The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky on March 8, 1959 · Page 123
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The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky · Page 123

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Louisville, Kentucky
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Sunday, March 8, 1959
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Page 123
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Page 123 article text (OCR)

tJ)c onritr-&nrital j A ' W 4 iV MARCH 8, 19S9 In So Little Time Over a span of only 16 years, John C. Breckinridge of Lexington served as congressman, Vice-President, general, Confederate Secretary of War and more By JOE CREASON, Courier-Journal Staff Writer Photo by Mathew Brady John C. Breckinridge posed for famed photographer Mathew Brady after being nominated for President. young man in a hurry. It was almost as though it were preordained that he had only a handful of years in which to do many things. To say the least, his meteoric rise in politics stands unmatched; few, if any, men have become nationally prominent so quickly. He entered politics in 1849 when he was elected to the Kentucky Legislature at the age of 28. By the time he was only 44 Breckinridge had been, in order: two times U. S. Representative, Vice-President of the United States, runner-up candidate for President, U. S. senator, Confederate major general NINETY years ago tomorrow a man who once had been perhaps the most promising figure in American political history returned home to Kentucky from four years of exile abroad. He came home to pick up the tattered remnants of a career that had been interrupted, then torn to bits by the Civil War. The man was John Cabell Breckinridge, a native of Lexington into whose short life of 54 years were packed so much of the challenge and soul searching and tragic waste of the bloody struggle. Breckinridge now might be referred to as a - ' . "V vol and Confederate Secretary of War. All of that in 16 years! He was only 35 when elected Vice-President, the youngest man ever to hold the office. The life story of Breckinridge illustrates in almost classic manner the true tragedy that fell upon the land during and after the Civil War. For not only was the war a pathetic sacrifice of life and national treasure, it cost the country some of its ablest men at a time when they were needed most. Such a one was Breckinridge, lost in the critical reconstruction period. Family tradition and honest conviction had led Breckinridge to cast his lot with the South; prejudice and bitterness forced him to flee for his life and live as an exile after the war ended. One biographer has called Breckinridge's exile a "flight into oblivion," a reference that points up the fact he never was able to rebuild the dreams and ideals that had gone down with the Confederacy. After being granted amnesty, which allowed him to return to America, his political ambitions were at an end. It was on March 9, 1869, that Breckinridge came back to Lexington, the city near the place he was born, the city he considered home. A crowd of several thousand persons met the train that returned him from his years of exile in Cuba and England. T JL HERE had been sentiment to elect him Governor while he was in exile. Even President U. S. Grant expressed hope such might come about when he had pressed unsuccessfully for a pardon for Breckinridge. But the returned Kentuckian left no doubt about his political plans when he spoke to the crowd. "I can truly declare," he said in closing his short remarks, "that I no more feel the political excitement that marked the scene of my former years than if 1 were an extinct volcano." Breckinridge was to live only six years after returning to Lexington and settling in a house that still stands on West Second Street. His main interest during those years was his law practice and the Cincinnati and Southern Railroad. He was instrumental in getting the railroad across Kentucky on its southward path to Chattanooga. But he never again took active part in politics since, as he put it, "the tremendous events of the past years have had a great tendency to deaden, if not destroy, old party feelings." What kind of person was John C. Breckinridge, Continued on following page Thia photo of a painting shows Breckinridge as a Confederate general. He was a U.S. senator before joining the Confederate Army; his first action was in Kentucky. 1

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