Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge

Historical Marker #2277 notes Lexington's First Presbyterian Church and one nineteenth century pastor, the Reverend Robert J. Breckinridge.

During the Civil War, Kentucky Presbyterian minister Robert J. Breckinridge was an important advisor to President Abraham Lincoln.

Born near Lexington in 1800, Breckinridge was the son of a U. S. Senator who was also in President Thomas Jefferson's cabinet. Well-educated, Robert hoped to follow his father's footsteps into politics. Elected to the Kentucky legislature, he nearly died of an illness, had a religious conversion, and instead entered the ministry. He preached, taught, wrote prolifically, was a college president, and expanded public education while serving as Kentucky's superintendent of public instruction.

A slave owner who believed in gradual emancipation, Breckinridge was a staunch Unionist during the Civil War. His own family, however, was divided, with two sons in the Union army and two others in Confederate service. In addition, his nephew, John C. Breckinridge, was a Confederate general and the Southern secretary of war.

Editor of the Danville Quarterly Review, Breckinridge's writing and speeches promoted Kentucky Unionism. He was influential with Lincoln and Kentucky's Union military commanders, and he wanted secessionists to be harshly handled. He did, however, intervene to have his captured Confederate son sent to a penitentiary instead of a prisoner-of-war camp, and used his connections to save his son-in-law, captured and accused of being a guerrilla, from the gallows. Breckinridge worked for Lincoln's reelection in 1864, and his wartime opinions alienated him from several family members for years after the Civil War.

He died on December 27, 1871, and was buried in the Lexington Cemetery.

Images

Reverend Robert J. Breckinridge

Reverend Robert J. Breckinridge

The Reverend Robert J. Breckinridge, a Presbyterian minister, was a staunch Unionist and advisor to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. His family was divided, with two sons and a nephew serving in the Confederate army. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

John C. Breckinridge Monument, Lexington

John C. Breckinridge Monument, Lexington

John C. Breckinridge, nephew of the Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge, was U.S. vice president and, during the Civil War, was the Confederate secretary of war. This monument to him sits next to the Fayette County Courthouse in Lexington. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Robert J. Breckinridge

Robert J. Breckinridge

Breckinridge, shown in this portrait as a young man, was an active advocate for public education in Kentucky. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Robert J. Breckinridge to Abraham Lincoln

Robert J. Breckinridge to Abraham Lincoln

Breckinridge penned this letter to Abraham Lincoln on November 25, 1861, seeking a military commision for his son, Joseph Cabell Breckinridge. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Sanders, “Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed May 26, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/39.

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