Monday, May 14, 2012

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Richard T. Jacob, A Seeming Enigma

One reason history is so fascinating to me is because of the questions it raises. I probably spend too much time pondering why things happened they way they did. One question I am currently trying to answer is, why would a man so opposed to emancipation and African American soldiers serving in the Union army, seemingly willfully pardon a man convicted - not once but twice - with helping slaves run away.

The man I refer to is Richard Taylor Jacob (see my March 26, 2011 post). Jacob was the running mate Lt. Governor in 1863 when Thomas Bramlette was elected as Kentucky's chief executive. Before that he was colonel of the 9th Kentucky Cavalry (USA), although the pictured recruiting poster shows his attempt to raise an infantry regiment - yet another question I would like to answer. During the first years of the war Jacob and the 9th patrolled the state and chased John Hunt Morgan's raiders. Previous to the Civil War Jacob served with his brother-in-law by marriage and first Republican presidential candidate (1856) John C. Fremont in California. Jacob's marriage to Sarah Benton, daughter of powerful Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, only added to his family connections. He was also related to Zachary Taylor and his sister married a son of the "Great Compromiser" Henry Clay.

So, back to the question at hand: why would a strict conservative, opposed to emancipation and black soldiers, go out of his way to pardon Calvin Fairbank a known abolitionist and slave thief?

To provide you with some more information, I will rely heavily on Fairbank's memoir, Rev. Calvin Fairbank during Slavery Times: How He Fought the Good Fight to Prepare the Way, published in 1890. In the book Fairbank states that when Bramlette and Jacob were elected, "That was my daylight! I well knew that they would be elected, and the first time Bramlette was called away (and that would probably be soon), Jacob would pardon me as lieutenant and acting governor of the state." Fairbank claims that Jacob was "a good friend to me, and believed my conviction illegal." Why would Jacob think Fairbank was convicted illegally?

Fairbank's first offense was when he and Delia Webster helped Lewis Hayden and family escape from Lexington in 1844. For his efforts he received a 15 year sentence that was reduced to five years and was released in 1849.  He was caught again when he tried to help a female Louisville slave escape to Indiana in 1851. For this second offense he received another 15 year sentence. He languished in the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Frankfort, where he was often abused for his abolitionist sentiments, until Jacob's pardon in 1863.

Fairbank doesn't go into much detail about what prompted Jacob to pardon him. He stated, "Richard T. Jacob, Lieutenant Governor, had been committed to my favor for years: he had said to me before the war: 'If I was Governor, I would turn you out today.' He was the son of John I. Jacob of Louisville and the son-in-law of Thomas H. Benton of Missouri. So that he was related to, and inherited good blood." O.K., that relationship and blood stuff is all well and good, but I want to know why Jacob was "committed to" Fairbank's "favor." He continued in his memoir that people had been pleading on his behalf to be released, including General James Harlan.  Did he mean John Marshall Harlan, who was a colonel in the Civil War, or did he mean James Harlan, John's father, who I don't think was ever in a military role. Anyway, Fairbank continued, "I was anxious for Bramlette's absence for a while, that Jacob might hold the helm for a few hours; for Bramlette refused to interfere. I knew Jacob would."  How did he know Jacob would, other than what Jacob had possibly told him before the war?

Fairbank's next sentence is especially confusing considering Jacob's expressed racist leanings. "The time had at last arrived when the people and government could see distinctly that it was the Africo-American's war: - that as he went, we went; as we went, he went:- we must both go together." This doesn't sound at all like the Jacob that railed against Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation and black soldiers. "President Lincoln had sent General [Speed] Fry to Kentucky with orders to enroll all the African people:-slave, free - male, female, - old, young; and the men competent for military service separately. Governor Bramlette forbade it. Fry reported to the President. Then was opened a discussion over the wires for several days. I watched this as my forlorn hope." Bramlette was ordered to Washington to speak to Lincoln and Fairbank got his fondest wish. Jacob came to the prison and said to the abolitionist, "How are you Fairbank? Well, I'm going to turn you out. Sneed, get up a little petition to knock the blows off me. I'm going to turn him out anyway." Fairbank asked Jacob, "Governor, what shall I do for you when I get out?" Jacob allegedly answered, "Talk about us like hell. We've abused you. You had no business here."

Why would Jacob ask Fairbank to tell the world about how bad Kentucky had been to him? Why would someone in such an important position want his own state to look bad? I am befuddled. If anyone has some more information or ideas to help me clear this up in my head, I would be glad to read them.

Image courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society

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