Op-Ed

Sex had nothing to do with it when legislature expelled these 10 members

Sketch of the Old State House in Frankfort, designed by Kentucky architect Gideon Shryock. Confederate sympathizers were expelled from the legislature there during the Civil War.
Sketch of the Old State House in Frankfort, designed by Kentucky architect Gideon Shryock. Confederate sympathizers were expelled from the legislature there during the Civil War. Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives

Who knows if state Rep. C. Wesley Morgan’s resolution to expel fellow Republican Jeff Hoover will go anywhere, especially now that Hoover, who admitted to sexting a staffer, has resigned as House speaker?

Expulsions are rare in the Kentucky General Assembly, but early in the Civil War, 10 lawmakers were expelled, not because of a sex-related allegation, but because they were considered traitors.

The Unionist House and Senate kicked out 10 pro-Confederate legislators in a slam dunk for the majority party.

In August, 1861, voters sent 76 Unionists and 24 Southern Rightists, or secessionists, to the already Unionist House. In the Senate, including holdovers, the Union margin increased to 27-11.

In September, Confederate, then Union, forces invaded neutral Kentucky. The legislature, over Southern-sympathizing Gov. Beriah Magoffin’s veto, ordered only the rebels to leave and put the state in the war on the Northern side.

In November, a small group of diehard “secesh” huddled behind rebel lines at Russellville and organized a bogus Confederate state government. The dubious conclave included seven Southern Rights state representatives and a senator. Six of the House members were among the lawmakers soon to be ejected. The seventh, Rep. William M. Coffee of Ballard County, resigned before the Unionists could remove him.

On Dec. 21, the House expelled Andrew R. Boone of Graves County, John M. Elliott, Floyd; George Washington Ewing, Logan; Jesse C. Gilbert, Marshall; John Quincy Adams King, McCracken; Daniel W. Matthewson, Calloway; George R. Merritt, Livingston and Lyon, and George W. Silvertooth, Fulton and Hickman.

The resolution accused the octet of being “directly or indirectly connected with, and giving ‘aid and comfort’ to, the Confederate army, (and) repudiating and acting against the Government of the United States and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Boone, Gilbert, Matthewson and Silvertooth were doubly denounced for joining “the Russellville Convention, which organized and established a Provisional Government in Kentucky, in violation of the constitution, laws, and will of the people of the State, and which was revolutionary and rebellious.”

King and Merritt were also at the convention.

On Feb. 15, 1862, the Senate expelled William T. Anthony of Allen County and John M. Johnson of McCracken. The legislature’s upper chamber dumped Anthony for being “actively engaged in the rebellion against the Government” and exiled Johnson for “leaving his seat and taking position in the rebel army.”

He stayed a civilian, skedaddled to the Russellville convention and became a purveyor of alternative facts. A physician, Johnson told a New Orleans reporter that in Frankfort, a Yankee soldier gunned down “a boy sixteen years of age … for cheering for Jeff Davis, and his murderer was not arrested.”

The staunchly Unionist Louisville Journal jabbed, “The Doctor is growing like Falstaff in more ways than one, and in obesity and falsehood particularly.”

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community College in Paducah and is the author of “Kentucky’s Rebel Press: Pro-Confederate Media and the Secession Crisis,” out from the University Press of Kentucky this month.

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