Monday, January 30, 2017

The 1865 Bath County Election: An Election Overturned

The political arena is always a hot and debated topic, especially during election years.  Our country has just underwent a Presidential Election that has certainly caused a plethora of debate and turmoil, but it wasn't that long ago, voters in Kentucky could be turned away for their beliefs.  

Kentucky was considered neutral in the American Civil War, but across the state, there was a strong Southern sentiment among Kentuckians, including many in Bath County. During, and at the conclusion of the war, there was a sense of uneasiness within the states and who would become the newly elected officials.  

 Governor Thomas Bramlette had won the 1863 gubernatorial vote with controversy, as it was alleged that Union forces used intimidation tactics against opponent Charles Wickliffe's supporters. During Governor Bramlette's term, in early 1864, President Lincoln declared martial law in Kentucky and appointed General Stephen Burbridge Commander of the Military District of Kentucky.  Burbridge was considered a harsh commander, and in August 1864, issued Order 59, which empowered him to apprehend and arrest those suspected in guerilla tactics against the Union, and those who assisted them. Burbridge ordered the capture and deportation of nearly 30,000 suspected Southern sympathizers.  In addition, many more were killed, along with Union loyalists who wouldn't conform to Burbridge's demands. 
These actions soured Governor Bramlette's opinion of President Lincoln, but in early 1865, the final straw was drawn.  General Burbridge attempted to overtake the seat of Kentucky's government, but was thwarted.  In a letter to Secretary of War Edward Stanton,  the governor said, " This unwarranted assumption of power by an imbecile commander is doubtless instigated by those who have long sought to provoke an issue with the state, and which I have prevented".

Lincoln relieved Burbridge of his command, and in 1865, martial law in Kentucky was ended by President Andrew Johnson.  Governor Bramlette sought to end the intimidation tactics at the upcoming election; his proclamation stated "the law requires that a person offering to vote should state on an oath that he had not entered into the service of the so-called Confederate States, nor in the service of the so-called Provisional Government of Kentucky in either a civil or military capacity since the 10th day of April, 1862, nor has he continued in such service since said date; nor has given since that date voluntary aid or assistance to those in arms against the United States and the State of Kentucky".

Bath County held an election on August 7, 1865 to seat a representative in the Kentucky General Assembly.  Lander Barber, a former Union lieutenant from Mud Lick, and B. D. Lacy, a prominent lawyer from Owingsville were the two candidates on the ballot.  Voters were met with armed Federal troops at the  polling stations that morning.  Ambrose Wright arrived before the polls opened at Olympian Springs and testified during a later inquiry that Lacy and precinct judge J.A. Rice were overheard talking about how the election would be held.  Rice was known as a deputy revenue agent, and was heard telling Lacy that he had military orders from General Palmer, and asserted that Kentucky was still under martial law.  Lacy argued with Rice that the election should be held per the Governor's proclamation, but to no avail.  According to Wright, there were "ten to fifteen troops present, some armed with rifles others with pistols. They were part of Barber's company of the State Guard and one of the soldiers, Rogers seemed to be in charge".  He also testified that about forty or sixty legal voters were either at the polling station or on the way who were not allowed to vote. The precinct officials had in their possession a list of names of those who were deemed ineligible to vote due to their alleged association with the Confederacy.  
Mr. Wright went on to testify that Rogers shouted into the crowd "the next illegal voter would be promptly arrested and taken to headquarters".  It was also testified that it appeared Rogers was intoxicated and that the other precinct officials or friends of Barber did not attempt to challenge Rogers' authority.  One man, W.B. Harvey, attempted to vote but was told by Rice "you cannot vote.  I've heard you speak of treason myself".  Harvey protested the claim, and was willing to take the Oath of Voter, but was still denied his right.  This played out several times throughout the day, as testified by several others later.

At the close of the polls, the official count was tallied at 490 votes for Lander Barber, and 460 for B.D. Lacy.  This was recorded by Circuit Judge T.B. Hamilton, Sheriff Daniel Harper and County Clerk R. Coulthard August 9, 1865.  The results did not set well with Lacy, who immediately contested the election based on the intimidation tactics used by Federal troops.  In the days following the election, depositions were issued for testimony in the election contest.  William Satterfield testified that when he delivered a notice of deposition to Lander Barber, Barber stated he was "annoyed by Lacy and would take it in hand by himself and stop it".  Three of the soldiers present with Barber commented they would shoot anyone intending to make a deposition against Barber, but the newly elected Representative eased the situation by telling them to "cool it".  

At least one instance of violence erupted because of the election.  Two men, known as Lee and Mullins, got into a heated argument near White Sulphur about the results and B.D. Lacy's efforts to have a new election.  Shots were fired, with Mullins being struck by a bullet in the thigh.  Lee and some other soldiers present then decided to go to the home of Van Young with the intent on shooting him as well.  They were met by Young's wife, who brandished a pistol; Van made his escape out the back of the residence.  

In December, 1865,  Lacy petitioned the House of Representatives and Kentucky General Assembly to contest the seat of Lander Barber.  In the petition, Lacy argued that the election was not free and equal as defined by the Constitution and that Barber should immediately vacate his seat in the General Assembly.  He also argued that the troops at the election polls were under direct command by Barber, who threatened with arrest and bodily harm those who were refused their right to vote legally.  Many witness depositions were presented as evidence, and can be found among the Journal of the House of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Kentucky Public Records, Volume 2, December 20, 1865.

The House of Representatives appointed a committee to hear the testimonies and conduct an official hearing and review of the Bath County election. The findings concluded that Barber should vacate his seat in the General Assembly and a new election be held.  B.D. Lacy won the seat under "free and equal means" and on February 6, 1866, took his place in the House of Representatives, serving one term.  Lacy died in Owingsville, October 27, 1893 and was remembered as being an honorable man. 

The contested Bath County election of 1865 was not unique.  Other counties within the Commonwealth experienced similar problems during the first post-Civil War elections.  Worse problems were recorded in other states, with lynchings and deadly shootings among the Southern states.  

It is difficult to imagine such actions at a polling place in the United States and Commonwealth of Kentucky these days, but in other countries, the threat against openly expressing a right to elect officials is very real.  Regardless of the outcome of an election, we should count our blessings we live without fear or repercussions for exercising our rights. 

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