John Breckinridge (U.S. Attorney General)

  • john breckinridge
    john-breckinridge-portrait.jpg
    5th united states attorney general
    in office
    august 7, 1805 – december 14, 1806
    presidentthomas jefferson
    preceded bylevi lincoln sr.
    succeeded bycaesar a. rodney
    united states senator
    from kentucky
    in office
    march 4, 1801 – august 7, 1805
    preceded byhumphrey marshall
    succeeded byjohn adair
    speaker of the kentucky house of representatives
    in office
    1799–1800
    preceded by edmund bullock
    succeeded byjohn adair
    attorney general of kentucky
    in office
    december 19, 1793 – november 30, 1797
    governorisaac shelby
    james garrard
    preceded bygeorge nicholas
    succeeded byjames blair
    personal details
    born(1760-12-02)december 2, 1760
    augusta county, virginia, british america
    dieddecember 14, 1806(1806-12-14) (aged 46)
    fayette county, kentucky, u.s.
    resting placelexington cemetery
    political partydemocratic-republican
    spouse(s)mary hopkins cabell
    children9, including cabell and robert
    relativesbreckinridge family
    educationwashington and lee university
    college of william & mary
    signature
    military service
    allegiancethirteen colonies
    branch/servicevirginia militia
    battles/warsamerican revolutionary war

    john breckinridge (december 2, 1760 – december 14, 1806) was a lawyer and politician from the u.s. state of virginia. he served in the state legislatures of virginia and kentucky before being elected to the u.s. senate and appointed united states attorney general during the second term of president thomas jefferson. he is the progenitor of kentucky's breckinridge political family and the namesake of breckinridge county, kentucky.

    breckinridge's father was a local politician, and his mother was a member of the preston political family. breckinridge attended the william and mary college intermittently between 1780 and 1784; his attendance was interrupted by the revolutionary war and his election to the virginia house of delegates. one of the youngest members of that body, his political activities acquainted him with many prominent politicians. in 1785, he married "polly" cabell, a member of the cabell political family. despite making a comfortable living through a combination of legal and agricultural endeavors, letters from relatives in kentucky convinced him to move to the western frontier. he established "cabell's dale", his plantation, near lexington, kentucky, in 1793.

    breckinridge was appointed as the state's attorney general soon after arriving. in november 1797, he resigned and was elected to the kentucky house of representatives the next month. as a legislator, he secured passage of a more humane criminal code that abolished the death penalty for all offenses except first-degree murder. on a 1798 trip to virginia, an intermediary gave him thomas jefferson's kentucky resolutions, which denounced the alien and sedition acts. at jefferson's request, breckinridge assumed credit for the modified resolutions he shepherded through the kentucky general assembly; jefferson's authorship was not discovered until after breckinridge's death. he opposed calling a state constitutional convention in 1799 but was elected as a delegate. due to his influence, the state's government remained comparatively aristocratic, maintaining protections for slavery and limiting the power of the electorate. called the father of the resultant constitution, he emerged from the convention as the acknowledged leader of the state's democratic-republican party and was elected speaker of the kentucky house of representatives in 1799 and 1800.

    elected to the u.s. senate in 1800, breckinridge functioned as jefferson's floor leader, guiding administration bills through the chamber that was narrowly controlled by his party. residents of the western frontier called for his nomination as vice president in 1804, but jefferson appointed him as u.s. attorney general in 1805 instead. he was the first cabinet-level official from the west but had little impact before his death from tuberculosis on december 14, 1806.

  • early life and family
  • relocation to kentucky
  • domestic life in kentucky
  • kentucky attorney general
  • kentucky house of representatives
  • u.s. senator
  • u.s. attorney general
  • death and legacy
  • notes
  • references
  • external links

John Breckinridge
John-Breckinridge-portrait.jpg
5th United States Attorney General
In office
August 7, 1805 – December 14, 1806
PresidentThomas Jefferson
Preceded byLevi Lincoln Sr.
Succeeded byCaesar A. Rodney
United States Senator
from Kentucky
In office
March 4, 1801 – August 7, 1805
Preceded byHumphrey Marshall
Succeeded byJohn Adair
Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives
In office
1799–1800
Preceded by Edmund Bullock
Succeeded byJohn Adair
Attorney General of Kentucky
In office
December 19, 1793 – November 30, 1797
GovernorIsaac Shelby
James Garrard
Preceded byGeorge Nicholas
Succeeded byJames Blair
Personal details
Born(1760-12-02)December 2, 1760
Augusta County, Virginia, British America
DiedDecember 14, 1806(1806-12-14) (aged 46)
Fayette County, Kentucky, U.S.
Resting placeLexington Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Spouse(s)Mary Hopkins Cabell
Children9, including Cabell and Robert
RelativesBreckinridge family
EducationWashington and Lee University
College of William & Mary
Signature
Military service
AllegianceThirteen Colonies
Branch/serviceVirginia militia
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War

John Breckinridge (December 2, 1760 – December 14, 1806) was a lawyer and politician from the U.S. state of Virginia. He served in the state legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky before being elected to the U.S. Senate and appointed United States Attorney General during the second term of President Thomas Jefferson. He is the progenitor of Kentucky's Breckinridge political family and the namesake of Breckinridge County, Kentucky.

Breckinridge's father was a local politician, and his mother was a member of the Preston political family. Breckinridge attended the William and Mary College intermittently between 1780 and 1784; his attendance was interrupted by the Revolutionary War and his election to the Virginia House of Delegates. One of the youngest members of that body, his political activities acquainted him with many prominent politicians. In 1785, he married "Polly" Cabell, a member of the Cabell political family. Despite making a comfortable living through a combination of legal and agricultural endeavors, letters from relatives in Kentucky convinced him to move to the western frontier. He established "Cabell's Dale", his plantation, near Lexington, Kentucky, in 1793.

Breckinridge was appointed as the state's attorney general soon after arriving. In November 1797, he resigned and was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives the next month. As a legislator, he secured passage of a more humane criminal code that abolished the death penalty for all offenses except first-degree murder. On a 1798 trip to Virginia, an intermediary gave him Thomas Jefferson's Kentucky Resolutions, which denounced the Alien and Sedition Acts. At Jefferson's request, Breckinridge assumed credit for the modified resolutions he shepherded through the Kentucky General Assembly; Jefferson's authorship was not discovered until after Breckinridge's death. He opposed calling a state constitutional convention in 1799 but was elected as a delegate. Due to his influence, the state's government remained comparatively aristocratic, maintaining protections for slavery and limiting the power of the electorate. Called the father of the resultant constitution, he emerged from the convention as the acknowledged leader of the state's Democratic-Republican Party and was elected Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1799 and 1800.

Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1800, Breckinridge functioned as Jefferson's floor leader, guiding administration bills through the chamber that was narrowly controlled by his party. Residents of the western frontier called for his nomination as vice president in 1804, but Jefferson appointed him as U.S. Attorney General in 1805 instead. He was the first cabinet-level official from the West but had little impact before his death from tuberculosis on December 14, 1806.