History of Kentucky Governors

Kentucky Governors and Elections





            Democrat Augustus Stanley was elected to succeed 77 year old Governor James B. McCreary in 1915 as the 37th person to serve as Governor of Kentucky.  Stanley went by “A.O” Stanley was the son of a preacher born in Shelbyville.  Stanley was a teacher and lawyer prior to his entry into politics.

            A.O. Stanley was born on May 21, 1867 to William and Amanda Owsley Stanley.  He was given the name “Nudicut Owsley Stanley”.  At age 10 he convinced his parents to change his first name to “Augustus” in honor of his grandmother Augusta Owsley so that no one could call him “NO Stanley”.

Stanley entered politics in Henderson.  In 1902, AO Stanley was elected to the first of six terms in the US House of Representatives from Western Kentucky's 2nd District.  As a Congressman, Stanley championed the interests of tobacco growers and opposed “trusts”.  Due to the anti-trust practices in Western Kentucky of Duke’s American Tobacco Company, he introduced legislation in the Congress to go after the tobacco trust and used his position to convince the Theodore Roosevelt Administration and the Taft Administration to pursue anti-trust suits against the American Tobacco Company.

He lead the Congressional Investigation which investigated US Steel.  U.S. Steel was a billion dollar corporation or trust assembled by J.P. Morgan during the 1890s.  J.P. Morgan’s trust controlled over 60% of the nation’s production of steel, owned over 1,000 miles of railroads, a significant portion of the nation’s coal and iron ore reserves as well as 112 ships which ship iron ore.  In 1907, Morgan purchased Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad.  In 1909 and 1910, Stanley put together which by 1911 began hearings concerning U.S. Steel and legislation which resulted in the Clayton Antitrust Act.

            In 1914, the first direct elections for the US Senate were held in Kentucky. Foregoing a seventh term, AO Stanley challenged former Governor JW Beckham for the Democratic nomination for the US Senate where he was defeated by Beckham who became Kentucky’s first popularly elected US Senator.

            The following year, 1915 AO Stanley was nominated for Governor.  Stanley’s Republican opponent was Edwin P. Morrow of Somerset (who was elected Governor in 1919).  Stanley and Morrow often traveled together during the 1915 gubernatorial campaign even staying at the same hotel while they verbally blasted each other.  One example of the antics of the campaign is cited in Thomas Ramage’s “Augustus Owsley Stanley—Early 20th Century Democrat” found in Kentucky Profiles Biographical Essays in Honor of Holman Hamilton.

            …Morrow and Stanley shared the same platform.  Speaking first,

            Morrow thrilled the crowd with his brilliant oratory.  Stanley, who

            had drunk too much bourbon prior to the engagement, managed to

            sit quietly during Morrow’s address, but when he rose to make his

            own speech “his head swam and his knees buckled.”  Nauseated, he

            staggered to the back of the platform where he vomited.  Then,

            embarrassed but not at a loss for words, he returned to the speaker’s

            stand where he said: “Gentlemen, I beg you to excuse me.  Every time

            I hear Ed Morrow speak, it makes me sick of my stomach.”


Issues during the campaign included prohibition which Stanley opposed.  Another issue was the l $1.oo tax on dogs.  When speaking about the tax on dogs, he would often howl like a dog.

            AO Stanley defeated Morrow by only 487 votes. 

            As governor, AO Stanley enjoyed a Democratic majority in both houses of the General Assembly.

            Stanley was successful in having his legislative programs enacted into law.  These programs included the first Workers Compensation Law, Anti-Trust Legislation.  Progressive legislation Stanley successfully through the General Assembly such including a corrupt practices act and an anti-lobbying act.  During a 1917 special session the General Assembly enacted a Tax Reform package which would help Kentucky’s farmers.  After the start of World War I, Stanley vetoed legislation which would have banned the teaching of German in Kentucky.

            A  O Stanley was blamed when the General Assembly rejected the proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution to establish prohibition during the 1916 session.  In July 1917 it was approved by a combined 94-17 voter.

            Stanley was also quite the orator.  He stopped a lynching of a black prisoner, a judge and Commonwealth Attorney in Murray by the sheer force of his personality.  He made national news in January 1917, when he took a night train from Louisville to Murray as he said “I shall give the mob a chance to lynch the Governor of Kentucky first.”  Upon arriving in Murray, he personally went to where the Circuit Judge and the Commonwealth Attorney were being held hostage and dared the mob to kill him. 

            AO Stanley was elected to US Senate in 1919 during a special election and resigned to serve in the Senate.  He was defeated in a re-election bid in 1924 by Louisville Republican businessman, Frederic M. Sackett.  This was due in part to making enemies with the Anti-Saloon League and the Ku Klux Klan.    President Herbert Hoover appointed AO Stanley to the International Boundary Commission which mediated disputes between the US and Canada.  Stanley served on the Commission until 1954.

            Augustus O. Stanley died at age 91 in 1958.  He was survived by his wife Sue Soaper Stanley and two of his three sons.  His grandson A.O. “Bear” Stanley, III (1935-2011)  recently died in a car wreck in Australia.  During the 1960s and 70s “Bear Stanley" was considered one of the largest private manufacturers of the drug LSD.  He was also associated with the band-The Grateful Dead.