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Law and Legacy in the Bluegrass James Morehead

James Morehead was a fixture of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Throughout his life, he served as an attorney, representative, senator, lieutenant governor, and governor. Morehead is amongst the many famous Kentuckians, including Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay, who used their legal experiences to bolster their political career. Most notably, Morehead was still elected as Lieutenant Governor even though his running mate was defeated. Morehead was later named Governor of Kentucky following Governor Breathitt’s death.

Morehead was born on May 24, 1797, near the town of Shepherdsville, Kentucky (Bullitt County). At a young age, he moved to Russellville, Kentucky with his parents Armistead and Lucy. Following his childhood, Morehead moved from Russellville to Lexington to pursue higher education. He attended Transylvania University from 1813-1815. After attending Transylvania, Morehead returned to Russellville.

Upon Morehead’s return to Russellville, he began studying law under circuit court judge H. P. Broadnax and John J. Crittenden. In 1818, James Morehead was admitted to the bar. He then moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he started to practice law on his own. Morehead used this legal background to catapult him into the realm of politics. After a successful stint practicing law, Morehead was elected and represented Warren County in the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1828-1831. In 1831, during the National Republican Party Convention, he was nominated for the office of Lieutenant Governor. Although Richard Buckner was defeated (Morehead’s Republican running mate), Morehead was still elected to serve as the ninth Kentucky Lieutenant Governor. Once elected Lieutenant Governor, Morehead’s political career continued to flourish.

James Morehead was sworn in as the 12th Governor of Kentucky in February 1834. Initially, many Kentuckians worried about a Republican Governor replacing a Democratic Governor. Morehead quickly erased these concerns. In fact, he joined and promoted an entirely new political party during his term as Kentucky Governor. This new political party came to be known as the “Whig Party”. In 1834, Morehead hosted the first “Whig Party” convention in Frankfort, Kentucky. Although Morehead remains well known for his role in the formation of the “Whig Party”, he had many other notable accomplishments during his term as Governor. He authorized a substantial number of surveys of Kentucky rivers and waterways. Construction of the Lexington-Ohio railroad proceeded throughout Morehead’s term. A couple of important educational groups were also established while Morehead was Governor. These two groups came to be known as the Kentucky Common School Society and the Kentucky Association of Professional Teachers.

After Morehead’s term as governor, he continued practicing law in Frankfort, Kentucky. This was relatively short lived, since Morehead was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1841. During his term, Morehead also served as the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. In 1847, Morehead’s time in Congress concluded. He moved back to Covington, Kentucky to resume his legal career. While in the latter stages of his career, Morehead made several publications. The first one, titled An Address in Commemoration of the First Settlement of Kentucky, is comprised of information about the early settlement of Boonesborough, Kentucky. The second publication, Practice in Civil Actions and Proceedings at Law, was written based on Morehead’s experience practicing law.

In 1847, James Morehead passed away. His gravestone lies in the Frankfort Cemetery in Kentucky. Morehead’s legacy is alive and well in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In 1854, the city of Morehead, Kentucky was incorporated. The city and Morehead State University (established in 1887) are both named after Governor Morehead. The lasting impacts of James Morehead can still be seen today.