Distinguished Politicians of Christian County, Kentucky

There are a number of Christian County men, natives as well as temporary citizens of the county, who afterward rose to high political and military distinction. Notably among these are Hon. Jefferson Davis, ex-President of the Confederacy; Gen. John M. Palmer, and Joseph Dun-can. The two latter have served as Governors of Illinois, and Gen. Palmer is still a distinguished citizen of that State, and holds a prominent position among Democratic Presidential possibilities.

John M. Palmer was born in Scott County, Ky., September 13, 1817, and soon after his birth his father, who had been a soldier in the war of 1812, removed to Christian County, where lands were then cheap. John M. is still remembered by many of the old citizens as a bright, intelligent boy, fond of reading, and who lost no opportunity to improve his mind. He received such education as the new and sparsely settled country afforded, and in 1831 his father removed to Illinois. Shortly after a college was opened at Alton on the ” manual labor system,” and in the spring of 1834 young Palmer entered the institution, where he remained for eighteen months. He commenced the study of the law in 1838, and the next year was admitted to the bar, when he opened an office at Carlinville. In the early years of his professional life he mingled in local politics more or less. In 1843 he became Probate Judge; in 1847 he was elected to the Constitutional Convention and in 1852 to the State Senate. His father, although a strong Jackson Democrat, was opposed to slavery, and removed to Illinois to escape its influences, like many others of similar ideas. In 1854 John took ground in opposition to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and when the Nebraska question was made a political issue, he declined a nomination to the Senate at the hands of the Democracy. When the civil conflict broke out, he was among the first to offer his services, and was made Colonel of the Fourteenth Illinois Volunteers. He rose to the rank of Major-General and commanded the Fourteenth Army Corps in the Atlanta campaign, but when Gen. Mc-Pherson fell, and Gen. Howard, a junior officer, was promoted to the command of the Army of the Tennessee, Gen. Palmer asked to be relieved.

In February, 1865, Gen. Palmer was assigned to the military administration of Kentucky. The writer knew him personally while in this capacity, with headquarters at Louisville, and notwithstanding he differed from him on political and war issues, and the many objections urged against him, yet it can but be conceded that he blended a conspicuous respect for municipal law consistent with his functions as a military commander. His post was a delicate one, and he said himself that he trembled at the contemplation of his extraordinary power over the persons and property of his fellow men, vested in him, in the capacity of military Governor. The history of many other of’ the Southern States, oppressed and ground down by their military Governors, will show us the blessings we possessed in having placed over us a man of the unswerving integrity and high sense of honor of Gen. Palmer. And since he has returned to his old political faith (Democrat), his fellow-citizens of Christian County, among whom he spent his boyhood days, should bury the last shade of feeling of resentment, and present him, metaphorically, the right hand of fellowship and brotherly love.

Gen. Palmer was elected Governor of Illinois in 1868, over Hon. John R. Eden, Democrat, by 44,707 majority. His administration was characterized by rare capacity as the executive head of a great State. His business life has been the pursuit of the law, and few excel him in an ac-curate appreciation of the depth and scope of its principles. Without brilliancy, his dealings are rather with facts and ideas, which he leads to invincible conclusions. He is a statesman of a high order; he is social in his disposition, democratic in his manners, correct in his deportment, and truly, a man of the people. During his term as Governor of Illinois, he took rather broad States’ rights ground, which offended some of the Republican leaders. A portion of the Republican press attacked him, and the final result was to return him to the Democratic camp, and to-day John M. Palmer, Lyman Trumbull, Carter H. Harrison and William R. Morrison are perhaps, four of the ablest and most popular men in the State of Illinois.

Joseph Duncan – Some of the older citizens of Hopkinsville still remember a bright and intelligent young man named Joseph Duncan, who was Deputy Circuit Clerk here for several years under James McLaughlan. He was a nephew to Mr. McLaughlan, and was born in Paris, Bourbon Co., Ky., February 23, 1794, and came to Christian County as a Deputy Clerk to his uncle, who had been appointed Circuit Clerk of the county. Though young, he took an active part in the war of 1812, and was with Col. Croghan at Fort Stephenson. Having emigrated to Illinois, he first appeared to the public as Major General of the Militia. In 1826 he was elected to Congress over Hon. Daniel P. Cook, a prominent politician of that day, and who had never before been defeated for a public office. From this time until his election as Governor, he retained his seat in Congress. In the Black Hawk war of 1832, he was appointed by Gov. Reynolds a Brigadier General. He was elected Governor of Illinois in 1834, over ex-Lieut. Gov. Kinney, by more than 17,000 majority.

Gov. Duncan was a man of limited education, but with naturally fine abilities. A portrait of him, which the writer once saw in the State House at Springfield, presents him with swarthy complexion, high cheek bones, somewhat like Abraham Lincoln, broad forehead, piercing black eyes and straight black hair. His administration was an able one, though to a large extent unpopular, owing to the fact that he deserted the Jackson party, to which he had belonged, and which was largely in the ascendancy in Illinois. As President, Gen. Jackson had shown such a decided hostility to several Western measures in which Mr. Duncan was greatly interested, he refused longer to act with the party. Gov. Duncan died in Illinois a number of years ago.

Jefferson Davis – An appropriate conclusion to this chapter is a brief sketch of the ex-President of the Confederate States. Mr. Davis was born June 3, 1808, in the village of Fairview, just over the line in the present County of Todd, but in what was then Christian County. His father, Samuel Davis, removed to Mississippi when the future great states-man was but a child. The latter soon returned to Kentucky, and was for a time a student in Transylvania University at Lexington. He entered West Point Military Academy in 1824, and graduated from it in 1828, and served in the army until 1835, when he resigned. He participated in the Black Hawk war, and in other campaigns against the Indians. His political career commenced in 1844 as Presidential Elector for Mr. Polk; he was elected to Congress in 1845, but resigned the next year to take command of a Mississippi regiment in the Mexican war; he was promoted Brig – Gen. for his gallant conduct at Buena Vista, where it was claimed his regiment, by its valor and steadiness, turned the tide of battle and won a great victory. Mr. Davis entered the United States Senate in 1847, by appointment, to fill a vacancy, and upon the expiration of the term was unanimously elected by the Legislature his own successor. He resigned in 1853 to accept the position of Secretary of War under President Pierce. In 1857 he was again elected to the United States Senate, but withdrew in January, 1861, in consequence of Mississippi having seceded from the Union. Since then, Mr. Davis’ public career is so well known to the American people as to require no mention here.

A few years ago Mr. Davis, through a special invitation, visited Hopkinsville, and delivered an address at the opening of the agricultural fair, to the largest assemblage of people, perhaps, ever seen in Christian County, on any public occasion. While here he visited his old home the house in which he was born-in Fairview. The old house is still standing, and Mr. Davis went and took a look at it. A large number of people had congregated to see the great Southern statesman. While in the house with a number of his friends, an old lady stepped up to him, and shaking him by the hand, said, ” Mr. Davis, I am glad to see you. I knew your mother. Do you see that bed? ” pointing to a bed in the corner of the room, ” just where that bed stands, there stood one then, and upon it you were born, for I was present.” Mr. Davis, with a courtly bow and a benignant smile, replied, ” No doubt, my dear madam, what you say is true; you remember the event far more vividly than I do.” His visit here, and at Fairview, are well remembered, and all who came in contact with him were charmed with his courtesy and dignity, and his kindliness of manner.


Perrin, William Henry, ed., Counties of Christian and Trigg, Kentucky, Historical and Biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

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