Historical Highlights

House Debate on Whether to Seat the Kentucky Delegation

July 03, 1867
House Debate on Whether to Seat the Kentucky Delegation Collection of the U.S. House of Representative
About this object
This stereoview shows the House Chamber about a decade after the space opened in 1857.
On this date, the House of Representatives debated whether to seat John D. Young and other Members-elect from Kentucky following accusations that Young had supported the Confederacy during the Civil War, and that former Confederates had prevented free and fair elections from taking place in the state. Situated on the border between the North and South, Kentucky never seceded from the Union, but slavery had deep roots there and many of its citizens supported the pro-slavery cause of the Confederacy. In 1866, the House passed the bill that would become the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which included a clause stripping public officials with connections to the Confederacy of their political rights. Anyone in the new Kentucky delegation who took up arms against the United States or otherwise served the Confederate government would be ineligible to sit in the House. Just after noon on July 3, as the Speaker was preparing to swear in the new Kentucky delegation—Kentucky had held its general election in May 1867 which explained the late date—Republican Robert Schenck of Ohio, a former major general in the Union Army, rose to protest the seating of Young. Schenck came armed with a petition from Samuel McKee, an Unconditional Unionist from Kentucky who had served in the House in the 39th Congress (1865–1867), lost re-election to Young, and was contesting the result. McKee and Schenck claimed that Young had “aided and abetted the traitors engaged in rebellion, and actually commanded bands of rebels who have captured Union men, and thus been engaged in war against the Government.” Going a step farther, Republican John Logan of Illinois offered a motion to empower the House to investigate the elections of the entire Kentucky delegation to determine whether former Confederates corrupted the vote there. “If we are to admit the rebel element into Congress, what shall we say for loyalty? What apology can we make to the loyal men whom we will meet when we go home?” said Ebon Ingersoll of Illinois in support of Logan’s measure. After months of investigations, the House allowed five of the eight Kentucky Members-elect—Lawrence Trimble, J. Proctor Knott, A.P. Grover, Thomas L. Jones, and James B. Beck—to take the oath of office. A sixth Member, George M. Adams, had taken his seat in July 1867. Another Kentucky Member-elect, Elijah Hise, died only four days after the general election and the House never took up his case. McKee successfully contested Young’s victory and McKee rejoined the House on June 22, 1868. The final Kentucky district, the Second District, remained vacant for the duration of the 40th Congress (1867–1869) after House investigators concluded that neither of the top-two vote getters deserved to be seated.

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