Kentucky's Abraham Lincoln
  • Eliza Caldwell Browning (1807-1885)
  • Richard James Oglesby (1824-1899)
  • John J. Hardin (1810-1847)
  • John J. Crittenden (1786-1863)
  • Lincoln and the 1860 Election
  • Beriah Magoffin (1815-1885)

  • KHS Membership
    American Association of Museums

    The Kentucky Historical Society is offering the public a look at the key people, places, and events connected to Kentucky's Abraham Lincoln story in observance of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commemoration.

    These vignettes highlight the people, places, and events that establish Lincoln as a Kentuckian along with an illustration or portrait from the collections of the Kentucky Historical Society and other repositories. Topics range from Lincoln's family roots and early childhood in Kentucky to the significant relationships Lincoln formed after leaving the commonwealth which would influence his political career and his presidency.

    These vignettes and accompanying photos are available for media reproduction on a weekly basis. High-resolution photos for print are available upon request by contacting Stephanie Siria at 502-564-1792, ext. 4504.

    Eliza Caldwell Browning (1807-1885) Eliza Caldwell Browning (1807-1885)

    Eliza Caldwell was born near Richmond, Kentucky, in 1807. She married Orville H. Browning in 1836 and moved to Quincy, Illinois, where her husband practiced law and where she would live for the next forty-nine years.

    The friendship between Eliza and Abraham Lincoln began in 1836 and would last nearly thirty years. Lincoln had known O. H. Browning from the Black Hawk War but did not meet Eliza until she moved with her husband to Vandalia for the start of the legislative session in 1836. They boarded in the same house, and Lincoln was soon spending his free time visiting Mrs. Browning. While generally embarrassed and awkward among ladies, Lincoln was clearly quite comfortable with Eliza Browning. Eliza discovered the young Abraham's best qualities and treated him in such a manner that he was soon completely at ease with her. She occupied a special place in Lincoln's early adulthood and represented a woman of higher social standing with whom he felt complete comfort. The two would remain friends until Lincoln's death in 1865, representing what may have been the longest female friendship in his life.

    When Eliza is mentioned in Lincoln histories, it is usually in conjunction with an 1838 Lincoln letter to her in which he satirized an unsuccessful courtship. The letter suggests an easy familiarity between the cultured and politically astute Eliza and Lincoln. They were both intellectual and shared a love for poetry, humor, and wit.

    The Lincolns and the Brownings were friends through Abraham Lincoln's marriage and into his White House years. When the Lincolns' son Willie died of typhoid fever, the Brownings were summoned to the White House. Eliza stayed on for a week at Lincoln's request to care for Mary and for young Thomas (Tad).

    Letter from Eliza Browning to Abraham Lincoln, June 8, 1861 requesting a Supreme Court appointment for her husband Orville H. Browning.
    Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division

    Richard James Oglesby (1824-1899) Richard James Oglesby (1824-1899)

    Richard Oglesby was born into a slave-owning family in Oldham County, Kentucky, in 1824. He was only a child when his parents and three siblings died from cholera in 1833. The family property and their slaves were all sold, and Oglesby was taken to Decatur, Illinois, where he attended school a few months before beginning to make his own way in life as a farmer, a rope-maker, and a carpenter.

    Oglesby studied law and then entered practice before serving in an Illinois unit during the Mexican War. He entered Illinois politics before the Civil War but resigned his office to become the colonel of the 8th Illinois Volunteers. He served at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson and was severely wounded at the battle of Corinth, Mississippi. Resigning his army commission in 1864, Oglesby was elected governor of Illinois in November 1864 and was a strong advocate of Abraham Lincoln's war policies.

    In the years after President Lincoln's death, Oglesby served as president of the National Lincoln Monument Association, and he delivered the dedication address when the memorial was unveiled in Springfield, Illinois, in 1874.

    Richard J. Oglesby
    Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

    Richard James Oglesby (1824-1899) John J. Hardin (1810-1847)

    One of Abraham Lincoln's political colleagues in Illinois, Kentuckian John J. Hardin, prevented the future president from fighting a duel.

    Hardin, a cousin to Mary Todd Lincoln and the son of a U. S. senator, was born in Frankfort in 1810. After practicing law in Jackson, Illinois, Hardin became a leading Whig politician, serving in the Illinois legislature and Congress.

    In September 1842, Lincoln's political rival James Shields was angry about a newspaper article that Lincoln reputedly wrote. Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel and Lincoln chose to fight with broadswords. Before the fight, however, Hardin intervened. He knew the duelists, and, according to one newspaper account, he "appeared on the scene, called both d----d fools, and by his arguments addressed to their common sense, and by his ridicule on the figure that they, two well grown, bearded men, were making there, each with a frog sticker [sword] in his hand, broke up the fight."

    Hardin and Lincoln soon became political rivals. In 1843, both sought their district's Whig nomination to Congress. Lincoln withdrew, and Hardin won the seat. Hardin, Lincoln, and another candidate agreed to take turns running for that office, and Lincoln was annoyed when Hardin again announced his candidacy. The crafty Lincoln tried to remove Hardin by having him nominated for governor, but Hardin refused. In the end, Hardin withdrew as a candidate.

    When the Mexican War erupted, Hardin became colonel of the 1st Illinois Regiment. He was killed on February 23, 1847, at the battle of Buena Vista. With his death Lincoln lamented, "We lost our best Whig man."

    Currier and Ives print of the Death of Col. John J. Hardin: Of the 1st regiment Illinois volunteers, 1847
    Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

    John J. Crittenden (1786-1863) John J. Crittenden (1786-1863)

    "The emotions of defeat, at the close of a struggle in which I felt more than a merely selfish interest, and to which defeat the use of your name contributed largely, are fresh upon me; but, even in this mood, I can not for a moment suspect you of anything dishonorable." - Abraham Lincoln to John J. Crittenden, November 4, 1858

    Kentucky statesman John J. Crittenden was born on September 10, 1786, in present-day Woodford County, Kentucky. He graduated from the College of William and Mary and proceeded to study law under Judge George M. Bibb, beginning his practice in Russellville. Crittenden had three wives and nine children. In 1809, he was appointed attorney for the Illinois territory and served as an aide-de-camp to several officers during the War of 1812, the last being Kentucky's governor, Isaac Shelby. A strongly entrenched member of the Whig Party, Crittenden was elected to the Kentucky legislature and the United States Senate, and he was also elected governor of Kentucky in 1848. He served as attorney general of the United States under presidents William Henry Harrison and Millard Fillmore.

    Crittenden had a direct impact on Abraham Lincoln's political aspirations and policies. During the Lincoln and Stephen Douglas Illinois senate race in 1858, Crittenden created an "October surprise" for Lincoln, when he was attributed in newspapers as supporting the Democratic candidate. Crittenden's support brought the old-line Whigs into Douglas's political camp, therefore electing enough Democrats to the Illinois legislature to reelect Douglas.

    Also, as heir apparent to the "Great Compromiser" Henry Clay, Crittenden attempted to craft a last-minute compromise in 1861 to avert war. The two main points were to strictly enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and to reestablish the Missouri Compromise line in order to protect slavery in the South. It failed in the end because of political squabbling.

    Portrait of John J. Crittenden by Ferdinand Walker, ca. 1909
    Kentucky Historical Society Collections

    Lincoln and the 1860 Election Lincoln and the 1860 Election

    The results of the 1860 election for Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party in Kentucky drastically differed from the national results. Kentuckians viewed the possibility of Lincoln's election and his policy against the expansion of slavery to future United States territories and states as a possible catalyst for disunion and war. During the 1860 election, Lincoln finished fourth out of four candidates in Kentucky, winning less than 1 percent of the popular vote with 1,364 total votes, 10 votes of which came from Lincoln's ancestral and birth counties (Washington, Hardin, and Larue). John Bell, the leading candidate from the Constitutional Union Party, won 45 percent of the popular vote with 66,051 total votes (and all 12 electoral votes). John Bell was viewed as the least radical of all the candidates; his platform contained one plank: the preservation of the Union.

    However, the vote on the national level brought about a much different result for Lincoln and the Republican Party. The national outcome of the 1860 election gave Lincoln a victory in both the popular vote and the electoral vote, with just under 40 percent of the popular vote, which totaled 1,866,452, and 180 electoral votes. Although Kentucky did not support Lincoln in either the 1860 or 1864 presidential elections, Kentucky remained an important focus of his policies throughout the Civil War.

    Republic ticket flyer, 1860
    Kentucky Historical Society Collections

    Beriah Magoffin (1815-1885) Beriah Magoffin (1815-1885)

    Harrodsburg lawyer Beriah Magoffin became governor of Kentucky on the eve of the Civil War. Although he supported slavery and the legality of secession, during the war Magoffin worked to keep Kentucky neutral in a failed attempt to broker a peaceful compromise between the North and South.

    After secessionist forces fired on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to stop the Southern rebellion. When Lincoln asked Kentucky to supply four regiments, Magoffin refused, stating, "I say, emphatically, Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states."

    After Kentucky declared neutrality, Magoffin tangled with Lincoln over several issues, including Union enlistments and the military arrests of Kentucky civilians. Neutrality quickly crumbled, however, and Magoffin was left to lead Kentucky-a divided border state-as Union and Confederate troops maneuvered for control of the commonwealth.

    When the Kentucky legislature became overwhelmingly Unionist, Magoffin realized that the legislative process would become deadlocked. Hoping to avoid political turmoil in a time of national crisis, Magoffin resigned from office and was replaced by the moderate Unionist candidate James F. Robinson.

    After the war, Magoffin served in the state legislature, where he advised Kentuckians to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment which freed the slaves. He later argued that the state should grant more civil rights to African Americans.

    Portrait of Beriah Magoffin by Jessie Anderson Rue, 1909
    Kentucky Historical Society Collections


    About Us

    An agency of the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet, the Kentucky Historical Society, since 1836, has provided connections to the past, perspective on the present, and inspiration for the future. KHS operates the Old State Capitol, the Kentucky Military History Museum, and its headquarters, the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. Since 1999, the thirty-million- dollar Center has welcomed more than one million visitors.For more information, visit our Web site.

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