History of Kentucky Governors

Kentucky Governors and Elections

JOHN YOUNG BROWN--The original


June 28, 1835-January 11, 1904


            John Young Brown, a native of Hardin County and sometime after 1862 relocated to Henderson was elected as Governor of Kentucky in 1891.  It should be noted that he is not related to John Y. Brown, Jr. who was elected Governor in 1979.

            Brown a lawyer and Centre College graduate of 1855, practiced law in Elizabethtown prior to being elected to the US House of Representatives in 1858.  Because he was underage, Brown was not seated in Congress until the Second Session of the 36th Congress.

            In 1857, Brown married Lucie Barbee who died in 1858.  In 1860, he married Rebecca Hart Dixon.  Rebecca was the daughter of former Kentucky U.S. Senator Archibald Dixon.  They had eight children.

            During the campaign of 1860, Brown supported Stephen Douglas for President, serving on the “Douglas National Committee”.  After 1862, Brown moved to Henderson where he practiced law.  It should be noted that Brown’s father-in-law, Archibald Dixon lived in Henderson and practiced law there.  In 1866 he was elected to the 40th Congress which met beginning in March 1867.  However, Brown was not allowed to take his seat as he was considered being disloyal to the Union during the Civil War.  He was elected in 1872 to the 43rd Congress and in 1874 to the 44th Congress serving from March 4, 1873 to March 3, 1877.

            His most notable moment in Congress was his censure by the House for use of “unparlimentary language toward Massachusetts Congressman Benjamin F. Butler.  His censure was eventually erased from the official records of Congress.

            After leaving Congress in 1877, he practiced law in Louisville until becoming Governor of Kentucky in 1891.

            In 1891, there were no primary elections for the nominating of candidates.  Though he was the favorite for the nomination, he finally received the nomination at the State Democratic Convention on the 13th Ballot winning over Cassius Marcellus Clay, son of Congressman Brutus J. Clay and nephew of the abolitionist Cassius Clay and future U.S. Congressman John Daniel Clardy of Christian County.

            During the 1891 there were at least 4 active candidates campaigning for Governor of Kentucky.  In addition to Brown on the Democratic Ticket, there was Andrew T. Wood of Mt. Sterling on the Republican Ticket and S. Brewer Erwin of the Populist Party in addition to a Prohibition Party candidate.  While Brown won the election with 144,168 votes to Wood’s 116,087, Populist Erwin received 25,631 or about 9% of the total vote.

            It should also be noted, that the present “Kentucky Constitution of 1890” was adopted during the General Election of August 1891.  However, during the campaign Brown would not take a stand on ratification of the document.

            After taking office in 1891, Brown appointed a commission to study the impact of the new Constitution of 1890 on the state’s laws and institutions.  He also announced that the state’s budget deficit was $229,000 and would reach $500,000 by the end of 1893.  Because of these issues, the legislature was in session almost continuously from December 1891 through July 1893. 

            Mob violence continued to be a problem during Brown’s administration.  From 1892 through 1895, there were 56 lynchings in Kentucky. 

            Because of the 1890 Constitution, the state was able to transfer more of the costs of government to the counties and towns.  He was able to increase tax collections and penalties for delinquent taxes.  As a money saving measure, he abolished Kentucky’s geological survey.  He attempted to abolish the parole board but the legislature did not go along with the idea.  However, as Governor he ignored the recommendation of the board where he could.

            During Brown’s administration, the L&N and other railroad companies attempted to control many government officials in Kentucky.  Brown in fact attempted to get the support from the L & N in order to help secure the U.S. Senate seat vacated by John G. Carlisle became U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.  It is said that Brown actively opposed L & N’s acquisition of the Chesapeake, Ohio & Southwestern Railroad in 1894.

            After leaving the Office of Governor, Brown had sought election as an U.S. Senator.  However, family tragedy made Brown change his mind.  John Brown’s teenage daughter died of tuberculosis in 1894.  Within a year of his daughter’s death, his son Archibald Dixon Brown was killed by a jealous husband with his lover in Louisville.

            By 1899, Brown reconciled with the L & N Railroad interests.  In the election of 1899, he ran as a third party “anti-Goebel” candidate for governor in an effort to split the Democratic vote. 

            After the assassination of William Goebel in 1900, John Young Brown served as defense counsel for Secretary of State Caleb Power in the first of his three trials of being complicity and the mastermind of the Goebel murder.  This was based in part that the trajectory of the bullet which struck Goebel coming from the Secretary of State’s office next to the capitol building.

            Brown died in Henderson on January 11, 1904 where he is buried.