History of Kentucky Governors

Kentucky Governors and Elections

1792---KY Admitted As the 15th State

Prior to admission as the nation's 15th state, Kentucky had to write a state constitution.  The "First Constitution of Kentucky was adopted in Convention meeting in Danville which concluded it business on April 19, 1792.  It contained eleven (11) Articles and an eleven (11) point schedule for the commencement of state government on June 1, 1792 the date of admission to the Union. Kentucky was the second state admitted to the Union after the adoption of the present U.S. Constitution in September 1787.  Vermont was admitted on March 4, 1791. Kentucky was a county of Viriginia and as such had representation in the U.S. House of Representative prior to statehood.   John Brown was the U.S. Representative of the Kentucky District of Virigina.  In 1792, John Brown became the first U.S. Senator from Kentucky.  His home Liberty Hall is in Frankfort.

ARTICLE II of Kentucky's 'First Constitution' at Section 1 stated: "The supreme executive power of this Commonwealth shall be vested in a govenor. In 1792, the KY Governor was to be elected by special "electors" and not by direct election of the people.  Under this constitution, the Governor appointed the Attorney General and Secretary of State.  Both houses of the General Assembly elected the State Treasurer.



       It would not be until after the adoption of the 2nd Kentucky Constitution (1799) that KY voters would directly vote to elect state senators and the governor.  The office of Lt. Governor was added in the Constitution of 1799.  Candidates for Lt. Governor were directly elected by the voters.  The office of secretary of state and state auditor continued to be positions appointed by the governor.


       In respect to political parties, Kentucky's first 9 Governor's (Shelby thru Desha) identified with the Democratic-Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson.  Within that designation, Isaac Shelby and those close to Shelby dominated Kentucky politics from 1792 until about 1820.

      Henry Clay emerged as power in Kentucky politics about the time of the War of 1812 and his Whig Party dominated Kentucky politics until after his death in 1852 (though Clay was never Governor nor did he ever seek to be Governor of Kentucky). 

      The gubenatorial election of 1828 reflected the divide between the Jacksonian Democratic-Republicans and the Clay Democratic Republicans.  Thomas "Stonehammer" Metcalfe an ally of Henry Clay was elected Governor over William T. Barry a supporter of Andrew Jackson.  The supporters of Henry Clay in Kentucky became part of the national Whig Party and the supporters of Andrew Jackson became part of the national Democratic Party.

     Between 1828 and 1851, only one Democrat was elected Governor of Kentucky--John Breathitt in 1832.  Whigs dominated the Office of Kentucky Governor until 1851.


Kentucky’s Third Constitution

                 Calls for a new state constitution came as early as the 1820s due to the power invested in the Governor who appointed most state officers including the attorney general, judges and prosecutors as well as many local officials.

            In 1850, Kentucky adopted a new state constitution which required the election with term limits for those serving as governor and lt. governor.  The Governor continued to appoint the secretary of state under the Constitution of 1850.  The state treasurer was elected for a two year term with no limit on consecutive terms served.  Other elected state wide offices included four year terms for the offices of attorney-general, auditor of public accounts and register of the land office.  The clerk of the Kentucky Court of Appeals was elected for an eight year term. 

            Elections for the statewide constitutional offices under the Constitution were to be the first Monday of August 1851.

            Members of the Court of Appeals, Circuit Judges, Prosecutors were to be elected.  Offices of the County Courts were elected as well.

            Article X concerned “Slavery”.  It prohibited any act of the legislature to emancipate slaves.

            Article XII concerned education and provided for formulas for funding public education and the election every four years of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

            Article XIII of the Constitution of 1850 had a 30 paragraph “Bill of Rights”.  It included one paragraph regarding the right to own slaves (Section 3); a section concerning the estates of people who committed suicide (Section 23) and the right to “bear arms” but the right of the General Assembly to pass laws to prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons (Section 25).



                      WARS & VIOLENCE IN 19th and 20th Century Kentucky

    1. Civil War 1861 to 1865

    2.  Bloody Breathitt--6 major family feuds & many minor feuds (1865-1912)

    3.   Hatfield v. McCoy Feuds (1878-1891)

     4.  The Rowan County War (1884-1887) 

     5.   Toll Gate Wars  (1895-1900)  Central & NKY

      6.  Occupation of Frankfort--Election Dispute of 1899 (1899-1900)

      7.   Tobacco Patch or Black Patch War   (1904-1911) West KY

           For an indepth look at the Black Patch Tobacco War, I suggest the book--On Bended Knees by Bill Cunningham (Justice Cunningham of the KY Supreme Court); McClanahan Publishing House, Inc., Kuttawa, KY (1983)



##This website is being compiled weekly during 2011, an election year for Governor and other statewide constitutional offices in Kentucky. It is being continued into 2012.

The writer/compiler Paul L. Whalen is an attorney and independent historian

with a BA in History/Latin American Studies from UK; JD from NKU's Chase College of Law and a Masters from Ft. Hays State University (Hays, Kansas).

Sources include Lowell H. Harrison's Kentucky's Governors as well as information from Congressional Biographies as well as the National Governor's Association.

   NOTE--Thank-you for visiting this site.  Should you have suggestions or questions, feel free to send me an email at-- plewellinwhalen@aol.com.