Historical, Political, and Social Leaders

"Where hate flourishes, all are corrupted." -- Whitney Young, Jr.

Kentuckians have played vital roles in shaping the political and social landscape of our nation. To date, the state has produced four US vice presidents; four US Supreme Court justices; a host of civil rights leaders and activists; social reformers; influential politicians; and one exceptionally prominent US president -- Abraham Lincoln.

President Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, was born in a log cabin on the Sinking Spring Farm, (in what is now), Larue County, Kentucky. The 16th President of the United States, is by far the most historically famous of Kentuckians known for their political and social leadership. Elected to the presidency in November 1860, Lincoln had to immediately deal with the Confederacy and the Civil War. And although the war remained the central focus of his presidency, during his administration a number of legislative bills were signed into law and programs established including: the Department of Agriculture; the first income tax; the Homestead Act; the Morrill Land-Grant College Act; the transcontinental railroad; and the states of West Virginia (1863) and Nevada, (1864), were admitted to the Union.

Assassinated in 1865 because of his views on slavery, Lincoln was the first US president to lie in state. Historians often list him as the greatest US president of all time. He will long be remembered for signing the Emancipation Proclamation that put a legal end to the atrocity of slavery.

The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Hodgenville, Kentucky is a treasured national landmark and his historical speech, "The Gettysburg Address" is often quoted.

US Vice-Presidents

Alben Barkley, (1877-1956), a native of Graves County, Kentucky, served as the 35th Vice President of the United States, during the administration of President Harry S Truman.

After college and law school, Barkley practiced law in Paducah. He served locally as prosecuting attorney for McCracken County from 1905 to 1909 and then as McCracken County judge from 1909 to 1913.

He was elected to the US House of Representatives six times from Kentucky's First District, of which McCracken County is a part. Elected to the US Senate in 1926, he served until beginning his term as the nation's number two leader in 1949. After serving one term as vice president, he returned to the US Senate and served there until his death in 1956.

Vice President Alben Barkley is buried near Paducah.

Lake Barkley and Barkley Dam, in western Kentucky, are named in his honor.

Vice President Alben Barkley, from Kentucky.
Alben William Barkley

John C. Breckinridge was born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1821. He became the 14th Vice President of the United States, serving from March 1857 to March 1861, in the administration of President James Buchanan. Breckinridge later served in the US Senate but was expelled for supporting the South in the turmoil prior to the Civil War. Breckinridge broke his commitment to Kentucky after the state legislature voted to remain in the Union. He became a major general in the Confederate Army during the war and also served as the Confederate States Secretary of War. He is buried in the Lexington Cemetery.

Richard M. Johnson was born in Jefferson County, Kentucky in 1780. Educated at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, Johnson was admitted to the Kentucky bar at the age of 19. He served in the Kentucky House of Representatives, the US House of Representatives, the US Senate; and as Vice President of the United States, (during the tenure of President Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841).

There are counties in five US states named for Vice President Johnson: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Nebraska. He is buried in the Frankfort Cemetery.

Adlai E. Stevenson, (1835-1914), was born in Christian County, Kentucky and served as the 23rd Vice President of the United States during the administration of President Grover Cleveland.

United States Supreme Court Justices

Louis D. Brandeis, a Louisville native, served as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from June 1916 to February 1939. Nominated by President Woodrow Wilson, Brandeis became the first Jewish justice in US Supreme Court history.

The Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville is named in his honor. Brandeis is buried there and the school's library houses his papers. Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts is also named for him.

John Marshall Harlan was born in (present-day) Boyle County, Kentucky in 1833. A lawyer by trade, Harlan served as Franklin County Judge and Kentucky Attorney General before being nominated to the US Supreme Court by President Rutherford B. Hayes.

In the landmark Supreme Court case, Plessy v Ferguson, which was used for over 50 years to justify racial segregation, Justice Harlan cast the only dissenting opinion against the decision.

Justice Harlan died in 1911 after serving on the court for over 33 years.

Stanley Reed, born in Minerva, Kentucky served as a US Supreme Court Justice from 1938 to 1957.

Fred M. Vinson, born in Lawrence County, Kentucky, served in the US House of Representatives; as Secretary of the Treasury in the administration of President Harry S Truman; and was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Truman, where he served as the 13th Chief Justice of the US. He died in 1953 in Washington, D.C.

Leaders in the Fight for Civil Rights and Social Reform

James G. Birney, born in Danville, Kentucky was a noted abolitionist.

Anne Braden, from Louisville, is known as a civil rights activist.

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge, born in Woodlake, Kentucky, grew up at Ashland, the famous Lexington estate built by her great grandfather, Henry Clay. As a leader in the women's suffrage movement, she served in various capacities including president of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association and vice president of the National Women's Suffrage Association.

Cassius Marcellus Clay, was born in Madison County, Kentucky. The "Lion of White Hall", was vehemently opposed to slavery, and was a friend of Abraham Lincoln. He also donated land and money to John G. Fee, for the establishment of Berea College, the first racially integrated school in Kentucky. He survived mob beatings, several assassination attempts, and the destruction of his business -- an antislavery newspaper, based in Lexington.

Clay served the United States as Minister to Russia from 1861 to 1862, and 1863 to 1869. His family home, White Hall State Historic Site, is open to the public for tours.

Laura Clay, pictured at left, was a daughter of Cassius Clay, born in 1849 at the family home, White Hall, in Madison County.

The cofounder of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, she served as president of the organization until 1912.

She traveled extensively across the nation, speaking on behalf of women's suffrage and was an important leader in the movement.

She is interred at the Lexington Cemetery.

Martha Layne Collins, from Shelby County, Kentucky, was elected governor of Kentucky in 1983, becoming the first woman to hold the office. She has, and continues to serve in a multitude of roles promoting the betterment of Kentuckians in all areas of life.

John G. Fee, a native of Bracken County, Kentucky founded Berea College, with the financial assistance of Cassius Clay.

Alice Lloyd, a social reformer, founded Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, (Knott County), Kentucky.

Katherine Pettit, from Fayette County, Kentucky was the cofounder of the Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, and Pine Mountain Settlement School in Bell County.

Cora Wilson Stewart, a pioneer in education was born in Farmers, Kentucky. She was the first woman president of the Kentucky Education Association and also served as the Director the National Illiteracy Crusade, and chairperson of President Hoover's Commission on Illiteracy.

Whitney Young, Jr., born in Shelby County, Kentucky, was an American civil rights leader. He served as president of the National Urban League from 1961 until his death in 1971. His life's work was dedicated to breaking down racial barriers.

Other Political Leaders from Kentucky

Henry Clay, "The Great Compromiser", was known for his ability to foster nonpartisan agreements. He served as the 8th, 10th, and 13th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives; represented Kentucky in the US Senate; and served as United States Secretary of State in the cabinet of President John Quincy Adams.

A 1957 US Senate committee, chaired by John F. Kennedy, named Clay as one of the five greatest Senators in US history.

Clay's home, Ashland, in Lexington, Kentucky, is open to the public as a museum.

John Sherman Cooper, a native of Somerset, (Pulaski County), Kentucky, was educated at Centre College, Yale University and Harvard Law School before entering politics in 1927 as a member of the Kentucky legislature. He served as county judge, (Pulaski County), and was elected three times to fill unexpired terms of other senators in the US Senate.

Senator Cooper was an avid supporter of civil rights; a member of the Warren Commission; and US Ambassador to Indian and Germany.

A statue of him stands at Fountain Square in Somerset.

Jefferson Davis, born in, (what is now), Todd County, Kentucky, served as the 23rd US Secretary of War in the administration of President Franklin Pierce, and in both houses of the US Congress, before denouncing the United States and becoming the first and only President of the Confederate States of America.

Davis died in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1889, estranged from his native state of Kentucky.

Mary Elliott Flanery was born in, (present-day), Elliott County, Kentucky. She became the first woman elected to the Kentucky state legislature. While there, she worked tirelessly for women's rights and education reform. A permanent marker was placed in her seat in the chambers of the Kentucky house, to recognize and pay tribute to her service to the commonwealth.

Mary Todd Lincoln, was born in Lexington, Kentucky to an influential family of slaveholders. As the wife of Abraham Lincoln and First Lady of the United States, she diligently supported her husband's efforts to end slavery and reunite the nation.

Georgia Powers, from Springfield, Kentucky, became the first woman, and first African-American to be elected to the state senate.

James Speed, a native of Jefferson County, served as the 28th US Attorney General, taking office during President Lincoln's tenure.

Thelma Stovall, born in Munfordville, Kentucky, won several elective statewide offices, including Lieutenant Governor in the election with Governor Julian Carroll.

Related Pages

Current Kentucky Leaders in the U.S Congress
Kentucky Governors

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