History of Kentucky Governors

Kentucky Governors and Elections

The 20th Governor of Kentucky

CHARLES SLAUGHTER MOREHEAD

1855-1859

                The only member of the “American” or “Know Nothing” Party elected Governor was Charles Slaughter Morehead.  Charles Slaughter Morehead had been a member of the Whig Party until it dissolved in the 1850s.

                Morehead was born in 1802 in Nelson County.  He earned a law degree at Transylvania before practicing law in Christian County and then Franklin County.  He was a cousin of Governor John Turner Morehead, Kentucky’s 12th Governor.

                Prior to his election as governor, Morehead served in the Kentucky House of Representatives and as Kentucky Attorney General.  He represented Kentucky’s 8th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1847-1851.

                The Campaign of 1855 resulted in bloodshed and riots in Louisville due to rhetoric against Catholics and the foreign born during the campaign known as “Bloody Monday” on August 6, 1855.  The “Know Nothings” frequently railed against the foreign born and Catholics.  Morehead won the election for Governor over his Democratic opponent, Beverly Clarke 69,816 to 65,413.  Both Houses of the Kentucky legislature had an “American” majority.  At his inauguration, Morehead, despite his campaign rhetoric, proclaimed “equality for naturalized citizens”. 

                Achievements of Morehead’s administration included state supported teacher education at Transylvania University with a Teacher’s College.  With that, Kentucky became the 9th state to fund teacher education. 

                A state funded state fair was begun under Morehead in order to encourage production of quality farm products.  He also improved the state penitentiary in Frankfort.  He increased the number of cells from 126 cells to 252 cells for the 237 prisoners in 1856.  Women prisoners were given a floor of their own. 

                During the recession of 1857, it was noted that Kentucky state government spent $21,000 on relief for the poor or paupers. 

                After the end of his term, Morehead practiced law in Louisville for two years and attended the Washington Peace Conference in February 1861 and the Border State Convention in May 1861.  He advocated Kentucky’s neutrality during the Civil War.  Though he was for neutrality, he criticized President Lincoln’s policies and Secretary William Seward’s efforts to cut off southern trade with Europe.  (It should be noted that Morehead served in Congress with Lincoln in 1847 as a Whig) 

                Morehead was arrested for being outspoken against the Lincoln and was held at Ft. Lafayette in New York Harbor and later at Ft. Warren at Boston Harbor.  He was later paroled but fled to Canada, Europe and Mexico until the end of the Civil War.  After the war he settled on his plantation in Greenville, Mississippi where he died on December 21, 1868.

                Governor Morehead was married twice.  In 1823, he married Amanda Leavy of Lexington.  Amanda died in 1829.  In 1831, he married Amanda’s sister Margaret.  He and Margaret had four children.