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