Rotarians Get a History Lesson

Published 8:38 am Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Danville Rotary

Ron Elliott has degrees in math and computer science, but his passion is history.  After he retired he began researching and writing about headline events in Kentucky history.  Elliott has written eight well received books, including “Through the Eyes of Lincoln”, “Inside the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire, and “Sinister Influences UK’s Fabulous Five and the 1951 Point Shaving Scandal”.  In 2012 he was awarded the Outstanding Literary Award by the Kentucky Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

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A relative of Elliott was involved in the assassination of 1900 would be governor, William Goebel.  Elliott has deeply research that event and wrote about it in his book, “Assassination at the State House”.  That was topic he chose for his 5/5/2017 luncheon address to the Danville Rotary Club.

“In 1859 the Kentucky Democratic party began a 36 year run of controlling the state government in Frankfort.  They began to think they owned the state house.  Then in 1896 the unthinkable happened…William O’Connell Bradley, a republican, was elected as the 32nd Governor of Kentucky.  The following year Kentucky went Republican in the presidential primary, supporting William McKinley Jr. over Democrat William Jennings Bryan.  Kentucky’s Democrats were incensed, “this ain’t right…we gotta do something about this…”

“Their solution became known as the Goebel Election Law, because it was written by William Goebel.  At the time Goebel was the senate majority leader.  The primary provision of that law was the creation of a three-member state election commission, appointed by the General Assembly. This system allowed the Democratically controlled General Assembly to appoint fellow Democrats to the election commission.  The commission’s rulings were “final and conclusive”.   The commission members did not answer to anybody.  Of course the appointees were solid Goebel supporters.  Not surprisingly Goebel got the party’s nomination for governor and the rest of the party split off.  A disgruntled faction calling themselves the “Honest Election Democrats” held a separate convention and nominated John Y. Brown for governor.”

“Republican William S. Taylor defeated both Democratic candidates in the general election, but his margin over Goebel was only 2,383 votes.  Initially the election commission certified the result.  Not to be stopped, Goebel had the Goebel Election Law amended to say that if the election result was contested, the three member election commission did not have the authority to certify the election.  Under the amendment the result could only be certified by the state legislature.  Then, the next day, Goebel contested the election.  The Assembly then invalidated enough Republican ballots to give the election to Goebel.”

“The Republicans responded by organizing the “Mountain Army”.  People came from all over the state to protest, and they occupied the capital grounds.  For several days, the state hovered on the brink of a civil war.”

“While the election results remained in dispute, Goebel, despite being warned of a rumored assassination plot against him, walked flanked by two bodyguards to the Old State Capitol on the morning of January 30, 1900.  Reports conflict about what happened, but some five or six shots were fired from the nearby State Building, one striking Goebel in the chest and wounding him seriously. Taylor, serving as governor pending a final decision on the election, called out the militia and ordered the General Assembly into a special session.  The day after being shot, the dying Goebel was sworn in as governor. In his only act, Goebel signed a proclamation to dissolve the militia called up by Taylor, which was ignored by the militia’s Republican commander.”

“Sixteen people, including Taylor, were eventually indicted in the assassination of Governor Goebel. Three accepted immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony. Only five ever went to trial, two of those being acquitted.  Convictions were handed down against Taylor’s Secretary of State Caleb Powers, Henry Youtsey, and Jim Howard. The prosecution charged that Powers was the mastermind, having a political opponent killed so that his boss, Governor Taylor, could stay in office. Youtsey was an alleged intermediary, and Howard, who was said to have been in Frankfort to seek a pardon from Taylor for the killing of a man in a family feud, was accused of being the actual assassin.”