Little Bits of History

February 3

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 3, 2017

1900: William Goebel, 34th Governor of Kentucky, dies. Goebel was born in 1856 in Pennsylvania to German immigrant parents. He was born two months early and weighed less than three pounds at birth. He miraculously survived. His father served with the Pennsylvania Infantry during the US Civil War and after his discharge, moved the family to Covington, Kentucky. William was apprenticed to a jeweler in Cincinnati, Ohio just across the river from his family home and then went to apprentice with a law firm of Kentucky Governor, John Stevenson. Goebel eventually became a partner in the firm after he graduated from Cincinnati Law School. He had to support his family after his father’s death and eventually partnered with John Carlisle, a Kentucky State Senator, before returning to Stevenson.

Goebel never married, the only Kentucky Governor to remain a bachelor, and was not particularly social, although he was of above average intellect and well read. While he didn’t socialize, he knew what the common man was hoping to have the government do for him. In 1887,  James Bryan vacated his seat in the State Senate and Goebel chose to run for it, representing Covington. His platform of railroad regulation and his support of labor causes, along with the backing of Stevenson, should have made it easy for him to win, a third party rose in the area with about the same platform. Democrat Goebel won the election by just 56 votes. It was a partial term of two years before another election and he needed to make a name for himself quickly.

He did so by actually following through on his campaign promises and he won reelection easily. While he was able to discern what the voting public wanted, his lack of social skills hurt his political life. He was known as irascible and easily broke alliances if a better deal came along. He was able to use the political machinery to help advance his own personal agenda. This earned him several unflattering nicknames – “Boss Bill”, “the Kenton King”, “Kenton Czar”, “King William”, and “William the Conqueror” among them.

During the 1899 Governor’s race, he made many enemies. He divided the Democrat party into factions at a time when the Republican party was gaining strength in the state. Along with his abrasive personality, he was at a political disadvantage. However, he managed to defeat William Taylor. The race over, the animosity remained as results were in dispute. Goebel was walking to the Old State Capitol on January 30,1900 flanked by two bodyguards when he was shot in the chest. He was seriously wounded and Taylor called out the militia. Even with all this, on the following day, Goebel was sworn in as governor. His only act as head of state was to cancel the call for the militia. He died on this day and with his death, a peace of sorts returned. His lieutenant governor, JCW Beckham, was given the leadership. Everyone charged in connection with the assassination was acquitted or pardoned and the killer remains unknown. Goebel remains the only US governor to be assassinated while in office.

In politics stupidity is not a handicap. – Napoleon Bonaparte

One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician’s objective. Election and power are. – Cal Thomas

Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. – John Kenneth Galbraith

Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage. – Ambrose Bierce


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