Tell me about Kentucky during Reconstruction

Recently I heard historian Gary Gallagher make the statement that Kentucky (a border state) didn’t join the confederacy until after the Civil War.

I think that his point is that, although Kentucky didn’t secede, it didn’t accept the results of the war and resisted reconstruction.

My question is whether, how and to what extent the federal government attempted to enforce reconstruction in Kentucky. Presumably it didn’t have the right to take over like it did in the states that seceded.

Correct; the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 didn’t apply to Kentucky. Kentucky remained in the hands of a conservative Democratic state government throughout the Reconstruction period. The state government didn’t abolish slavery until forced to do so by the 13th Amendment (1865), and didn’t enfranchise black men until forced to do so by the 15th Amendment (1870).

The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments did of course apply to Kentucky, as they applied everywhere. And yes, they were resisted to varying degrees. An early 15th Amendment enforcement case (U.S. v. Reese) concerned a registrar’s refusal to accept poll tax payment from a black voter in Kentucky. However, Kentucky never enacted literacy tests or a “white primary” as did other Southern states. And both de facto and de jure segregation had long careers in Kentucky, although again neither was quite as systematic or pervasive as in the deep South.

The notorious, now legendary, feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys had its roots in the Civil War:

Well after Reconstruction ended, Kentucky politics still remained dangerous. Former Union supporters strongly tended to be Republicans; former Confederate supporters tended to be Democrats. The only assassinated governor in U.S. history was that of Kentucky, in 1900:

I searched a little before and after posting… one interesting thing I found was that the military occupied Kentucky for a few years after the war.

What was that about… maybe it’s a matter of defining “occupied” ?

Yes, you’d have to give me a cite for context. I’m sure there were some troops based in Kentucky, but there still are today (at Fort Campbell), and I wouldn’t describe Kentucky as being “occupied”.

It’s interesting to contrast the politics of Kentucky, during the Civil War and Reconstruction, with her fellow border states of Missouri and Maryland.

In all of the border states, secessionists tended to withdraw from politics, because they were off fighting for the Confederacy. In both MO and MD, Unionists/Republicans took advantage to take control of their state governments during the war. They abolished slavery of their own accord and supported Lincoln for reelection.

When the war ended, they knew they would be overwhelmed by returning Confederates, so they attempted to impose loyalty oaths to disenfranchise as many of the latter as possible. They also attempted to enfranchise African Americans–knowing they would be Republican allies–but were defeated by racial prejudice. (In both MO and MD, black suffrage had to wait for the Fifteenth Amendment.)

The process Missouri and Maryland (and Tennessee) went through is sometimes called “internal Reconstruction”, in contrast to the Congressionally-mandated Reconstruction of the deep South.

In Kentucky, none of this happened. In Kentucky even Unionists tended to remain with the Democratic Party, and politics during the immediate postwar years was relatively sedate. Kentucky voted for McClellan in 1864.

Later on the parties were better balanced than elsewhere in the South, and as Elendil notes, things got rather violent.

From this Kentucky National Guard website:

"The Kentucky Guard was for the most part pre-empted by the occupation of Federal troops after the War, until 1867 when the newly elected Governor of Kentucky issued an ultimatum that Kentucky would once again manage her own internal military affairs. This was respected by the Federal government and Kentucky volunteer companies were once again raised under the jurisdiction of this State. "

I believe that refers to the return of the state militia to state control. The President is Commander-in-Chief “of the Militia of the Several States, when called into the Actual Service of the United States”, as they were during the Civil War. Apparently the militia wasn’t released from “actual service” until 1867.

Besides the militia, there were of course regular army troops in Kentucky during the Civil War, and for a time afterward, and indeed even today at the military bases. But it wasn’t much of an “occupation”. Kentucky had a functioning state government at all times. The army didn’t have any of the special powers that it had in the deep South under the Reconstruction Acts. And it wasn’t used to resolve disputed elections, as it was in some Southern states until 1877.

Correct. See here:

So apart from being populated by many who’s minds had not been reconstructed by the results of the Civil War, what did Kentucky actually do to warrant Gallagher’s remarks?

Sounds like he was trying to say that Kentucky wanted the rebel reputation without having earned it. Gangster wannabe’s. :smiley:

Not a hell of a lot. It’s sort of a strained metaphor.

But it is striking, if you look at the period say from 1867 to 1870, that non-seceding Kentucky was at that time more conservative than the deep South. In the deep South, black people were voting and holding office. Biracial Republican parties were electing governors and launching public school systems. (And on a seamier side, taking bribes to aid railroads and running up debts.)

None of that was happening in Kentucky. Kentucky was electing the same sort of Democrats as always. Kentucky voted against all three postwar Constitutional amendments–even the 13th to abolish slavery.

But again, it’s a strained metaphor. Don’t read too much into it. It’s not as if there was a paramilitary resistance movement in Kentucky–the postwar Klan was never very active there, as it had little reason to be.