Marker #1874: "Gabriel Slaughter, 1767-1830"

Historical Marker #1874 in Mercer County recognizes Gabriel Slaughter, who served as Kentucky’s seventh governor between 1816 and 1820.

Born in Culpeper County, Virginia on December 12, 1767, Gabriel Slaughter came to Kentucky in the early 1790s. He settled in Mercer County and began his lifelong political career. Slaughter was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1795 by Isaac Shelby and served as the County Commissioner of Mercer County. He was later elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1797 and the Senate in 1801. By 1802, he was serving in the Kentucky militia, becoming a colonel in 1803. Serving under Governor Charles Scott, Slaughter was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1808. After his term ended, he ran for governor in 1812 as a Democratic Republican against Isaac Shelby. Shelby served as Kentucky’s first governor and felt compelled to run again due to the brewing war with Great Britain. Because Shelby was instrumental in shaping Kentucky as a state and served successfully as governor before, voters elected him over Slaughter.

Slaughter recovered his reputation after the failed gubernatorial race by leading a regiment at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Due to his role in the American victory, he was again elected Lieutenant Governor in 1816 under Governor George Madison. Just a few months after taking office, Madison died, leaving Slaughter to fill the governor’s position. The succession of Slaughter to the governorship was scrutinized heavily by the legislature. As Madison was the first Kentucky governor to die in office, the legislature was unsure whether Slaughter should inherit the position, or if another election should be held. The legislature failed to produce a resolution and Slaughter maintained his position. Referred to as “acting governor,” Slaughter was disliked by the General Assembly who grieved over Madison's passing. Shortly after Madison’s death, Secretary of State Charles S. Todd, Shelby’s son in law, offered to step down from his position if the new governor preferred another person serve. Slaughter accepted the offer as a resignation and replaced the popular Todd with the unpopular John Pope. Pope opposed the War of 1812, a war many Kentuckians were passionate about, and Kentucky newspapers heavily criticized Slaughter and Pope. The legislatures’ distaste for Slaughter was so severe that the House of Representatives attempted to replace him as governor twice. Both attempts failed but still managed to damage Slaughter’s reputation.

Due to the legislature’s hostility, much of Slaughter’s agenda was ignored or overridden. Several of Slaughter’s proposals were incredibly progressive. He proposed a system of public schools available to students of all socio-economic statuses, a measure designed to eliminate the wealth gap in the Commonwealth. Slaughter’s plans also included instructions for funding those public schools, an idea that subsequent governors did not include in their proposals for education. The legislature ignored Slaughter’s suggestions for public schools and passed their own acts that would benefit select schools. Slaughter also proposed a system of prison reform to repair facilities and address the issue of overcrowding. He suggested instituting a program for moral and vocational classes to aid in the rehabilitation of prisoners. Slaughter also advocated for increased financial aid for internal improvements such as improving the navigation of waterways and maintaining roads, as well as the creation of a state library. The legislature ignored all of the acting governor’s suggestions.

By 1819, a financial crisis gripped the nation. The Panic of 1819 significantly devalued the Bank of Kentucky’s widely circulated notes. Slaughter and the legislature were divided over how to provide relief for debtors while also protecting the rights of creditors. The ideological divide between the two state powers, combined with the effects of the Panic of 1819, spurred a controversy that would persist in state and national politics for the next decade.

Because of Slaughter’s and the General Assembly’s political differences, there were few accomplishments during his administration. After his term as governor ended, Slaughter attempted to run for the State Senate and failed, but was later elected to the state House of Representatives in 1823. After completing his term, Slaughter retired to his Mercer County farm and became a leader in the Baptist church and a trustee of Georgetown College in 1829. He died on September 19, 1830, and was buried in his family’s cemetery in Mercer County.