The Kentucky Sovereign Convention

November 18, 1861 – Delegates assembled for the Kentucky “Sovereign Convention” at the pro-Confederate town of Russellville, near the Tennessee border.

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit:
Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit:

The convention included representatives from all 68 counties who opposed the Federal military invasion of their state. Henry C. Burnett, a lawyer, state legislator, and new colonel of the 8th Kentucky Infantry (Confederate), presided. The convention’s purpose was to consider declaring independence from what they perceived to be the illegitimate Unionist state government and seceding from the U.S.

Two days later, delegates unanimously approved an ordinance of secession:

“Be it ordained, That we do hereby forever sever our connection with the Government of the United States, and in the name of the people we do hereby declare Kentucky to be a free and independent State, clothed with all power to fix her own destiny and to secure her own rights and liberties.”

The ordinance also declared that “the people are hereby absolved from all allegiance to said government, and that they have the right to establish any government which to them may seem best adapted to the preservation of their lives and liberty.”

A new provisional state constitution was approved; under Section 15, a commission was appointed to negotiate with Confederate officials to have Kentucky join the Confederacy. Delegates selected George W. Johnson, the convention organizer from Scott County, to be provisional governor. Johnson had been a Unionist who opposed abolition. Bowling Green was designated the provisional state capital.

Kentucky, like Missouri, now had two opposing governments. But the new pro-Confederate state government had little chance of conducting any business with much of the state under Federal occupation.


References (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 96; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 712; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 83; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 296; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 211; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461

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