Book is a treasure trove of history on U.S. senators from state
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) – For fans of the game show “Jeopardy!”, how about this answer/question?
Answer: “Buckner Thruston, Thomas “Stonehammer” Metcalfe, James Burnie Beck and Jim Bunning.”
Correct question: “Who were all U.S. senators from Kentucky?”
While older Kentuckians would know that baseball great Bunning represented the Commonwealth in the Senate in his later years, only political junkies would have even heard of Thruston, who served one term in the Senate as a Democratic-Republican from 1805-1809 before being tapped by President James Madison to serve as judge on the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, a job he held for nearly 34 years.
Paul L. Whalen, author of a new book containing short biographical essays of every person who has served Kentucky in the Senate, would certainly qualify as a political junkie. The Fort Thomas, KY attorney owns two degrees in history—a bachelor’s from the University of Kentucky and a master’s from Fort Hays State University.
He is past chair of the Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist Church’s Commission on Archives and History and was appointed by Gov. Andy Beshear as an administrative law judge for the Kentucky Department of Workers Claims, pending confirmation.
Profiles of Kentucky’s United States Senators (Acclaim Press, $29.95) features highlights of the lives and political careers of all who have served the Commonwealth, from first senator John Brown (1792-1805) to Rand Paul (2011-present), and all 64 in between.
Whalen said the idea of writing a compilation of biographies of Kentucky senators came during a presentation before the Illinois History Symposium about Illinois U.S. senators from Kentucky, where he noted that books had been written about Illinois’ senators as well as Kentucky’s governors, but nothing comparable for Kentucky’s senators.
“The majority of those Kentucky has elected as a U.S. senator have risen to leadership positions or subject matter experts,” Whalen noted, citing Henry Clay, John J. Crittenden, Alben Barkley, Wendell Ford and Mitch McConnell as examples. “It was my thought there was a need to shine a light on some of the others who have almost achieved the status of political giants.”
In his research for Profiles of Kentucky’s United States Senators, Whalen was surprised to learn how the importance of the U.S. Senate as an institution has grown from 1792 to the present.
“From 1792 to 1820, Kentucky had 18 different men represent it in the US Senate,” Whalen noted. “From 1992 to 2020, there have only been four. I was surprised of the turnover in the early years due to resignations.”
Georgetown and Lexington area readers will learn details of the life and service of Richard M. Johnson, who also served as vice president under Martin Van Buren. During the election of 1836, Johnson’s relationship with a mixed-race woman came became an issue during a time when interracial relationships were taboo.
Two more senators from the Lexington region are noted in the book’s “Firsts and Onlys” section. Former vice president John C. Breckenridge was the first and only to be expelled from the Senate, ousted by a unanimous vote in 1861 for sympathizing with the Confederacy. Bourbon County’s Virgil Munday Chapman, in 1951, became the only Kentucky senator to be killed in an auto accident.
Among Kentuckians to serve in the Senate and as vice president was John C. Breckenridge, who was expelled from the Senate by a unanimous vote in 1861 for sympathizing with the Confederacy.
Breckenridge was not the only Kentucky senator to become a household name nationally. McCracken County’s Alben Barkley went on to serve as vice president during the second term of Harry S Truman. An airport and a lake near Paducah bear his name.
Others have achieved national prominence in baseball. The aforementioned Bunning is the only person in the National Baseball Hall of Fame to have also served in the Senate. Bunning served six terms in the House representing the 4th District, followed by two terms in the Senate, holding the seat currently held by Rand Paul. A.B. “Happy” Chandler sandwiched a term as governor and six years as Commissioner of Baseball around his 1939-45 senatorial stint.
Profiles of Kentucky’s United States Senators is available at Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Amazon and on the publisher’s website, www.acclaimpress.com.