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A Civil War ‘Get out of Jail Free Card’
Delay of jail time by going into the military - an old KY tradition

     On this date in 1862, the Kentucky General Assembly was continuing its crackdown on Confederate sympathizers in the Bluegrass State and becoming more and more dismayed with Gov. Beriah Magoffin.

     Elected as a Democrat in 1859, Magoffin was about all that was left of the pro-secession Southern Rights Party in Frankfort. The legislature had expelled most of the secessionist minority in the House and Senate.

     Magoffin supported Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, a Kentuckian, for president in 1860. He was strongly pro-slavery, and he believed in the right of secession.

     But he went along with neutrality because most Kentuckians wanted it and he condemned the rump Rebel government die-hard secessionists organized at Russellville, behind Confederate lines, in the autumn of 1861. He spurned the secessionists’ offer to make him the state’s Rebel “governor.”   

    Yet he remained a thorn in the side of the legislature’s overwhelming Unionist majority. He continued to veto almost every bill the Unionists passed. Though they easily overrode him every time, the Unionists wanted him out before his term was up in 1863.

     On March 11, 1862, the legislature would approve a bill stripping the citizenship from any Kentuckian who joined the Confederate army or civil service or who gave "voluntary aid and assistance to those in arms against the military forces of U.S. or of Ky.,” according to Lewis and Richard Collins’ old History of Kentucky. Citizenship could not be restored except by permission of the legislature.

     In addition, the bill included a sort of Get out of Jail Free Card. The measure stipulated that “any person prosecuted or indicted for crime may delay trial by entering military service of Ky. or U.S., nor shall he forfeit his bail until second term after he leaves the service.”

     Earlier, the legislature had passed a law that said “no judgment by default shall be taken against persons in the U.S. army, and such cases shall be continued for answer,” the historians Collins wrote. The history book doesn’t say if Magoffin turned thumbs down on this bill. But he vetoed the citizenship-denying measure to no avail.

-- Berry Craig is a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. The books are being sold to raise money for scholarships at WKCTC. They are available by contacting Craig by phone at (270) 534-3270 or by email at berry.craig@kctcs.edu.

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