Beriah Magoffin the son of an immigrant from Ireland was born in Harrodsburg in 1815. He was a graduate of Centre College and the law school at Transylvania.
Prior to his election as governor in 1859, he practiced law and was active in Democratic politics at a time when Democrats were in the minority and Whigs were the majority party until the mid-1850s. Magoffin was appointed Harrodsburg Police Judge in 1840 by Whig Governor Letcher. Magoffin was elected to the Kentucky Senate in 1850. He was the Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor in 1855 but lost to the “Know-Nothing” or American Party candidate.
Magoffin was elected Governor in 1859. His views were similar to those of many southerners. He accepted slavery and believed in the enforcement of the “Fugitive Slave Act”.
In 1861, Kentucky’s legislature was comprised of Unionist majority
Magoffin was elected in 1859. His views were similar to those of many southerners. He accepted slavery and believed in the enforcement of the “Fugitive Slave Act”.
In 1861, Kentucky’s legislature was comprised of Unionist majority. They prevented him from calling a convention to consider succession. In April, Magoffin refused Lincoln’s call for volunteers for the Union. A week later, Magoffin rejected Jefferson Davis’ request for volunteers for the southern cause.
In September 1861, when opposing forces were in Kentucky violating the state’s neutrality, Magoffin the legislature passed legislation requiring him to order only Confederate forces out of Kentucky. Magoffin vetoed the legislation. Magoffin and the pro-union legislature continued to be at odds until the summer of 1862. Magoffin opposed legislation which required the forfeiture of state citizenship to anyone who served in the civil or military service of the Confederacy, which was passed over his veto.
Due to his frustration with the legislature and the deadline between the governor and the legislature he offered to resign in August 1862. However, the Lt. Governor Linn Boyd had died early in his term in 1859. The next in line was the Speaker of the Senate, John F. Fisk who was not liked by Magoffin.
As a result a deal was made where Magoffin’s preferred successor, Senator James F. Robinson was elected Speaker of the Senate after Fisk stepped aside on August 16, 1862. Then on August 18, 1862 Beriah Magoffin resigned as governor of Kentucky and James Robinson became Governor of Kentucky.
After his resignation, Magoffin went back to his farm near Harrodsburg and practiced law and was a successful investor in Chicago real estate which made him wealthy. He was elected to a term in the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1867-69. He was on record in support of the ratification of the 13rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
He was married to a granddaughter of Isaac Shelby, Anna Nelson Shelby. Together they had ten children who survived infancy.
Magoffin County was named in Governor Magoffin’s honor in 1860.