Kentuckians Resist Federal Occupation

Politically, Kentucky continued being pulled in several directions. The Unionist Kentucky legislature approved various anti-secessionist measures, which included imposing penalties for encouraging enlistment in the Confederate army, prohibiting display of the Confederate flag, and requiring teachers and court officials to swear allegiance to the U.S.

On the secessionist side, John C. Breckinridge, former U.S. vice president and current U.S. senator, issued a proclamation to his fellow Kentuckians in response to Unionist infringements on their rights:

“Fellow citizens, you have to deal now, not with this fragment of a Legislature, with its treason bills and its tax bills, with its woeful subservience to every demand of the Federal despotism, and its woeful neglect of every right of the Kentucky citizen; but you have to deal with a power which respects neither the Constitution nor laws, and which, if successful, will reduce you to the condition of prostrate and bleeding Maryland…

“In obedience, as I supposed, to your wishes, I proceeded to Washington, and at the special session of Congress, in July, spoke and voted against the whole war policy of the President and Congress; demanding, in addition, for Kentucky, the right to refuse, not men only, but money also, to the war, for I would have blushed to meet you with the confession that I had purchased for you exemption from the perils of the battle-field, and the shame of waging war against your Southern brethren, by hiring others to do the work you shrunk from performing.

“During that memorable session a very small body of Senators and Representatives, even beneath the shadow of a military despotism, resisted the usurpations of the Executive, and, with what degree of dignity and firmness, they willingly submit to the judgment of the world. Their efforts were unavailing, yet they may prove valuable hereafter, as another added to former examples of many protest against the progress of tyranny…

“General (Robert) Anderson, the military dictator of Kentucky, announces in one of his proclamations that he will arrest no one who does not act, write, or speak in opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s Government. It would have completed the idea if he had added, or think in opposition to it.

“Look at the condition of our State under the rule of our new protectors. They have suppressed the freedom of speech and of the press. They seize people by military force upon mere suspicion, and impose on them oaths unknown to the laws. Other citizens they imprison without warrant, and carry them out of the State, so that the writ of habeas corpus can not reach them…

“The Constitution of the United States, which these invaders unconstitutionally swear every citizen whom they unconstitutionally seize to support, has been wholly abolished. It is as much forgotten as if it lay away back in the twilight of history. The facts I have enumerated show that the very rights most carefully reserved by it to the States and to individuals have been most conspicuously violated…”

Taking Breckinridge’s words to heart, States’ Rights Party leaders from 32 Kentucky counties met at Russellville on October 29. Denouncing the Unionist legislature, they declared that the state constitution gave the people “at all times an inalienable and indefensible right to alter, reform, or abolish their (state) government, in such a manner as they may think proper.”

Delegates also condemned the Republican Party: “Absolute and arbitrary power over the lives, liberty, and property of freemen exists nowhere in a republic–not even in the largest majority.” The leaders approved a motion to assemble a Kentucky Sovereign Convention on November 18. Kentucky would remain in military and political turmoil for the time being.


  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. Kindle Edition 2008, 1889.
  • 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.

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