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The Three Kentucky Presidents

The Three Kentucky Presidents: Lincoln, Taylor, Davis

Copyright Date: 1978
Pages: 88
  • Book Info
    The Three Kentucky Presidents
    Book Description:

    The three Kentucky presidents -- Abraham Lincoln, Zachary Taylor, and Jefferson Davis -- were profoundly shaped by their experiences in Kentucky, poised as it was on the border between the North and the South, the East and the Western Frontier. Holman Hamilton asserts that these leaders were personally and politically influenced by their connections to the state. The contrasting traits of western frontiersman and southern aristocrat illuminate Kentucky's heritage and affected Taylor, Lincoln, and Davis, presidents during one of America's most troubled eras. Frontier values influenced Lincoln's and Taylor's views on the major issues of their time: extension of slavery, which they opposed, and preservation of the Union, which they supported. Davis's career reflects Southern values, leading him to favor slavery's extension and the Confederacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5844-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    H. H.
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    No state in the Union has a seal more appropriate than Kentucky’s. I do not refer exclusively to Kentucky’s motto—“United We Stand, Divided We Fall”—but emphasize the figures appearing on the seal. One is a gentleman in formal attire, the other a frontiersman in buckskin; and the two are shaking hands. The two figures symbolize, as no other pattern could, the two principal human (or at least male) ingredients of early Kentucky.

    The frontiersman’s influence of course came first. It is not hard to convince book readers or television viewers of the undoubted accomplishments and fame of Kentucky’s...

    (pp. 1-9)

    While Ohio, Virginia, New York, and a few other states have been closely linked to several White House occupants, most commonwealths have lacked anything more than incidental personal associations with our chief executives. In contrast, one of Kentucky’s unique features is found in her intimate identification with two presidents of the United States and the sole president of the Confederacy. Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis not only were born in Kentucky but had a number of Kentucky ties lasting many years. Zachary Taylor, who won the admiration of both Davis and Lincoln, grew to manhood in Kentucky and there spent...

    (pp. 10-19)

    In evaluating the life of Jefferson Davis, one finds an almost equal number of similarities and dissimilarities with Lincoln’s record. A surface evaluation, of course, points to more of the latter than the former. That part of the Davis career with which most people are familiar presents him as a Deep South Democrat, a cotton planter and slave owner, who typified secessionist sentiment and for four years headed the Confederate government. Moreover, some authors have seen Davis as a none too efficient executive who made many procedural mistakes. Almost invariably, he has been depicted as a cold person, with ice...

    (pp. 20-33)

    In political ideologies, party affiliations, and partisanship itself, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis had almost wholly contrasting opinions and allegiances. One of their few points of agreement (and it was not identical in every respect) concerned Kentucky’s other president— Zachary Taylor of Jefferson County.

    Unlike them, Taylor was not a Kentucky native. But he lived in Kentucky for a far longer period than either of the younger men. Born in Orange County, Virginia, on November 24, 1784, little Zack was brought out west— accompanying his parents and two older brothers— to the Louisville environs when he was eight months old....

    (pp. 34-42)

    One of the persons soon to succeed Taylor turned out to be Lincoln himself. After four years of relative political quiescence, Taylor’s eulogist was brought back to the alarums and excursions of public life by the enactment of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. From 1854 he marched— seemingly through a series of defeats, but in reality from strength to greater strength. The most colorful of Lincoln’s multiple activities of the 1850s were his joint debates with the “Little Giant” Douglas. After their conclusion in the autumn of 1858, he loomed ever larger as a national figure, a development which his Cooper Union...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 43-53)

    The Jefferson Davis who took the oath as president of the Confederate States of America, under the provisional arrangements of February 1861, would have preferred another role. Before his election at Montgomery, Mississippi had named him the major-general in command of her troops. With his West Point training and Mexican War background, his attraction to this assignment is not surprising. Still, the South possessed a larger supply of military than executive talent. One of Davis’s undeniable career assets was his four-year record as Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce. In the United States Senate, too, he had gained a widespread...

    (pp. 54-64)

    In northern portions of the United States before, during, and after the Civil War, propagandists fostered the impression that an insidious “Slave Power” brought on the conflict and did so for the purpose of perpetuating the South’s “peculiar institution.” At best, this was an oversimplification of an extremely complex congeries of issues. Indeed, a strong case can be made that there never was a monolithic “Slave Power.”And, even if one rejects the denial in a debate over definitions of terms, it is certain that numerous factors besides activities of slavery proponents figured prominently among the reasons for the four years...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 65-66)

    Some readers will doubtless agree that the interplay of these three personalities and what they stood for might be hard to accept as true-to-life if Lincoln, Davis, and Taylor had never existed and were presented to the public in a novel or on the stage. That history is stranger than fiction is so truistic that the assertion has long been regarded as banal. Yet rarely has a playwright or a novelist dealt with materials more replete with drama than the Lincoln-Davis-Taylor intertwinings.

    Take, for instance, the mathematical odds against Davis’s fighting in Mexico under the command of his former fatherin-law....

  13. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 67-72)