World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

James Guthrie (Kentucky)

Article Id: WHEBN0000770920
Reproduction Date:

Title: James Guthrie (Kentucky)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: John Rowan (Kentucky), George M. Bibb, United States Secretary of the Treasury, John G. Carlisle, John C. Breckinridge
Collection: 1792 Births, 1869 Deaths, 19Th-Century American Railroad Executives, Burials at Cave Hill Cemetery, Democratic Party United States Senators, History of Louisville, Kentucky, Kentucky Commonwealth's Attorneys, Kentucky Democrats, Kentucky State Senators, Louisville and Nashville Railroad, Louisville, Kentucky in the American Civil War, Members of the Kentucky House of Representatives, People from Louisville, Kentucky, People of Kentucky in the American Civil War, Pierce Administration Cabinet Members, Politicians from Louisville, Kentucky, Presidents of the University of Louisville, United States Presidential Candidates, 1860, United States Secretaries of the Treasury, United States Senators from Kentucky
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

James Guthrie (Kentucky)

James Guthrie
21st United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
March 7, 1853 – March 6, 1857
President Franklin Pierce
Preceded by Thomas Corwin
Succeeded by Howell Cobb
United States Senator
from Kentucky
In office
March 4, 1865 – February 7, 1868
Preceded by Lazarus W. Powell
Succeeded by Thomas C. McCreery
Personal details
Born (1792-12-05)December 5, 1792
Nelson County, Kentucky, U.S.
Died March 13, 1869(1869-03-13) (aged 76)
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Resting place Cave Hill Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Churchill Prather
Relations Father-in-law of John Lawrence Smith
Profession Politician, Lawyer

James Guthrie (December 5, 1792 – March 13, 1869) was a U.S. Senator from Kentucky and served as Secretary of the Treasury in the administration of President Franklin Pierce.


  • Early life 1
  • Political career 2
    • In state government 2.1
    • In national government 2.2
    • In the Civil War 2.3
    • In later life 2.4
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6

Early life

James Guthrie was born to General Adam and Hannah (Polk) Guthrie near Bardstown, Nelson County, Kentucky on December 5, 1792.[1] Though his immediate ancestors came from Ireland, Guthrie was of Scottish descent.[2] He was lineally descended from a martyred Scottish clergyman of the same name.[2]

Guthrie's father was a pioneer and Indian fighter from Virginia who developed a large plantation in Kentucky and served in the state's General Assembly from 1800 to 1805, and again in 1808.[3] Guthrie received his early education in a log schoolhouse.[1] Due to his father's military service, he completed his studies at McAllister's Military Academy in Bardstown.[4]

In 1812, Guthrie found employment on a flatboat transporting goods down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, Louisiana.[1][3] After three such trips, he decided this work was unfulfilling, and, along with Ben Hardin and Charles A. Wickliffe, began to study law under Judge John Rowan.[5] He was admitted to the bar in 1817, and commenced practice in Bardstown.[6]

In 1821, Guthrie married Eliza Churchill Prather; the couple had three daughters: Mary Elizabeth, Ann Augusta, and Sarah Julia.[7][8] Eliza Prather Guthrie died in 1836.[9] Sarah Julia Guthrie married chemist J. Lawrence Smith, after whom the J. Lawrence Smith Medal is named.[10]

Political career

In 1820, Governor John Adair appointed Guthrie as Commonwealth's Attorney for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, whereupon Guthrie relocated to Louisville.[1] In 1824, he served on a committee whose aim was to obtain city status for Louisville.[11] The effort failed, but Guthrie was elected to the town's board of trustees, and later became its chair.[11]

The following year, Guthrie was chosen as director of the newly formed Louisville and Portland Canal Company.[7] He was instrumental in securing federal funding for a bypass around the Falls of the Ohio, although newly elected president Andrew Jackson cut off these funds in 1829. Guthrie secured private funds and completed the canal in late 1830. Within a few years, however, steamboats became too wide for the canal, and it became more of an impediment than an aid.[12]

In state government

Guthrie was elected to represent Jefferson County as a Democrat to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1827.[13] In his first year, he chaired the Internal Improvements Committee.[14] In this capacity, he promoted construction of a number of roads and canals, as well as a railroad connecting Louisville to Frankfort.[15] For the balance of his career in the House, he chaired the Committee on the Courts of Justice.[14]

In 1828, Guthrie mustered enough support to secure city status for Louisville; it was the first time a town in Kentucky had achieved city status.[11] He was elected to the new city council, and quickly became chair of its most powerful committee, the finance committee.[11]

Guthrie served in the House until 1831, when he was elected to the Kentucky Senate.[6] He was twice chosen President Pro Tempore of that body.[15] He served on the Finance and Education Committees.[16] In 1834, he helped found the State Bank of Kentucky, and served as one of its directors.[3] He unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1835.[6]

Back in Louisville, Guthrie called for the construction of a new building to house both city and county government offices. Secretly, he hoped Kentucky's capital would be moved to Louisville and the building would become the state's capitol building, but the courthouse and two other projects proposed by Guthrie—a water works and a bridge over the Ohio River connection Louisville to Indiana—were halted by the Panic of 1837. The unfinished courthouse came to be known as "Guthrie's Folly", but was still touted in an attempt to bring the capital to Louisville in 1842. All three projects were eventually completed, and Guthrie's Folly became the Jefferson County Courthouse.[17]

In 1836, a dispute arose among the medical faculty at Transylvania University. Guthrie encouraged some of the disgruntled faculty members to relocate to Louisville and start the Louisville Medical Institute, a precursor to the University of Louisville. In 1843, Guthrie became the third president of Louisville Medical Institute.[18] In 1846, the Kentucky General Assembly chartered the University of Louisville, which subsumed the Louisville Medical Institute.[19] Guthrie became president of the university on December 7, 1847 and served until his death.[7][16] Working with the Trustees of the Common Schools, Guthrie established a high school that met in the university's academic building; this school became Louisville Male High School.[16]

Among the other projects Guthrie promoted were the creation of a Board of Health and free public schools in Louisville. He encouraged the city to purchase the turnpike between Louisville and Portland (a town now absorbed by the city of Louisville) and to purchase stock in the Louisville and Ohio Railroad. He also convinced the city to buy the land that would become Cave Hill Cemetery, his final resting place. Guthrie served on the Louisville City Council until 1839.[16] In 1845, he was a delegate to a convention on internal improvements held in Memphis, Tennessee and chaired by John C. Calhoun.[20]

Guthrie represented Louisville at the Kentucky Constitutional Convention of 1849.[16] The delegates chose him president over Whig Archibald Dixon.[21] The major question of the convention was slavery. Guthrie was an advocate of slavery, and believed that, if freed, the slaves would become vicious and ungovernable.[16] The Kentucky Constitution of 1850 included protections for slave property, and stipulated that no amendments to the constitution could be proposed for a period of eight years.[16]

In national government

Bureau of Engraving and Printing portrait of Guthrie as Secretary of the Treasury.

President Franklin Pierce recognized Guthrie's financial acumen and appointed him Secretary of the Treasury in 1853.[7] Soon, he became the most influential member of Pierce's cabinet.[7] A hard money Democrat, Guthrie was opposed to a national bank and to the issuance of small distinctive notes by free and charter banks.[22] He advocated for the adoption of a universal currency that would be convertible to gold on demand.[22] In his first report, he was critical of his predecessor, Thomas Corwin, because he made private arrangements for debt repurchases.[22] He also accused Corwin of conspiring with a New York port master to under-report duties collected and deposit them into a trust.[15] Guthrie caused a brief public uproar by removing the port master from his post.[15]

During Guthrie's tenure, the treasury had large budget surpluses due to the discovery of gold in California.[15] He used much of these surpluses to pay down the national debt, which shrank from $63 million in 1853 to $25 million in 1857.[15] He also purchased silver bullion for coinage which aided struggling banks by returning money to circulation and increasing their depleted reserves.[23] He encouraged more efficient processes in the Treasury Department as a whole, and required monthly, rather than quarterly, reports from customs agents.[23] In 1853, he employed Captain Alexander Bowman of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin construction of an extension to the Treasury Building's south wing.[23] Many considered Guthrie to be the ablest Secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton.[7]

At the close of President Pierce's term, Guthrie returned to Louisville to serve as vice-president of struggling the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.[1] He ensured that the link between the two cities was complete in 1859, and in 1860, he succeeded John L. Helm as president of the railroad.[24] He would continue in his capacity as president through the Civil War, being succeeded only just before his death in 1869 by Russell Houston.[25]

Kentucky delegates to the 1860 Democratic National Convention in Charleston, South Carolina favored Guthrie for the office of President.[3] A two-thirds majority of delegates was required to secure the nomination.[26] On the first of many ballots, Guthrie received 35 votes; by the thirty-sixth, he was up to 65.5, but still trailed the leading vote-getter Stephen Douglas, by 86 votes.[26] With no candidate able to secure the needed votes, the meeting adjourned and reconvened in Baltimore, Maryland a month later.[26]

At the Baltimore meeting, Guthrie garnered 10 votes on the first ballot.[27] He received 5.5 on the second ballot, which finally saw Douglas attain the necessary majority.[27] Douglas was defeated by Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election. Guthrie was offered the job of Secretary of War by President Lincoln, but he declined because of age and failing health.[3]

In the Civil War

Though a slave holder and states' rights advocate, Guthrie ardently opposed secession.[28] On this topic, he stated "I hate that word secession, because it is a cheat! Call things by their right names! The Southern States have... originated a revolution."[1] He was not convinced that Lincoln's election was an inescapable harbinger of war. He believed the Southern states, if they did not secede, would control Congress and the judiciary, and render Lincoln powerless to impose his agenda upon them.[29]

At age 70, Guthrie was elected as one of Kentucky's six delegates to the Peace Conference of 1861 in Washington, D.C. to devise means to prevent the impending Civil War.[1] He was chosen to chair the conference's Compromise Committee.[29] He failed in his attempt to re-work and re-introduce the Crittenden Compromise earlier proposed in Congress by fellow Kentuckian John J. Crittenden.[29]

The Compromise Committee proposed a plan that included seven constitutional amendments and relied on Henry Clay's Missouri Compromise as a framework. Under the committee's proposal, 36°30' north latitude would continue to divide slave and free territory in the United States, and no more territory would be annexed except with the consent of equal representation from both slave and free states. The delegates to the convention presented this idea to Congress on February 27, 1861 and asked them to call a national convention to consider the question, but Congress rejected this report.[29]

Guthrie personally appealed to President Lincoln to consider the convention's report, but to no avail. Still convinced that war could be averted, he participated in a convention of border states held at Frankfort in May 1861. This convention also failed to avert the war.[29]

During the war, Guthrie's Louisville and Nashville railroad was of vital importance. It was the only rail line originating in the North and terminating in the South. Early in the war, the line was used to transport supplies to the Confederates in Tennessee, but after 1861, it was used primarily to benefit the Union. Despite pressure to relinquish control to the federal government, Guthrie remained president of the railroad, which became a frequent target for guerrilla attacks. Combining earnings from both passenger and military rates, Guthrie ensured that the line's infrastructure at the close of the war was superior to what it had been before the war started.[29]

Guthrie was a delegate to the Thomas Bramlette for president and vice-president, respectively.[16] At the convention, he also opposed the Wade-Davis Bill.[16]

In later life

The Kentucky Senate narrowly chose Guthrie over fellow Louisvillian Lovell H. Rousseau for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1865.[29] In that body, he opposed the Republican Party's Reconstruction efforts.[30] A supporter of President Andrew Johnson, he opposed the Freedmen's Bureau and the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment.[29]

On February 7, 1868, Guthrie resigned his position due to ill health.[6] He suffered a stroke on April 8, 1868 which left him paralyzed and bedridden for the rest of his life.[16][31] On June 11, 1868, he resigned as president of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, recommending General William Tecumseh Sherman to be his successor.[7][9]

Guthrie died in Louisville on March 13, 1869 and was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery.[6] The city of Guthrie, Kentucky and Guthrie Street in Downtown Louisville are named in his honor.[32]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Bussey, p. 396
  2. ^ a b Johnson, p. 980
  3. ^ a b c d e f Kerr, p. 20
  4. ^ Wells, p. 182
  5. ^ Baber, p. 9
  6. ^ a b c d e Congressional Biography
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Kleber, p. 363
  8. ^ The names on the headstones in Cave Hill Cemetery are given as Eliza Churchill Prather, Mary Elizabeth Guthrie, Ann Augusta Guthrie, and Sarah "Sister Jule" Julia Guthrie.
  9. ^ a b Heidler, p. 903
  10. ^ Kerr, p. 21
  11. ^ a b c d Kleber, p. 362
  12. ^ Kleber, p. xvii–xviii
  13. ^ Cotterill, p. 290
  14. ^ a b Cotterill, p. 291
  15. ^ a b c d e f Wells, p. 183
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j James Guthrie: Mr. Louisville
  17. ^ Kleber, pp. 362–363
  18. ^ Cox, p. 19
  19. ^ Cox, p. 23
  20. ^ Cotterill, p. 292
  21. ^ Baber, p. 11
  22. ^ a b c Wells, p. 184
  23. ^ a b c Treasury Department bio
  24. ^ Kleber, pp. 363, 530
  25. ^ Herr, Kincaid A. (2009) [2000]. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad, 1850-1963 (paperback ed.). University Press of Kentucky. p. 50.  
  26. ^ a b c The American Conflict, p. 317
  27. ^ a b The American Conflict, p. 318
  28. ^ Cox, p. 28
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h Heidler, p. 904
  30. ^ Wells, p. 185
  31. ^ Cotterill, p. 295
  32. ^ Encyclopedia of Kentucky, p. 244
  • The American Conflict. Bacon & Company. 1865. Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  • Baber, George (January 1912). "James Guthrie: Lawyer, Financier, and Statesman". The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 10 (28). Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  • Bush, Brian S. "James Guthrie: Mr. Louisville". Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  • Bussey, Charles J. (1992). "James Guthrie". In Kleber, John E. The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Associate editors:  
  • Cotterill, Robert S. (September 1922). "James Guthrie – Kentuckian, 1792–1869". The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 20 (60). Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  • Cox, Dwayne (2001). The University of Louisville. The University Press of Kentucky.  
  • "Dictionary of Places: Guthrie". Encyclopedia of Kentucky.  
  • James Guthrie at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Heidler, David Stephen; Jeanne T. Heidler; David J. Coles (2002). Encyclopedia of the American Civil War. W.W. Norton & Company.  
  • "James Guthrie (1853 - 1857)". U.S. Department of the Treasury. Archived from the original on 2008-05-22. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  • Johnson, E. Polk (1912). A History of Kentucky and Kentuckians: The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry and Modern Activities. Lewis Publishing Company. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  • Kerr, Charles; William Elsey Connelley; Ellis Merton Coulter (1922). History of Kentucky. The American Historical Society. pp. 20–21. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  • Kleber, John E. (2001). The Encyclopedia of Louisville. The University Press of Kentucky.  
  • Wells, Donald R. (1996). Bernard S. Katz, C. Daniel Vencill, ed. Biographical Dictionary of the United States Secretaries of the Treasury. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 182–185.  

Further reading

  • Allen, William B. (1872). A History of Kentucky: Embracing Gleanings, Reminiscences, Antiquities, Natural Curiosities, Statistics, and Biographical Sketches of Pioneers, Soldiers, Jurists, Lawyers, Statesmen, Divines, Mechanics, Farmers, Merchants, and Other Leading Men, of All Occupations and Pursuits. Bradley & Gilbert. pp. 276–277. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  • Klement, Frank L. (1998). The Limits of Dissent : Clement L. Vallandigham & the Civil War. New York Fordham University Press. pp. 31, 283–286.  
  • Silver, David M. (1998). Lincoln's Supreme Court. University of Illinois Press. pp. 172–173.  
  • Spiegel, Anna Ruth (1940). "Public career of James Guthrie (1792–1869)" (PDF). University of Louisville. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 

External links

  • "James Guthrie".  
Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Corwin
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
Served under: Franklin Pierce

March 7, 1853 – March 6, 1857
Succeeded by
Howell Cobb
United States Senate
Preceded by
Lazarus W. Powell
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Kentucky
March 4, 1865 – February 7, 1868
Served alongside: Garrett Davis
Succeeded by
Thomas C. McCreery
Business positions
Preceded by
John L. Helm
President of Louisville and Nashville Railroad
1860 – 1869
Succeeded by
Russell Houston
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.