A GUIDE TO THE BLUEGRASS STATE - 1939
HISTORY (written in 1939)
KENTUCKY was the first State to be organized west of the Appalachian
Mountains. At the mountain barrier the westward
movement of American immigrants had come to its first halt, but there
was a lively curiosity about the land beyond to the west.
In 1642 a company of English adventurers, Walter Austin, Rice
Hoe, Joseph Johnson, and Walter Chiles, petitioned for "leave and
encouragement to explore westward." Whatever their intentions may
have been, they failed to use their grant. Twenty-seven years passed
before the subject of western exploration was again discussed in the
Virginia Assembly. A permit was granted in 1669 to John Lederer, a
German adventurer and personal friend of Governor Berkeley, to explore
westward. He made three trips into the Blue Ridge, passing
through the neighborhood of what is now Lynchburg, but accomplished
little. In 1671, Colonel Abram Wood, commandant of Fort
Henry at Petersburg, Virginia, sent Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam
into the western ranges to find the "ebbing and flowing of the rivers
on the other side of the mountains in order to reach the South Seas."
This expedition reached the Ohio Valley, but the English were not
much impressed with the findings. Two or three years later, however,
they discovered that the French were active in the western country
beyond the mountains. The English became intensely interested when
the French, by virtue of the Mississippi voyages of Jolliet and Marquette
in 1673 and of La Salle in 1682, claimed all the region drained
by the Mississippi River and its tributaries. James Needham and
Gabriel Arthur were sent into the West in 1673. Needham was killed,
but Arthur made his way into northeastern Kentucky with the Indians
and may have been the first Englishman on Kentucky soil. English
interest in the trans-Allegheny region lagged for 70 years and was
confined to the cis-Allegheny frontier.
In 1742 John Peter Salley (or Sailing) led a party from Virginia to
the banks of the Ohio River. One or two of the men were killed, and
Salley was captured by French adventurers and sent to prison, first at
Natchez, and later in Cuba and France, He finally returned to
Charleston, South Carolina. Salley's adventure stimulated a fresh
interest on the part of the English in the Ohio Valley. Seven years
later Pierre Joseph Celoron, Sieur de Blainville, set out from Quebec
to lay claim for the French to all the land between Quebec and New
Orleans. The news of this expedition aroused the English whose
Colonial officials took steps to make counter claims. Land companies
were organized and plans were made at once to send surveyors beyond
the mountains to lay out claims to large tracts of lands for prospective
settlements. The Loyal Land Company at Charlottesville, Virginia,
secured a grant of 800,000 acres and dispatched an expedition westward
under Dr. Thomas Walker in 1750. The party left Charlottesville
on March 6 and came to a wide pass in the Allegheny wall on
April 13. Walker refers to the pass in his journal as "Cave Gap"
through which his party passed on their way to within a short distance
from what is now Barboursville. Here the expedition established its
base for operations, explored the eastern mountain range of Kentucky
for several weeks, and left the country on June 20, 1750.
The next year Christopher Gist, a frontier scout and explorer, was
employed by the Ohio Land Company to visit the West. He traveled
through passes in the neighborhood of modern Pittsburgh and made
his way through Indian trading villages down the Ohio River to the
Kentucky country. In March 1751 he visited Big Bone Lick, and
headed for the great Falls of the Ohio River, now Louisville, but
friendly Shawnee Indians warned him of hostile tribes encamped about
the falls. Gist turned back, passing over the mountains to North
The settlement line along the Virginia and Carolina frontiers grew
more and more populous from 1751 to 1786. The settlers were anxious
to move westward to new and more fertile lands, but the country was
involved in the French and Indian War from 1755 to 1763 and it was
dangerous. It appeared for a time that the land which is now Kentucky
would fall to the French, but the tide turned at last, and on
February 10, 1763, the Treaty of Paris was signed. The English got
possession of the land east of the Mississippi River, but to the disappointment
of the frontiersmen, King George III issued the proclamation
of 1763 forbidding settlers to move beyond the line of watershed
in the Appalachian highlands.
Despite the King's proclamation, scouts of one kind or another
brought back from the West thrilling stories of the new country. Mrs.
Inglis, with a German woman companion, came into the northern Kentucky
country as captives of the Indians, from whom they escaped
almost miraculously. The so-called silver miners, led by John Swift,
were in Kentucky from time to time during the 1760's. A legend prevails
to this day that Swift and his companions mined large quantities
of silver in Kentucky and many communities yet claim the site of the
Swift silver mines.
The "long hunters," so called because of long periods of time spent
by men of the eastern frontier settlements in hunting across the mountains,
began to invade the Kentucky country. Among them were John
Raines, Uriah Stone, John Finley, Henry Skaggs, and Daniel Boone.
Boone's fame has grown with the passage of time until he has become,
in legend at least, the chief figure of the early Kentucky frontier days.
His life is symbolical of the western movement in American history.
Born in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 1734, Boone had moved with
his parents in 1750 to the western part of North Carolina, on the
Yadkin. He was restless by nature, and in 1766 entered upon a career
of exploration that first took him as far south as St. Augustine,
Florida. Returning to North Carolina, he was influenced to go West
by John Finley's stories of Kentucky, and crossed through Cumberland
Gap. But instead of reaching the Bluegrass country he spent
the winter of 1767 in the tablelands of eastern Kentucky, and returned
to North Carolina. In May 1769, Boone, Finley, and several companions
started for Kentucky. They spent the summer hunting in
the cane lands and before they realized it winter was upon them.
When their stores were broken into by the Indians in December and
a number of horses were stolen, the party broke up, and Finley with
three of his companions returned to North Carolina.
Meanwhile, Squire Boone, a brother of Daniel, and a companion
had come out to Kentucky. The two brothers hunted for a year, and
wandered over the country from the Big Sandy to the Cumberland
Rivers. It was during these years, 1769-1771, that Daniel Boone
acquired information about the Kentucky country that later made him
a valuable scout.
The next whites to appear in Kentucky were the land surveyors sent
out by land companies and speculators. Captain Thomas Bullitt led
one such party to the Falls of the Ohio River in June 1773, where he
made a survey of the lands where Louisville now stands. At the same
time the McAfee brothers were surveying lands up the Kentucky
River. James Harrod led another surveying party in 1774 to the
neighborhood now known as Harrodsburg.
No settlement had been established as yet, but immediately after
the Indian disturbances had been settled by the Dunmore War, speculators
laid plans to claim vast surveys in the West. The best known
of these speculative ventures was the Transylvania Land Company,
organized in 1773 as the Richard Henderson Company, under the
leadership of Judge Richard Henderson of North Carolina. He and
his associates, Colonel Nathaniel Hart and others, made a treaty with
the Cherokee Indians on March 17, 1775, at Sycamore Shoals on the
Watauga River, granting the whites possession of all the land south of
the Ohio River, north of the Cumberland River, and west of the Appalachian
ranges. Henderson also purchased a tract that reached from
Cumberland Gap to the south bank of the Cumberland River. Daniel
Boone and thirty companions were dispatched immediately to Kentucky
to blaze the trail, and locate suitable river fording places.
Henderson and his party followed and in May 1775, the settlement
at Boonesboro was begun.
Harrodsburg, of Virginia origin, was also settled in early 1775. The
founding of St. Asaph Station and Boiling Springs followed immediately.
Judge Henderson issued a call on May 23, 1775, to all these
forts to send delegates to Boonesboro for the purpose of making laws
to govern the settlements. The nine laws passed by this meeting are
sometimes called the first legislative acts passed by a Kentucky Legislature,
though this is not strictly true.
Rivalry soon developed between the Virginia and North Carolina
settlements. George Rogers Clark, a young Virginian who had recently
come West, called a meeting at Harrodsburg on June 6, 1776,
of all the Kentucky forts to discuss a course of procedure. Clark and
John Gabriel Jones were selected as delegates to go to Williamsburg
and present their problems to the Virginia Legislature, but they arrived
too late to go before the assembly. Clark, however, was able to
secure an appropriation of 500 pounds of gunpowder for the protection
Clark and Jones learned, while in Williamsburg, that Richard Henderson
and his associates were attempting to secure recognition of their
colony. The Harrodsburg delegates, thereupon, decided to remain in
Virginia until the assembly convened in the fall in order that they
might protect the rights of the Harrodsburg settlers. It was largely
through their influence that the Transylvania Land Company was declared illegal, and that Kentucky County was created out of Fincastle
County on December 6, 1776. The name Kentucky was first used
officially by Virginia at this time.
When Clark and Jones returned to Kentucky they found many
settlers moving into the West. The Indians, however, were a constant
menace, and Clark realized that if the Kentucky settlements were to
survive, a military drive would have to be made beyond the Ohio.
He therefore sought the permission and assistance of the Virginia Assembly
and Governor Patrick Henry to attack the Indians and the
English in their stronghold beyond the Ohio River, and won approval
of his plans in December 1777. Starting out from Virginia, Clark went
to the Redstone settlement near Pittsburgh to recruit troops for his
western expedition. At the same time he dispatched an agent to the
Watauga settlements in Tennessee for the same purpose. Both Clark
and his agent were disappointed in the number of troops secured. Instead
of 350, which he wanted, he got less than 200, and many of them
objected to fighting beyond the Ohio River. Clark, nevertheless, proceeded
to Corn Island in the Ohio, opposite the site on which Louisville
The expedition started secretly in June 1778 for Kaskaskia, and
took the town by surprise. This successful coup was followed by a
similar one against the town of Cahokia. In the fall Governor Hamilton
arrived at Vincennes, the main French post in the northwest, with
a large force of British and Indian troops, and the British flag was
raised over the village. Hamilton thought he was perfectly safe in
Vincennes, but in February 1779 Clark and his troops took Vincennes
by surprise and captured the fort. The Indians were thus driven back
temporarily from Kentucky and the American frontier was extended
to the Mississippi River.
In the meantime Kentuckians were having Indian troubles at home.
Daniel Boone and his salt-making companions were captured at the
Lower Blue Licks February 7, 1778, and carried away to Detroit where
he was adopted as a son of Chief Black Fish. He lived happily with
the Indians for a time, but when he heard that the French-Canadian,
De Quindre, was plotting with the Indians to attack Boonesboro, he
returned to that settlement to prepare for the attack. The Indians
under the command of De Quindre appeared before the fort and demanded
its surrender; the demand was refused and the attack repulsed.
The Kentucky settlements were saved.
The British and Indians made a second major attack in 1782, striking at Bryan Station on August 15. Four days later the Kentuckians
pursued them to the banks of the Licking River. On a limestone road
in a ravine at Blue Licks occurred one of the bloodiest battles ever
fought on the frontier. Though the Americans were defeated, this was
the last battle of any significance fought against the Indians on Kentucky
As the Kentucky country becamecents more settled and Indian skirmishes
became less frequent, the settlers grew tired of living in stockades.
County organizations and taverns began to spring up. The Falls of
the Ohio, which became Louisville, was surveyed in 1773 by Thomas
Bullitt; Boonesboro was incorporated in 1779; Washington and Maysville
soon followed; the plan for the town of Lexington was adopted
in 1781. The Kentuckians soon began to consider separating their
territory from Virginia and becoming one of the States of the confederation.
They first met in Danville December 27, 1784, to discuss
the matter formally; ten conventions were called before an independent
State was created. (In the meantime the Constitution of the United
States was written and ratified.) Many reasons for a separation were
discussed in these conventions: objections to Virginia taxes, inability
of Kentuckians to adapt Virginia laws to local situations, the refusal
of Virginia to permit Kentuckians to pursue Indians beyond the Ohio
River, and the fact that all cases appealed to higher courts had to be
carried back to Richmond for trial. Some people demanded that Kentucky
become simply an independent State and have nothing to do
with the Union, some wished to become a part of the Spanish Empire,
some to remain a part of Virginia. Others demanded recognition as
one of the States of the Union. The long, bitter struggle finally came
to an end in the framing of a constitution at Danville in April 1792.
On June 1, 1792, Kentucky was admitted as a State into the Union.
The new government was inaugurated June 4, 1792, in Lexington.
General Isaac Shelby, by common consent, was chosen to be the first
Governor. The Sheaf of Wheat Tavern in Lexington became temporarily
the statehouse, and the legislature met for its first session in a
capitol building of logs. Its first task was to select a permanent site
for the State Capital; December 8, 1792, Frankfort was so designated.
Kentucky's first constitution was modeled to some extent on the
National Constitution. All white males over 21 years of age were
permitted to vote, the Governor and senators were elected by an electoral
college, slavery was protected, and a bill of rights of 27 divisions
was attached. It failed, however, to provide for a public school system.
In 1799 a second constitutional convention was held, and a new constitution
was adopted. It created the office of Lieutenant Governor,
and made all State officers subject to direct election by the people. An
interesting provision prohibited a minister of the Gospel from serving
in the capacity of a lawmaker. Slave owners were afraid that ministers
would attempt to pass abolition legislation.
Kentucky became deeply involved in the famous French conspiracy
at this time. When Charles Edmund Genet landed at Charleston,
South Carolina, on April 8, 1793, he dispatched his agents to the western
country. George Rogers Clark was given a high commission in the
French Army of the Mississippi Valley. Liberty poles were erected in
many towns and Kentuckians hailed one another as "Citizen." Although
the conspiracy was put down, the citizens of the State continued
to favor the French. In 1798 they protested against the Alien and
Sedition laws passed by the Adams government in Philadelphia. John
Breckinridge, of Kentucky, in co-operation with Thomas Jefferson,
drafted the famous series of resolutions setting forth what they believed
to be State rights. There was much public debate on the question
and popular opinion became overwhelmingly Republican. George
Nicholas, of Lexington, a keen constitutionalist, vigorously attacked
the Federalist laws. Henry Clay delivered his first significant speech
in Kentucky politics on the question of States' rights. But when
Jefferson was elected President of the United States, Kentuckians forgot
their attack upon the National Constitution.
Between 1800-1804, the issue of trade rights on the lower Mississippi
River was settled by the Louisiana Purchase. Kentuckians had
lived in constant fear that the temperamental Spanish officials would
remove the American right of deposit, and that Kentuckians would be
unable to sell their products southward. In 1802 their fears were
realized, and the Spanish canceled the right of deposit. The situation
was relieved, however, when Louisiana passed into American hands in
Hardly had Kentuckians ceased rejoicing than they were involved,
innocently, in another national scandal. Aaron Burr, who had killed
Alexander Hamilton in a duel, came to the State and plotted much
of his proposed independent republic in the Southwest. Many prominent
Kentuckians became involved in the plot. Burr was twice brought
to trial in the Federal Court of the District of Kentucky, but was released
both times as not guilty of the charges of treason preferred
When the excitement about the Burr conspiracy had somewhat subsided,
Kentucky became agitated over the possibility of a war with
England. News reached Kentucky in 1807 of the Chesapeake and
Leopard affair. Public opinion in favor of war ran high, and the local
press cried out loudly against England. The State legislature passed
laws forbidding the use of certain British laws and citation of British
cases in court. Realizing the temper of the public mind, the politicians
who sought office began to agitate the question of expanding
American territory. Henry Clay and Richard M. Johnson were elected
to Congress on an expansionist platform. Henry Clay even went so
far as to advocate the annexation of Canada. By 1811 Kentuckians
virtually demanded war with England. When war was formally declared
in 1812, Kentuckians advanced rapidly to the area about Detroit.
A large part of the American forces at the Battle of the Thames
consisted of Kentucky militiamen under the command of Gov. Isaac
Shelby and Congressman Richard Mentor Johnson. When Gen. Andrew
Jackson defeated the British forces at New Orleans on January 8,
1815, 5,500 Kentuckians were present, under Generals Thomas and
After the War of 1812 Kentuckians turned their attention to more
constructive interests. Western manufactures were increasing because
British goods were off the American market from 1805-1815. Kentucky
hemp, cloth and rope manufacturers especially enjoyed a flourishing
trade, and butchers, distillers, salt-makers, and cabinetmakers were
prosperous. Land prices advanced and Louisville, Lexington, Maysville,
Covington, Carrollton, Paducah, Henderson, and Hickman were
rapidly becoming busy trade centers. River boatmen began to clamor
for a canal around the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville. A company
was chartered by the State legislature in 1805 for this purpose, but the
work was delayed and the canal was not completed until 1829. The
first successful steamboat trip on western waters was taken by the
New Orleans to New Orleans in 1811 by Captain Nicholas Roosevelt.
About 1815 a steamboat, the Enterprise, came up the river from New
Orleans and thereafter the steamboat business began to thrive. By
1860 Kentuckians were supplying the Southern States with the most
of their manufactured goods.
With prosperous conditions, there came a demand for improved banking
facilities. Kentucky at the time had a system of State banks to
which was entrusted the responsibility of issuing currency, but the
amount issued was insufficient for the successful conduct of business.
By 1818 the demand for an increase in the number of banks was so
great that the Bank of Kentucky was expanded to include more than
40 branches. Each branch bank was given the authority to issue its
own currency. In a short time, however, the lack of control over the
volume of currency issued led to general financial confusion, and to
depreciation in value of currency. The situation became so acute that
in December 1819, the general assembly passed a law granting a stay
of execution for 60 days. This relief was not sufficient to stem the
tide. In February 1820, all debtors were given a moratorium of two
years. A test case was carried to the courts, and the circuit court of
Bourbon County declared the law unconstitutional. Later, the State
court of appeals upheld the local court and the legislature declared that
the courts were thwarting the will of the people. A struggle between
the legislative and the judicial branches of the government continued
until 1829, when the court was finally absolved of all the charges made
The legislative-judicial struggle over the banking question created
two political parties in Kentucky. In the Presidential campaign of
1824 one of the four candidates in the field was Henry Clay of Kentucky,
who was defeated; but, as Speaker of the House of Representatives,
he was a powerful factor in deciding whom Congress should select
for the next President. The Kentucky General Assembly had instructed
Clay to support Jackson, but he disobeyed instructions and
supported John Quincy Adams. This brought about another break in
Kentucky politics ; the Clay supporters became Whigs and the Jackson
supporters became Democrats. This alignment prevailed until 1860.
The institution of slavery was a political issue in Kentucky from
1792 to 1865. Slavery had been transferred to the West as a part of
the social organization of the State, but it was not an economic success.
Lack of transportation facilities made large-scale tobacco culture
unprofitable in the early years; and the cultivation of hemp and grain
and the breeding of livestock were not adapted to slave labor.
After 1820 many Kentucky farmers moved to the Cotton Belt where
they could employ their slaves with profit. Others sold off their surplus
supply of Negroes to the southern planters. When the War between
the States broke out, Kentucky had approximately 225,000
slaves. The State was divided into two distinct economic units. The
Bluegrass counties, in which slavery existed to the greatest extent, quite
generally favored the southern economic system. The poorer counties
and the larger urban centers were quite generally opposed to slavery.
Originally the chief criticism of slavery came from the churches and
the clergy. The slaveholders were constantly on guard against this
opposition, and since they exercised more political influence than the
clergy, they succeeded in building a wall of protective legislation about
the system of slave labor. Between 1820 and 1835 the American
Colonization Society, of which Henry Clay was president, made considerable
headway in Kentucky. At the same time outside abolitionists
began to attack Kentucky slavery; this caused much hard feeling in
the State, and probably did more immediate harm than good. The
institution of slavery also found severe critics within the State. Cassius
M. Clay, a native of Madison County, and publisher of the True
American, a newspaper in Lexington, condemned Kentucky slavery
Other live issues were at stake in antebellum days. When Henry
Clay died in 1852 he left behind him the wreckage of the Whig party,
and no leader to take his place. Local politicians began to inject into
their speeches the questions of religion and nationalities. Catholics
were condemned along with all foreigners. The Sons of America, or
Native Americans as they called themselves, attempted to keep possession
of the reins of local government. A riot in Louisville in 1855,
known as "Bloody Monday," resulted.
In the Presidential election of 1860 Kentucky voted against its two
native sons, Abraham Lincoln and John C. Breckinridge, and gave its
majority support to John Bell of Tennessee, who proposed to save the
Union at any cost. Unlike her southern neighbors the State refused
to be stampeded into secession. Although Kentucky was a slave State
and considered itself Southern, it leaned toward the idea of maintaining
the Union intact. Commerce and agriculture had become the chief
interests. When war broke out, both sides looked upon Kentucky as
a valuable prize, and both sides disregarded its neutrality.
During the early part of 1862 western Kentucky was the scene of
most important operations between Northern troops under the command
of Grant, McClellan, and Thomas, and the Southern troops
under the command of Johnston, Polk, Buckner, Crittenden, and Zollicoffer.
Union victory at Mill Springs, where Zollicoffer was killed
January 19, opened the way into Eastern Tennessee. In 1863 the
Confederates under Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith made a drive into
central Kentucky. Bragg received the surrender of the garrison at
Munfordville on September 17. He then moved northeastward through
Bardstown, and at Perryville stumbled into one wing of the Union command under General Don Carlos Buell. Here on October 8 was fought
the battle of Perryville, the bloodiest encounter in Kentucky history.
The result was a draw. Bragg retreated, leaving Buell in possession
of the field. This marked the end of any serious attempt by the Confederates
to gain possession of Kentucky.
Guerilla warfare was carried on in many sections of Kentucky. The
famous bushwhacker, Quantrill of Missouri, transferred his activities
to Kentucky and kept local communities in a state of excitement. So
vicious did this guerilla warfare become that Governor Bramlette was
compelled to organize a home guard for the protection of local communities.
When peace came in 1865 Kentucky firmly believed that it would
resume its peaceful pursuit of developing agriculture and industry, but
such was not to be the case. The carpetbaggers realized that the Negroes,
many of whom were concentrated in Louisville in the Federal
camps, offered a good opportunity for political advantage. Farmers
were frightened into believing that they would be completely robbed of
labor. Pamphlets were issued inviting foreigners to come to the State.
Even Chinese coolies were sought as a solution to the labor problem.
The State refused to ratify the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments.
By 1871 conditions had become more or less normal; Kentuckians
gradually forgot the war and turned to the problems of industry, agriculture,
politics and temperance.
The lower South, which had been Kentucky's most important market,
had been depleted by the war. Louisville merchants were the first to
realize the situation, and sent ex-Confederate soldiers as salesmen into
the South to help re-establish the crossroads stores. These drummers
were instructed to sell goods at all cost. Wholesale houses were generous
in their credit to southern merchants. They not only thoroughly
canvassed the South, but Louisville financiers backed the extension of
the L. & N. R.R. into the South. Consequently Kentuckians soon recovered
much of the trade which they had lost in the war, and the
State's industry once again became an important factor in the economic
development of the South.
Agriculture presented a more difficult problem. Many Kentucky
farmers depended upon a single cash crop, tobacco, and with each succeeding
panic following 1865, Kentucky tobacco farmers, like southern
cotton farmers, became virtually bankrupt. This difficulty led to the
organization of various farmers' movements granger organizations, the
Farmers' Alliance, and finally the Populist party. The Populists demanded tariff reforms, regulation of transportation agencies, establishment
of agricultural schools, a more satisfactory distribution of the national
medium of exchange, more reasonable farm credits, higher agricultural
prices, and the framing of a new State constitution in 1890.
This constitution, in effect today, reflects the philosophy of the Kentucky
Populist party of 1890.
Agricultural issues in the State were not all settled peacefully. From
1907 to 1909 there raged in the dark tobacco, belt a "night-riders" war
which resulted in many fatalities. The reign of general lawlessness prevailed
in the State for more than a year, until it was ended by the State
militia, called out by the Governor. Agrarian troubles were largely
back of bitter partisan politics that prevailed in Kentucky the latter
part of the nineteenth century. The gubernatorial election of 1899 was
fiercely fought. William Goebel of Covington opposed William Sylvester
Taylor, a western Kentuckian, and John Young Brown. When
the votes were counted it was found that Taylor had won by a majority
of more than 2,000 votes. The supporters of Goebel contested
the election. While the legislature was considering the matter, Goebel
was shot by an assassin (January 30, 1900). The legislature at once
declared Goebel Governor, but he died on February 3. Kentucky
was almost in a state of civil war ; for several months it had two Governors
and two governments. The Democrats won in the end, and
J. C. W. Beckham succeeded the assassinated Goebel as Governor.
Several years were required to allay the bitter partisan feeling that was
engendered by this affair.
Since 1909 Kentucky has pursued a fairly steady and progressive
course, in spite of the fact that Democrats and Republicans have
fought each other bitterly and alternated in political power.
Kentucky did its part in the World War by furnishing 75,043 men
and meeting its quotas in money subscribed. Men were encamped and
trained at Fort Thomas, Camp Zachary Taylor, and Camp Knox. The
latter was not dismantled after the war and on January 30, 1932, it
became a permanent post of the U. S. Army and officially named Fort
Knox. The gold vault of the U. S. Treasury is located on the reservation.
Capt. Samuel Woodfill, a Kentuckian, was cited by General
Pershing as the outstanding soldier of the war; Woodfill and Willie
Sandlin were awarded Congressional medals of honor for heroism. Of
the men who were drafted and enlisted, 70 to 80 percent passed their
physical examinations and were accepted for Army service.
One of the outstanding achievements of the twentieth century in the
State is the development of good roads, under a State highway commission.
By 1920 the highway system was well enough organized to take
over a large primary system of highways. The effects of improved
highways in Kentucky upon the general character and welfare of the
people cannot be overestimated. Not only have the highways speeded
up commerce and travel, but they have tended to break down sectionalism.
With primary roads in every county, it is no longer strange to
see people from the remote eastern and western sections of the State
strolling the streets of Louisville as nonchalantly as if they had lived
there all their lives.
In the 50 years following the first census of 1790 the population
increased more than tenfold from 73,677 to 779,828. It numbered
1,858,635 in 1890 and 2,614,589 in 1930. Only 30.6 percent of the
1930 population was classified as urban.
Kentucky's government has recently been completely modernized,
but this has been done without touching the constitution itself and with
only a few optional alterations in the county structure. Increasing difficulties
with a government that tried to operate in an industrial era, on
a constitution descended from Kentucky's former slave-owning agricultural
status, led to the appointment of an efficiency commission in 1926.
This body made a two-year study of the State's governmental needs,
and recommended widespread changes, but controversies over their
adoption disrupted the State for another ten years. In 1934 the executive
offices were reorganized under Governor Ruby Laffoon, but this
reorganization proved too cumbersome. After two years another exhaustive
study was made that resulted in the Shields-Nickell Governmental
Reorganization Act, approved March 7, 1936.
The important changes in this reorganization were the creation of a
department of welfare, expanded powers of the department of health,
consolidation of the State tax commission and the department of
revenue and taxation into a single department of revenue, added powers
of the efficiency department to improve the civil service, and the creation
of a new department of conservation. Finally, there was added to
the State government the legislative council, a modern unit in American
government in operation now only in a few States. The function of
this council is purely advisory. It examines and reports on the working
of the existing legislative machine, prepares and submits programs for
the general assembly, and promotes interstate comity.
The present Kentucky government follows the traditional American
system of three branches executive, legislative, and judiciary all responsible directly to the votes of the citizens. Citizenship qualifications
are simple. Any person not an idiot or insane, who is over twenty-one
years of age and has resided in the State one year, in the county six
months, and in the voting precinct sixty days next preceding election,
is qualified to vote; except that any person convicted of a felony forfeits
his right of franchise, unless he is pardoned by the governor.
There are no other qualifications.
The two units of local government are the county and the city. The
county government today is an interesting survival from Colonial
times, when its forms were borrowed more or less directly from England.
Counties have their own courts which administer governmental
functions ; they collect and spend their own revenues and in general
regulate their affairs as they please, subject only to the restrictions of
the general assembly which, as has been pointed out, is restricted by
the constitution from interfering with major phases of local administration.
The government is administered entirely by courts with the
county judge as the executive. He is elected by the county at large
and presides over the county court. Beneath this court the county is
divided into magisterial districts, each with a justice of the peace in
authority. These justices compose the fiscal court of each county,
with rather indiscriminate legislative and judicial powers.
Kentucky cities have their own government, independent of their
surrounding counties, and responsible only to the State. The legislature
divides the cities into six classes, according to population, and
provides debt limits and general forms of government for each. Three
forms of city government are established, and variations from these are
allowed by special legislative enactment: the standard mayor-council
form, commission government, and the city manager plan.
The constitution of Kentucky, which covers all forms of government
and of legislation throughout the State, is subject to alteration through
two methods. An amendment may be proposed in either branch of the
general assembly at a regular session, and if agreed to by a three-fifths
vote of both branches, may be submitted to the voters of the State for
adoption. Ninety days must elapse between the legislative adoption of
the amendment and its submission to popular vote; and not more than
two amendments may be voted on at any one time. If a widespread
revision of the constitution is demanded, a general constitutional convention
of delegates, equal in numbers to that of the house of representatives,
may be authorized by the general assembly. The convention
remodels the constitution and submits it to popular vote.
Kentucky has its State flag, its State flower, its State bird, and its
State song. The flag is Kentucky blue with the seal of the Commonwealth
encircled by a wreath of goldenrod in the center. The State
flower is the goldenrod, the bird is the Kentucky cardinal, the song
is "My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night," by Stephen Collins Foster
This information was Compiled and Written by the Federal Writers' Project
of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Kentucky - 1939