A Kentucky Governor

Historical Marker #1085 in Clinton County notes the location of the birthplace Preston Hopkins Leslie, Kentucky's twenty-sixth governor.

Leslie was born on March 8, 1819, in what was then Wayne County. As a teenager, Leslie worked various jobs including wood chopping, ferrying, and farm work. He later worked in the Albany law office of Rice Maxey and was admitted to the bar in 1840. Leslie used his knowledge of law to win a seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1844. As a Whig at the time, Leslie was a supporter of fellow Kentuckian Henry Clay.

Despite losing an election to the Kentucky Senate in 1846, Leslie won the post in 1850. He switched to the Democratic Party as the Whigs faded from national prominence in the 1850s. Leslie apparently held Southern sympathies during the Civil War, but remained out of the conflict and maintained a low profile during the conflict.

In 1867, Leslie was elected to the Kentucky Senate and was made president of that body. When Governor John W. Stevenson resigned in 1871, Leslie was selected as his successor. In that fall’s election, Leslie defeated noted Frankfort attorney, former Union colonel, and future Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan.

Unfortunately, Leslie's tenure as governor coincided with the state and nation's struggle with Reconstruction. Despite Leslie's pro-southern leanings, he developed a rather progressive platform that included the admission of testimony from African Americans in court cases, and a call to end the state's terroristic racial violence.

After Leslie’s term as governor ended in 1875, he again practiced law, this time in Glasgow, Kentucky. He served as circuit court judge for six years, and then, in 1887, was appointed territorial governor of Montana by President Grover Cleveland. He served two years before being removed by Republican President Benjamin Harrison.

After his abbreviated term as territorial governor, Leslie remained in Montana and opened a law practice. Leslie died in Helena, Montana, on February 7, 1907, and was buried there in Forestvale Cemetery.

Images

Governor Leslie

Governor Leslie

Leslie's governor portrait hangs in the Hall of Governors at the Kentucky Historical Society. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Governor Stevenson

Governor Stevenson

Preston Leslie became Kentucky's governor when John W. Stevenson, pictured here, resigned to take a US Senate seat. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

John Marshall Harlan

John Marshall Harlan

Leslie defeated future Supreme Court justice John Marshall Harlan, pictured here, in the 1871 governor's race. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

President Grover Cleveland

President Grover Cleveland

President Grover Cleveland, pictured here, appointed Leslie territorial governor of Montana. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Helena, Montana

Helena, Montana

This panoramic photograph shows Helena, Montana in 1907. Leslie died there that year. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Tim Talbott, “A Kentucky Governor,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed July 27, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/542.

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