No time in history has been free of crime, but the brutal and chaotic conditions Kentuckians faced during the Civil War may have caused the commonwealth’s crime rate to increase.
Courts overflowed with cases, overwhelmed local justice systems could not keep up, and many people reached out to the governor as a last lifeline. More than half of each governor’s wartime correspondence dealt with pardon requests and appeals to remit (reduce) fines and prison sentences. Victims turned to the governor for help, but so did people who had committed a crime because of the hard choices the war forced them to make.
The documents for this theme show the range of requests Civil War-era governors received.
Primary SourcesMurder of Dr. Norwood:
- ROBERT GLASS TO BERIAH MAGOFFIN
- ALEX H. MAJOR TO BERIAH MAGOFFIN
- L. W. TRAFTON TO BERIAH MAGOFFIN
- F. A. CANNON ET AL., FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD!
Petitions to the Governor:
- R. F. Baird and J. Hobson Price to Beriah Magoffin
- Mary Ann Burns to James F. Robinson
- Nicholas Simon to Thomas E. Bramlette
Big Picture Questions
- How did crime change over the course of the war?
- Were Governors more willing to pardon, remit, or grant a respite? Why or why not?
- Do you think race and gender played a role in the decisions handed down by the governor? Explain your reasoning.
- MURDER!- As Governor would you issue a Warrant for Jim Brown? Why or Why not? (Use a T-Chart to write down your conclusions)
- Judge and Jury- Examine the facts of each petition, determine what the petition is requesting, and then decide if you agree or disagree with the governor.
- Amy Louise Wood, and University of Mississippi. Center for the Study of Southern Culture. 2011. Violence. The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, V. 19. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
- “Irregular Violence and Trauma in Civil War Kentucky.” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society116, no. 2 (Spring 2018): 146-292.