History of Kentucky Governors

Kentucky Governors and Elections





            James Robinson became Kentucky Governor in August 1862 as a result of an arrangement or deal between Magoffin and the legislature to facilitate Governor Beriah Magoffin’s resignation.   As governor, Magoffin had pro southern sympathies and had a legislature that was overwhelmingly pro-Union, therefore state government was deadlocked.  Linn Boyd who had been elected Lt. Governor when Magoffin was elected government had died.  The next in line was the Speaker of the Senate—John Fisk.  Governor Magoffin did not want Fisk to become governor.  So, a deal was struck that Fisk would resign as Speaker of the Senate and Robinson would be elected Speaker of the Senate (President of the Senate) on August 16, 1862 and on August 18, 1862 Beriah Magoffin resigned as Governor of Kentucky and Robinson sworn in as Kentucky’s governor .

            Within days of being sworn in, Governor Robinson faced the start of a major Confederate invasion of Kentucky with the Battle of Richmond on August 29-30, 1862, followed by the Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862.  

            In order to protect the citizens of Kentucky, Robinson had the legislature raise taxes in order to revive the militia which had been phased out in the previous decade. 

            In January 1863, Governor Robinson proudly noted that a divided Kentucky at that time had provided over 44,000 men to aid the Union.

            Despite Robinson’s support for the Union he opposed President Lincoln’s policies of protecting run-a-way slaves and the Emancipation Proclamation. 

            In addition to military issues, Robinson did what he could for education by having the legislature investigate the condition of education in Kentucky particularly in the war ravaged areas of the state.  He encouraged the legislature to accept the Lincoln Administration’s offer of federal aid to establish an agriculture and mechanical college.  This did not come to pass until 1865 under his successor Thomas Bramlette established the Kentucky Agriculture and Mechanical College which is now the University of Kentucky. 

            Robinson was born in Scott County in 1800.  He graduated from Transylvania University in 1818.  His older brother, John M. Robinson graduated in the same time and moved to Illinois where he served as a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court and two terms as a U.S. Senator from Illinois in the 1830s.

            Robinson practiced law in Georgetown and in 1821 married the first of his three wives, Susan Mansell in 1821.  They had two children prior to her death in 1835.  In 1839, Robinson married Willina Herndon.  They had eight children, seven of whom survived to adulthood.  Willina died in 1861, the year before Robinson became governor.

            Prior to becoming governor, Robinson had been elected twice to the Kentucky Senate.  He was elected to his first term in 1851 as a Whig.  He did not seek a second term until 1861, when he defeated James Beck (who later became a US Rep. and US Senator).

            After his short time as governor, Robinson retired to his family farm “Cardome” in Scott County.  He supported the election of his successor, Democrat Thomas Bramlette. 

            In the Presidential Election of 1864, he supported George McClellan over Lincoln.  This was in part due to the Union’s imposition of martial law in the state and the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus.

            James Robinson married his third wife, Caroline “Carrie” Hening in1873.  She was a woman 39 years younger than Robinson.   He died in Scott County in 1882.