Barkley’s Grave

Historical Marker #1112 in Paducah marks the grave of Alben W. Barkley, who was vice president in President Harry S. Truman's administration.

When giving a speech at a student convention in Virginia, Barkley famously stated, "I would rather be a servant in the house of the Lord than to sit in the seats of the mighty." Moments later, he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Born in a log house in 1877 near Lowes in Graves County, Barkley's parents were tenant farmers who raised tobacco. After moving to a wheat farm near Clinton in Hickman County in 1891, Barkley enrolled at Marvin College, from which he received a Bachelor of Arts degree within five years.

After struggling with poverty in the late 1890s, Barkley worked as a law clerk for barristers William Bishop and Jon Hendrick. In 1901, he passed the bar examination and opened his own law office. Shortly thereafter, Barkley ran for a number of political offices, winning most of his elections. Eventually, Barkley ran for U.S. Congress and served seven terms from 1913 to 1927. As a representative, Barkley sought governmental solutions to a number of social problems, including child labor. He was also at the forefront for future prohibition measures.

In 1923, Barkley ran for Kentucky governor. He sometimes made up to sixteen speeches a day, earning him the nickname "Iron Man" for his spirited campaign. Despite these speeches, he narrowly lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary to J. Campbell Cantrill. Barkley then ran for the U.S. Senate in 1926 and won that election.

During the 1930s and early 1940s, Barkley played a national role as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's spokesman and policy-shaper. Although he was a front runner to become Roosevelt's final running mate, the president instead chose Harry Truman. In 1948, however, Truman asked Barkley to serve as his running mate, becoming the oldest man to take the oath as vice president.

Barkley married his first wife, Tennessean Dorothy Brower, in 1903. They had three children. Although Dorothy died of heart disease in 1947, Barkley continued his career, gaining more popularity. He married his second wife, Jane Rucker Hadley, in 1949, making him the only vice president to wed while in office.

It was at the end of a keynote address given to students of Washington and Lee University on April 30, 1956, that Barkley said his famous line and suffered a heart attack. He is buried in Paducah at Mount Kenton Cemetery.

Images

Alben Barkley

Alben Barkley

Well-known for his speeches, Barkley played local roles in Kentucky, as well as national roles as a spokesman for Franklin Roosevelt. After retiring from politics in 1952, Barkley entered the Senate race in 1954 and spoke two years later at a mock convention where he suffered a heart attack at the end of his speech. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Alben Barkley

Alben Barkley

Alben Barkley was born in 1877 to tenant farmers as Willie Alben Barkley. Once he was old enough to challenge his name, he changed it to Alben William Barkley. He was elected to Congress in 1913 and served until 1927. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Barkley Dam

Barkley Dam

Named for Alben Barkley, Barkley Dam and Lake Barkley were completed in 1966. The project dammed the Cumberland River which helped prevent flooding. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Truman and Barkley Campaign Button

Truman and Barkley Campaign Button

Harry S. Truman selected Kentuckian Alben Barkley as his running mate in 1948. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Political Cartoon

Political Cartoon

Senator Barkley is shown in this 1944 political cartoon helping President Roosevelt "clear the way" in domestic issues. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

J. C. Cantrill

J. C. Cantrill

After winning the Kentucky gubernatorial primary over Barkley, Cantrill died on September 2, 1923. He was replaced not by Barkley but by William J. Fields, who would win the election and became governor of Kentucky later that year. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Ashlee Chilton, “Barkley’s Grave ,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed March 29, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/402.
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