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McCreary, James B. (1838-1918) | Eastern Kentucky University - Special Collections and Archives

Name: McCreary, James B. (1838-1918)


Historical Note:

James Bennett McCreary (July 8, 1838 - October 8, 1918) was a lawyer and politician from the US state of Kentucky. He represented the state in both houses of the U.S. Congress and served as its 27th and 37th governor.

Shortly after graduating from law school, he was commissioned as the only major in the 11th Kentucky Cavalry, serving under Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan during the American Civil War. He returned to his legal practice after the war.

In 1869, he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives where he served until 1875; he was twice chosen Speaker of the House. At their 1875 nominating convention, state Democrats chose McCreary as their nominee for governor, and he won an easy victory over Republican John Marshall Harlan. With the state still feeling the effects of the Panic of 1873, most of McCreary's actions as governor were aimed at easing the plight of the state's poor farmers.

In 1884, McCreary was elected to the first of six consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a legislator, he was an advocate of free silver and a champion of the state's agricultural interests. After two failed bids for election to the Senate, McCreary secured the support of Governor J. C. W. Beckham, and in 1902, the General Assembly elected him to the Senate. He served one largely undistinguished term, and Beckham successfully challenged him for his Senate seat in 1908.

The divide between McCreary and Beckham was short-lived, however, and Beckham supported McCreary's election to a second term as governor in 1911. Campaigning on a platform of progressive reforms, McCreary defeated Republican Edward C. O'Rear in the general election. During this second term, he became the first inhabitant of the state's second (and current) governor's mansion; he is also the only governor to have inhabited both the old and new mansions. Interestingly enough, McCreary had been one of five commissioners charged with overseeing construction of the new governor's mansion and exerted considerable influence on the construction plans.

During his second term, he succeeded in convincing the legislature to make women eligible to vote in school board elections, to mandate direct primary elections, to create a state public utilities commission, and to allow the state's counties to hold local option elections to decide whether or not to adopt prohibition. He also realized substantial increases in education spending and won passage of reforms such as a mandatory school attendance law, but was unable to secure passage of laws restricting lobbying in the legislative chambers and providing for a workers' compensation program.

His term expired in 1915, and he died three years later. McCreary County was formed during McCreary's second term in office and was named in his honor.






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