Kentucky Politics & Government: Do We Stand United?

By Penny M. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
The Political Development of Kentucky

The political history of Kentucky is a battleground for conflicting wider forces and is dominated by its own divisions. Kentucky's "border state" status is more than geographical. Deep divisions were in place before Kentucky's entry into the Union in 1792, and persisted thereafter. These problems were recognized by the drafters of the state seal, which bears the slogan "United We Stand, Divided We Fall." A Kentuckian who moved to Illinois, Abraham Lincoln later recognized in the country at large a characteristic that stayed with his native state--a "house divided against itself." This chapter illustrates some of those divisions and suggests how all of the divisions-- historic, geographic, political, economic, and cultural--have imposed heavy handicaps on Kentucky's progress.1 This theme is particularized in succeeding chapters.

Kentucky was the first American rural land frontier west of the Appalachians, and its frontier period lasted into the 1850s. One of the most extensive mass migrations in western history up to that time flowed into Kentucky. The area was settled largely by bearers of the traditionalistic political culture of Virginia and the Carolinas, who brought with them their elitist orientation toward state government and politics.2 At the same time, a stream of settlers from Pennsylvania, western Maryland, and neighboring states brought their individualistic political culture, focusing on tangible economic benefits, into the cities along the Ohio River.3 German and Scotch-Irish migration was also substantial. It was the fertile, virgin land that attracted settlers, and so they were naturally a part of the agrarian South. The burgeoning industrial North intruded, however, as trade flowed down the Ohio River ( Kentucky's northern border) and then down the Mississippi (which touches Kentucky at the west). This trade was naturally enriched by surplus Ken-

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