William O'Connell Bradley: Wikis


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William O'Connell Bradley

In office
December 10, 1895[1] – December 12, 1899[1]
Lieutenant William J. Worthington
Preceded by John Y. Brown
Succeeded by William S. Taylor

In office
March 4, 1909 – May 23, 1914
Preceded by James B. McCreary
Succeeded by Johnson N. Camden, Jr.

Born March 18, 1847[1]
Garrard County, Kentucky
Died May 23, 1914 (aged 67)[1]
Washington, D.C.[1]
Political party Republican[1]
Spouse(s) Margaret Robinson Duncan[2]
Relations Brother-in-law of Thomas Z. Morrow
Uncle of Edwin P. Morrow
Profession Lawyer[3]
Religion Baptist, later Presbyterian[4]
Military service
Service/branch Union Army
Battles/wars American Civil War

William O'Connell Bradley (March 18, 1847 – May 23, 1914) was the 32nd Governor of Kentucky, and later served as a U.S. senator from Kentucky. Nicknamed "Billy O. B.", Bradley was well-regarded by political allies, opponents, and commoners.[4] Stockily built with a powerful voice, Bradley's oratorical prowess was rarely questioned.[4][5] At the Republican National Convention, he was selected to second the Presidential nominations of both Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt.[6]

A career politician, Bradley's early years were marked by defeats in numerous elections for state and national office. His persistence eventually paid off however, as he was elected the first Republican governor of a heavily Democratic state, and became known as the father of the Republican Party in Kentucky.[4] He was subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate, but his term was cut short by his death in 1914.


Early life

Bradley was born near Lancaster, Garrard County, Kentucky, the youngest child of Robert McAfee and Ellen Totten Bradley.[7] The couple also had six daughters, five of whom survived infancy, and one son, who died as an infant.[4] Edwin P. Morrow, the fortieth governor of Kentucky, was Bradley's nephew, the son of his sister, Virginia Bradley Morrow.[8]

While Bradley was still young, the family moved to Somerset, Kentucky,[7] where he was educated by private tutors and at a private school.[3] He twice dropped out of school and ran away to join the Union Army during the Civil War;[2] the first time being at fourteen years of age.[6] Both times, he was returned to the care of his father.[7]

In 1861, Bradley became a page in the Kentucky House of Representatives.[2] It was during this service that his interest in both law and politics was born.[7] He studied law under his father, one of Kentucky's leading criminal lawyers.[7] Despite having no college education, Bradley was allowed to take the bar examination at age 18 by a special provision of the legislature.[7] This arrangement was contingent on Bradley's being judged competent by two circuit judges.[7] Bradley passed the exam, and was licensed in 1865,[2] joining his father's firm in Lancaster.[7]

On July 13, 1867,[9] Bradley married Margaret Robertson Duncan.[4] The couple had two children, George Robertson Bradley and Christine Bradley South.[4] George's death at the age of twenty-four was a tremendous emotional blow from which Bradley never fully recovered.[4]

Political career

Bradley's political career began in 1870 when he was elected prosecuting attorney of Garrard County.[5] A Republican in a Democratic district,[5] Bradley was defeated by Milton Jameson Durham for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1872 and 1876.[6] In 1876, his party honored him with a nomination to serve in the U.S. Senate, despite the fact that he was too young to legally qualify for the office.[5] He refused his party's nomination for the seat in 1878 and 1882, and declined a nomination to serve as Attorney General of Kentucky in 1879 due to ill health.[5] At the 1880 Republican National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, Bradley was unanimously chosen to second Roscoe Conkling's nomination of Ulysses S. Grant for a third term as president.[5] His rousing oratory gained him the attention of prominent leaders of his party.[5]

In 1887, Bradley campaigned for Governor of Kentucky against Democrat Simon B. Buckner.[10] Though he lost the election by more than 6,000 votes, he made the best showing of any Republican candidate for the office to that time, and garnered strong support from the state's black voters.[10]

In 1888, Bradley received 105 votes for the Vice-Presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention.[7] President Benjamin Harrison appointed him Minister to Korea in 1889, but he declined the job.[4] From 1890 to 1896, he was a member of the Republican National Committee,[3] and was the Kentucky delegation's choice for Presidential nominee in 1896.[7]


Governor of Kentucky

In 1895, Bradley was again nominated as the Republican candidate for governor.[10] During the campaign, he split the Democratic party over the issue of Free Silver, and carried the vote of many Gold Democrats. He also drew a number of votes from those who sympathized with the views of the American Protective Association, and was further aided by the presence of Populist candidate Thomas S. Pettit, who drew 16,911 votes, many of them from Democrats in western Kentucky.[6] The combination of these factors saw Bradley elected the first Republican governor of Kentucky.[10]

During Bradley's term, Republicans controlled the Kentucky House of Representatives, while Democrats controlled the Kentucky Senate. This led to infighting between the two houses of the General Assembly and between the General Assembly and the governor. A prominent example of this deadlock played out in the senatorial election of 1895. Republican legislators nominated W. Godfrey Hunter; the Democrats chose J. C. S. Blackburn. The Republicans were joined by Gold Democrats who refused to back Blackburn, a free silver supporter. Attempts were made to unseat several legislators in the General Assembly, leading to threats of violence. Governor Bradley attempted to neutralize the situation by calling up the state militia, a move panned by the Democrats. The session adjourned with no decision. At a special session called by Bradley in March 1897, Republicans withdrew their nomination of Hunter and put forth William Joseph Deboe in his place. Deboe was elected on the 112th ballot, becoming the first Republican senator from the Commonwealth.[6]

The election of Republican president William McKinley in 1896 deepened the Democrats' resolve to oppose the Republican governor and his allies, and further hindered progress during Bradley's administration.[6] Bureaucratic delays contributed to the ineffectiveness of the four Kentucky regiments that fought in the Spanish-American War.[6] Locally, Bradley struggled to end violent feuds that continued in the eastern part of the state.[10] (The infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud had ended only a few years prior.) A compulsory education law and the Goebel Election Law both passed over Governor Bradley's veto, and a pure food and drug law passed without his signature.[10] He did, however, successfully veto controversial legislation regulating railroad rates.[1]

U.S. Senator


Following his term as governor, Bradley moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and resumed his legal practice.[4] He became a political adviser to Republican candidate William S. Taylor in the contentious gubernatorial election of 1900.[10] Bradley was defeated in 1900 for a seat in the U.S. Senate.[10] In 1904, he seconded the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt for president.[7]

The election of Republican governor Augustus E. Willson in 1907 again emboldened Republicans in the General Assembly, who nominated Bradley for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1908.[6] The Democrats countered by nominating outgoing governor J. C. W. Beckham.[10] Again, Bradley capitalized on divisions in the Democratic party, this time over the issue of Prohibition.[6] After twenty-nine ballots, four Democrats who favored Bradley's "wet" position defied allegiance to their party, electing Bradley by a 64–60 margin.[6]

During the Sixty-first and Sixty-second Congresses, Bradley was chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Expenditures in the Department of Justice. He was also chairman of the Committee to Investigate Trespassers upon Indian Land during the Sixty-first Congress, and the chairman of the Committee on Revolutionary Claims during the Sixty-third Congress.[3]


On May 14, 1914, Bradley announced his intent to retire from politics upon the completion of his term, owing to the decline of his general health. Hurrying to board a streetcar following his announcement, Bradley suffered a serious fall, sustaining two broken fingers, head trauma, and likely, internal injuries. After briefly attempting to return to his duties, he became bedfast, and died on May 23, 1914. His official cause of death was listed as uraemia.[4]

Upon Bradley's death, both houses of Congress passed resolutions expressing their sympathy, and promptly adjourned out of respect.[4] His body was returned to Frankfort, Kentucky for burial, but in accordance with the wishes of Bradley and his family, his body did not lie in state.[4] He was buried in the state cemetery in Frankfort.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Kentucky Governor William O'Connell Bradley". National Governors Association. http://www.nga.org/portal/site/nga/menuitem.29fab9fb4add37305ddcbeeb501010a0/?vgnextoid=89ae470792831110VgnVCM1000001a01010aRCRD&vgnextchannel=e449a0ca9e3f1010VgnVCM1000001a01010aRCRD. Retrieved 2007-05-10.  
  2. ^ a b c d The Encyclopedia of Kentucky. New York, New York: Somerset Publishers. 1987. ISBN 0403099811.  
  3. ^ a b c d e "Bradley, William O’Connell, (1847 - 1914)". United States Congress. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=B000749. Retrieved 2007-05-10.  
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Bradley, William O. (1916). Stories and speeches of William O. Bradley. biographical sketch by M.H. Thatcher. Lexington, Kentucky: Transylvania Printing Company. http://kdl.kyvl.org/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=kyetexts;cc=kyetexts;sid=f828de85cd8570405440a2fc63788677;q1=james%20f.%20robinson;idno=b92-152-29699145;view=toc.  
  5. ^ a b c d e f g McAfee, John J. (1886). Kentucky politicians : sketches of representative Corncrackers and other miscellany. Louisville, Kentucky: Press of the Courier-Journal job printing company. http://kdl.kyvl.org/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=kyetexts;cc=kyetexts;sid=7c3b4143decaf4c8af264312f1bb5cd1;q1=beriah%20magoffin;idno=b92-77-27211894;view=toc.  
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Lowell H. Harrison, ed (2004). "William O'Connell Bradley)". Kentucky's Governors. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813123267.  
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Powell, Robert A. (1976). Kentucky Governors. Frankfort, Kentucky: Kentucky Images. OCLC 2690774.  
  8. ^ "Pulaski County Historical Fact Book II". Somerset Community College. http://web.archive.org/web/20050518004405/http://www.rootsweb.com/~kypulask/fact_book/nine.htm. Retrieved 2007-05-10.  
  9. ^ Powell records the date as July 11
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kleber, John E., ed (1992). "Bradley, William O'Connell". The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Associate editors: Thomas D. Clark, Lowell H. Harrison, and James C. Klotter. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813117720.  

Further reading

Political offices
Preceded by
John Y. Brown
Governor of Kentucky
1895 - 1899
Succeeded by
William S. Taylor
United States Senate
Preceded by
James B. McCreary
United States Senator (Class 3) from Kentucky
1909 - 1914
Succeeded by
Johnson N. Camden, Jr.


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