Kentucky’s Early Political Development
Kentucky had been erected into a county of that name in 1776. In the spring of 1783 it was made a judicial district, and a court of criminal as well as civil jurisdiction was established, John Floyd, Samuel McDowell and George Muter being appointed Judges; John May, Clerk; and Walker Daniel, Prosecuting Attorney. The first session was held at Harrodsburg the same spring, Floyd and McDowell only being present, Muter not putting in an appearance until two years later. Seventeen cases were presented by the grand jury, nine for keeping tippling houses and eight for fornication, which probably illustrates the prevailing vices of the time. In the summer a log court house and jail, of hewed or sawed logs nine inches thick, were erected on the site of Danville, which subsequently became the seat of justice for the district. In the latter part of 1780 Kentucky County was divided into three counties-Jefferson, with John Floyd as Colonel William Pope, Lieutenant-Colonel, and George May, Surveyor; Lincoln, with Benjamin Logan, Colonel; Stephen Trigg, Lieutenant-Colonel, and James Thompson, Surveyor; and Fayette, with John Todd, Colonel; Daniel Boone, Lieutenant-Colonel, and Col. Tom Marshall (father of the Chief Justice of the United States), Surveyor. In the summer of 1784 some Indian depredations were committed on the southern frontier, and the fear be-came general that a serious invasion was contemplated by the savages. Col. Logan, acting upon his information and belief, summoned a public assembly of the leading pioneers at Danville to consult on measures for the public safety. Upon examination of the laws then existing it was decided that no effectual expedition against the Indians could be legally carried into effect. There was absolutely no power known to the law capable of calling forth the. resources of the country, however threatening the danger, and all legislation came from Richmond, separated from Kentucky by a long, tedious journey of many hundred miles over desert mountains and through interminable forests traversed by roving bands of hostile Indians. The situation was sufficiently serious to give rise to the feeling that the necessity for a nearer government was imperative. Under the circumstances, the calm, deliberative action of the Assembly is worthy of notice. Having no legal authority, this body published a ‘recommendation that each militia company in the district should elect a delegate, who should repair to Danville on the 27th of December, 1784, and form a convention which should take into consideration the necessity of the situation. While there was no division of opinion as to the demands of the district, there was some as to the means to be employed in securing the necessary relief. The more judicious of the number assembled prevailed in council, and the convention, after setting forth the urgency of the case, recommended that a second convention be held in May, 1785, at Danville, to consider the advisability of a separation from Virginia. In the meantime this topic formed the great subject of discussion in primary assemblies. At the appointed time delegates, apportioned by counties, met at the seat of Justice and agreed upon five resolutions calling for a constitutional separation from Virginia, for a petition to the Legislature, an address to the people of Kentucky, and for another convention to which the action of this convention should be referred. A third convention assembled in the following August. In the meanwhile the situation became more alarming. Indian hostilities multiplied, and the people, thoroughly in-formed upon the subject, became exasperated, and demanded by numerous petitions that the only effectual remedy be applied without delay. Under such incitement the action of the new convention was speedy and direct. The petition to the Legislature was drawn up and placed in the hands of George Muter, Chief-Justice of the district, and Harry Innes, Attorney-General, to present to the Government at Richmond, while an address to the people of Kentucky, much less judicial in tone, was multiplied by ready pens and sent throughout the district. The Legislature received the petition with the best possible grace, acceded to the wishes of the petitioners, and by an act of January, 1786, required a fourth convention to be held at Danville in the following September which should determine whether it was the will of the district to become an independent State of the Confederacy. The convention which assembled under authority of this act found itself without a quorum in September, a majority of its delegates having joined an expedition under Gen. Clarke against the Indian towns in Ohio. It was therefore obliged to adjourn from time to time until the next January, 1787. But in the meantime, the minority present prepared a memorial to the Virginia Legislature informing it of the circumstances and suggesting some alterations in the provisions of the act under which the convention had assembled. This led to an entire revision of the act, by which it was required that a fifth convention be held in September, 1787, for the same purpose as proposed for the previous convention, and requiring a majority of two-thirds to effect a separation. The time at which the operation of Virginia laws should cease to operate was fixed on the 1st day of January, 1789, and the 4th of July, 1788, was fixed upon as the period before which Congress should consent to the admission of Kentucky to the Confederacy.
This delay when the matter had seemed so urgent before this, while due largely to circumstances out of the control of both negotiating parties, nevertheless created a bitter state of feeling in Kentucky, which was further aggravated by National questions affecting the interests of the people. The fifth convention, however, quietly assembled and endorsed the action of its predecessors by a unanimous vote. An address to Congress was adopted praying that Kentucky might be admitted to the Con-federation of States. Unfortunately this petition came before Congress in the transition period of the Nation when the Union was being evolved from the old Confederation, and the limitation set by the act of Virginia expired before Congress considered the question of admission, which was finally referred to the new Government. The fifth convention had provided for another convention to assemble in the following year, by which it was hoped a Constitution could be formed and the machinery of Government at once put in motion. It met on the 28th of July, 1788, to learn that Congress had refused to act upon the petition for admission as a State. Anger and disappointment were strongly expressed in all quarters, and a proposition to form a Constitution without delay was strongly urged upon the convention. The net result of the convention’s deliberations, however, was the adoption of a resolution calling for a seventh convention, to assemble in November of the same year, with general power to take the best steps for securing admission to the Union. The election of delegates to this convention developed a most exciting discussion, involving issues which threatened to seriously disturb the freshly laid foundations of the new Government. In November the seventh convention assembled and was at once launched upon the troubled sea of exciting debate. The disposition to seek separation and independence only through constitutional means was covertly but strongly assailed by a disposition to dispel the irritation and delay of repeated conventions by more radical measures. The convention was about equally divided in sentiment, though no one was ready to make a clear declaration of his intention. The friends of constitutional measures finally succeeded in passing a resolution addressed to the parent State, couched in temperate, respectful language, asking the good offices of Virginia in securing the admission of Kentucky into the Union. The convention then adjourned to meet again at a distant day. In the meantime the Legislature of Virginia, on receiving information of the action of Congress, passed a third act in relation to the separation of Kentucky, which required an eighth convention to meet in Danville in July, 1789, and giving this convention ample powers to pro vide for the formation of a State Government. The convention assembled under this act, and drew up a respectful remonstrance to certain of its pro-visions. This remonstrance was promptly acceded to and the obnoxious conditions repealed in an act which required the assembling of another convention in the following year. The ninth convention met in July, 1790, formally accepted the Virginia act of separation, memorialized Congress, asked Virginia’s good offices in securing admission to the Union, and provided for the tenth convention to assemble in April, 1791, to form a State Constitution. On June 1, 1792, Kentucky became a State of the Union under the provisions of an act of Congress signed by the President February 4, 1791.