William Campbell Preston Breckinridge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from William Breckinridge)
Jump to: navigation, search
William Campbell Preston Breckinridge
A white-haired man with a beard and mustache, facing left. He is wearing a white shirt, black vest and black jacket
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 7th district
In office
March 4, 1885 – March 3, 1895
Preceded by Joseph Clay Stiles Blackburn
Succeeded by William Claiborne Owens
Personal details
Born (1837-08-28)August 28, 1837
Baltimore, Maryland
Died November 18, 1904(1904-11-18) (aged 67)
Resting place Lexington Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Relations Cousin of John C. Breckinridge
Children Sophonisba Breckinridge and Desha Breckinridge
Alma mater Centre College
University of Louisville
Profession Lawyer
Signature Wm. C. P. Breckinridge
Military service
Allegiance Confederate States of America
Service/branch Confederate States Army
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars American Civil War
William Campbell Preston Breckinridge

William Campbell Preston Breckinridge (August 28, 1837 – November 18, 1904) was a Democratic U.S. Representative from Kentucky, a Member of the Masonic Lodge, and a Member of the Knights Templar. He was the first cousin of Vice President of the United States John C. Breckinridge.


W.C.P. Breckinridge was the son of R.J. Breckinridge. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and graduated from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky in 1855. He went on to earn his Juris Doctor from the University of Louisville in 1857. He returned to Lexington, Kentucky to engage in the practice of law.

He entered the Confederate Army in 1861 as a Captain under John Hunt Morgan, and by the end of the war held the rank of Colonel.

Following the war, he returned to Lexington, Kentucky where he resumed the practice of law, taught jurisprudence at the University of Kentucky, and was ultimately elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1885. He held that position through five Congresses (the 49th Congress through the 53rd Congress).

In 1890 he became a charter member of the District of Columbia Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

In 1893, Madeleine V. Pollard filed suit against Breckinridge for breach of promise for his failure to marry her as promised.[1] The trial was a national sensation; the revelations of Breckinridge's infidelity and his weak defense of the breach of promise charge led to the loss of the lawsuit and contributed to the end of his political career.[2][3]

At the November 1901 Convention of the State Federation of Labor in Lexington, Breckinridge delivered an eloquent speech in which he extolled the virtues of a six-day work week, opposed violent strikes, and encouraged negotiations. The following day, the vice president of the group, James D. Wood, took over the convention and helped pass resolutions which called Breckinridge an "enemy of the trade and labor organizations of the state." The controversy which followed split the federation's membership.

Views on racial equality[edit]

The sooner Americans rid themselves of cruel racists in their midsts, said WCP Breckinridge, "the sooner they will realize that their institutions are in no danger, their civilization is not at stake, and that their permanent and practical undisputed sway can not be overturned." [Breckinridge] opposed literacy tests and other paraphernalia of disfranchisement, in the hopes that someday, "all races might enjoy a common liberty secured by an imperial law."[4]

WCP Breckinridge advocated for political and legal equality for the black and white races. Willie endorsed both Booker T. Washington and WEB DuBois. Comparing Booker T. Washington's "Up From Slavery" with WEB DuBois' "The Souls of Black Folk", Willie called both books "remarkable contributions" to literature and termed "Souls" "the most significant and remarkable utterance yet published by a negro." Willie recommended both books and both men to his readers.[4]

WCP Breckinridge took over the editorship of the "Observer and Reporter" in 1866, and advocated the repeal of the restrictions on Negro testimony. Breckinridge and other "New Departure" men believed that admitting the Black race to the full employment of his civil rights, including the right to testify against whites, was a prerequisite for progress. They proposed the Democratic party as the instrument to accomplish this end.[5]

As an attorney, he represented blacks in court. When a Franklin County Black man was convicted of murdering a prominent citizen who had led a mob to seize him, Willie fought to obtain a pardon. In 1869, Breckinridge ran for states attorney in Boyle County, and the testimony question was the central issue of his campaign. He intended to admit black testimony in all cases and upheld Fayette County as an example that should be followed by the whole state.[5]

A young Black lawyer offered aid to Breckinridge during his 1894 problems, noting that Willie helped many "young colored men" in this law careers. Representative Breckinridge had asked the commissioner of labor to retain in the Census Office a black worker who feared he would be fired because of the color of his skin. Willie predicted a better day for race relations: "Barriers will be removed, prejudices will die, class distinctions be obliterated. Not at once, not in our day; not without fierce contest; not without heroism and sacrifice, but yet slowly, surely, the day grows stronger; the sun rises higher toward the better noon and the glad twilight." Echoing his father, he wrote: "The negro is a man and the race in its essential unity is one race. Of one blood were all men made."[4]


In 1859, he married Lucia Clay. In 1861, he married Issa Desha. In 1893, he married Louise Scott Wing. In 1893, Madeleine Pollard brought suit for breach of promise for his failure to make good on a promise of marriage.[6] Breckinridge lost the ensuing court battle and shortly thereafter, failed to win reelection to Congress.[2][3]


Breckinridge, a member of the Breckinridge political family, died November 18, 1904, and is interred in Lexington Cemetery.

W.C.P. Breckinridge was the father of Sophonisba Breckinridge and Desha Breckinridge.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "William Breckinridge Breach of Promise Trial: 1894 - A Relationship Blossoms, A Promise Broken, A Trial Watched By The Nation, Defense Portrays Pollard As A Harlot". Law Library - American Law and Legal Information. Retrieved December 11, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Klotter, James C. (1986). The Breckinridges of Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 168–169. ISBN 9780813115535. 
  3. ^ a b The Celebrated Trial: Madeline Pollard vs. Breckinridge. Chicago: American Printing and Binding Company. 1894. 
  4. ^ a b c Klotter, James C. 1986. The Breckinridges of Kentucky. 1760-1981. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN, 9780813115535, pg. 180
  5. ^ a b Howard, Victor B. 1983. Black Liberation in Kentucky: Emancipation and Freedom, 1862-1884. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813150710, pg. 141-2
  6. ^ John E. Kleber (5 February 2015). The Kentucky Encyclopedia. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 121–. ISBN 978-0-8131-5901-0. 

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Joseph C.S. Blackburn
United States Representative from Kentucky's 7th District
Succeeded by
William C. Owens