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James B. McCreary
James B. McCreary

37th Governor of Kentucky
In office
December 12, 1911 – December 7, 1915
Lieutenant Edward J. McDermott
Preceded by Augustus E. Willson
Succeeded by Augustus O. Stanley

United States Senator
from Kentucky
In office
March 4, 1903 – March 3, 1909
Preceded by William J. Deboe
Succeeded by William O. Bradley

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 8th district
In office
March 4, 1885 – March 3, 1897
Preceded by Philip B. Thompson, Jr.
Succeeded by George M. Davison

27th Governor of Kentucky
In office
August 31, 1875 – September 2, 1879
Lieutenant John C. Underwood
Preceded by Preston H. Leslie
Succeeded by Luke P. Blackburn

Born July 8, 1838(1838-07-08)
Richmond, Kentucky
Died October 8, 1918 (aged 80)
Richmond, Kentucky
Resting place Richmond Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Katherine Hughes
Alma mater Centre College
Cumberland University
Profession Lawyer
Religion Presbyterian
Military service
Service/branch Confederate States Army
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Unit 11th Kentucky Cavalry
Battles/wars American Civil War

James Bennett McCreary (July 8, 1838 – October 8, 1918) was a U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator from Kentucky. He also served as the state's 27th and 37th Governor. He was the only Kentucky governor to serve from both the Old State Capitol and the present state capitol, and was the first Kentucky governor to inhabit the current Executive Mansion.

Living in Richmond, Kentucky at the outbreak of the Civil War, McCreary enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1862. His unit, the 11th Kentucky Cavalry, rode with John Hunt Morgan during his raid into Ohio in 1863. McCreary was captured in July 1863 and was a prisoner of war for two months before being released as part of a prisoner exchange. He returned to the field shortly after his release and continued fighting until the end of the war.

After serving briefly in the state legislature, McCreary was elected governor in 1875. His accomplishments during his first term were few and modest. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1884 and served six consecutive terms. In 1902, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. In both houses of Congress, he represented Kentucky's agricultural interests and advocated for Free Silver. In 1911, Kentuckians again elected McCreary as governor. During his second administration, he advocated for progressive reforms such as local option liquor laws and restrictions on lobbying at the state capitol. He made particular progress in the area of education, realizing an increase in spending of 25%-per-pupil. Following his second term as governor, McCreary made a failed bid to return to the Senate. He died October 8, 1918 in Richmond.

Early life[]

James B. McCreary was born on July 8, 1838 in Richmond, Kentucky.[1] He was the son of Dr. Edmund R. and Sabrina (Bennett) McCreery.[2] His early education was obtained in the common schools of Richmond.[3] In 1857, he earned a bachelor's degree from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.[4] Immediately thereafter, he enrolled at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee to study law.[5] In 1859, he earned a Bachelor of Laws from Cumberland and was valedictorian of his class of forty-seven students.[6] He was admitted to the bar in 1859 and commenced practice in Richmond.[1]

Civil War service[]

Shortly after the Battle of Richmond on August 29, 1862, a Confederate sympathizer from Madison County named David Waller Chenault came to Richmond to raise a Confederate regiment. On September 10, 1862, Chenault was commissioned colonel of the regiment, dubbed the 11th Kentucky Cavalry. Joseph T. Tucker was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the regiment, and McCreary was commissioned its major. The unit was pressed into immediate service conducting reconnaissance and fighting bushwhackers.[7] Just three months after its muster, the 11th Kentucky Cavalry helped the Confederate Army secure a victory at the Battle of Hartsville. In 1863, the unit joined John Hunt Morgan for his raid into Ohio. Colonel Chenault was killed as the Confederates tried to capture the Green River Bridge at the July 4, 1863 Battle of Tebbs Bend. McCreary assumed command of the unit following Chenault's death. Following the battle, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel on the recommendation of John C. Breckinridge.[8]

Most of the 11th Kentucky Cavalry was captured by Union forces at the Battle of Buffington Island on July 17, 1863. About two hundred men, commanded by McCreary, mounted a charge and escaped their captors, but they were surrounded the next day and surrendered. McCreary was taken to Ninth Street Prison in Cincinnati, Ohio, but was later transferred to Fort Delaware and eventually to Morris Island in South Carolina where he remained prisoner through July and most of August 1863. In late August, he was released as part of a prisoner exchange and taken to Richmond, Virginia. He was granted a thirty-day furlough before being put in command of a battalion of Kentucky and South Carolina troops. He commanded this unit, primarily on scouting missions, until the end of the war.[8]

McCreary returned to his legal practice following the war.[3] On June 12, 1867, he married Katherine Hughes, the only daughter of a wealthy Fayette County farmer.[3] The couple had only one child, a son.[2]

Political career[]

In 1868, McCreary was chosen as a presidential elector for Democrat Horatio Seymour.[8] He declined to serve as an elector, but did attend the convention as a delegate.[8] He was then elected to his first of three consecutive terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives, serving from 1869 to 1875.[2] He ran unopposed in 1871 and 1873.[6] From 1871 to 1875, he held the post of Speaker of the House.[2]

First term as governor[]

McCreary won the 1875 Kentucky Democratic gubernatorial primary, defeating a field that included John Stuart Williams, J. Stoddard Johnson, and George B. Hodge.[8] All four men were ex-Confederate soldiers.[8] During the campaign, McCreary decried the Grant administration for its handling of Reconstruction policy.[9] Despite a late infusion of cash and stump speakers in favor of his opponent, Republican John Marshall Harlan, McCreary won the general election by over 35,000 votes.[3]

Few bills passed during McCreary's term in office had statewide impact, despite his insistence that the legislature prefer general bills over bills of local impact. The few significant bills that did pass were mostly related to finance. The legal interest rate was lowered twice, and property taxes were lowered. Tax assessments for railroad property were raised to match those of other property. Prompted by recommendations from the Kentucky River Navigation Convention in 1887, McCreary advocated for improvements on the Kentucky River, but the legislature responded lukewarmly, passing a largely ineffective bill in response.[9]

Other minor successes of McCreary's administration included separation of Kentucky Agricultural and Mechanical College (later the University of Kentucky) from Kentucky University (later Transylvania University) and the establishment of a state board of health. In 1879, McCreary was a candidate for a seat in the U.S. Senate, but the legislature elected John Stuart Williams instead. McCreary was forceful in attempting to quell violence in the eastern part of the state, particularly in "Bloody Breathitt" County.[10]

Tenure in Congress[]

Following his term as governor, McCreary returned to his legal practice.[2] In 1884, he sought election to Congress from Kentucky's Eighth District.[11] His opponents for the Democratic nomination were Milton J. Durham and Philip B. Thompson, Jr., both of whom had held the district's seat previously.[11] McCreary bested both men, and in the general election in November, defeated Republican James Sebastian by a margin of 2,146 votes.[11] It was the largest margin of victory by a Democrat in the Eighth District.[11]

During his tenure, McCreary represented Kentucky's agricultural interests, including his introduction of a bill to create the United States Department of Agriculture. An advocate of free silver, he was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison to be a delegate to the International Monetary Conference held in Brussels, Belgium in 1892. As chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, he authored a bill to establish a court that would settle disputed land claims stemming from the Gadsden Purchase and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. He advocated the creation of a railroad linking Canada, the United States, and Mexico. In 1890, he sponsored a bill authorizing the first Pan-American Conference and was an advocate of the Pan-American Medical Conference that met in Washington, D.C. in 1893.[12]

In all, McCreary served six consecutive terms from March 4, 1885 until March 3, 1897.[1] He ran unsuccessfully for renomination in 1896, after which he resumed the practice of law.[1] He represented Kentucky at four consecutive Democratic National Conventions from 1900 to 1912.[3] He was elected to the United States Senate and served a single term from March 4, 1903 to March 3, 1909.[1] He ran unsuccessfully for reelection in 1908.[1]

Second term as governor[]

Despite being in his mid-seventies, McCreary again sought election as governor in 1911. During a brief campaign in the Democratic primary, McCreary laid out a progressive agenda, contrasting sharply to the conservatism he exhibited in his first term in office. His reputation and previous accomplishments carried him to a primary victory over William Adams. At the party convention, McCreary and his supporters included support for local option liquor laws in the party platform, thwarting a prohibitionist faction led by J.C.W. Beckham. McCreary also touted reforms such as direct election of senators and a workman's compensation law.[13]

In the general election, McCreary defeated Republican Judge Edward Clay O'Rear[14] and a myriad of minor party candidates.[3] In his second term, he delivered on his campaign promise of passing local option laws.[2] He also won passage of a mandatory primary election law and created executive departments to oversee banking and state highways.[2] Most significant in McCreary's second term were his improvements in education. The Compulsory Attendance Act was passed, a 25%-per-pupil increase in education expenditures was authorized, and an optional system of textbook selection was adopted.[2] He also gave women the right to vote in school board elections.[2]

Among McCreary's proposed reforms that did not pass the state legislature were the workman's compensation act and a bill creating a public utilities commission. McCreary also failed to secure passage of a law regulating lobbying at the capitol, although legislators showed responsiveness to McCreary's desire for this reform by putting stricter regulations on who could be in the legislative chambers while the legislature was in session.[15]

Later life and legacy[]

File:KY Governors Mansion.png

James McCreary became the first Kentucky governor to inhabit the modern Governor's mansion.

McCreary ran again for election to the United States Senate in 1914, but was defeated by J.C.W. Beckham.[16] He continued to practice as a private attorney until his death on October 8, 1918.[16] He was buried in Richmond Cemetery.[1] McCreary County, Kentucky was formed during McCreary's second term as governor and was named in his honor.[3] It was the last of Kentucky's 120 counties to be formed.

McCreary's wife was the youngest-ever First Lady of the Commonwealth.[3] McCreary was the only Kentucky governor to serve from both the Old State Capitol and the present state capitol, and was the first Kentucky governor to inhabit the present Executive Mansion.[3][17] Though the governor's spouse is generally the official hostess of the mansion, McCreary's wife died three years before his election to a second gubernatorial term. His granddaughter served as the new mansion's first hostess in her stead.[18]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 "James Bennett McCreary"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Harrison, p. 594
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Powell, p. 62
  4. Burckel, p. 105
  5. McAfee, p. 118
  6. 6.0 6.1 McAfee, p. 119
  7. Johnson, p. 793
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Johnson, p. 794
  9. 9.0 9.1 Burckel, p. 106
  10. Burckel, p. 106–107
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 McAfee, p. 120
  12. Johnson, p. 795
  13. Burckel, p. 107
  15. Burckel, p. 108
  16. 16.0 16.1 Burckel, p. 109
  17. Encyclopedia of Kentucky, p. 87
  18. "Kentucky Governor's Mansion: The Residents"


Further reading[]

  • Dictionary of American Biography
  • Burckel, Nicholas C. "From Beckham to McCreary: The Progressive Record of Kentucky Governors." Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 76 (October 1978): 285-306
  • McCreary, James B. Progress in Arbitration. Washington: Peace and Arbitration League, 1909.

External links[]

Template:Start box Template:S-off |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Preston H. Leslie |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Governor of Kentucky
1875 - 1879 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Luke P. Blackburn |- |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Augustus E. Willson |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Governor of Kentucky
1912 - 1916 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Augustus O. Stanley |- |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States House of Representatives |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Philip B. Thompson, Jr. |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|United States Representative (District 8) from Kentucky
1885 - 1897 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
George M. Davison |- |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States Senate Template:U.S. Senator box |}

Template:Governors of Kentucky Template:USSenKY

de:James McCreary sv:James B. McCreary