(Mayfield, KY - December 4, 2012) - Kentucky history buffs are abuzz over an all-but-forgotten Owensboro congressman who is featured in Lincoln, the new Steven Spielberg movie.
On Jan. 31, 1865, George H. Yeaman cast a key vote for the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery. With his timely help, the Republican-majority House passed the amendment by the necessary two-thirds majority.
(The 13th Amendment had won Senate approval in 1864, though Unionist Kentucky Senators Lazarus W. Powell of Henderson and Garrett Davis of Paris voted against it.)
Before Lincoln, Yeaman, played by actor Michael Stuhlbarg, was largely unknown in the Bluegrass State.
Anyway, Yeaman wasn't the only Kentucky congressmen who was for the amendment. Lucian Anderson of Mayfield, William H. Randall of London and Green Clay Smith of Covington also voted "aye."
Kentucky's five other representatives voted "nay": Henry Grider of Bowling Green, Aaron Harding of Greensburg, Robert Mallory of New Castle, Brutus J. Clay of Paris and William Henry Wadsworth of Maysville.
The Kentucky congressmen were elected as Unionists in 1863. By then, relations between between border slave state Kentucky and the Lincoln administration had gone from bad to worse.
Almost every white Kentuckian hated the anti-slavery "Black Republican" president and his Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863, though it didn't apply to their state. While most citizens were pro-Union, they were also pro-slavery.
Fearing Unionist candidates might lose to conservative, anti-Lincoln Democrats, state authorities denied the vote to anybody suspected of disloyalty. (Suspected Unionists were disfranchised in the Confederacy.)
Anderson could never have been elected otherwise. Though occupied by Yankee soldiers, deep western Kentucky remained defiantly Rebel.
Likewise, Yeaman would have had a harder time winning had Southern sympathizers been allowed to vote.
On the other hand, Randall and Smith probably would have been elected, no matter what. Their bailiwicks were staunchly Unionist.
At any rate, the 13th Amendment became part of the constitution in December, 1865, after the requisite three-fourths of the states -- Kentucky not among them -- ratified it. "The next year, in a senseless act of defiance, the Kentucky House of Representatives refused to ratify the amendment," Lowell H. Harrison and James C. Klotter wrote in A New History of Kentucky.
Neither Anderson nor Yeaman, who joined Randall and Smith in the fledgling Kentucky GOP, returned to Washington.
A Conservative-Democrat defeated Yeaman in 1865. Anderson knew he couldn't win another term, so he chose not to seek reelection. A Conservative-Democrat took his seat, too.
On the other hand, Randall and Smith were reelected in 1865.
-- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.