History of Kentucky Governors

Kentucky Governors and Elections




                Next to Henry Clay, John J. Crittenden was probably the most influential Kentucky statesman of the 19th Century.  Crittenden was elected Governor as a member of the Whig Party in 1848.

            Crittenden was born in Woodford County in 1787.  He practiced law in Logan County.  He served briefly as Attorney General of Illinois Territory prior to returning to Kentucky where he was elected to represent Logan County in the Kentucky House of Representatives.  During that time he also served in the War of 1812 part of the time as an aide to Isaac Shelby in the Battle of the Thames.  During his last term in the legislature, he served as Speaker.

            Prior to his election as Kentucky’s Governor, Crittenden had served three terms in the U.S. Senate and as Attorney General under Presidents William Henry Harrison and John Tyler.  When he entered the U.S. Senate in 1817, he was the youngest person to become a U.S. Senator.  It should be noted that his initial service in the U.S. Senate wer 14 years over 31 years.  ( 1817-1819; 1835-1841 and 1842-1848)

            Between stints in public office, Crittenden was a renown attorney.  He was particularly in demand to defend those indicted for murder. 

            Crittenden’s accomplishments as Governor include securing passage of legislation authorizing local taxes for support of local public or “common” schools.  He also provided funding for public schools from a statewide 2% property tax as well as from proceeds from tolls on the Kentucky, Green and Barren Rivers.

            Crittenden resigned as Governor in 1850 to serve as U.S. Attorney General under President Millard Fillmore.  During the illness of Secretary of State Daniel Webster, Crittenden served as Secretary of State for Fillmore. 

            After serving as Attorney General, Crittenden was elected to the U.S. Senate to serve a term from March 1855 to March 1861.  During that term, he became known for proposing the “Crittenden Compromise” ( a series of amendments to the U.S. Constitution) in order to avert the Civil War in December 1860.  Even after the failure of the Crittenden Compromise, Crittenden worked to keep Kentucky in the Union. 

            Crittenden was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1861 where he served until his death in July 1863.  He was survived by his third wife, Elizabeth Moss.

            Crittenden had married Sarah Lee of Versailles in 1811.  They had seven children prior to Sarah’s death in September 1824.  In November 1826, Crittenden married Maria Knox Todd a widower with three children.  They later had two more children of their own.  Maria died in September 1851.  In February 1853, Crittenden married his third wife, the twice widowed Elizabeth Moss.

          The photos below are of Gov. Crittenden and his third wife Elizabeth Moss.