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John Cabell Breckinridge

businessman , general , lawyer , member , military

John Cabell Breckinridge, vice president of the United States, senator. Member Kentucky Legislature, 1849; member United States House of Representatives from Kentucky, 32d-33d congresses, 1851-1855; member United States Senate from Kentucky, Mar 4-December 2, 1861.


BRECKINRIDGE, John Cabell was born on January 21, 1821 in Lexington, Kentucky, United States, United States. Son of the Honorable Joseph Cabell and Mary Clay (Smith) Breckinridge.


Graduate Centre College, 1839. Attended Transylvania U., Lexington, 1840.


The younger Breckinridge was descended from a powerful political family. His grandfather had been attorney general under Thomas Jefferson. He attended Pisgah Academy, and after graduating from Centre College, Kentucky, in 1839, he left Kentucky to study law at Princeton College.

He also studied law at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, during 1840 and 1841. In 1841, he began a law practice at Burlington, Iowa. He returned to Kentucky in 1843 and moved to Lexington in 1845, where he practiced and taught law at Transylvania University.

He was a Presbyterian. In December 1843, he married Mary C. Burch. During the Mexican War, he served as a major of the 3rd Regiment Kentucky Volunteers in 1847.

A Democrat, he represented Fayette County in the state House of Representatives in 1849 and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1851 to 1855. In 1856, he became the youngest vice-president the United States ever had, but four years later he lost his bid for the presidency. The Kentucky legislature had meanwhile elected him to the U.S. Senate in which he served from March to September 1861.

He worked for the Crittenden compromise in hopes of avoiding war. He returned to Kentucky in September 1861 and helped to organize the provisional Confederate government there. Breckinridge was expelled from the U.S. Senate in December 1861 because he had left Washington to join the Confederacy.

In November 1861, he was appointed a general in the Confederate Army under Albert S. Johnston. Breckinridge distinguished himself at the battles of Bowling Green and Shiloh. He was made a division commander in June 1862 at Vicksburg, stormed Baton Rouge, and served under Joseph E. Johnston at Jackson and under Braxton Bragg at Chickamauga.

He was a corps engineer at Missionary Ridge and at Winchester. In 1864, he was named commander of the Department of West Virginia. On February 6, 1865, he became the last Confederate secretary of war.

He left Richmond with the cabinet in April 1865 and eventually escaped to Cuba. After the war he traveled in Europe before returning to Lexington in 1868 to practice law, after having been given permission by the federal government to return. But restrictions on his officeholding remained, and he was unable to participate in postwar political life.

He was made vice-president of the Elizabethtown, Lexington, and Big Sandy Railroad Company in 1869.


"Peculiar institution" of slavery was not only expedient but also ordained by God and upheld in Holy Scripture.


Stands for preserving slavery, states' rights, and political liberty for whites. Every individual state is sovereign, even to the point of secession.


Member Kentucky Legislature, 1849. Member United States House of Representatives from Kentucky, 32d-33d congresses, 1851-1855. Member United States Senate from Kentucky, Mar 4-December 2, 1861.


Married Mary Burch, December 1843.

Joseph Breckinridge

Mary (Smith) Breckinridge

Mary Burch