History of Kentucky Governors

Kentucky Governors and Elections

     JAMES B. McCREARY--2 Term Governor





             The 25th person to serve as governor of Kentucky was James B. McCreary of Madison County.  He served two non-consecutive terms.  His first term from 1875 to 1879 and 32 years later to a second term in 1911.  He is among three Kentucky Governors who were elected and served two non-consecutive terms, the others being Isaac Shelby and Happy Chandler.

             McCreary was born on July 8, 1838 in Madison County.  He earned a bachelor’s degree at Centre College and a L.L.B. or law degree from Cumberland University in Tennessee in 1859.  He served as a Lt. Colonel in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  After the war, he married Kate Hughes of Lexington.

             McCreary also began a his political career with three terms in the Kentucky House including two as House Speaker following the Civil War.  In the election of 1875, he campaign against the corruption of Grant Administration and reconstruction policies. 

             McCreary’s first administration was not marked with legislative accomplishment.  Though a state board of health was established charged with the responsibility of “public health”, collecting vital statistics and inquires into causes of diseases, death and epidemics.  It should be noted that state laws requiring the recording of births and deaths was not enacted until about 1910 in Kentucky.

             Much of McCreary’s time during his first term include attempting to stop the violence which continued to plague parts of the state.  Some of the worst violence was found in the mountain region stemming from “feuds” which was seen in the term “bloody” Breathitt County.  This can be seen in the November-December 1878 fight over who should escort an accused “wife murderer” from Lexington to Jackson for trial.  Essentially, two parties fought over who was to escort the prisoner due to the fees generated by the mileage and transport of the prisoner.  As a result of this fight, Governor McCreary had to send 56 militia men to Jackson to attempt to restore order.

             After leaving office in 1879, McCreary returned to Richmond to practice law.  In 1884, he was elected to his first of six terms representing Kentucky’s 8th Congressional District in the U.S. Congress.  In 1902, he was elected by the Kentucky legislature to a term in the U.S. Senate for 1903 to 1909.  While in Congress, he advocated the free coinage of silver.

             In 1911 at age 73, he was elected to his second term as Kentucky’s Governor.  As a Democrat he ran as a “progressive”.  In his campaign he supported—direct election of U.S. Senators, direct primary to nominate candidates, a public utilities commission, an antilobby law. and to fight against the “trusts” or monopolies.

             In respect to getting reforms through the Kentucky legislature, McCreary was successful in creating Department of Banking and the Compulsary (School) Attendance Act.    It was during McCreary’s second term that a new Governor’s Mansion was built for approximately $75,000.

             McCreary County formed in 1912 was named in the Governor’s honor during his second term.

            McCreary died two years after leaving office in 1918.