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Lazarus W. Powell

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Title: Lazarus W. Powell  
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Subject: Charles S. Morehead, John J. Crittenden, James Guthrie (Kentucky), John L. Helm, List of Governors of Kentucky
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Lazarus W. Powell

Lazarus W. Powell
United States Senator
from Kentucky
In office
March 4, 1859 – March 3, 1865
Preceded by John B. Thompson
Succeeded by James Guthrie
19th Governor of Kentucky
In office
September 2, 1851 – September 4, 1855
Lieutenant John B. Thompson
Preceded by John L. Helm
Succeeded by Charles S. Morehead
Personal details
Born (1812-10-06)October 6, 1812
Henderson County, Kentucky
Died July 3, 1867(1867-07-03) (aged 54)
Henderson County, Kentucky
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Harriet Ann Jennings
Alma mater Saint Joseph College
Transylvania University
Profession Lawyer
Signature L. W. Powell

Lazarus Whitehead Powell (October 6, 1812 – July 3, 1867) was the 19th Governor of Kentucky, serving from 1851 to 1855. He was later elected to represent Kentucky in the U.S. Senate from 1859 to 1865.

The reforms enacted during Powell's term as governor gave Kentucky one of the top educational systems in the antebellum South. He also improved Kentucky's transportation system and vetoed legislation that he felt would have created an overabundance of banks in the Commonwealth. Powell's election as governor marked the end of Whig dominance in Kentucky. Powell's predecessor, John J. Crittenden, was the last governor elected from the party of the Commonwealth's favorite son, Henry Clay.

Following his term as governor, Powell was elected to the U.S. Senate. Before he could assume office, President James Buchanan dispatched Powell and Major Benjamin McCulloch to Utah to ease tensions with Brigham Young and the Mormons. Powell assumed his Senate seat on his return from Utah, just prior to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president. Powell became an outspoken critic of Lincoln's administration, so much so that the Kentucky General Assembly asked for his resignation and some of his fellow senators tried to have him expelled from the body. Both groups later renounced their actions.

Powell died at his home near Henderson, Kentucky shortly following a failed bid to return to the Senate in 1867.


  • Early life 1
  • Political career 2
    • Governor of Kentucky 2.1
    • United States Senator 2.2
  • Later life and legacy 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
    • Bibliography 5.1
  • External links 6

Early life

Powell was born on October 6, 1812 near Daniel Mayes.[2] He was admitted to the bar in 1835, and partnered with Archibald Dixon to start a law practice in Henderson.[2] The two remained partners until 1839.[5]

On November 8, 1837, Powell married Harriet Ann Jennings.[6] The couple had three sons before Jennings died on July 30, 1846.[2]

Political career

A Democrat in a Whig district, Powell's political career began with an 1836 bid for a seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives.[7] He campaigned vigorously while his opponent, John G. Holloway, relied largely on his party affiliation to carry the election.[8] This proved a critical misstep for Holloway, as Powell secured the surprise victory. Holloway apparently learned from his mistake. Upon the completion of Powell's term in 1838, Holloway challenged Powell again, and defeated him by a considerable majority.[8] Six year later, Powell was chosen as a presidential elector on the Democratic ticket, supporting James K. Polk.[9]

Governor of Kentucky

In 1848, Kentucky Democrats nominated Linn Boyd for governor, but Boyd declined the nomination. Powell was chosen to replace Boyd on the ticket, largely due to the influence of James Guthrie.[10] The Whig party nominated Senator John J. Crittenden, and the race was complicated by former Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson's announcement that he would run as an independent Democratic candidate.[8] Knowing the Democrats' chances were dimmed by having two candidates in the race, Powell arranged a meeting with Johnson, following which the latter withdrew his candidacy and pledged his support to Powell.[8] Nevertheless, Crittenden won the election.

In the gubernatorial election of 1851, Powell was once again the Democratic Party nominee. The Whigs nominated Powell's friend and law partner, Archibald Dixon. Powell and Dixon traveled the state together, eating at the same taverns, speaking from the same platforms, and generally showing cordiality and friendliness that was rare in Kentucky politics in those days.[9] Powell's margin of victory in the general election was a thin 850 votes, while Whig candidate John P. Thompson defeated the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, Robert Wickliffe, by several thousand votes.[9][11] A third candidate for governor, abolitionist Cassius M. Clay, received 3,621 votes.[4] Powell was the first Democrat elected to the office in almost twenty years.[12] (John L. Helm had ascended to the governorship on Crittenden's resignation.)[2]

The Whigs also maintained control of the General Assembly, and although Governor Powell was largely able to cooperate with his political opponents, some clashes did occur. As a result of the 1850 census, the General Assembly re-apportioned the state into ten congressional districts. Powell vetoed the redistricting, noting that the districts had been gerrymandered to give the fading Whig party control over the state delegation. The legislature overrode the veto. The governor was successful, however, in vetoing legislation that he felt would have created an overabundance of banks in the Commonwealth.[13]

Powell implemented the use of the state's sinking fund to pay interest on school bonds, a measure which had passed over Governor Helm's veto, but Helm refused to carry out. In 1855, Kentucky's voters passed by landslide a measure to raise the school tax from two cents per hundred dollars of taxable property to five cents per hundred dollars. The measure enjoyed the support of both Governor Powell and superintendent of public schools Robert Jefferson Breckinridge. Under the leadership of Powell and Breckinridge, Kentucky's school system became among the strongest in the antebellum South.[14]

Among Powell's other successes as governor was his successful lobbying of the legislature to conduct a geological survey in 1854. He also encouraged private investment in transportation in the state. During his term, the state went from having 78 miles (126 km) of railroad track in operation to having 242 miles (389 km) in operation.[11]

United States Senator

In January 1858, Powell was elected to the United States Senate.[2] In April of that year, President James Buchanan appointed Powell and Major Benjamin McCulloch commissioners to negotiate settlements with the Mormons in Utah.[2] On arriving in Utah, Powell and McCulloch issued a proclamation by President Buchanan offering clemency to Mormons who agreed to submit to Federal authority.[15] The offer was accepted, and violence was averted.[15]

Senator Powell favored Kentucky's neutrality policy during the Civil War,[13] but nationally, the conflict put him in a tenuous political situation. On one hand, he favored a strong national government and a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. On the other hand, he was an opponent of coercion, and due to Kentucky's proximity to the Southern states, maintained a more sympathetic view of the southern cause than legislators from more northern states.[9] During his term as governor, Powell had been critical of Northern states that refused to abide by the Fugitive Slave Act.[12]

In 1861, Senator Powell vigorously condemned President Lincoln's decision to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.[9] In 1862, he denounced the arrest of some citizens of Delaware—officially, the arrests were called "resolutions of inquiry"—as a violation of constitutional rights.[9] These stances led to calls for his resignation by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1861, and some of his colleagues, led by Kentucky's other senator, Garrett Davis, unsuccessfully attempted to have him expelled from the Senate.[14] Before the end of the war, both the General Assembly and Davis admitted being wrong in their attempts to remove him.[2]

Following his successful defense against calls for his removal, Powell continued speaking against what he saw as violations of constitutional rights. In 1864, he condemned General Order No. 11, an edict of Ulysses S. Grant that barred Jews from the Department of Tennessee, which included regions of Kentucky.[7] In the same speech, he rebuked federal military interference with the elections in Kentucky.[9] In 1864, however, he opposed a constitutional amendment aimed at freeing the slaves.[9]

Later life and legacy

Following his term in the Senate, he returned to Henderson and resumed his law practice.[13] He was a delegate to the Union National Convention in 1866.[2] In 1867, he was again nominated to the U.S. Senate, but after several ballots over several months, the General Assembly had not elected him.[16] Powell believed that many of the legislators had been elected as a result of election interference by Northern forces, and that their intent was to prevent Kentucky from electing a senator at all, diminishing her influence nationally.[17] In light of this belief, he urged the Democrats to withdraw his name and nominate someone more palatable to Union sympathizers.[18] This they did, putting forth the name of Garrett Davis, who was subsequently elected.[18]

Powell died in his home on July 3, 1867.[13] The cause of death was apoplexy, apparently the result of the toll years of rheumatism had exacted on his nervous system.[19] He is buried at the Fernwood Cemetery[7] in Henderson, Kentucky.[13] The state erected a 22-foot (6.7 m) high marble monument over his grave in 1870.[2] Powell County, Kentucky, is named in honor of Governor Powell.[13]


^[a] The Encyclopedia of Kentucky lists the name as "Mahon."
^[b] The Encyclopedia of Kentucky records that the couple had four children.


  1. ^ Biographical Sketch, p. 11
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Powell, p. 46
  3. ^ Biographical Sketch, p. 18
  4. ^ a b Harrison, p. 731
  5. ^ Biographical Sketch, p. 25
  6. ^ Biographical Sketch, p. 26
  7. ^ a b c NGA Bio
  8. ^ a b c d Starling in Kentucky: History of Henderson County
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Memorial Record of Western Kentucky, pp. 625–630
  10. ^ Biographical Sketch, p. 40
  11. ^ a b Ramage, p. 72
  12. ^ a b Encyclopedia of Kentucky
  13. ^ a b c d e f Harrison, p. 732
  14. ^ a b Ramage, p. 73
  15. ^ a b Biographical Sketch, p. 52
  16. ^ Biographical Sketch, p. 89
  17. ^ Biographical Sketch, pp. 89–90
  18. ^ a b Biographical Sketch, p. 90
  19. ^ Biographical Sketch, pp. 28–29


  • Biographical sketch of the Hon. Lazarus W. Powell, (of Henderson, Ky.) : governor of the state of Kentucky from 1851–1855 and a senator in Congress from 1859–1865. published by direction of the General Assembly of Kentucky. Frankfort, Kentucky: Kentucky Yeoman Office. 1868. 
  • The Encyclopedia of Kentucky. New York, New York: Somerset Publishers. 1987.  
  • "Kentucky Governor Lazarus Whitehead Powell". National Governors Association. Retrieved April 5, 2012. 
  • "Powell, Lazarus Whitehead (1812 – 1867)". United States Congress. Retrieved May 15, 2007. 
  • Memorial Record of Western Kentucky. Lewis Publishing Company. 1904. pp. 625–630. Retrieved September 12, 2007. 
  • Powell, Robert A. (1976). Kentucky Governors. Frankfort, Kentucky: Kentucky Images.  
  • Ramage, James A. (2004). "Lazarus Whitehead Powell)". In  
  • Starling, Edmund L. (1887). Kentucky: History of Henderson County. 

External links

  • Find-A-Grave profile for Lazarus Powell
  • Speech of Honorable Lazarus W. Powell of Kentucky on Arbitrary Arrests: In Reply to Mr. Wright, of Indiana; in the Senate, January 19, 1863
  • Allen, William B. (1872). A History of Kentucky: Embracing Gleanings, Reminiscences, Antiquities, Natural Curiosities, Statistics, and Biographical Sketches of Pioneers, Soldiers, Jurists, Lawyers, Statesmen, Divines, Mechanics, Farmers, Merchants, and Other Leading Men, of All Occupations and Pursuits. Bradley & Gilbert. pp. 102–103. Retrieved November 10, 2008. 
Political offices
Preceded by
John L. Helm
Governor of Kentucky
Succeeded by
Charles S. Morehead
United States Senate
Preceded by
John B. Thompson
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Kentucky
Served alongside: John J. Crittenden, John C. Breckinridge, Garrett Davis
Succeeded by
James Guthrie
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