Breckinridge, John C. (John Cabell), 1821-1875

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John Cabell Breckinridge (January 16, 1821 – May 17, 1875) was an American lawyer, politician, and soldier. He represented Kentucky in both houses of Congress and became the 14th and youngest-ever vice president of the United States, serving from 1857 to 1861. He was a member of the Democratic Party, and served in the U.S. Senate during the outbreak of the American Civil War, but was expelled after joining the Confederate Army. He was appointed Confederate secretary of war in 1865.

Breckinridge was born near Lexington, Kentucky to a prominent local family. After serving as a non-combatant during the Mexican–American War, he was elected as a Democrat to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1849, where he took a states' rights position against interference with slavery. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1851, he allied with Stephen A. Douglas in support of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. After reapportionment in 1854 made his re-election unlikely, he declined to run for another term. He was nominated for vice president at the 1856 Democratic National Convention to balance a ticket headed by James Buchanan. The Democrats won the election, but Breckinridge had little influence with Buchanan and, as presiding officer of the Senate, could not express his opinions in debates. He joined Buchanan in supporting the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution for Kansas, which led to a split in the Democratic Party. In 1859, he was elected to succeed Senator John J. Crittenden at the end of Crittenden's term in 1861.

After Southern Democrats walked out of the 1860 Democratic National Convention, the party's northern and southern factions held rival conventions in Baltimore that nominated Douglas and Breckinridge, respectively, for president. A third party, the Constitutional Union Party, nominated John Bell. These three men split the Southern vote, while more anti-slavery Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln won all but three electoral votes in the North, allowing him to win the election. Breckinridge carried most of the Southern states. Taking his seat in the Senate, Breckinridge urged compromise to preserve the Union. Unionists were in control of the state legislature, and gained more support when Confederate forces moved into Kentucky.

Breckinridge fled behind Confederate lines. He was commissioned a brigadier general and then expelled from the Senate. Following the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, he was promoted to major general, and in October he was assigned to the Army of Mississippi under Braxton Bragg. After Bragg charged that Breckinridge's drunkenness had contributed to defeats at Stone River and Missionary Ridge, and after Breckinridge joined many other high-ranking officers in criticizing Bragg, he was transferred to the Trans-Allegheny Department, where he won his most significant victory in the 1864 Battle of New Market. After participating in Jubal Early's campaigns in the Shenandoah Valley, Breckinridge was charged with defending supplies in Tennessee and Virginia. In February 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis appointed him Secretary of War. Concluding that the war was hopeless, he urged Davis to arrange a national surrender. After the fall of Richmond, Breckinridge ensured the preservation of Confederate records. He then escaped the country and lived abroad for more than three years. When President Andrew Johnson extended amnesty to all former Confederates in 1868, Breckinridge returned to Kentucky, but resisted all encouragement to resume his political career. War injuries sapped his health, and he died in 1875. Breckinridge is regarded as an effective military commander. Though well-liked in Kentucky, he was reviled by many in the North as a traitor.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
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referencedIn John C. Breckinridge photograph, circa 1863. Louisiana State University, LSU Libraries
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creatorOf Breckinridge, John C. (John Cabell), 1821-1875. Letter : Lexington, Ky., to John Acoming Halderman, Leavenworth, Kansas Territory, 1856 Jan 17. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
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creatorOf Haskell, Clinton H. Clinton H. Haskell Civil War collection, 1841-1895. William L. Clements Library
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referencedIn Ignatius Donnelly and family papers., 1812-1973 (bulk 1855-1901). Minnesota Historical Society
referencedIn Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Civil War Commandery of the State of Massachusetts collection: Patriotic covers, ca. 1861-1865. Houghton Library
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creatorOf John Cabell Breckinridge letters and miscellany, 1857-1858 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
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creatorOf Ward, Jesse Durbin, 1819-1886. Papers. Ohio History Connection, Ohio Historical Society
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creatorOf Pim, Lewis T., 1828-1888. Papers of Lewis T. Pim, 1838-1888 (bulk 1861-1885) Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
referencedIn Photographs of Confederate generals and Civil War political leaders, 1861-1865. University of Georgia, University of Georgia, Main Library
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referencedIn General John C. Breckinridge Note (Distilling), 1864 Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.
referencedIn Blanton, James. Account of the raids made in Kentucky by General Morgan and Captain Hines / typescript ca. 1864. University of Kentucky Libraries
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referencedIn Clinton H. Haskell Civil War collection, Haskell, Clinton H., Civil War collection, 1841-1895 William L. Clements Library
referencedIn Wickliffe-Preston family. Wickliffe-Preston family papers, 1753-1897 1770-1887. University of Kentucky Libraries
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referencedIn Bragg, Braxton, 1817-1876. Scrapbook, 1863. New-York Historical Society
referencedIn Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Commandery of the State of Massachusetts Civil War collection, 1724-1933 (inclusive);, 1861-1912 (bulk). Houghton Library
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referencedIn Letters sent to Walter Hines Page from various correspondents, English period, 1876-1937. Houghton Library
creatorOf Collection of autographs, [ca. 1797 to ca. 1915] Brown University, John Hay Library
referencedIn Autograph File, B, ca.1500-1976. Houghton Library
creatorOf Breckinridge, John C. (John Cabell), 1821-1875. Letter : Washington City, to M.D. Phillips, Rochester, N.Y., 1854 Mar. 24. University of Chicago Library
referencedIn Andrew Stevenson and J. W. Stevenson Papers, 1756-1882, (bulk 1833-1876) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf General Records of the Department of State. 1763 - 2002. Seized Correspondence of Rose O'Neal Greenhow. 8/23/1861 - 8/23/1861. John C. Breckinridge to Mrs. Greenhow. 8/23/1861 - 8/23/1861. Letter Sent by John C. Breckinridge in Lexington, Kentucky to Rose O'Neal Greenhow
referencedIn Breckinridge Family Association. [Breckinridge family notes] Historical Society of Pennsylvania
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referencedIn Thomas Addis Emmet collection, 1483-1876 (bulk:1700-1800) New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
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referencedIn Confederate officers photograph album, n.d. Alabama Department of Archives and History
referencedIn Custis-Lee Family Papers, 1700-circa 1928, (bulk 1770-1870) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
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referencedIn Walter, Lewis Allwhyn, 1868-1951. Lewis Allawhyn Walter : papers, 1887-1940. The Filson Historical Society
referencedIn Asher, Louis Eller, 1877-1948. Lewis Eller Asher autograph collection, 1757-1925. Library of Congress
referencedIn University of Virginia. History Club. Papers of the History Club [manuscript] 1948-1956. University of Virginia. Library
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referencedIn Lexington Cemetery (Lexington, Ky.). Cemetery records, 1849-[ongoing]. Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives, Kentucky Guide Project Office
referencedIn E. H. Murrell Note to General John C. Breckinridge, 1864 Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.
referencedIn Pasteur, F. Artemus. The Princeton Wasp, 22 July 1865. Kentucky Historical Society, Martin F. Schmidt Research Library
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creatorOf Breckinridge, John C. (John Cabell), 1821-1875. Letters, 1847-1874. The Filson Historical Society
referencedIn Underwood family. Letters of the Underwood family, 1813, 1861, and 1913. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Note to General John C. Breckinridge, 1864 Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.
referencedIn Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Civil War Commandery of the State of Massachusetts collection: Patriotic covers, ca. 1861-1865. Houghton Library
creatorOf Bocock, Thomas S., 1815-1891. Papers of Bocock and of the Bocock, Thornhill Christian, Stephens, Flood, Patteson, and Diuguid families of Buckingham and Appomattox counties, 1760-1897. University of Virginia. Library
contributorOf General Records of the Department of State. 1763 - 2002. Seized Correspondence of Rose O'Neal Greenhow
referencedIn Battle of Baton Rouge fought on the 5th of August 1862, circa 1870-1940. Louisiana State University, LSU Libraries
referencedIn Preston, William, 1816-1887. William Preston : miscellaneous papers, 1855-1876. The Filson Historical Society
referencedIn Toombs, Robert Augustus, 1810-1885. Letter to John C. Breckinridge, 1867 Apr. 30. Georgia Newspaper Project
referencedIn Mix, Charles Henry, 1833-1909. Charles H. Mix papers, 1854-1878. Minnesota Historical Society Library
referencedIn Swank, James Moore, 1836-1914. Papers, 1785-1898 (inclusive), 1785, 1871-1898 (bulk). Historical Society of Pennsylvania
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referencedIn Kentucky. Governor (1871-1875 : Leslie). Executive orders, 1871-1875. Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives, Kentucky State Archives
referencedIn Confederate officers photographs, 1861 - [1864?]. Alabama Department of Archives and History
referencedIn Emmerson, Arthur, b. ca. 1822. Papers, 1793-1906. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
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creatorOf Breckinridge, John C. (John Cabell), 1821-1875. Letter : Lexington, Ky., to John Acoming Halderman, Leavenworth, Kansas Territory, 1856 Jan 17. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
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referencedIn Isaac Munroe St. John papers, 1850-1879 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn Presidential election tally sheet, Carroll County, Ind., 1860. Indiana Historical Society Library
referencedIn Sea, Andrew McBrayer, Collector, b. 1876. Collection, 1781-1936. The Filson Historical Society
referencedIn Breckinridge, Mary Burch, 1826-1907. Mary Burch Breckinridge letters, 1864-1868. University of Kentucky Libraries
referencedIn Autograph File, B, ca.1500-1976. Houghton Library
referencedIn Letcher, Robert Perkins, 1788-1861. Robert Perkins Letcher letters, 1825-1845. University of Kentucky Libraries
referencedIn Van Dorn, Earl, 1820-1863. Letter : Holly Springs, Miss., to General [John Cabell] Breckinridge, 1862 Sept. 18. Texas Christian University
referencedIn Frederick M. Dearborn collection of military and political Americana, Part II: The Civil War and the Confederacy, 1832-1915. Houghton Library
creatorOf United States. Congress (33rd, 1st : 1853-1854). House. Petition, 1854 May 15, addressed to John C. Rives. Dartmouth College Library
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referencedIn Albert Gleaves Papers, 1803-1946, (bulk 1877-1937) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Jones family. Jones family : papers, 1844-1969. The Filson Historical Society
creatorOf Hadfield, Robert, 1813 or 14-1881. Letters received, 1861 July 29 and Nov. 14. Buffalo History Museum, Research Library
creatorOf Breckinridge, John C. (John Cabell), 1821-1875. Papers, 1860-1871. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Asher, Louis Eller, 1877-1948. person
associatedWith Barton, Clara, 1821-1912 person
correspondedWith Benjamin, J. P. (Judah Philip), 1811-1884. person
associatedWith Blanton, James. person
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associatedWith Bodley family. family
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parentOf Breckinridge, Clifton Rodes, 1846-1932 person
memberOf Breckinridge family family
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associatedWith Breckinridge Family Association. corporateBody
childOf Breckinridge, Joseph Cabell, 1788-1823. person
parentOf Breckinridge, Joseph Cabell, b. 1844. person
spouseOf Breckinridge, Mary Burch, 1826-1907. person
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associatedWith Clay, Henry, 1777-1852 person
employeeOf Confederate states of America. Army corporateBody
correspondedWith Confederate States of America. Army corporateBody
memberOf Confederate States of America. Cabinet corporateBody
correspondedWith Corcoran, W. W. (William Wilson), 1798-1888. person
associatedWith Curry, J. L. M. (Jabez Lamar Monroe), 1825-1903. person
correspondedWith Custis Family family
associatedWith Dearborn, Frederick M. (Frederick Myers), b. 1876 person
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associatedWith Emmet, Thomas Addis person
associatedWith Flagg, S. Griswold. person
associatedWith Flagg, S. Griswold. person
correspondedWith George, John H. (John Hatch), 1824-1888. person
associatedWith Gibson, James. person
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associatedWith Green, John Williams, 1841-1920. person
associatedWith Hadfield, Robert, 1813 or 14-1881. person
associatedWith Halderman, John Acoming, b. 1833. person
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associatedWith Haskell, Clinton H. person
associatedWith Haskell, Clinton H. person
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associatedWith Jackman, John S., 1841-1912. person
associatedWith Jackson, Henry R. (Henry Rootes), 1820-1898. person
associatedWith Johnson family. family
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associatedWith Jones family. family
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associatedWith Seddon, James A. (James Alexander), 1815-1880. person
associatedWith Simms, William Emmet, 1822-1898. person
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correspondedWith Stevenson, Andrew, 1784-1857 person
correspondedWith Stevenson, J. W. (John White), 1812-1886 person
associatedWith St. John, Isaac Munroe, 1827-1880. person
associatedWith Swank, James Moore, 1836-1914. person
associatedWith Thompson, Edwin Porter, 1834-1903. person
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correspondedWith Van Dorn, Earl, 1820-1863. person
associatedWith Viley, John R. person
associatedWith Walter, Lewis Allwhyn, 1868-1951. person
associatedWith Ward, Jesse Durbin, 1819-1886. person
correspondedWith Warren, George Washington, 1813-1883 person
associatedWith Wickliffe-Preston family. family
associatedWith Wigfall, Louis T. (Louis Trezevant), 1816-1874 person
associatedWith Wigfall, Louis Trezevant person
associatedWith Wood, John Taylor. person
associatedWith Yandell family. family
Place Name Admin Code Country
Lexington KY US
Danville KY US
Richmond VA US
Toronto 08 CA
Versailles A8 FR
Vevey VD CH
Lexington KY US
Paris A8 FR
District of Columbia DC US
Burlington IA US
Niagara Falls 08 CA
Subject
Chickamauga, Battle of, Ga., 1863--Sources
Delaware Indians
Presidents--Election--History--Sources
Bunker Hill, Battle of, Boston, Mass., 1775--Anniversaries, etc
President--Election--1864
Land titles--Registration and transfer
Indians of North America--Government relations
Land tenure
Broadsides
Estate planning
Real property
Presidents--Election--1860
Occupation
Representatives, U.S. Congress--Kentucky
Lawyers
Statesman
Senators, U.S. Congress--Kentucky
Vice Presidents--United States
Soldiers
Cabinet officers
Function

Person

Birth 1821-01-16

Death 1875-05-17

Male

Americans

English

Information

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