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.