Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Kentucky Civil War Sentiment in a Nutshell

Kentucky's stance in the Civil War was largely that of middle ground, geographically as well as ideologically. The vast majority of the citizenry wanted to maintain the antebellum status quo. That particular position is not difficult to understand when one considers the success the Bluegrass State experienced from 1820 to 1860. But as we know, drastic change came. Instead of embracing that change and seeking ways to make the most of it to keep the state moving forward, Kentucky tried to keep things as they had been.

Last week, while doing my research in slavery advertisements in Kentucky's Civil War newspapers, my eye was caught by a short article in the March 30, 1863 Frankfort Tri-Weekly Commonwealth. It probably sums up the Kentucky mindset better than any same-length piece I have ever found. It read:

"The rebels won't understand Kentucky, nor will the abolitionists of the North. They are equally obtuse. Both wish to Kentucky to act foolishly, but our old State now, as in times past, will keep the even tenor of her way despite the howlings of Northern or Southern fanatics.

Kentucky will not affiliate with secession or abolitionism. The one [secession] will be for the Union only on the condition that the Federal Government will extend slavery. The other is for the Union only on the condition that the Federal Government will use its power to abolish slavery. Kentucky is a unit against both heresies. She is for the Constitution which established that Union, and she is opposed to any infractions of its provisions. She is for the suppression of all movements calculated to overturn the Constitution and the Union. Down with all enemies to either."  


  1. When I taught the Civil War in Maine, I gave my students a well-balanced list of advantages and disadvantages of both sides as of 1861. I then asked them to move their desks either to the north side of the room (under the Lincoln portrait and the 35 star flag) or the south side (under the Confederate battle flag) for the side which they believed would win (it was about 50-50). One student refused to move out of the middle, because he tried to remain neutral. I christened him "Kentucky" and with virtually NO knowledge of the state, he espoused every single position that Kentucky took. By the way, he was a very intelligent special-education student who understood what no one else in that class understood. Today, he has graduated high school, is married, has a family, and STILL remembers when HE stood alone for Kentucky!

  2. Very neat story that illustrates that everyone can make valuable contributions. Thanks for sharing. Tim