Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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BRECKENRIDGE, James, lawyer, born near Fineastle, Botetourt county, Virginia, 7 March, 1763; died in Fincastle, 9 August, 1846. He was a grandson of a Scottish covenanter, who escaped to America on the restoration of the Stuarts. James served, in 1781, in Colonel Preston's rifle regiment under Greene, was graduated at William and Mary College in 1785, studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1787, and began practice in Fincastle. He was for several years a member of the general assembly of Virginia, and a leader of the old federal party in that body, and from 22 May, 1809, till 3 March, 1817, represented the Botetourt district in congress. He was a candidate for governor against James Monroe. He co-operated with Thomas Jefferson in founding the University of Virginia, and was one of the most active promoters of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal. --His brother. John, statesman, born in Augusta county, Virginia, 2 December, 1760; died in Lexington, Kentucky, 14 December, 1806, while a student in the College of William and Mary, at the age of nineteen, he was elected a member of the house of delegates in 1780. The house set aside the election, as well as the next election, when he was again returned; but after he was chosen a third time he took his seat. He studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1785, then removed to Albemarle county, and began practice in Charlottesville, where he became intimate with Jefferson, Monroe, and Madison. In December, 1793, he was elected to the 3d congress, but did not take his seat. The same year he removed to Kentucky, settled on the farm called Cabell's Dale, near Lexington, and opened a law-office in that City, devoting himself for many years to the adjustment of the conflicting land-titles in Kentucky, growing out of the careless methods of making surveys and land-grants pursued by Virginia. On 19 December, 1795, he was appointed attorney general of the new state, and from 1797 till 1800 he was a member of the legislature, serving as speaker in his third and last term. In 1794 he was the democratic candidate for senator; but Humphrey Marshall was elected by a narrow federalist majority. In the summer of 1798, after the passage of the alien and sedition laws, he met Jefferson and Nicholas at Monticello, and there the famous Kentucky resolutions of 1798 were drafted by Breckenridge, as is asserted by his friends, although Jefferson claimed the authorship in a letter written in 1821. The resolutions were brought forward in the Kentucky legislature by Breckenridge, and were carried with only one dissenting voice, 10 November, 1798. These resolutions, clearly formulating the principles of the strict constructionists, were condemned and declared to be fraught with danger by the legislatures of the federalist states to which they were sent. In reply to this action, Breckenridge drew up the resolutions adopted by the Kentucky legislature in 1799, in which the doctrines of state sovereignty and nullification were more boldly enunciated. In 1801 he was elected to the United States senate, and served from 7 December, 1801, till 25 December, 1805, when he resigned to accept the office of attorney general conferred upon him by Jefferson in August. In the senate he at once took the place of leader on the democratic side and chief spokesman for the administration. He introduced the act of 1802, by which the judiciary law of 1801, creating new circuit judges, was repealed, and in the brilliant debate over this measure he took a distinguished part. He led the senate in the business relating to the acquisition of Louisiana, and moved the ratification of the treaty, the enabling act giving authority to the president to occupy the ceded territory, and the bills connected with the occupation. Mr. Jefferson was of opinion that an amendment to the constitution was necessary before the government could acquire territory, and wished Breckenridge to move an amendment for the annexation of Louisiana; but the latter declined. He took his seat in the cabinet as attorney general on 25 December, 1805, but died of typhus fever while in office. A collection of his speeches has been published. --John, clergyman, son of John, born at Cabell's Dale, near Lexington, Kentucky, 4 July, 1797; died there, 4 August, 1841, was graduated at Princeton in 1818, united with the Presbyterian church while in College, and chose the clerical profession, although his father had intended him for the law. He was licensed to preach in 1822 by the presbytery of New Brunswick, and in 1822-'3 served as chaplain to congress. On 10 September, 1823, he was ordained pastor of a church in Lexington, Kentucky, over which he presided four years. While there he founded a religious newspaper called the "Western Luminary." In 1826 he was called to the 2d Presbyterian church of Baltimore as colleague of Dr. Glendy, and in 1831 he removed to Philadelphia, having been appointed secretary and general agent of the Presbyterian board of education. This place he resigned in 1836, to become professor of theology in the Princeton seminary. While occupying that chair he engaged in a public controversy with Archbishop Hughes, of New York, on the subject of the doctrines of their respective churches, and their arguments have been published in a volume entitled "A Discussion of the Question, 'Is the Roman Catholic Religion, in any or in all its Principles or Doctrines, inimical to Civil or Religious Liberty?'--and of the Question, 'Is the Presbyterian Religion, in any or all its Principles or Doctrines, inimical to Civil or Religious Liberty?'" (Philadelphia, 1836). Mr. Breckenridge took a prominent part in the controversies in the Presbyterian Church, upholding, in the discussions in presbyteries, synods, and general assemblies, the principles of old-school Presbyterianism, and published a number of polemical writings. He was a keen debater, and was noted for his concise, accurate, and logical extempore speeches and sermons. He became secretary and general agent of the Presbyterian board of foreign missions upon its organization in 1838, and devoted his energies to superintending its operations until he broke down under his exhaustive labors, and died while on a visit to his early home, Just before his death he received a call to the presidency of Oglethorpe University in Georgia. In 1839 he published a "Memorial of Mrs. Breckenridge."--Another son, Robert Jefferson, clergyman, born in Cabell's Dale, Kentucky, 8 March, 1800; died in Danville, 27 December, 1871, studied at Princeton, Yale, and Union Colleges successively, graduating at Union in 1819, read law, was admitted to the bar of his native state in 1823, and practiced eight years. For four successive years he was a member of the legislature.
In 1829 he made a profession of religion, and determined to be a preacher. As a politician he had advocated the emancipation of the slaves, and when the public sentiment of his state turned in favor of slavery, he was the more inclined to abandon the political career. After studying theology privately, he was licensed to preach in 1832, and soon afterward became pastor of the 2d Presbyterian church of Baltimore, in which place he remained thirteen years. In 1845 he was elected president of Jefferson College, Pennsylvania, and at the same time took charge of a Presbyterian church in a neighboring village. After two years in the presidency of the College, he removed to Lexington, Ky., where he became pastor of the 1st Presbyterian church, and also superintendent of public instruction for the state. He was the principal author of the public-school system of Kentucky. In 1853 he was elected professor of didactic and polemic theology in the new theological seminary at Danville, which chair he held until his death. He published "Travels in France, Germany," etc. (Philadelphia, 1839); a volume on "Popery," in 1841 ; "Memoranda of Foreign Travel" (Baltimore, 1845); the "Internal Evidence of Christianity," in 1852; and " The Knowledge of God Objectively Considered" (New York, 1857), followed by "The Knowledge of God Subjectively Considered," two parts of an elaborate work on theology as a science of positive truth. While in Baltimore he edited a "Literary and Religious Magazine" and the "Spirit of the Nineteenth Century," in which he carried on discussions with the Roman Catholics on questions of theology and history. He also edited at Danville, Kentucky, while professor there, the "Danville Review," in which he not only defended his theological views, but gave utterance to his patriotic sentiments during the war. In the discussions and controversies that preceded the disruption of the Presbyterian church he was the champion of the old-school party. He was largely instrumental in actuating the managers of the American Bible society to recede from their resolution to adopt the revised version of the Bible. Previous to the civil war he had been inclined to conservatism, though disposed to deprecate slavery; but when the war came he was from the first intensely loyal, though one of his sons, and his nephew, John C. Breckinridge, went over to the confederacy. He presided over the National republican convention at Baltimore in 1864, which renominated Mr. Lincoln for the presidency.
--His son, William Campbell Preston, born in Baltimore, Maryland, 28 August, 1837, was graduated at Centre College, Danville, Kentucky, in 1855, entered the confederate army as a captain in 1861, became colonel of the 9th Kentucky cavalry, commanded the Kentucky cavalry brigade when it surrendered, was an editor for two years, afterward professor of equity jurisprudence in Cumberland University, Tennessee, and in 1884 was elected as a democrat, without opposition, to the United States house of representatives from Kentucky.--Another son, Joseph Cabell, soldier, born in Baltimore, 14 January, 1842, was graduated at the University of Virginia in 1860, and volunteered in the United States army in August, 1861. He was engaged in the campaigns in Kentucky and Tennessee, ending with the advance on Corinth, was appointed second lieutenant in the 2d artillery in April, 1862, for gallantry at the battle of Mill Spring, promoted first lieutenant in August, 1863, and served in Florida, and then through the Atlanta campaign with his battery until July, 1864, when he was taken prisoner before Atlanta, Georgia. In September following he was released, and was on mustering, staff, and recruiting duty during the remainder of the civil war. He was promoted captain, 17 June, 1874. On 19 January, 1881, he was transferred to the inspector-general's department with the rank of major, promoted lieutenant colonel in that department, 5 February, 1885, and colonel 22 September the same year.
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