History of Kentucky Governors

Kentucky Governors and Elections


      Kentucky's second Governor could be considered by some as one of the most tolerant persons who ever served in public office.  As Governor he pardoned a slave who was accused of poisoning his food.  A veteran of the American Revolution, he served both as a sailor and as a soldier. Colonel James Garrard was a planter and member of the Virginia House of Delegates prior to moving to Kentucky.

     As a member of the Virginia House of Delegates he was responsible for legislation providing for religious liberty for citizens of Virginia.

    Garrard was an active Baptist minister who help found many churches in Central Kentucky as well as being a well known maker of Bourbon Whiskey.  He was a resident of Bourbon County.  He was a farmer and owned 35,000 acres.  As a Baptist minister he advocated religious tolerance and even Unitarian ideas.  He was an early opponent of slavery.  He attempted to include language in Kentucky's First (1792) and Second (1799) Constitutions which abolished slavery.

   Prior to his election as Kentucky's second governor, he helped organize and establish Bourbon County where he served in several public offices including surveyor and magistrate.  During Garrard's two terms he signed legislation creating 26 Kentucky counties including his namesake county of Garrard.

     One of the major issues of Garrard's first term was the State Constitution.  This was reflected in Garrard's election in 1796. There were four men who were candidates including Garrard.  The other three were Benjamin Logan, Thomas Todd and John Brown.  The State Constitution of 1792 required an electoral college (similar to the US Electoral College) to elect the Governor as well as members of the State Senate.

    The "electoral college" was called into question when the "electoral college" took two to ballots to elect James Garrard.  During the first ballot Logan received 21 votes, Garrard 17, Todd 14 and Brown 1.  The Constitution of 1792 seemed to require the winning candidate for governor to have the majority votes of the electors and not a plurality.  There was a second ballot as Garrard and the two other candidates received a total of 32 votes to Logan's 21 votes.   During the second ballot Garrard received a majority of the electoral votes.   This resulted in a protest by Logan which did not overturn the decision of the second ballot electing Garrard.

     In August 1799, delegates from Kentucky's 25 counties after meeting in Frankfort adopted the Second Constitution of Kentucky.  That Constitution abolished the "electoral college" and provided for the direct election of the Governor and Lt. Governor (1st Constitution did not provide for Lt. Gov.).

    James Garrard was the only person prior to Paul Patten to serve two consecutive four year terms as governor.  Garrard was so popular that the drafters of the Second Constitution made a provision which allowed him to serve a term under the Second Constitution.   Thus, James Garrard became the first Kentucky Governor elected by popular vote.


James Garrard



       Under the Second Constitution only "freemen of the Commonwealth (negroes, mulattoes, and Indians excepted) "could vote" or "serve in the militia".

    The offices of Attorney General and Secretary of State continued to be appointed by the Governor.

    Henry Clay the future KY Congressman and US Senator sought election to the 1799 Constitutional  Convention from Fayette County. He was defeated due his writings in the Kentucky Gazette advocating the abolition of slavery.  At the time of his candidacy to the 1799 Constitutional Convention, Clay advocated the gradual abolition of slavery which would be his position until his death while serving as a US Senator from Kentucky in 1852.




 During the January and February Session of the Kentucky General Assembly reformed the Commonwealth's Criminal Code.  As the framers of the 1792 adopted the Criminal Code of Virginia which adopted much of what was in the British Criminal Code.  The Virginia Criminal Code imposed the death penalty for 27 crimes.  The Danville Political Club and the Kentucky Gazette were of the opinion that "capital punishment should not be imposed for crimes other than murder and treason".


    Navigation of the Mississippi River was an issue for Kentuckians during the terms of Shelby and Garrard due to the port of New Orleans and the land comprising the Louisiana Purchase were under the control of Spain and France until 1803.  In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase by the Administration of Thomas Jefferson gave the citizens of the United States and Kentucky free access to the Mississippi River to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Kentucky Resolutions Against The Alien & Sedition Acts

   After George Washington left office in 1797, John Adams became President and political parties became part of the American landscape.   As the nation was in an undeclared war with France and their was criticism of President Adams by supporters of Vice President Thomas Jefferson.  The supporters of Adams, Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts which were signed into law by Adams.  A summary of the Alien & Sedition Acts are set forth below.

Naturalization Act

. This act required that aliens be residents for 14 years instead of 5 years before they became eligible for   citizenship.

Alien Act

Congress then passed the Alien Act on June 25, 1798 authorizing the President to deport aliens "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States" during peacetime.

 This act allowed the wartime arrest, imprisonment and deportation of any alien subject to an enemy power.

Sedition Act

The Sedition Act, passed on July 14, 1798 declared that any treasonable activity, including the publication of "any false, scandalous and malicious writing," was a high misdemeanor, punishable by fine and imprisonment.

As a result of the Sedition Act  25 men, most of them editors of Anti-Adams newspapers, were arrested and their newspapers forced to shut down.


    In response to the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Kentucky General Assembly passed the Kentucky Resolution which protested to the Federal Government the Constitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts.  It should be noted that it was later revealed that the Kentucky Resolution was drafted by Thomas Jefferson.