John Breckinridge, the grandfather of John Cabell Breckinridge, was an American political figure in the period following the American Revolution. Born in Augusta County, Virginia, on December 2, 1760, he was known as a spokesman for the western interests in the new nation.
His first involvement in politics was his election to the Virginia assembly, which took place while he was still a student at William and Mary College. He was elected to Congress, but gave up his seat and moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where he began to practice law.
John Breckinridge served in the Kentucky legislature from 1798 to 1800 and then took a seat in the U.S. Senate, where he spent four years before entering Jefferson's cabinet as attorney general. He remained in that post until his death on December 14, 1806.
The Breckinridge family remained prominent in Lexington in the decades that followed. John Breckinridge's grandson, John C. Breckinridge, was born there on January 15, 1821. After studying at Centre and Transylvania colleges, he took up the practice of law in Lexington in 1845. Although he was not initially in favor of the Mexican War, he served briefly in it.
Elected first to the Kentucky legislature, John C. Breckinridge moved on to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1851, serving two terms. He was elected as Vice-President in the Election of 1856, becoming at 36 the youngest ever to hold the office. In 1859, he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Kentucky, with the Senate appointment to come at the conclusion of his term as vice-president.
In the election of 1860, John C. Breckinridge was the favorite candidate of the Southern Democrats. Nominated in the second convention in Baltimore, he did not advocate secession but demanded assurances that slavery would not be forbidden in the territories. The results in November gave him the electoral votes from eleven slave slates, but he couldn't carry his home state of Kentucky.
After the firing on Ft. Sumter, Breckinridge associated himself with the pro-Confederate elements in Kentucky. After Union forces established military rule in Kentucky, he fled south and served during the Civil War in a number of military campaigns, finally becoming secretary of war in February, 1865. He became an exile after the war, but was allowed by Grant to return in 1869. He engaged in railroad development until his death on May 17, 1875.
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