the Civil war. General Catalogue, Berea College, 1919-20, pp. 28, 29. 

ws Life of Cassius Marcellus Clay, I, 250-258; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 
82, 83. 

109 Ibid. 

110 Statistical Vieiv of the Population of the United States (Washington, 1835), 
76, 77, 150, 151. 


were, respectively, 13 to 21. 111 Thus after 1830, when the change came, 
the percentage increase of whites over slaves became larger and larger, 
until in i860 it reached three times the latter. Kentucky's position as a 
slave state of the South was also changing correspondingly. For this 
region as a whole, the average percentage of increase in 1800 was 28, and 
in i860 it was 23. Or, comparing Kentucky with typical Southern slave 
states, the percentages of increase in slaves in Georgia in 1800 to 1850 
were 102 and 35, and for whites, 92 and 27; for Tennessee, 297 and 30 
for slaves and 186 and 18 for whites. This shows the course slavery 
was running in other states and in the South as a whole. In Kentucky 
alone did a break in the relations of percentages of increase come in 1830. 
Here alone did the white overtake the percentage of increase in slaves 
and steadily hold it. 112 

Slavery was not then the vital institution in the life and development 
of the state in i860 that the extreme tenacity with which the people 
clung to it would seem to indicate. At heart most Kentuckians would 
have liked to be rid of the blight, but they saw no remedy. The institu- 
tion was intrenched in the Federal Constitution and it permeated the 
state's legal and constitutional development. To a large extent it was 
a question of governmental rights, keeping faith with the Constitution, 
state rights. Thus it was that, while slavery was tending to die as a 
practical institution, it grew as a political and constitutional issue, that 
welded the people into a strong majority for its continuation. 

m Eighth Census, Population (i860), pp. 599"6o4- 
1" Eighth Census, Population, pp. ix, 600-604. 


Kentucky became increasingly interested in national affairs from 1840 
on to the Civil war. During this period the greatest and most perplexing 
problems of the nation arose through sectional differences and were 
looked at from sectional slants. Slavery was not only a constant con- 
cern for the state in her internal affairs, but it was also the basis for the 
bitter sectionalism that was engulfing the country, in which of necessity 
Kentucky was vitally interested. Presidential campaigns were fought 
around questions directly concerned with the preservation of the Union. 

Sources of great interest and heated argument were the Texan ques- 
tion, the consequent war with Mexico, and the status of the territory 
acquired as a result of that war. These were a train of consequences 
in themselves, which set into operation other consequences — all of which 
was fast driving the country toward disunion and civil war. Texas had 
long been a region of great interest to Americans. It had played an 
important part in American diplomacy from the days of the Louisiana 
Purchase on down through the treaty with Spain in 1819, when it was 
definitely given up, until it became the center of national interest and 
concern in the '40s. This region was settled largely by Americans, who 
became nominal Mexicans but expected to die Americans, and, as a 
Texan said, they would not move out of Texas to do it. It was easy to 
find causes for war under the misgovernment of Mexico, and by 1835 
the Texan revolution was on. Intense enthusiasm for the cause spread 
throughout the Mississippi Valley and the Gulf states and even into the 
New England states. 

In so romantic and so adventuresome a cause as this, Kentucky could 
never lag. The neutrality laws of the United States were easily evaded 
by a constant stream of "emigrants," who immediately transformed 
themselves into soldiers for Texan independence on reaching their des- 
tination. On the outbreak of war in 1835, sympathy and support for 
the cause were given ungrudgingly. Newspapers and mass meetings 
carried the movement forward. A recurrence of Kentucky's old military 
ardor was at hand. A meeting was early held in Lexington to provide 
aid for those who would enlist, and by November of 1835 the first band 
of "emigrants," consisting of fifty-four men under Capt. B. H. Duval, 
hereafter to become famous as a part of Fannin's command, set out for 
Texas. They were followed by others before the end of the year, among 
whom were thirty-six riflemen from Louisville. The first impact drove 
the Mexicans out, but all expected the recoil which came the next year. 

Kentuckians entered into the fight as if it were their own, or at least 
the nation's. The center of greatest activity was the Blue Grass Region. 
In the spring and summer of 1836, numerous meetings of the people 
were held to raise money and troops. From the end of March to the 
middle of June more than a dozen meetings were held in Lexington, 
which seemed to be the most active spot in the state. Three thousand 
five hundred dollars was subscribed here, and 180 men from Lexington 
and Fayette County volunteered. The same activity was shown in many 
other towns. Winchester subscribed in money, $188.75 an d donated fire- 



arms and clothing to the value of $200. Versailles contributed $336.50 
and called upon the United States Government to recognize the independ- 
ence of the Texans. Georgetown gave $600 and fifty or sixty volunteers. 1 
In June, 200 volunteers from Clarke, Montgomery and Fayette counties 
passed through Frankfort to Louisville, there to be joined by several 
hundred more — all on their way to Texas. 2 So high was Kentucky 
enthusiasm that it was sometimes a problem for the leaders to provide 
means for getting them all to Texas. Gen. Felix Houston wrote from 
Natchez in the spring of 1836 that "There is not difficulty in getting as 
many as I want from there [Kentucky], but more difficulty in rejecting 
those I do not want." 3 

In July, General Gaines, on the Texas border, rather mysteriously 
and without authority, called upon Kentucky and other Mississippi Val- 
ley states for 1,000 men each, to march to Camp. Sabine and be mustered 
into the United States forces. In response to this call, James T. More- 
head, the lieutenant and acting governor, issued a proclamation calling 
for volunteers. He said : "Relying on the characteristic readiness of my 
fellow citizens to meet the calls of their country, I have not deemed it 
expedient to resort to any other mode of raising the required number 
of troops than a solicitation of their voluntary services. When the na- 
tional honor or interest are to be sustained, it is confidently expected 
and believed that an appeal to the gallantry and patriotism of the citizens 
of Kentucky is all that is necessary to insure a full and ready compliance 
with the requisitions of the constituted authorities, and that the present 
occasion will be attended with the same exemplary displays of public 
spirit and love of country, which have so conspicuously distinguished 
their past history." 4 Kentuckians hastened to offer their service, and 
soon they were encamped in Frankfort, ready to march. But they were 
destined to receive a sad disappointment, for President Jackson, on hear- 
ing of Gaines' call, immediately notified the Kentucky governor that it 
was without authority, "and still more unaccountable, particularly as it is 
believed that our western frontier is now tranquil. Under these circum- 
stances you will please cause the troops called for by the requisition in 
question, if they have been raised, to be discharged." 5 In disbanding 
his troops, Gen. Leslie Cumbs said: "Neither the deadly climate to which 
they were ordered nor the inevitable hardships and privations of a thou- 
sand miles' march, at the most unfavorable season of the year, could 
damp the ardor of the gallant Hunters of Kentucky, when called to rally 
under 'The Star Spangled Banner.' " G 

But the cause of Texas was not forgotten in Kentucky. The battle 
of San Jacinto in April, 1836, spelled the doom of Mexican rule, and 
soon the Republic of Texas was seeking to become a new member in 
the family of nations. The Kentucky Legislature in January, 1837, 
called upon the United States Government to recognize the independence 
of Texas, if it constituted no violation of treaty stipulations, laws of 
nations, or national honor. 7 Texas was in all respects American, except 
that it was not a member of the American Union, and the dream of 
most Texans would only be half realized" until this should be accom- 

1 J. E. Winston, "Kentucky and the Independence of Texas," in the Southwestern 
Historical Quarterly, I, No. I (July, 1912), 28-62. 

2 Argus, June 8, 1836. 

3 J. E. Winston, "The Attitude of the Newspapers of the United States Toward 
Texan Independence" in Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, 
1914-15; Vol. 8, pp. 164-166. 

*Nilcs' Register, Vol. 50, p. 365. Dated July 16, 1836. 

5 Ibid., Vol. 50, p. 430. Jackson's letter dated August 7. Also see Argus, July 20, 
1836; American State Papers, Military Affairs, VI, 986. 

6 Nilcs' Register, Vol. 50, p. 430. Dated August 13. 

7 Acts of Kentucky, 1836, p. 353. Dated January 24th. 


plislied. Recognition was granted in 1837, but annexation remained yet 
to feed the flames of sectional hatred and become the chief issue in the 
Presidential election of 1844. 

Early in the year it was generally considered that Van Buren would 
be the democratic candidate and Clay the whig. Within a short while 
both had issued statements on the same day, as if through concerted 
action, declaring themselves opposed to the annexation of Texas, as it 
would mean war with Mexico. Van Buren by this action made his nom- 
ination impossible, as the slave-holding South had definitely set its heart 
on the inclusion of Texas in the Union. Instead, then, James Knox Polk 
of Tennessee was made the democratic candidate, and Henry Clay, who 
only strengthened his hold on his party by his pronunciamento, received 
the nomination of the whigs without a dissenting voice. 

The campaign early developed much bitterness and excitement. In 
Kentucky Clay still held his great poularity. When he had returned to 
his home in 1842, a large celebration and barbecue had been held for 
him in Lexington, where George Robertson, the late chief justice of the 
State Court of Appeals, paid this tribute to him : "henry clay — 
farmer of Ashland, patriot and philanthropist, American statesman, 
and unrivalled orator of the age — illustrious abroad, beloved at home : in 
a long career of eminent public service often, like Aristidcs, he breasted 
the raging storm of passion and delusion and, by offering himself a sac- 
rifice, saved the republic; and now, like Cincinnatus and Washington, 
having voluntarily retired to the tranquil walks of private life, the grate- 
ful hearts of his countrymen will do him ample justice; but come what 
may, Kentucky will stand by him, and still continue to cherish and de- 
fend, as her own, the fame of a son who has emblazoned her escutcheon 
with immortal renown." 8 The Kentucky whigs immediately began 
grooming Clay for the Presidency. In September of this year, two years 
before the actual nomination, an elaborate barbecue was held at Frank- 
fort endorsing him for the Presidency. Besides Clay, there were present 
John J. Crittenden, Garret Davis, and John White of Virginia, the 
Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States. Prepara- 
tions were made for 50,000 people, but fewer actually attended on ac- 
count of the weather. According to a whig account, "We had beef here 
that out-virgined 'the virgin heifer' by a long odds : and there was no 
end to the mutton, lamb, veal, pork, pig, &c. There was enough left, 
after 5,000 hearty Whigs who were supposed to have eaten had satisfied 
their hunger, to have served for forty Locofoco barbecues, and more 
than enough to have fed all the Tylerites in the land all their lives, even 
though their lives were prolonged beyond the age of Methuselah." 9 

The fight was carried on in Kentucky with enthusiasm akin to that 
in the Harrison campaign of 1840. There were torch light parades and 
the old log cabins were resurrected again. Clay clubs sprang up through- 
out the state, with mass meetings and barbecues aplenty. But with al! 
of Clay's ancient hold on the state and his present popularity, he found 
the support lacking that he had counted on, both in his state and the 
nation. The democrats undoubtedly had the popular side of the cam- 
paign issues in the South, and their skill in calling for the settlement of 
the Oregon question gained them much support in mildly anti-slavery 
circles. The cry of "Fifty- four Forty or Fight" sounded well and was 
a good vote-catcher. England should be made to get out of Oregon, 
and a country would be secured for tbe Union which could under no 
circumstance be considered as slave territory. The Kentucky Legislature 
had in 1843 passed a strong resolution calling upon the United States 
to secure Oregon and declaring "that it is high time that our government 

8 The Works of Henry Clay ( New York, 1904) , edited by Calvin Colton, II, 412. 
Frankfort Commonwealth, Nov. I, 1842. 


should assert our rights, and maintain them." 10 The democrats had a 
valuable asset in Kentucky in their attitude on the annexation question. 
Kentuckians, irrespective of parties, had aided the Texans in their war 
for independence, and many were inclined not to forget their enthusiasm 
of the Texan cause, even to the annexation of the republic. Kentucky 
whigs claimed the annexation question was nothing but a democratic 
campaign trick — mainly to escape discussing domestic questions. The 
whig argument that Texas should not be annexed, as it would mean war 
with Mexico, lacked much of being convincing to those Kentuckians 
who had aided the Texans or sympathized with them. Kentuckians had 
never yet run from war, and even a war with Mexico might not be with- 
out its attractions. In fact, the Legislature in 1842 had indicated no 
friendly feeling for that country when it called upon the United States 
to secure the release of a party of Americans who, while on their way 
from Texas to Santa Fe, were captured by Mexicans and inhumanely 
treated, and furthermore to "vindicate to Mexico and the world the 
proud declaration that American citizenship is a shield against wrong 
and oppression throughout the globe." It pledged Kentucky to support 
the United States in this action. 11 

The whigs of the South generally were dismayed at Clay's first state- 
ment concerning his attitude on the Texas question. Many calls came 
to him to soften his expressions, and he wrote certain letters in which 
he said that he had no personal objections to annexation "without dis- 
honor, without war, with the common consent of the Union, on just and 
fair terms" — conditions which the settlement of few American questions 
could meet. In the gubernatorial campaign, William Owsley was running 
on the whig ticket against William O. Butler, the democratic candidate. 
Memories of the battle of New Orleans could not yet be foregone as 
a political weapon against the democrats. Butler, who was in the battle, 
was accused by the whigs of having sanctioned Jackson's censure of the 
Kentuckians. 12 By seizing this charge to use against Butler, they thought 
they could at least neutralize any military renown that might attach 
to his name and redound to the benefit of the democratic party. The 
August election carried the whigs into power in the state, but with less 
than a 5,000 majority vote, as compared with a majority of over 15,000 
in the preceding gubernatorial election. Although there was no fear 
that Clay would not carry his own state, this vote indicated that his 
chances were not bright for the country as a whole. The November 
election gave him a majority in Kentucky of almost 10,000 votes, but 
by failing to carry New York he failed of the Presidency, receiving 
105 electoral votes to Polk's 170. 13 

There was much rejoicing among the democrats of the state. On the 
news of Polk's election, cannon were fired all day in Lexington, and it 
was charged by the whigs that they were so strategically placed as to 
be best heard at Ashland — an affair which they declared showed poor 
taste, to say the least. 14 The whigs felt the sting of defeat very bitterly. 
Perhaps at no election had Kentucky whigs ever felt defeat more keenly. 
They professed to believe that the country was in the hands of its enemies 
and that its future was filled with the almost insurmountable perils of 
democratic rule. Some consolation was found in the fact that the state 
was at least still under good whiggery rule. According to one whig 
editor, the people would now have to rely almost wholly on their state 
for the blessings of good government, and, "as it is all that is left us, 

10 Acts of Kentucky, 1842, pp. 283, 284. 

11 Acts of Kentucky, 1841, p. 295. Dated January 6, 1842. 

12 Lexington Observer and Reporter, June 22, 1844. 

13 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 49, 50 ; Lexington Observer and Reporter, Nov. 
30, 1844. 

14 Ibid., Nov. 20, 1844. 


we hope that the Legislature of Kentucky will so act, if possible, as to 
enable us to do without the General Government for the next four years, 
by which time the country will be sick of these tinkering experiments, 
if they have the nerve to carry out their principles." 15 The defeat of 
Clay was regarded by many whigs as almost a personal bereavement and 
sorrow. After voting for Clay, the electoral college of the state, with 
Governor Owsley and ex-Governors Metcalfe and Letcher, came in a 
body from Frankfort and, followed by many citizens of Lexington and 
a company of artillery, went to Clay's home at Ashland to offer a per- 
sonal tribute to him. While many wept, Joseph R. Underwood delivered 
this sentiment to Clay on his doorstep: "In the shades of Ashland, may 
you long continue to enjoy peace, quiet, and the possession of those great 
faculties which rendered you the admiration of your friends, and the 
benefactor of your country. And when, at last, death shall demand its 
victim, while Kentucky will contain your ashes, rest assured that old 
and faithful friends, those who, knowing you longest, loved you best, 
will cherish your memory and defend your reputation." 16 He attributed 
Clay's defeat to the campaign of envy, malice and slander conducted by 
his enemies. 17 

Governor Owsley, in his first message to the Legislature, could not 
forget that the country was to be upset and in turmoil for the coming 
four years, due to the Democratic victory. How much better would the 
settlement of such questions as the tariff and the currency be, had only 
Clay been elected, he exclaimed. He charged that frauds had been 
rampant in the election and intimated that had it been otherwise Clay 
would have been elected. 18 Bereft of national power, the whigs could 
at least use their old weapon against Jackson and the democrats by vot- 
ing down the customary resolution to fire a salute for New Orleans. The 
Senate killed the resolution by a vote of 13 to 12, and the House, 52 to 41. 
According to the press account, "Neither (boasted) indebtedness for past 
services, regard for a long established precedent nor the recollection of 
the brave slander upon the heroism and valor of Kentuckians, warrant 
their Representatives in the commemoration of the 'illustrious bravery 
of Gen. Jackson.' " 19 

The truth of the main objection Clay had argued against the annexa- 
tion of Texas was soon verified. Before Polk was inaugurated, the de- 
cision to annex Texas was taken by President Tyler and Congress, and 
on December 29, 1845, Texas became a state in the American Union. 
Mexico immediately broke off diplomatic relations with the United States 
upon Tyler's move, and a few months later gave warning that the admis- 
sion of Texas into the Union would be equivalent to a declaration of war. 
With Mexico in such a temper, there was little hope of a peaceful settle- 
ment. Besides the Texas trouble, particularly the question of the south- 
ern limits of that state, the United States had numerous long-standing 
claims against Mexico, the collection of which was still a troublesome 
problem. The mission of Slidell to Mexico in the interests of peace 
having failed, President Polk ordered Gen. Zachary Taylor into the dis- 
puted territory as far as the Rio Grande. He was attacked by the Mex- 
icans, and on May 12, 1846, the United States officially recognized war 
with Mexico. 

Regardless of whether or not the war was a democratic war in the 
interests of the South, as charged by the anti-slavery element, the whig 
State of Kentucky never entered a war with greater zest and enthusiasm. 

16 Lexington Observer and Reporter, Jan. I, 1845. 

16 Colton, Life and Times of Henry Clay, I, 37. 

17 Lexington Observer and Reporter, Dec. 10, 1844. 

18 Lexington Observer and Reporter, Jan. J, 1845. 
™lbid., Jan. 11, 1845, 

Vol. 11—17 


During the preceding year, when Governor Owsley was notified by the 
War Department that General Taylor had been authorized to call on 
Kentucky for troops if he should need them, the Kentucky executive 
replied that the state would respond immediately to any requirements 
that should be made. 20 Immediately on information of the beginning of 
hostilities, the Louisville Legion, consisting of eight companies offered 
its services to the governor. Although no call had yet been made upon 
the states by the President, it had been learned that Congress had author- 
ized a call for troops, and Governor Owsley, in order to put Kentucky 
first in the field, issued on May 17 a proclamation for the people to form 
themselves into companies and be ready to report to him. He also, before 
the call for troops had been received, not only accepted the services of 
the Louisville Legion, but also ordered it to charter a fast steamer and 
proceed without delay to reen force General Gaines. 21 On the same day 
on which he issued his proclamation, Governor Owsley wrote the Secre- 
tary of War : "Kentuckians are no laggards in a cause like this. The 
Louisville Legion, a volunteer corps of the State of Kentucky, composed 
of eight companies, have offered their services in the expected emergency, 
and, in anticipation of a formal call from the War Department at Wash- 
ington, I have concluded to accept their services and report them to Gen- 
eral Gaines at New Orleans wnthout delay." 22 Besides the Louisville 
Legion, under Colonel Ormsby, there were ready a regiment of infantry 
in command of Col. William R. McKee and a regiment of cavalry under 
Col. Humphrey Marshall. Other Kentuckians of note besides General 
Taylor of the regular army who entered the war were William O. Butler 
and Cassius M. Clay. The patriotic ardor of the state was so high that 
13,700 volunteers came forward to fill a call of 2,400, the quota assigned 
to Kentucky. Factories in Louisville were forced to shut down, due to 
the volunteering of all the workmen for the war. Kentuckians not only 
offered themselves to their governor, but also their money. William 
Preston procured a subscription of $50,000 in Louisville as a loan to 
the state, and the Northern Bank of Kentucky in Lexington tendered 
the governor $250,ooo. 23 

The main battle in which the Kentuckians participated was Buena 
Vista, which ever after loomed large in their minds. About 900, or 
nearly one-fifth of General Taylor's command, were Kentuckians, and 
of these 900, 162 were killed. In September of 1847, the Kentucky dead 
were brought back from the battlefield and interred in the Frankfort 
cemetery, where a gathering, declared to be "the largest concourse of 
people ever assembled in Kentucky," paid their last respects. 24 The 
renown of having fought in this battle carried much weight with it in 
politics, and more than one "Buena Vista candidate" ran on his battle 
record and won. 25 

Before the end of the Mexican war the country was beginning to 
think of the approaching Presidential election. General Scott had at- 
tracted some favorable attention of the Whigs, but after the battle of 
Buena Vista, Taylor quickly arose to be the outstanding figure. The 
glamour of a military hero had never ceased to carry far in Kentucky, and 
with Taylor, almost a native born son, 25 " filling that role now, Kentucky 

20 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 51. 

21 N ties' Register, Vol. 70, p. 199, 200. 

22 Ibid., 200. 

23 Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 53 ; Niles' Register, Vol. 70, p. 202. 

24 Niles' Register, Vol. 72, pp. 362, 363. In the summer of 1847, an additional 
call for two regiments was quickly filled, with many volunteers left out. Kentucky 
Yeoman, Sept. 23, 1847. 

26 See Breckinridge MSS. (1848). 

25a He was nine months old when his parents moved to Kentucky. But he was 
believed by many to have been native-born. 














whiggery had a mighty battle to fight within itself between this hero and 
her favorite son, Henry Clay. Cy a coincidence, on the same day that 
the battle of Buena Vista began, the Kentucky Legislature passed a reso- 
lution of praise and appreciation of Taylor's generalship and of the 
courage of his men, as shown in the battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la 
Palma, and Monterey. It voted him a sword and declared "That the 
admiration, gratitude and thanks of the people are due, and are hereby 
tendered, to Major-General Taylor, to his officers and men." 26 Although 
this was not an indorsement for the Presidency, it paved the way for 
such a stand later and made it easier. 

But Taylor was a Kentuckian and a military hero, so why should 
any group of Kentuckians have sole claim to him? He had not been 
a strong party man, and his views on national issues were little known, 
if indeed he had taken time to formulate them at all. Under such circum- 
stances, in the spring and summer of 1847 meetings began to spring up 
over the state, largely non-partisan but most likely more democratic than 
whig, recommending Taylor for the Presidency. 27 A meeting in Scott 
County wanted Taylor because he was non-partisan and would, therefore, 
uphold the best interests of the country along all lines. The regular 
democratic leaders of the state became worried over these meetings. 
They declared that the people should wait until Taylor came out with 
his principles before pushing him so far, that he was after all a whig, 
and that the democrats were playing into the hands of the whigs by 
urging- him. They should wait for the democratic convention to act. 28 

The whigs were not disposed to relinquish their claims on the victor 
of Buena Vista, regardless of democratic pretentions, and even at the 
expense of deserting Clay. In 1844 some discontented whigs had sug- 
gested in the Kentucky Legislature the name of Taylor for the Presidency 
instead of Clay, and a resolution was actually offered to that effect in 
the Senate. 29 A definite feeling had been forming in the minds of some 
of the Kentucky whig leaders that Clay could not be elected, that he 
had tried three times already, and that it was time now for the whigs to 
pick a winner for 1848. John J. Crittenden was one of the foremost of 
those who thought this way. He had been in correspondence with Taylor 
while he was still fighting in Mexico, and undoubtedly in a general way 
he was trying to gain an estimate of the man as a candidate. Many 
letters came to Crittenden suggesting Taylor. George W. McAdams 
wrote him in November, 1847, that many Kentuckians had determined 
"to adhere to the Old Hero as the only available candidate, as in truth 
he is. Mr. Clay cannot be elected ! The thing is impossible. Taylor can 
be, or at all events, if he cannot, no whig can." He believed that the 
whigs of Kentucky should use their reason and best judgment, and not 
be bound by the sentimentalism that would make a perpetual candidate 
of Clay, and as often bring about the defeat of the whig party. 30 Many- 
others had the same ideas as to Clay's availability, but they were more 
sympathetic toward his leadership. The revolt against him seemed to be 
actuated almost wholly by the conviction that Clay could not lead the 
whigs to victory, while another might — and that candidate would be 
Taylor. John B. Bibb wrote Crittenden, December 25, 1847, that, while 
the Kentucky whigs "would prefer to see Mr. C. President in preference 
to any other man in the nation, they think General Taylor the most 
available candidate, and would greatly prefer that he receive the nom- 
ination." In the light of the feeling, both in Kentucky and in the nation 

- e Acts of Kentucky, 1846, pp. 383, 384. 

27 Such a meeting was held in Shelby County in May, Kentucky Yeoman, May 27, 

28 Ibid., Sept. 30, Oct. 21, etc, 1847. 

29 Coleman, Life of John J. Crittenden, I, 220. 

30 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 10, Nos. 1989, 1990. Dated November 25. 


at large, he hoped Clay would soon definitely announce that he would 
not accept the nomination. 31 Many who had followed Clay all their 
lives felt their heartburns when they were forced to make a choice. If 
Clay had only declined to be in the race, their aches had been spared. 
One admirer admitted he was for Taylor, but exclaimed : "But oh how 
I was and have been pained and mortified at what seemed to me impatient 
and hasty efforts of Kentucky to be the first to discredit that high and 
faithful man, Clay." 32 Crittenden expressed himself in a like vein: 
"I prefer Mr. Clay to all men for the Presidency, but my conviction, 
my involuntary conviction, is that he cannot be elected." 33 

Clay and his friends made a strong effort to head off the movement. 
Taylor, in the latter part of 1847, was waiting with becoming humility 
for Clay or some other recognized whig leader to loom up as the out- 
standing candidate, and he informed Clay that he was "ready to stand 
aside, if you or any other whig were the choice of the party, and 
* * * I sincerely hoped such might be their decision." But as the 
movement in his favor continued to grow and spread, he informed Clay 
in April of 1848 that he was in the hands of the people and he would 
have to abide by their decision. 34 In the early period of the Taylor 
movement Leslie Combs, Benjamin Gratz, D. C. Wickliffe, George Rob- 
ertson and others sent out a circular letter secretly to certain whigs cau- 
tioning them against the Taylor enthusiasm and warning them that it 
was tending to disrupt the party. They declared that Clay should be 
the nominee. 35 Leslie Combs wrote Crittenden in February, 1848, that 
the Taylor candidacy was dangerous, and that "The whig party will be 
split to pieces — mark what I say — I see the elements of Strife & Violence 
already at work." 3B Clay felt very bitterly the desertion of his Ken- 
tucky life-long supporters. He wrote Crittenden in September, 1847, 
that he had to own "to you that the Movements in K. have occasioned 
me some mortification. They wear the aspect of impatience under the 
ties, which have so long bound me to the State and the Whig party, and 
an eager desire to break loose from them." 37 And he later wrote to 
a friend, asking: "What is it, after the long period of time during 
which I have had the happiness to enjoy the friendship and confidence 
of that State, what have I done * * * to lose it?" 38 

But the tide was turning from Clay to Taylor, and nothing could stop 
it. The Legislature, in January, 1848, passed a resolution inviting Taylor 
to visit Frankfort, as the people were "desirous of testifying their high 
appreciation of the signal services he has rendered his country in the 
battles of Palo Alta, Resaca de la Palma and Monterey, and in the last 
and unparalleled achievement at Buena Vista, their admiration of his 
virtue, his modesty, his justice, his kindness and benevolence to the 
soldiers under his command. * * *" 39 On its face the resolution 
had no political significance, but it could not help but greatly further 
Taylor's cause. However, as a patriotic move, perhaps to combat the 
impression that the Taylor resolution was political, in February the Leg- 
islature complimented General Scott and his men. 40 Despite the absence 

31 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 10, Nos. 2015, 2016. 

32 Ibid., Vol. 11, Nos. 2098, 2099. L- W. Andres to Crittenden, Feb. 14, 1848. 

33 Coleman, Life of John J. Crittenden, I, 290. Crittenden to A. T. Burnley, 
January 8, 1848. 

84 Colton, Private Correspondence of Henry Clay, 557-560. 

35 Kentucky Yeoman, Nov. 26, 1847. 

36 Crittenden MSS., Vol. 11, Nos. 2123, 2124. Dated February 27th. 
87 Ibid., Vol. 10, Nos. 1969, 1970. Dated September 27th. 

38 Colton, Private Correspondence of Henry Clay, 554. To H. T. Duncan, Feb- 
ruary 15, 1848. 

39 Acts of Kentucky, 1847. PP- 479-48o. 

40 Ibid., 482, 483. Dated February 18th. It read in part : That General Winfield 
Scott by a series of glorious victories unparalleled in the history of war * * * 



of a resolution to the direct effect, the Legislature was strongly in favor 
of Taylor, and, according to John L. Helm : "Nothing but a reluctance 
to wound Mr. Clay's feelings prevents the presentation of a legislative 
nomination of Genl. T., and indeed such is the coming in of popular 
opinion that I doubt whether it will be much longer restrained." 41 There 
was little harmony in the state convention, but the Taylor supporters 
were in a majority. 42 It was a misfortune of Clay's that he had no mil- 
itary renown to stand him in good stead when all his other qualifications 
failed him, in a state where the glories of war were such potent weapons. 

Gen. Zachary Taylor, Monument 
i 2th President of United States 

But, regardless of such aids, he had held his state true to himself against 
the outstanding military hero of the times, Andrew Jackson, and there 
can be no question that he would have completely routed the victor of 
Buena Vista, had he not already failed three times to bring the whigs 

In the Whig National Convention at Philadelphia in June, Taylor was 
nominated on the fourth ballot, and Clay's chances for the Presidency 
were forever gone, deserted by seven of the twelve Kent