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Kentucky's Road to Statehood

Kentucky's Road to Statehood

Lowell H. Harrison
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Kentucky's Road to Statehood
    Book Description:

    On June 1,1792, Kentucky became the fifteenth state in the new nation and the first west of the Alleghenies. Lowell Harrison reviews the tangled and protracted process by which Virginia's westernmost territory achieved statehood.

    By the early 1780s, survival of the Kentucky settlements, so uncertain only a few years earlier, was assured. The end of the American Revolution curtailed British support for Indian raids, and thousands of settlers sought a better life in the "Eden of the West." They swarmed through Cumberland Gap and down the Ohio River, cleared the land for crops, and established towns. The division of sprawling Kentucky County into three counties in 1780 indicated its rapid growth, and that growth accelerated during the following decade.

    With population increase came sentiment for separation from Virginia. Such demands had been voiced earlier, but a definite separation movement began in 1784 when a convention -- the first of ten such -- met in Danville. Not until April 1792 was a constitution finally drafted under which the Commonwealth of Kentucky could enter the Union. While most Kentuckians favored separation, they differed over how and when and on what terms it should occur. Three factions struggled to control the movement, but their goals and methods shifted with changing circumstances. This confusing situation was made more complex by the presence of the exotic James Wilkinson and the "Spanish Conspiracy" he fomented.

    Harrison addresses many questions about the convoluted process of statehood: why separation was desired, why it was so difficult to achieve, what type of government the 1792 constitution established, and how Governor Isaac Shelby and the first General Assembly implemented it. His engaging account, which includes the text of the first constitution, will be treasured by all Kentuckians.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5976-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. ONE Stirrings of Discontent
    (pp. 1-18)

    George Rogers Clark may have been the first Kentuckian to warn Virginia that its western inhabitants might separate from the Old Dominion. With the American Revolution in progress in 1776, Kentucky’s status was uncertain, and Clark decided to take advantage of that situation. “I immediately fixed on my plans,” he wrote in his memoirs, “that of assembling the people, get them to elect deputies and send them to the Assembly of Virginia and treat with them respecting the Country. If valuable conditions were procured, to declare ourselves citizens of the state, otherways, establish an independent government, and, by giving away...

  6. TWO The Early Conventions
    (pp. 19-47)

    Prior to 1784 the occasional demands for separation from Virginia had been overshadowed by the tribulations of the war years. By 1784 the peace treaty had been ratified and Kentucky’s population was increasing rapidly. Although large scale Indian raids had almost ceased, an Indian scare in that year led to a meeting that resulted in the first of ten conventions, the last of which drafted a state constitution in 1792. Pioneer Benjamin Logan was the key figure in calling the initial meeting.

    Logan established his station in Kentucky in 1775 when he was thirty-two years old. He brought out his...

  7. THREE A Spanish Conspiracy?
    (pp. 48-72)

    James Wilkinson spent lavishly, both for himself and his family and for the extensive entertaining that was designed to impress others and thus help his political ambitions. But he had limited resources when he came to Kentucky, and his varied economic ventures failed to provide the income he needed. By the mid-1780s he was heavily in debt. Yet he was so convincing in his explanations and so plausible in his assurances that he managed to maintain his precarious status. Upon one occasion when an irate creditor came to demand repayment of a substantial sum, Wilkinson borrowed an additional amount before...

  8. FOUR The Later Conventions
    (pp. 73-92)

    Virginia’s Second Enabling Act became void when Congress in July 1788 refused to admit Kentucky to the Union. On December 29, 1788, the General Assembly passed the Third Enabling Act because “the good people of Kentucky” desired it and because the “remote situation” of the District made separation expedient. During the court days of May 1789, each of Kentucky’s counties would elect five delegates to a convention (the eighth) that was to meet in Danville on July 20, 1789. Much of the new act was similar to the previous one, but the terms included some important changes that aroused strong...

  9. FIVE Writing the Constitution
    (pp. 93-114)

    The issue of separation was settled, with little dissention remaining, when the Ninth Convention completed its work. Most Virginians in the District of Kentucky had realized that someday Kentucky would sever its ties with the Old Dominion; the pertinent questions had been when and on what terms. Independence from the United States and a possible association with Spain had never had mass appeal, and the agreement reached in the summer of 1790 was approved by most inhabitants of the District. The terms of separation had been approved by the convention, by Virginia, and by the United States, and on June...

  10. SIX The Constitution Achieved
    (pp. 115-130)

    Kentucky has held four constitutional conventions during the past two hundred years. The first one, in 1792, met for thirteen working sessions within a span of eighteen days and produced a document that occupies just under seventeen pages of type. Each convention since then has met for a longer period and has written a longer constitution than its predecessor. The 1890-1891 convention conducted its deliberations over a period of nearly eight months and produced a constitution some seven times as long as the 1792 model.¹

    George Nicholas and the others who helped write the 1792 constitution did not even consider...

  11. SEVEN Implementing the Constitution
    (pp. 131-148)

    The 1792 elections in Kentucky may have been the most non-partisan in the long and usually controversial political history of the commonwealth. In the absence of organized political parties to select candidates and draft platforms, and with most candidates unwilling to appear to seek office, Kentuckians saw little overt campaigning. Some voters must have exchanged opinions and espoused the selection of favored individuals, but in the main they simply voted for the men whom they believed were best qualified to hold positions in the new government. In doing so, they came close to meeting the ideal for holding elections in...

  12. Appendix A. Formation of Counties 1780-1792
    (pp. 149-149)
  13. Appendix B. Chronology: Major Events on the Road to Statehood
    (pp. 150-151)
  14. Appendix C. The Kentucky Constitution of 1792
    (pp. 152-168)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 169-184)
  16. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 185-193)
  17. Index
    (pp. 194-206)