Kentucky Rising: Democracy, Slavery, and Culture from the Early Republic to the Civil War

By James A. Ramage; Andrea S. Watkins | Go to book overview

Introduction

Parents in Kentucky and throughout the United States in the 1850s recommended Henry Clay as a role model for their young sons; they said that the great Kentucky statesman was an example of self-reliance, meaningful and unselfish public service, and success without formal schooling or powerful connections. He was Kentucky’s brightest star, a world-famous hero and champion of liberty who, when he died on June 29, 1852, was the most popular man in America. Pastors recommended him as an ideal, self-sacrificing Christian husband and father who joined the Episcopal Church and began taking communion at the age of seventy. Clay’s career and the national legend surrounding him symbolize one of the themes running through this study—Kentucky had a relatively elevated status compared with the other states in the first half of the nineteenth century. We found evidence that Kentucky ranked near the top in respect among the states after the War of 1812 and that this prominence continued through 1860. Kentucky was an important center of higher education, and college students came into the state to study from fourteen states, including Virginia and others on the Atlantic coast; by 1840, Kentucky had ten colleges, more than Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, or Missouri.1 Two medical schools were thriving by then— Transylvania University’s Medical Department and the Louisville Medical Institute, forerunner of the Medical Department of the University of Louisville—and the combined enrollment was 460 students, second only to Pennsylvania.2

Another theme running throughout these years is that state governors and journalists in the eastern United States encouraged their citizens to emulate Kentuckians as the ideal models of patriotism and nationalistic military spirit. Beginning on the Indian frontier, Kentucky militiamen came to be known as the greatest warriors on the continent; when their reputation was transformed into legend, they were portrayed as great monsters, half alligator and half horse. When Kentuckians contributed to the victory

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