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Proud Kentuckian

Proud Kentuckian: John C. Breckinridge, 1821-1875

Copyright Date: 1976
Edition: 1
Pages: 186
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  • Book Info
    Proud Kentuckian
    Book Description:

    In his brief life John C. Breckinridge embraced the roles of lawyer, politician, statesman, soldier, exile, and businessman. An imposing and tactful man, he was exceptional for evoking both loyal devotion from his followers and generous respect from his opponents during a strife-torn era.

    Breckinridge's meteoric rise to national prominence began with election to the Kentucky legislature in 1849 and to the United States Congress in 1851. His eloquence earned him the Democratic Party's nomination for the vice presidency in 1856, and he became the youngest man ever to hold that office. Nearing the end of his term Breckinridge was elected United States senator by the Kentucky legislature. He was a favorite of the Southern faction during the 1860 Democratic convention. Had the nation and the party not foundered on the divisive issues of slavery, section, and union, Breckinridge might well have reached the White House.

    With the sundering of the Union, Breckinridge joined the Confederate states, was commissioned a brigadier general, and fought valiantly at Shiloh, Chickamauga, Cold Harbor, and elsewhere before becoming secretary of war. The collapse of the Confederacy drove him into exile in Canada and Europe. But in 1869 he returned to Kentucky to live out his life quietly and industriously as a lawyer and railroad executive.

    Proud Kentuckianportrays the most illustrious member of one of Kentucky's first families.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5038-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. x-xii)

    This little volume is devoted to the short life of one of the most eminent Kentuckians of his generation, a man whom friends and acquaintances found singularly fascinating. Now, a hundred years after his death, the secret of John Cabell Breckinridge’s charm is hard to recover. No doubt it was compounded of many things: an erect, manly, athletic figure, tall by the standards of his day, impressive on foot and doubly so when mounted; a genuine and considerate interest in all sorts and conditions of people, evidenced by word and deed from childhood until the last week of his life...

    (pp. 1-23)

    John Cabell Breckinridge was born on January 16, 1821, into a family which had a sound basis for the keen sense of family pride which was one of its distinctive marks. His paternal grandfather, John Breckinridge, had moved from Albemarle County, Virginia, to Kentucky in 1793 at the age of thirty-three. During his remaining thirteen years he amassed a large landed estate, developed a rich Bluegrass farm devoted to diversified agriculture and stock raising, and attained a position as a recognized leader of the Kentucky bar. He served from 1793 until 1797 as attorney general of Kentucky. In 1798 he...

    (pp. 24-54)

    By his twenty-eighth birthday on January 16, 1849, Breckinridge had come a long way. In the five years since his marriage and return to Kentucky, he had gained recognition as a lawyer of integrity and skill. His eloquence, already much admired, had contributed greatly to his success at the bar and to his position as a leader of his party in central Kentucky. With a devoted wife and three young children he occupied an “elegant mansion,” set amid spacious grounds on the outskirts of Lexington. Through military service he had won many new friends and admirers.

    Now his career took...

    (pp. 55-76)

    The thirteen scant years between the Mexican War and the Civil War in which Breckinridge came to maturity and won a surprising succession of political victories were a time of recurrent crises. So they seemed to contemporaries and so they appear to the student who analyzes the steps which in retrospect seem to lead inexorably to the conflict which rent the country asunder.

    Though Breckinridge had urged that the Kansas-Nebraska Bill would take the slavery issue out of national politics and assuage the strife between the sections, it had a contrary effect. By 1856 antislavery forces, stirred to action by...

    (pp. 77-106)

    Many of the vice president’s admirers had long predicted his advancement to the highest office in the land. But his political future was far from certain as with patriotic words he ushered in a year of bitter strife within his party and between the sections. Two obvious questions confronted him: What did he want and what could he get? The prizes were a senatorship from Kentucky for the term beginning March 4, 1861, and the presidency. Presidential electors would not be chosen until November, 1860; but Kentucky’s senator would be elected by the legislature which was to convene in December,...

    (pp. 107-138)

    With publication of his open letter to the people of Kentucky, the forty-year-old ex-senator, ex-vice president turned to a military career which would occupy the next 3¹/² years of his life. He could not know, as he proposed to shoulder “the musket of a soldier,” just what form his military service would take. But he knew that a man of his stature would not be allowed to serve as a musket-carrying soldier. On October 13 General Buckner wrote President Davis from Bowling Green, indicating Breckinridge’s availability and proposing that he be commissioned a brigadier general. Buckner further recommended that he...

    (pp. 139-161)

    During the first stages of his flight, Breckinridge felt obliged to rejoin President Davis if possible. Though the general and his small party rode almost the length of Georgia between May 6 and May 11, with more than one narrow escape from capture by federal cavalrymen, he then remained nearly three days at Milltown (now Lakeland), a few miles north of the Florida border, awaiting news from Davis. On the seventh at Sandersville he sent home his son Clifton and his young aide, James B. Clay, Jr., grandson of Henry Clay and son of Breckinridge’s antebellum friend, the master of...

    (pp. 162-162)
  12. Appendix B: Breckinridge’s Attitude toward Slavery
    (pp. 163-164)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 165-168)
  14. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 169-172)