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John Young Brown
John Y. Brown (1835–1904)

31st Governor of Kentucky
In office
September 2, 1891 – December 10, 1895
Lieutenant Mitchell C. Alford
Preceded by Simon Bolivar Buckner, Sr.
Succeeded by William O. Bradley

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1873 – March 3, 1877
Preceded by Henry McHenry
Succeeded by James A. McKenzie

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1859 – March 3, 1861
Preceded by Joshua Jewett
Succeeded by Charles Wickliffe

Born June 28, 1835(1835-06-28)
Claysville, Kentucky
Died January 11, 1904 (aged 68)
Henderson, Kentucky
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Lucie Barbee
Rebecca Hart Dixon
Relations Nephew of Bryan Rust Young and William Singleton Young
Alma mater Centre College
Profession Lawyer
Religion Presbyterian
Military service
Service/branch Confederate States Army
Battles/wars American Civil War

John Young Brown (June 28, 1835 – January 11, 1904) was a U.S. Representative and the 31st Governor of Kentucky. A gifted orator, his criticism of the Know-Nothing Party drew death threats against him early in his career. Later, the U.S. House of Representatives censured him for a speech against General Benjamin F. Butler.

Brown was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1859, but did not meet the constitutional age requirement, and did not take office until he reached the specified age. A supporter of Stephen A. Douglas in the presidential election of 1860, Brown's service in the House was interrupted by the Civil War, when he served in the cavalry of the Confederate Army. Following the war, he relocated to Henderson, Kentucky, where he was re-elected to the House. He was again refused his seat, this time for alleged disloyalty during the war. The voters of his district overwhelmingly re-elected Brown, who then took his seat unopposed.

After his service in the House, Brown took a hiatus from politics, but re-entered the political arena as a candidate for Governor of Kentucky in 1891. He convincingly won the election over his Republican challenger, but his actions as governor split the Democratic party, paving the way for the election of Kentucky's first Republican governor, William O. Bradley, in 1895. In 1899, the Democrats were further divided by the questionable tactics of gubernatorial candidate William Goebel at the party's nominating convention, and a faction split from the main party and nominated Brown to oppose Goebel. After considerable legal wrangling, Goebel was declared the winner of the election, but was assassinated. Brown became the legal counsel for an accused conspirator in the assassination, former Kentucky Secretary of State Caleb Powers. Powers was convicted by a partisan jury, but later pardoned by Governor Augustus E. Willson. Brown died in Henderson on January 11, 1904.[1]

Early life[]

John Young Brown was born June 28, 1835 in Claysville (near Elizabethtown), Hardin County, Kentucky, the son of Thomas Dudley and Elizabeth (Young) Brown.[2] Two of Brown's uncles, Bryan Rust Young and William Singleton Young, served as U.S. Representatives. His father served in the state legislature and was a delegate to the 1849 state constitutional convention.[3] As a result, the younger Brown spent much time at the state capitol, which sparked his interest in politics and exposed him to the art of political oration.[4]

He entered Centre College in 1851 at the age of sixteen.[4] In 1855, he graduated from Centre and returned to Hardin County to study law. Brown was admitted to the bar in 1857 and practiced in Elizabethtown. His reputation as an orator put him in high demand, and his zealous criticism of the Know Nothing Party drew death threats against him.[5]

Brown married Lucie Barbee in 1857, but Barbee died the following year. In 1860, he married Rebecca Hart Dixon, the daughter of former lieutenant governor Archibald Dixon.[4] The couple had eight children.[2]

Political career[]

At the 1859 state Democratic convention, Brown was nominated to replace Joshua Jewett in the House of Representatives, despite his own protests that he was more than a year from being of legal age to serve. Nevertheless, he was elected over Jewett by about two thousand votes. However, he did not take his seat until the second congressional session because of his age. He became a member of the Douglas National Committee in 1860 and engaged in a series of debates with supporters of John C. Breckinridge for President.[4] During the Civil War, Brown served as a cavalry colonel in the Confederate Army.[6]

Following the war, he moved to Henderson, Kentucky, where he was re-elected to the House of Representatives in 1866.[4] His seat was declared vacant, however, because of his alleged disloyalty during the war. This action drew an official protest from Governor John W. Stevenson. In 1872, voters in Brown's district re-elected him by an overwhelming vote of 10,888 to 457.[5] This time, he assumed his seat unopposed. He was censured by the House of Representatives on February 4, 1875 for the use of un-parliamentary language during a speech denouncing Benjamin F. Butler.[4] This censure was expunged from the record by a subsequent Congress.[4]

Following his service in the House, Brown resumed his law practice in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1891, he was the Democratic nominee for governor of Kentucky. His nomination marked a compromise between the agrarian and corporate factions of the party.[2] In the general election, Brown defeated Republican challenger Andrew T. Wood by a margin of more than 25,000 votes.[2]

The major accomplishments of Brown's administration included the improvement of tax collection processes and the passage of legislation to control corporations.[6] His policies, however, also alienated some major corporations such as the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.[2] He was also highly critical of the state attorney general and auditor, causing a rift within his party.[2]

Mob violence was prevalent in Kentucky during Brown's tenure as governor. From 1892 to 1895, there were fifty-six lynchings in the state. During one notable incident, a Cincinnati judge refused to extradite a black man suspected of shooting a white man. The judge's decision was based on his opinion that the accused was likely to be the victim of mob violence if returned to Kentucky. In disputing the judge's decision, Governor Brown attempted to justify some of the violence that had occurred in the state's past, declaring "It is much to be regretted that we have occasionally had mob violence in this Commonwealth, but it has always been when the passions of the people have been inflamed by the commission of the most atrocious crimes."[7]

Near the end of his term, Brown announced his support of Cassius M. Clay to succeed him as governor, possibly as a ploy to get himself elected to the U.S. Senate by the General Assembly.[2] When one of Brown's sons was killed by his secret lover's irate husband, however, Brown lost interest in the campaign and Clay lost the nomination to P. Wat Hardin.[2][8] Despite their agreement on the issue of free silver, Brown refused to endorse Hardin, and the fractured Democratic party watched as the Republicans elected William O. Bradley, their party's first-ever governor of Kentucky.[9]

Later life and death[]

After his term as governor, Brown again returned to his legal practice in Louisville.[6] He was an unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Representative in 1896, losing to Walter Evans.[2][5] He then unsuccessfully challenged William Goebel for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in the tumultuous election of 1899.[2] When Goebel was assassinated, Brown represented former Secretary of State Caleb Powers in his first trial for Goebel's murder.[2]

Brown died January 11, 1904 in Henderson, Kentucky and was buried at the Fernwood Cemetery.[6]



  1. "PoliticalGraveyard:Brown". 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Harrison, p. 129–130
  3. Ireland, p. 123
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Levin, p. 212
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Powell, p. 70
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 NGA Biography
  7. Wright, pp. 172–174
  8. Ireland, pp. 125–126
  9. Ireland, p. 126

External links[]

Template:Start box Template:S-off |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Simon B. Buckner |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Governor of Kentucky
1895 - 1899 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
William O. Bradley |- |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States House of Representatives Template:USRepSuccessionBox Template:USRepSuccessionBox |}

Template:Governors of Kentucky

de:John Young Brown