John White Stevenson
In the election of 1867, John White Stevenson was elected Lt. Governor on the Democratic ticket with Governor John Helm. Helm who was John J. Crittenden’s Lt. Governor, served briefly as Governor from 1850 to 1851 when he became President Millard Fillmore’s Attorney General. Helm was elected in his own right in 1867 but became sick during the campaign. Helm was so sick that he had to take the oath of office on his sick bed on September 3, 1867. Helm died five days later on September 8, 1867.
Stevenson of Covington became Governor of Kentucky upon Governor Helm’s death on September 8, 1867. He was elected in a special election of August 1868 to fill the remaining three years left in Helm’s term.
John White Stevenson was born in Richmond, Virginia. His mother, Mary White Stevenson died while giving birth to him. His father Andrew was a Virginia Congressman and Minister to Great Britain during Van Buren’s Administration. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1832. After graduation he studied law and practiced briefly in Vicksburg, Mississippi prior to moving to Covington, Kentucky in 1841.
On June 15, 1843, Stevenson married Newport resident Sibella Winston. They eventually had five children, three daughters and two sons.
Prior to his election as Governor, Stevenson was elected to two terms in the State House of Representatives and served as a delegate to the Kentucky Constitution Convention of 1850. With Madison C. Johnson and James Harlan (father of US Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan), he served on the commission which revised Kentucky’s civil and criminal code from 1850 to 1854. They produced the Code of Practise in Civil and Criminal Cases in 1854.
Stevenson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1856, where he served from 1857 to 1861. He was defeated in the 1860 General Election as the Unionists won 9 of Kentucky’s 10 Congressional Seats. Stevenson was defeated in that election by John W. Menzies. During his two terms in Congress, Stevenson supported the admission of Kansas unde the pro-slavery LeCompton Constitution.
Mob violence was a problem is post-Civil War Kentucky. Within a month of becoming Governor, Stevenson sent the state militia to Mercer County to quell the violence. In 1869, he had to send the militia to Boyle, Garrard and Lincoln counties to put down mob violence.
In respect to supporting the rights of newly freed blacks, he was rather ambivalent. He would warn that violence against blacks would not be tolerated, but would rely on local authorities to enforce the law. He was silent when the legislature refused to ratify the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution and passed legislation that would not allow the testimony of a black person against a white person in the courts of the Commonwealth.
Stevenson was active in promoting public education. He supported a successful referendum which raised additional taxes for school purposes on a segregated basis. He also established a State Bureau of Education.
In 1871, he was elected by the legislature to represent Kentucky in the U.S. Senate after a bruising campaign. He accused (some say slandered) incumbent Senator McCreery and US Rep. Thomas Jones of supporting the appointment of former General Stephen Burbridge (“the Butcher of Kentucky”) to a federal appointment by President Grant. Congressman Jones who was seeking the Senate seat as well challenged Stevenson to a duel in Frankfort. Stevenson refused Congressman Jones’ challenge.
As a U.S. Senator, Stevenson opposed the spending of federal dollars on internal improvements. He only served one term. After leaving the Senate in 1877, he returned to Covington where he practiced law and taught at the University of Cincinnati Law School. He served as President of the American Bar Association from 1884 to 1885.
He died in 1886 and is buried in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery.
This is a photo of of Stevenson's home at 314 Greenup Street in Covington, KY courtesy of Mr. Chuck