Kentucky by Heart: The Story of Ky. Governor AO Stanley Offers One of the State’s Most Interesting Stories
I believe that one of the most effective ways to learn about Kentucky’s past is to study its governors, who have always dealt with current issues. Having said that, I would start specifically with the person who was the state’s first and fifth CEO, Isaac Shelby (1792-1796 and 1812-1816).
I’ve written about Shelby in this column before and introduced him while teaching the Kentucky subject as a fourth grade teacher for 22 years. Ol ‘Isaac is probably my favorite from the 1800s, but recently I started looking at another Governor from the early 1900s who like Isaac Shelby had a catchy name and, in my opinion, owns the one of the most interesting stories. of the lot.
Augustus Owsley (AO) Stanley served from 1915 to 1919 as the 38th Governor. He was the son of a Disciples of Christ pastor and was born in Shelbyville in 1867. AO’s mother, Amanda Owsley Stanley, was the niece of the sixteenth governor, William Owsley. Fortthomasmatters.com reported that AO was given the name ‘Nudicut Owsley Stanley’ but ‘at the age of 10 he convinced his parents to change his first name to’ Augustus’ in honor of his grandmother Augusta Owsley in order to let no one call him NO Stanley. ” His own path to governorship and other political office took a roundabout path. After attending Gordon Academy in Nicholasville, he enrolled at Kentucky Agricultural and Mechanical College in Lexington and later Danville’s Center College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1889.
Stanley taught at school in several towns in Kentucky, but after “reading law” under Gilbert Cassidy in Flemingsburg, he was called to the bar in 1894. He ran for Fleming County attorney in 1897 and lost, and financial hardship sent him racing to Henderson where he married Sue Soper and became a legal partner of John L. Dorsey. He quickly got involved in local politics and was outspoken. Author / judge Bill Cunningham, in his book, Flames in the wind, called AO “a spellbinding orator. . . and although courteous and polite, he was never one to avoid saying exactly what he meant.
Driven by supporters, he ran as a Democrat in the United States House of Representatives, Kentucky Second District, in 1903, and won. He held the post for six terms, becoming, Cunningham said, a friend of western Kentucky farmers. The area of the state was heavily dependent on the tobacco industry, and when the market collapsed due to the monopoly practices of the Duke Trust, it fought hard in Congress to reinstate a devastating tax on the product. The era spawned the antitrust group called the “Night Riders,” which appealed to farmers in western Kentucky and Tennessee not to put their crops on the market (and who were known to indulge in terrorist actions for farmers who did not want to oblige them). Stanley spoke out against the group’s violence but understood why they were angry. His efforts in Congress were followed by the United States Supreme Court ruling in 1911 which dissolved the Duke Trust for violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
In 1914, Stanley decided not to run for his seventh term as a Representative and instead cast his spell by running for his lifelong dream job, the United States Senate, against JCW Beckham and James B. McCreary. Stanley finished second, but soon he entered the Kentucky governor’s race in 1915 (some believe to improve his chances of later winning the Senate). He beat Henry McChesney of Frankfurt in the primary and consequently faced Republican Edwin P. Morrow in the general race.
This is when things got interesting. The candidates had a warm friendship, but, according to Dr. Tom Appleton, Jr. Governors of Kentucky, they “attacked each other verbally without mercy. Yet, in private, they enjoyed eating and drinking together, and were once observed walking with their arms around their shoulders. The race was remarkably close, with Stanley beating Morrow by just 471 votes.
Stanley was fortunate to have Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature, but there were always arguments by hostile political forces, especially with the alcohol issue. A “dry” amendment was proposed that saw the defeat of both houses, and temperance leaders criticized Stanley profusely. However, he succeeded in pushing through much of his progressive agenda: a corrupt practices law, an antitrust law, a workers’ compensation measure, and a convicted labor bill, but not a Law on the State Tax Structure until 1917.
With the alcohol battle still ongoing, Stanley allowed a ban amendment to be introduced in a referendum. It was passed, and Kentucky became the first wet state to ratify the 18th Amendment proposed by the national government. In another controversial topic during his tenure, Stanley received a lot of criticism when he vetoed a bill to ban the teaching of German in Kentucky schools (Germany was the main enemy of the United States in World War I).
While still serving his governor’s term, Kentucky Senator Ollie M. James, a candidate for re-election, died; Stanley was chosen to replace James as the candidate and he won the election. A long-held dream of becoming a senator had come true. But whether it was bad timing or some other reason, Stanley possessed little influence as a freshman senator, had few accomplishments, and lost four years later to re-election.
After serving in Congress and as governor, Stanley returned to private life in the nation’s capital. He was appointed to the International Joint Commission by President Herbert Hoover and appointed president three years later, but later resigned under pressure from the Eisenhower administration.
You could rightly say that in hindsight, AO Stanley won and lost as a public servant, but no one can say that he was not involved in the important affairs of the time.
Sources: Flames in the wind (1997) by Bill Cunningham; Governors of Kentucky (Updated version 2004) article by Thomas H. Appleton, Jr .; Governors of Kentucky (Kentucky Images Magazine, 1984) edited by Robert Powell; The Kentucky Encyclopedia (1992) editor John Kleber; Wikipedia; Fortthomasmatters.com