History of Kentucky Governors

Kentucky Governors and Elections

Missouri Atty Gen; U.S. Rep.;  & KY Governor




            Prior to his election as Kentucky Governor in 1883, J. Proctor Knott was the elected attorney general for Missouri at the outset of the Civil War. 

            James Proctor Knott was born on August 29, 1830 in Marion County, Kentucky.  As to his education, he was tutored by his father Joseph and later attended public schools in Marion and Shelby Counties.  In 1848, he began to study law.  In 1851, he moved to Memphis, Missouri where practiced law and served as clerk of the circuit and county courts. 

            Knott married Mary E. Forman in 1852.  She died in childbirth in 1853.

            Knott’s political career began when he was elected in 1857 to the Missouri House of Representatives representing Scotland County.  In 1858, Knott was appointed to the fill an unexpired term of the Missouri Attorney General.  In 1859, Knott was elected to a full term as Attorney General.

            During the Civil War, Knott had sympathies for the south.  When approached by Union troops in Missouri’s capitol city of Jefferson City, he refused to make a pledge of loyalty to President Abraham Lincoln.  As a result, Knott resigned as Missouri Attorney General and was imprisoned in the St. Louis Arsenal by Union forces.  Soon after his release, Knott moved back to his roots in Marion County, Kentucky.

            During his career as a U.S. Congressman, Knott made a satirical speech ridiculing funding of railroad expansion near Duluth, Minnesota.  This speech gave Knott national acclaim for its satire and gained untold publicity for Duluth; even though what Knott said about Duluth was negative.  The railroad who wanted the money named a rail siding outside of Duluth for Knott even though he opposed it.  To read the speech in its entirety go to http://kakopa.com/geo/duluth.htm or  http://www.turbinecar.com/misc/Duluth.pdf).   As  a result a city on the railroad near Duluth was named Proctorknott in his honor and invited him to a dedication in 1891 where he was honored.  The name of the town was shortened to Proctor in 1904.  (http://ci.proctor.mn.us/) 

            Knott did not run for re-election to Congress in 1870, but instead sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 1871.  He was defeated by Preston Leslie.

            Knott successfully ran for Congress in 1874 and served until 1883.  In 1883, Knott secured the Democratic nomination for Governor over former Congressman Thomas Jones of Newport.  He then defeated Republican Thomas Z. Morrow of Somerset. 

            Upon assuming the office of governor, Knott called for reform of the tax assessment, reform of state finances and overhaul of public education.  In doing so, he noted the “grossest disparity” between the assessed value of property and its market value.  This resulted in the creation of the state Board of Equalization whose duty was to see that assessments were more uniform throughout the Commonwealth.  He also advocated the elimination of certain tax exemptions for corporations and elimination of lotteries.  He was unsuccessful in this last effort.

            Ins respect to public education Knott supported the passage of laws which made public education more uniform across the Commonwealth. 

            During Knott’s administration Kentucky had extreme problems with violent crime.  The Rowan County War or “The Martin-Tolliver-Logan Feud’ broke out on election day in 1884 and lasted over 3 years.  The Tollivers  took control of the city of Morehead after driving Sheriff Cook Humphrey out of town in 1885.  An attempt was made to dissolve Rowan County was denied by the state.  Attorney Daniel Boone Logan gathered a vigilante army and in June 1887 won the final battle.  During this bloodshed in Rowan County, there were 20 killed and 16 wounded in a period of 3 years.  Unfortunately, Knott was not aggressive in combating the violence as some of his predecessors and successors.

            He is best known as a fiscal conservative and one who lead for positive improvement of the public schools.

            After leaving office, Knott practiced law in Frankfort and in 1890 served as a delegate to the constitutional convention which wrote the present Kentucky Constitution.  He taught at Centre College and helped found its law school.

            He died in Lebanon, Kentucky where he is buried.

            In addition to Proctor, Minnesota, Knott County was named in honor of Governor J. Proctor Knott.