Governor Beriah Magoffin

Historical Marker #786 in Magoffin County commemorates the county being named for Beriah Magoffin, one of Kentucky's Civil War governors.

A Harrodsburg lawyer, Magoffin became governor of Kentucky on the eve of the Civil War. Although he supported slavery and the legality of secession, during the war Magoffin worked to keep Kentucky neutral in a failed attempt to broker a peaceful compromise between the North and South.

After secessionist forces fired on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to stop the Southern rebellion. When Lincoln asked Kentucky to supply four regiments, Magoffin refused, stating, "I say, emphatically, Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states."

After Kentucky declared neutrality, Magoffin tangled with Lincoln over several issues, including Union enlistments and the military arrests of Kentucky civilians. Neutrality quickly crumbled, however, and Magoffin was left to lead Kentucky--a divided border state--as Union and Confederate troops maneuvered for control of the commonwealth.

When the Kentucky legislature became overwhelmingly Unionist, Magoffin realized that the legislative process would become deadlocked. Hoping to avoid political turmoil in a time of national crisis, Magoffin resigned from office and was replaced by the moderate Unionist candidate James F. Robinson.

After the war, Magoffin served in the state legislature, where he advised Kentuckians to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, which freed the slaves. He later argued that the state should grant more civil rights to African Americans.

He died on February 28, 1885, and was buried in Harrodsburg.

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Governor Beriah Magoffin

Governor Beriah Magoffin

Harrodsburg native Beriah Magoffin was governor of Kentucky during the early stages of the Civil War. He ultimately resigned and was replaced by James F. Robinson. View File Details Page

Magoffin's Neutrality

Magoffin's Neutrality

This June 6, 1861 political cartoon appeared in Harper's Weekly and shows a bourbon wielding Kentucky cat holding the cock of the walk (Uncle Sam) while the secessionist cat (Jeff Davis) kills off the Union one by one. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Governor Beriah Magoffin

Governor Beriah Magoffin

Beriah Magoffin served as governor of Kentucky from 1859 until 1862, when he resigned. He was succeeded by James Robinson. View File Details Page

Beriah Magoffin

Beriah Magoffin

In response to President Lincoln's call for troops from the Bluegrass State, Governor Magoffin replied, "Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states." The following month Kentucky declared armed neutrality, which lasted until September. At that time the General Assembly voted to align with the Union. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Beriah Magoffin Bust

Beriah Magoffin Bust

Although Magoffin's sympathies aligned with the South, he responsibly led the state during his governorship as his constituency desired. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

John Brown Pike

John Brown Pike

After John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in October, 1859, secessionist Virginian Edmund Ruffin sent a pike to each of the slave state governors, including Kentucky's Beriah Magoffin, with the attached memo: "Sample of the favors designed for us by our northern brethren." Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Sanders, “Governor Beriah Magoffin,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed March 29, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/37.

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