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History & Genealogy


Asa Earl Martin
Assistant Professor of American History
The Pennsylvania State College
Publ. The Standard Printing Company of Louisville


Pgs. 19-32

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     The constitution of 1792 had scarcely gone into effect when it was assailed on all sides.1  There was dissatisfaction with the method of electing the governor and the state senators.2  There were objections to the limitations placed upon local government and to the arbitrary powers given the sheriff.3  Still another demand for constitutional reform came from the anti-slavery element, which was encouraged by the strong
fight in 1792 and soon went forward with renewed efforts.4
     As was to be expected, the anti-slavery element found ready expression through the religious organizations of the state.  The Baptists, the Presbyterians, and the Methodists, the leading denominations in Kentucky, were the only denominations to take any considerable part in the slavery controversy before
1850.  The Friends, whose opposition to slavery is proverbial, although not so numerous in Kentucky as in the adjacent states, contributed indirectly to the cause of anti-slavery.  The Roman Catholics, the Episcopalians, the Disciples (Christians), and the Cumberland Presbyterians did not figure largely in the slavery agitation.
     1 For a number of years after the adoption of the constitution of 1792, the slave code of Virginia continued to be used in Kentucky.  It was gradually superseded, however, by special laws, the first of which, regulating all dealings with and the method and procedure of the trial of slaves, were passed during the first session of the legislature.  Littell: Vol. 1, pp. 120, 157-8.  Two years later, provisions were made for the regulation of the importation and the emancipation of slaves {Ibid., p. 246) and finally, in 1798, the several acts concerning
slaves, free Negroes, Mulattoes, and Indians, together with a number of additional enactments, were consolidated into one code, which did not differ materially from the codes of Virginia and the other slave States. (Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 113-23).  Although severe in many respects,
its provisions were generally interpreted and applied very liberally. This was especially true of the law regulating voluntary emancipation, first passed in 1794, by which any person, by his last will or testament, or any other instrument in writing that was properly attested and
approved in the county court by two witnesses was permitted to emancipate his slave or slaves.  The court was given full power to demand bond and sufficient security of the emancipator for the maintenance of any slave that might be aged or infirm either in body or in mind in
order to prevent his becoming a charge to the county. (Ibid., p. 246f; Vol.11, pp. 119-20).  This large discretionary power was exercised with great moderation and the provisions of the act liberally construed by the courts.  The Supreme Court of Kentucky in 1829 decided that a slave might be emancipated by any instrument in writing; it was not even necessary that it be sealed and recorded, although it might be if the holder wished it. (2 J. J. Marshall, pp. 223ff). This decision was reaffirmed the following year. (4 J. J. Marshall, p. 104f.)
     2 Carl Schurz: "Life of Henry Clay," Vol. 1, p. 27; Butler: "History of Kentucky," p. 280; The Mirror, Feb. 10, 1798.
     3 R. H. Collins: "History of Kentucky," p. 61; The Mirror, Feb. 10, 1798.
     4 Butler: "History of Kentucky," p. 280; Schurz: "Life of Henry Clay," Vol. 1, p. 27; The Mirror, March 24, 1798.

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     As early as 1788, the Baptist church took a stand on the anti-slavery question.5  At the annual meeting in Goochland County, in this year, the subject was first introduced in the Baptist General Committee of Virginia, which embraced at this time the district of Kentucky.   After being discussed at some length, the question was finally deferred till the next annual meeting, in order to give the members more time to deliberate, and to consult with the ministers and the churches in the various parts of the state.  At this next meeting, which assembled at Richmond, it was resolved, "That slavery is a violent deprivation of the rights of nature, and inconsistent with a Republican Government, and therefore we recommend it to our brethren, to make use of every legal measure to extirpate this horrid evil from the land, and pray Almighty God that our honorable legislature may have it in their power to proclaim the Great Jubilee, consistent with the principles of good policy."6 
This expression of sentiment is significant not only because the church took a strong and advanced position on the question, but also because it was one of the first explicit declarations in favor of the abolition of slavery issued by any religious society in the South.
     This attitude was reflected by the Baptists of the District of Kentucky when, in 1789, the Baptist Church at Rolling Fork, in Nelson County, propounded to the Salem Association, of which it was a member, the query, "Is it lawful in the sight of God for a member of Christ's Church to keep his fellow creatures in perpetual slavery?"  The Association declined to answer the question on the ground that it was "improper to enter into so important and critical a matter at present."  There upon, the Rolling Fork Church, by an almost unanimous
vote, withdrew from the Association.7  At about the same time the church at Lick Creek, one of the strongest in the state, became divided on the question of slavery and was denied a seat in that Association until the difficulty should be settled.8  At its annual meeting in 1791, the Elkhorn Association appointed a committee to draw up a declaration on the subject of "Religious Liberty and Perpetual Slavery," and the following year
     5 In the absence of a central organization to prescribe rules for the government of the entire body of members, the churches were grouped into associations through which certain general objects were accomplished.  As it was customary for the associations to express
opinions on matters of general interest, it is through them that we may expect to discover the attitude of the churches of this denomination toward the institution of slavery.
     6 R. B. Semple: "History of the Virginia Baptists," p. 79; J. H. Spencer: "History of the Kentucky Baptists," Vol. 1, p. 183.
     7 Spencer: "History of the Kentucky Baptists." Vol. 1. p. 184, Vol. 2, pp. 47. 48, 49.
     8 Ibid.. Vol. 1, p. 184.

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adopted the report of the committee, pronouncing slavery in consistent with the principles of the Christian religion.  Inasmuch, however, as the individual churches disapproved of the act, the Association recalled the memorial at a special meeting in December of the same year, a meeting probably assembled for that purpose.9  About the same time, John Sutton and Carter Tarrant organized in Woodford County a Baptist congregation avowedly opposed to slavery under the name of the New Hope Church.  This, Taylor, in his "History of the Ten
Churches," pronounces the first emancipation church in America.10 
     For several years the question of slavery continued to agitate the individual churches of Kentucky, but the associations assumed an attitude of non-interference and took no action on the matter.  In many of the churches emancipation parties were formed, whose adherents declared slaveholding contrary to the principles of their religion and refused to commune with those practicing it.  Because the Salem Association refused to pronounce slavery an evil, Mill Creek Church in Jefferson County withdrew in 1794.  Under the leadership of Joshua Carmen and Josiah Dodge, the dissatisfied members of Cox's Creek, Cedar Creek, and Lick Creek Churches formed an in
dependent church, whose members refused to commune with slaveholders.11  Carmen and Dodge were soon joined by the venerable William Hickman, one of the pioneers of Kentucky and probably the most influential Baptist preacher in the state before 1800, likewise by John Sutton, Carter Tarrant, Donald Holmes, David Barrow, Jacob Griggs, George Smith, and other ministers.12  Many ministers openly preached emancipation from the pulpits, sometimes even in the presence of slaves.  For this they were bitterly assailed, since it was maintained that the promulgation of such doctrines would tend to cause insubordination among the slaves and thereby disturb the peace of society.
     In the Methodist Episcopal Church the anti-slavery sentiment was very pronounced.  Its General Conference declared in 1780 that slavery was "contrary to the law of God, man, nature, and hurtful to society; contrary to the dictates of con-
     9 Spencer: "History of the Kentucky Baptists," Vol. 1, p. 184.
     10 John Taylor: "History of the Ten Churches, 1823," pp. 79-81.  See also Spencer: "History of the Kentucky Baptists," Vol. 1, p. 186.
     11 Spencer: "History of the Kentucky Baptists," Vol. 1, pp. 163, 184, 187; Vol. II, pp. 97, 107; David Benedict: "History of the Baptist Denomination," Vol. II, p. 246.
     12 Spencer: "History of the Kentucky Baptists," Vol. 1, p. 185, Vol. II, pp. 152, 186, 188; Taylor: "History of the Ten Churches," pp. 79-81.

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science, and pure religion, and doing that which we would not others would do unto us and ours."13  The Conference of 1784, which organized the new independent church in America, not only concurred in this opinion but by stringent regulations at tempted to limit and control slave-holding within the church.  A provision was incorporated in the discipline which required every slaveholder within the society, within twelve months after notice to "legally execute and record an instrument whereby he emancipates and sets free every slave in his possession."14  Slaves of a certain age were to be set free within a certain period, in such a way as to provide a gradual emancipation.   These rules were to apply only in so far as they were consistent with the laws of the states in which the slaveholder resided, and the Virginia brethren, in particular, were given two years in which to consider the rules.15  While the Conferences of 1796 and 1800, largely as a result of the opposition of the southern churches, where legal obstruction to manumission prevented the enforcement of the strong rules regarding slavery, somewhat relaxed the discipline of the church in this respect, the continuing interest of the Methodists in furthering emancipation can not be doubted.16  The ministers in Kentucky not only attempted to avoid all connection with slavery themselves but zealously endeavored to enforce the enactments of the General Conference on the subject.17
     The Presbyterian Church, though pronounced in its opposition to slavery, was more cautious than either the Methodists or the Baptists.   Its General Assembly, in 1789, not only expressed its disapproval of slavery but recommended that "meas-
     13 A. H. Redford: "History of Methodism in Kentucky," Vol. 1, pp. 254-59; L. C. Matlack: "History of American Slavery and Methodism," pp. 14-31.
     14 The Conference of December 24, 1784, at Baltimore, Tigert, Bound Minutes, pp. 195.
     15 Tigert, p. 217.  In 1784 the Conference adopted the following resolution: "We view it as contrary to the Golden Law of God, on which hang all the law and the prophets, and the inalienable rights of mankind, as well as every principle of the Revolution, to hold in deepest debasement, in a more abject slavery than is perhaps to be found in any part of the world except America, so many souls that are capable of the image of God."
     16 "Journal of the General Conferences," Vol. .1, pp. 40-41; L. C. Matlack: "The Anti-Slavery Struggle and the Methodist Episcopal Church," pp. 58-74.
     While the Conference of 1800 negatived a proposition to exclude all slaveholders from the church, the ministers were instructed to consider the subject "with deep attention" and to communicate to the Conference "any important thought upon the subject" that might occur to them.  The Annual Conferences were directed to draw up addresses for the gradual emancipation of slaves to the legislatures of those States in which no general laws had been passed for that purpose; and they were to appoint committees for conducting the business.  All officers of the church and traveling preachers were to assist in securing signatures to these addresses.  This plan was to be continued from year to year until the desired end had been accomplished. (Journal of the General Conferences, Vol. 1, pp. 40-41).  The Methodist Episcopal Church was thus virtually organized into an agency for anti-slavery agitation.
     17 H. C. Northcott: "Biography of Rev. Benjamin Northcott" (1770-1854), pp. 88-89.

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ures consistent with the interests of civil society" be taken "to procure eventually the final abolition of slavery in America."18
     The Presbytery of Transylvania, which embraced the entire state of Kentucky, resolved in 1794 that slaves belonging to the members of that body should be taught to read the Scriptures and should be prepared for freedom.19  Two years later it earnestly recommended that the people under its care "emancipate such of their slaves as they may think fit subjects for liberty, and that they take every possible measure, by teaching their young slaves to read, and giving them such other instruction as may be in their power, to prepare them for freedom."20
     At this early date, the Presbytery was much disturbed by the opposition on the part of a considerable number of the members not only to the institution of slavery but to communion with slaveholders.  The controversy became so serious that the matter was brought before the General Assembly of the church
in 1795.  That body appointed a committee composed of David Rice and Dr. Muir, ministers, and Robert Patterson, an elder, to draft a letter to the Presbytery on the subject.  After considerable discussion, their report was adopted.  The letter begins by stating that the General Assembly "hear with concern from your Commissioners that differences of opinion with respect to holding Christian Communion with those possessed of slaves agitate the mind of some among you and threaten divisions which may have the most ruinous tendency."  The Presbytery was asked to use forbearance and moderation until the General Assembly should see fit to take a more decided stand on the question.21  They were referred to the previous recommendation that the slaves be educated in such a way as to be prepared for a better enjoyment of freedom and that reasonable measures be taken to procure the final abolition of slavery in America.22  Regardless of this act of the General Assembly, the sub-
     18 S. G. Baird: "A Collection of the Acts, Etc., of the Supreme Judicatory of the Presbyterian Church, pp. 806-7
     The action of the Synod of New York and Pennsylvania in 1787 on the question of slavery was adopted by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church two years later.  In 1795 the action of the assembly of 1789 was reaffirmed and some rather drastic regulations adopted concerning manstealing.
     19 John Robinson:  "The Presbyterian Church and Slavery," p. 123; Davidson: "History of the Presbyterian Church in Kentucky," p. 336.  The Presbytery of Transylvania was formed in 1786 by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia.
     20 Robins;  "The Presbyterian Church and Slavery,"  p. 124.
     21 Baird:  A Collection of the Acts, Etc., of the Supreme Judicatory of the Presbyterian Church,"  pp. 807-808.
     22 The subject of slavery came before the General Assembly in 1793 and again in 1795, when the decision of that body on the subject in 1789 was reaffirmed.  (Robinson:  "The Presbyterian Church and Slavery," pp. 17-18.)

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ject was frequently brought before the Presbytery and on one occasion, 1796, the following resolutions were adopted: "That although the Presbytery are fully convinced of the great evil of slavery, yet they view the final remedy as alone belonging to the civil powers; and also do not think that they have sufficient authority from the word of God to make it a term of church communion.  They, therefore, leave it to the conscience of the brethren to act as they may think proper ; earnestly recommending to the people under their care to emancipate such of their slaves as they may think fit subjects of liberty; and that they also take every possible measure, by teaching their young slaves to read and giving them such other instruction as may be in their power, to prepare them for the enjoyment of liberty, an event which they contemplate with the greatest pleasure, and which they hope, will be accomplished as soon as the nature of things will admit."23  In 1797, the Presbytery again declared slavery to be a great moral evil, but, while they acknowledged that there might be exceptions, they were unable, even though they discussed the subject for many years, to answer the question, "Who are not guilty of moral evil in holding slaves?"24
     In 1800, the West Lexington Presbytery in a letter to the Synod of Virginia spoke of slavery as a subject "likely to occasion much trouble and division in the churches in this country."  It stated, also, that it was the opinion of a large majority of the members of the Presbyterian church in Kentucky that slaveholding should exclude from church privileges, but it hesitated to decide till directed by superior judicatories.25  This Presbytery in 1802 prohibited church sessions from excluding slave holders from communion until such exclusion should be sanctioned by the higher authorities.26
     The ministers of the church seem to have been in general staunch emancipationists and a very large majority of the elders and members were equally opposed to the continuance of slavery.27  The most conspicuous leader in the Presbyterian church during these years was the Rev. David Rice, whose activity in behalf of emancipation in the constitutional convention of 1792 has been reviewed in the preceding chapter.  He was
     23 Davidson:  "History of the Presbyterian Church in Kentucky,"  p. 336; Robinson:  "The Presbyterian Church and Slavery," p. 123
     24 Davidson:  "History of the Presbyterian Church in Kentucky,"  p. 337.
     25 Ibid., p. 337.  The West Lexington Presbytery was formed in 1799.
     26 Ibid., p. 337.   By 1802, the number of Presbyterians in Kentucky had so multiplied as to call for the organization of a Synod.  Accordingly the Synod of Kentucky was formed, which was composed of three Presbyteries and thirty-seven ministers.
     27 Robinson:  "The Presbyterian Church and Slavery," p. 123

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an implacable foe of slavery, never overlooking an opportunity to use his influence against the institution.  To David Rice must be given much of the credit for the advanced position taken by the Presbyterians of Kentucky.28
     In view of the prominent part played by the religious denominations in the life of the frontier, the significance of the attitude of the churches toward slavery can hardly be overestimated.  The opposition to the constitution of 1792 and the effort to provide compensated emancipation in 1799 must find their explanation in part in the attitude of the members of the frontier churches.  During the years immediately following the constitutional convention of 1792, special efforts were made by David Rice and other anti-slavery leaders to gather their scattered forces into some kind of permanent organization in order that the various branches of their work might be carried on in a systematic and efficient way.  This difficulty had been met in the States along the Atlantic Coast by the formation of abolition societies,29 of which there were twelve in 1791.  As a rule, their membership was very small and their work restricted to their individual localities.  The increased opposition to the slave trade and the failure of Congress to legislate against it led them to widen the scope of their work. Accordingly delegates from the various local societies met in Philadelphia in 1794 and perfected a permanent national organization under the name of the "American Convention of Delegates of Abolition Societies."30
     The Kentucky anti-slavery workers followed the plans of the eastern societies.  During the early part of 1795 they began, through the Rev. David Rice, a correspondence with William Rogers, a member of one of the abolition societies in Philadelphia, concerning the organization of similar societies in Kentucky.
In his reply Mr. Rogers stated that the Philadelphia society was "much pleased with your endeavors in promoting a similar
     28 Bishop: "Outline of the Church in Kentucky, Containing the Memoirs of David Rice," p. 83.  Rice's dying testimony in 1816 gave the final emphasis to his condemnation of slavery, a feeling which he shared with many of his fellow clergy.  "I have too much participated in the criminal and the great neglect of the souls of slaves.  Though we live at the expense of those unfortunate creatures, yet we withhold from them a great part of the means of instruction and grace—many, indeed, deprive them of all, so far as they can.  This added to that of depriving them of the inalienable rights of liberty, is the crying sin of our country; and for this I believe our country is now bleeding at a thousand veins."
     29 Before 1830 the term abolition was used to designate every plan for abolishing slavery, including gradual compensated emancipation.  After this time, due to the Garrisonian or modern abolition movement, it was used to apply only to immediate, uncompensated emancipation.
     30 "Minutes of the Proceedings of the First Meeting of the American Convention, 1794," Pamphlet; M. S. Locke: "Anti-Slavery in America, 1619-1808," p. 101; A. D. Adams: "Anti-Slavery in America, 1808-1831," p. 154.  There were only nine societies in the American Convention in 1794.  In 1818 a new constitution was adopted and the name changed to "The American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and Improving the Condition of the African Race."

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institution in Kentucky, which, should it take place, will of course receive every possible aid from the society in this city."31
     The Kentucky societies were organized as proposed, but almost nothing more is known about them.  In the minutes of the American Convention of Delegates of Abolition Societies in 1797, the Kentucky societies were referred to a number of times, although they were not represented in the convention.  They appear, however, to have had some correspondence with the convention.32  A correspondent in The Knoxville Gazette (Tennessee), January 23, 1797, in a call for a meeting of all those interested in the organization of an abolition society, mentioned the existence of two such societies in Kentucky, one in Philadelphia, one in Baltimore, one in Richmond, and one in Winchester (Virginia).   The work of these societies was declared to be to relieve "such persons as are illegally held in bondage; to effect their relief by legal means alone without any intention to injure the rights of individuals, not to take negroes from their legal masters and set them free as some have vainly imagined; but by lawful means to vindicate the cause of such of the human race as are lawfully entitled to freedom either by mixed blood or by any cause."33  More liberal emancipation laws were advocated as well as the education of slaves as a means of "preparing them for freedom."34
     Nothing further has been found concerning the early Kentucky societies.  They were doubtless originated through the influence of the Rev. David Rice for the purpose of advancing the cause of gradual emancipation, which was being extensively advocated in the state at that time, and their disappearance may be connected with the failure of the movement in the constitutional convention of 1799.  They bear the distinction of having been the first abolition organizations west of the Appalachian Mountains, preceding by eighteen years those in both Ohio and Tennessee.35
     The eleventh article of the constitution of 1792 provided for a vote at the election of 1797, on the question of calling a convention to amend that instrument or to adopt a new one.
     31 Draper MSS., Hist. Miscel., 1.
     32 "Minutes of the Proceedings of the Fourth Convention of Delegates, 1797," Pamphlet.  Societies from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia were represented in this convention and societies from Delaware, Rhode Island, and Kentucky were referred to, pp. 37, 41.
     33. The Knoxville Gazette, January 23, 1797.
     34. Ibid.
     35. Adams:  "Anti-Slavery in America, 1808-1831,"  pp. 264-267, gives a list of abolition societies and the date of organization of each.  The Kentucky societies were not known to her.  No reference to them as been found in any secondary work.

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If the vote in 1797 should be favorable, another was to be taken in 1798.36  In both years more votes were cast for the convention than against it, and although there was some doubt as to whether or not "a majority of all the citizens in the state voting for representatives" had voted in the affirmative,37  the legislature, being "ripe for a convention,"38 ordered the election of delegates.
     In a pamphlet entitled "No Convention," which John Breckinridge 39 published, over the pen name of Algernon Sidney shortly before the election of 1798, he declares, "The emancipation of our slaves is said to be one of the objects for which the people wish to call a convention; and the better organization, or total destruction of the Senate, the other.
     "It must be acknowledged that the first reflects an encomium upon the wisdom, humanity and justice of our countrymen, that cannot be too much appreciated or too warmly applauded.  It discovers the philosophy of the human mind marching on boldly to oppose tyranny and prejudice, and indicates an approaching era when slavery shall be driven from our enviable country.  But if a renovation in this particular be the object in view, you have surely mistaken the price necessary to carry so important a work into execution, as well as to organize or make any change in your constitution at all. ***Your slaves ought to be free; but let us not liberate others at the probable expense of our own freedom."40  Though he attached considerable importance, in this pamphlet, to the slavery issue, his opposition to the convention was based mainly on the demand for the abolition of the Senate.41
     36 Littell:  "Statute Laws of Kentucky," Vol. 1, p. 29.
     37 Marshall:  "History of Kentucky,"  Vol. 2, pp. 257-258; R. H. Collins: "History of Kentucky,"  Vol. 2, p. 61; Butler: "History of Kentucky," pp. 280-281; The Mirror, February 10, 24, March 28, 1798.
     In 1797, 5,446 of a total of 9,811 votes and in 1798, 8,804 of a total of 11,853 votes were cast for the convention.
     38 Samuel Hopkins to John Breckinridge, December 8, 1798.  Breckinridge Papers.
     39 John Breckinridge (1760-1806), a Virginian by birth, was a member of one of the most influential Kentucky families.  In 1798, as a member of the Kentucky Legislature, in colaboration with Thomas Jefferson, he drew up and himself introduced the famous "Kentucky Resolutions."  From 1801 to 1805 he represented Kentucky in the United States Senate and from 1805 until his death in 1806 he was Attorney General in Jefferson's cabinet.
     The Breckinridge Papers, from which considerable material for this and other chapters was obtained, contains the papers of John Breckinridge, William Breckinridge, Robert J. Breckinridge, John Cabell Breckinridge and other members of the family.  The author was given permission to examine this valuable collection, which is deposited in the Congressional Library, but which has not yet been opened for public use by the owner.  Miss Sophonisba P. Breckinridge, of the University of Chicago.
     40 Breckinridge Papers, 1798, pamphlet undated.

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his arguments were bitterly assailed in a hand bill, signed "Keiling,"42 which in turn was answered by Sidney in a most scathing article in the Kentucky Gazette.43  A lively exchange of hand bills and newspaper articles ensued, in which a number of people took part. * * One of the hand bills, signed ' 'Junius' ' and addressed to "The Electors of Franklin County," enthusiastically advocates a convention as a means to the reorganization of the Senate and to the securing of other reforms.  The author manifests no desire for the abolition of slavery, but he admits that that subject was attracting more and more attention.45  Another advocate of the convention said, "The man of landed property is told that agrarian laws will be passed; and the slaveholder is alarmed by the fear of immediate emancipation."  This he attributed to the enemies of the convention and added that no citizen had "brought forward a proposition for emancipation."  He asserted also that no one desired "an immediate liberation of the slaves," but that many did favor a gradual compensated emancipation. He could see no occasion for alarm on the question, however, since any constitutional convention in Kentucky would be composed largely of slaveholders who, in case they should decide upon some plan of emancipation, could be depended upon to protect the slaveholders from monetary losses.46
     Breckinridge, however, was less certain of the slave holders' safety. In a letter to Governor Shelby, March 11, 1798, he displayed considerable uneasiness as a result of the wide-spread discussion by the general public and press of a "speedy emancipation of slaves upon some principle."  He says further, "If they can by one experiment emancipate our slaves; the same principle pursued, will enable them at a second experiment to extinguish our land titles; both are held by rights equally sound."47
     In view of his subsequent career, the connection of Henry Clay with the anti-slavery movement of this period deserves special consideration.  It is probable that he received here the impressions that were to determine his course throughout the controversy.  In 1798, at the age of twenty-one, he published over the signature "Scaevola" a series of articles addressed to
     42 Breckinridge Papers, 1798, undated.
     43 Kentucky Gazette, May 9, 1798.
     44 A number of these hand-bills are to be found in the Breckinridge Papers for 1798.
     45 Breckinridge Papers, dated May 1, 1798.
     46 Stewart's Kentucky  Herald, April 17, 1798.  This article was signed "Voter."
     47 John Breckinridge to Gov. Shelby, March 11, 1798, Breckinridge Papers for 1798.

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the "Electors of Fayette County,"48  in which he discussed at length the importance of the slavery issue in the coming convention.49  In the number for April 25, he asserted that the convention was opposed by many because it was supported by the anti-slavery party.  He pointed out forcefully the reasonable ness and the advantages of gradual emancipation and declared that if the convention did not wish to abolish slavery it should at least remove the prohibiting clause from the constitution so that the legislature could take up the subject any time it saw fit to do so.  The article closed with the following arraignment of slavery: "All America acknowledges the existence of slavery
to be an evil which, while it deprives the slave of the best gifts of Heaven, in the end injures the master, too, by laying waste his lands, enabling him to live indolently, and thus contracting all the vices generated by a state of idleness.  If it be this enormous evil the sooner we attempt its destruction the better.  It is a subject which has been so generally canvassed by the public that it is unnecessary to repeat all the reasons which urge to a conventional interference."50
     The result of these discussions was a larger majority for the convention in 1798 than in 1797.51   How far this may be an expression of anti-slavery strength it is impossible to say, but doubt less all anti-slavery men who voted favored the convention. 
     When we come to the choice of delegates the anti-slavery sentiment emerges more clearly.  In some counties, if we may trust statements made long afterwards, and by pronounced antislavery men, it became the chief issue, and candidates pledged themselves, if elected, to support or to oppose a gradual emancipation clause in the constitution.52  In others, the question was whether or not the owners of slaves should be compensated in case of gradual emancipation.  It appears that the country people were becoming united against the town people, who generally supported emancipation.53  In this situation the leaders in Fayette County, the political center of the state, and one of the
principal slave-holding communities in it, laid plans "for the
     48 Calvin Colton:  "Works of Henry Clay,"  Vol. 1, pp. 209, 214; Schurz:  "Life of Henry Clay,"  Vol. 1, p. 27.
     Henry Clay emigrated from Virginia to Kentucky in 1797.
     49 Colton:  "Works of Henry Clay,"  Vol. 1, p. 209.
     50 The Kentucky Gazette, April 25, 1798.
     51 In 1797 for the convention 5, 446 out of 9,814 votes were cast.
     In 1798 for the convention 8,804 out of 11,513 votes were cast.
     52 William Birney:  "James G. Birney and His Times,"  p. 16; Speech of Robert J. Breckinridge in Reply to Speech of Robert Wickliffe, October 12, 1840, Breckinridge Papers.  Robert J. Breckinridge was a son of John Breckinridge.
     53. George Nicholas to John Breckenridge, January 20, 1798.  Breckinridge Papers for 1798.

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most independent and principled men amongst us to step forward and prevent mischief."44 A meeting was called for January 26, 1799, at Bryant Station, whose purpose was to formulate a common policy and to nominate candidates to the convention.  With the avowed object of furnishing an example to other counties by enlisting the interest and securing the attendance of leading men, delegates were invited from the Militia Companies and the religious societies of the county.55  Thus was formed a body commonly known as Bryant (Bryan's) Station Convention, which "decided the destinies of Kentucky for that era."58  Five subjects were proposed for the consideration of the convention:  1, "no emancipation either immediate or gradual;" 2, representation according to population; 3, a legislature of two houses; 4, the courts; 5, the compact with Virginia to be retained in the new constitution.57
     The convention proved to be well attended58 and included the leading men in the county among whom were John Breckinridge, George Nicholas, and Daniel Logan.  After nominating candidates, among them John Breckinridge, it drew up "a Declaration to be made by Convention Candidates," which provided that no man ought to be voted for as a member to that convention who would not subscribe to five declarations, one of which was as follows: "I do declare that in case I am elected to the Convention, I will be decidedly opposed to an emancipation of the slaves, either immediate or gradual without paying to the owners thereof their full value in money, previous to such emancipation."59  While this declaration manifests no opposition to compensated emancipation it is fairly certain that the men back of it were antagonistic to any sort of emancipation.  Since the anti-slavery forces were strong in Fayette County, it is not improbable that the political leaders were forced to assume this conciliatory attitude.  The declaration seems to have been a compromise and was so regarded in many sections of the state.  While the Bryant Station Convention was often referred to both
     54 Samuel Hopkins to John Breckinridge, December 8, 1798. Breckinridge Papers for 1798.
     55 Stewart's Kentucky Herald, March 12, 1799. See also Breckinridge Papers for 1799.
     56 Speech of Robert J. Breckinridge ***, 1840, p. 7; Daniel Logan to John Breckinridge, January 25, 1799, Breckinridge Papers for 1799. A hand-bill (Breckinridge Papers), signed "Voter" and addressed to the "Inhabitants of Fayette County" describes in detail the meeting of "The Bryant Station Convention."
     57 Speech of Robert J. Breckinridge ***. 1840, p. 7. See also handbill. Ibid.
     58 Stewart's Kentucky Herald, March 12, 1799. The attendance was estimated at between 300 and 400.
     59 Speech of Robert J. Breckinridge ***, pp. 7-8.

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as an anti-slavery and as a pro-slavery body,60 the information at hand seems to show that it was a moderately pro-slavery convention dominated by men who were more interested in preventing radical action against slavery than in perpetuating the institution.
     In the election of delegates to the constitutional convention a few weeks later, the Bryant Station candidates were successful
and the leaders in Fayette County, particularly John Breckinridge and George Nicholas, were active in the selection of delegates elsewhere in the state.  Efforts were made to bring the right men forward and these efforts appear to have met with a favorable response.61
     The cause of the pro-slavery party was doubtless assisted by the passage in June and July, 1798, of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which in Kentucky as elsewhere aroused great opposition to the federal administration and resulted in November in the passage of the famous "Kentucky Resolutions."  The importance of and the general interest in these measures affected the choice of delegates to the constitutional convention by bringing forward trusted leaders who had been temporarily set aside because of their pro-slavery inclinations.  Local issues were now subordinated to the desire to present a solid front to the aggressions of the national government.  When in the midst of this excitement the elections for delegates to the convention were held, the conservative pro-slavery element was found to be in the majority. 63
     60 See Breckinridge Papers for 1799; especially James Hopkins to John Breckinridge.  January 27, 1799, and George Nicholas to John Breckinridge, February 16, 1799. See also Speech of Robert J. Breckinridge***, pp. 7f.
     The writer referred to above in Stewart's Kentucky Herald for March 12, 1799 said: "When you consider that the very Gentlemen that differed from you as to the expediency of calling a Convention, and made every exertion to thwart your wishes are now the warm supporters of the project from Bryan's Station."
     61 Samuel Hopkins, of Christian County, in a letter to John Breckinridge, February 4, 1799 (Breckinridge Papers, 1799), in a reply to a letter from Breckinridge inquiring about the sentiment in that county and asking him to announce Hopkins' candidacy there stated
that he had complied with the request; however, he feared that his opponent, a Mr. Ewing, would be elected.  He further stated that "the importance of the present era ought to be truly Estimated by every citizen—this convention business, I like it not.—I hate experiments upon
government."  In a letter to Breckinridge dated July 15, 1799, he stated that he had been defeated in the convention election.  He said, however, "I feel rejoiced that the disorganizes are ousted in the late elections."  Breckinridge had also considerable correspondence with
his political friends in Hardin County.  In a reply to one of his letters, John Mclntyre said that the convention elections "ought to draw the attention of every man who has the good of his country at heart—at so critical a moment.* * *  Our liberties and property are likely to be
exposed to ignorant and designing men." (Breckinridge Papers, February 10, 1799.)  See also Ben Helm to John Breckinridge, February 17, 1799, and W. E. Boxwell (Harrison County) to John Breckinridge, May 12, 1799. (Breckinridge Papers for 1799.)
     62  (NONE LISTED)
     63 In speaking of this election William Lewis in a letter to John Breckinridge, July 18, 1799 (Breckinridge Papers for 1799), said: "I am pleased to hear that your convention will not effect an emancipation at this time, as it would be a wretched piece of policy in excluding all wealthy emigrants possessing that property from seeking an asylum in the State.  They are certainly the most desirable emigrants, on account not only of the wealth they introduce, but their condition and polite manners—it is from those that your character as a State is to be
formed—exclude this class from your citizens and what will the bottom be?  A crude undigested mass."  See also Birney: "James G. Birney and His Times," pp. 21-22.

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     The Convention assembled July 22, 1799.  Considerable time was devoted to slavery.64  The question of emancipation was raised during the early days of the session and, in general, the plans discussed, although differing in many particulars, provided for a slow and gradual emancipation.  A certain date was to be fixed. All born before that date were to be slaves for life and all born after it were to be free at a specified age.  It does not appear that any one believed in or advocated immediate emancipation.65  The proposal to insert in the constitution a clause providing for gradual emancipation was finally decided in the negative.  A proposal to place the power of providing
for general emancipation in the hands of the legislature was then taken under consideration.  This matter had been extensively discussed during the election of delegates and some of the antislavery men, including Henry Clay, were desirous of having the power of removing slavery placed in the hands of the legislature if it should prove impossible to adopt a constitutional provision for its ultimate extinction.66   No change was made in the constitution in this respect.  The power to extinguish slavery was not granted to the legislature, although Robert J. Breckinridge forty years later maintained that it was the intention of the convention to do this.67  The language of Article
VII of the Constitution of 1799 is substantially the same as that of Article IX of the Constitution of 1792.  The legislature could pass a law for the emancipation of slaves but only with the consent of the owner and with full compensation in money.68
     64 A few scattered printed reports including a manuscript copy of the constitution are in the Breckinridge Papers for 1799.
     65 Breckinridge Papers for 1799.  Henry Clay in a speech in the U. S. Senate, February 7, 1839 (Annals of Congress, 1839, Vol. 7, p. 354), said: "Forty years ago the question was agitated in the State of Kentucky of a gradual emancipation of the slaves within its limits.* * *  No one was rash enough to think of throwing loose upon the community, ignorant and unprepared, the untutored slaves of the State."
     66 The Kentucky Gazette, April 25, 1798. M. J. Howard during the early days of the convention sent a manuscript copy of the constitution to John Breckinridge for criticism.  In a letter which accompanied it (Breckinridge Papers, undated), he said in regard to the
above proposal, "As whatever might be here said, restricting or not restricting the Legislature, with regard to emancipation, would probably have but little effect, as the Body of the People have at all times, an indefeasible and inalienable Right to alter or abolish their Constitution
of Civil Government, whenever they, or a majority of them, shall think fit, or necessary for their welfare, or benefit."
     67 Speech of Robert J. Breckinridge * * *, p. 8. Mr. Breckinridge further asserted that a majority of the members of the convention adhered to the declarations adopted by the Bryant Station Convention and that they not only intended to give the Legislature a limited power to provide for general emancipation, but did give it full power to emancipate the post nati with or without compensation.  Although Mr. Breckinridge had access to his father's papers and had met during his boyhood many members of the convention, his interpretation of the slave clause in the constitution whether right or wrong was not that given it by either the
legislature or the people generally during the years following.
     68 The clause in the proposed constitution dealing with the importation of slaves caused considerable discussion.  Some wished to allow free importations, while others urged strict constitutional restrictions.  A third class desired to place the entire matter in the hands of the legislature. In this as in other points a compromise was agreed upon, by which the provision in the constitution of 1792 for a limited legislative control was adopted with an additional provision regarding the trial of slaves for felony.

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Similarly the constitutional provisions of 1792 in regard to bringing slaves into the state were repeated in the constitution of 1799.
     The exact strength of the anti-slavery element in the convention of 1799 is not known.69  Henry Clay once said, in this connection, that "The proposition in Kentucky for gradual emancipation, did not prevail; but it was sustained by a large and respectable minority."70  And Robert J. Breckinridge in the pamphlet published in 1840 asserted that slavery was ingrafted on the constitution by "no great majority" and only
"after a most violent conflict."71  These statements are well sustained by the literature of the period.
     69 Mr. Birney in his "James G. Bimey and His Times," p. 21. says: "If the convention could have been held in May, 1798. immediately after the election, Kentucky would have been made a free state and the causes of the civil war destroyed in the germ."  This conclusion was based on the number of so-called anti-slavery votes in favor of the convention in the elections of 1797 and 1798.  But since a number of important questions, of which slavery was only one. were involved at that time, it does not follow that the anti-slavery element alone forced the call for the convention.  The defeat of emancipation he attributed to the fact that local issues were eliminated by the national questions growing out of the passage by Congress of the Alien and Sedition Laws.  Though there is no doubt that the anti-slavery strength was greatly weakened by these measures, nothing has been found to indicate even the probability that the majority of the population in either 1798 or 1799 favored emancipation.
     70 Colton: "Works of Henry Clay," Vol. 1, pp. 216-217.
     71 "Speech of Robert J. Breckinridge ***," p. 7.  By 1800 slavery had been abolished or plans of gradual emancipation adopted in the Northwest Territory and in all the states north of the Mason and Dixon Line, with the exception of New York and New Jersey, which followed in 1804.







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