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In his brief life John C. Breckinridge embraced the roles of lawyer, politician, statesman, soldier, exile, and businessman. An imposing and tactful man, he was exceptional for evoking both loyal devotion from his followers and generous respect from his opponents during a strife-torn era.
Breckinridge's meteoric rise to national prominence began with election to the Kentucky legislature in 1849 and to the United States Congress in 1851. His eloquence earned him the Democratic Party's nomination for the vice presidency in 1856, and he became the youngest man ever to hold that office. Nearing the end of his term Breckinridge was elected United States senator by the Kentucky legislature. He was a favorite of the Southern faction during the 1860 Democratic convention. Had the nation and the party not foundered on the divisive issues of slavery, section, and union, Breckinridge might well have reached the White House.
With the sundering of the Union, Breckinridge joined the Confederate states, was commissioned a brigadier general, and fought valiantly at Shiloh, Chickamauga, Cold Harbor, and elsewhere before becoming secretary of war. The collapse of the Confederacy drove him into exile in Canada and Europe. But in 1869 he returned to Kentucky to live out his life quietly and industriously as a lawyer and railroad executive.
Proud Kentuckian portrays the most illustrious member of one of Kentucky's first families.
Frank H. Heck is emeritus professor of history at Centre College.
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
John C. Breckinridge, United States vice presidents, Kentucky, Kentucky politicians
Heck, Frank H., "Proud Kentuckian: John C. Breckinridge, 1821-1875" (1976). Political History. 12.
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