General Simon Bolivar Buckner Part 3

Postbellum

 

Governor Simon Bolivar BucknerThe Federals paroled Buckner on June 9, 1865.  However, the conditions of his parole prohibited him from returning to Kentucky for three years.  He remained in New Orleans during this period as a member of the staff of the Daily Crescent newspaper, and later served of the board of directors of a fire insurance company, of which he became president in 1867.

Buckner returned to Kentucky when he was eligible in 1868 and became editor of the Louisville Courier.  Following lengthy legal battles, he returned to his estate, Glen Lily, in Munfordville in 1877 with his daughter and widowed sister, his wife having died in 1874.  The three worked together to restore the estate until 1883 when his daughter married and moved to Louisville and his sister died.

Alone now, Buckner turned to politics.  He had been a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1868.  By 1883, Buckner was a candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, but withdrew his name in a three-way race and was subsequently rewarded when J. Proctor Knott won the election and appointed Buckner to the board of trustees for the Kentucky Agricultural and Mechanical College (later the University of Kentucky) in 1884.

On June 10, 1885, Buckner married Delia Claiborne of Richmond, Virginia. Buckner was 62; Claiborne was 28.  Their son, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., was born on July 18, 1886.

 

Governor of Kentucky

In 1887, Buckner won election to governor of Kentucky over the Republican candidate by a plurality of 16,797 votes in a four-way race.  As governor, Buckner proposed a number of progressive ideas, most of which were rejected by the legislature. Among his successes were the creation of a state board of tax equalization, creation of a parole system for convicts, and codification of school laws. His failed proposals included creation of a department of justice, greater local support for education and better protection for forests.

A major financial scandal erupted in 1888 when Buckner ordered a routine audit of the state’s finances which showed that the state’s longtime treasurer had mismanaged the state’s revenue and embezzled the state’s money for the past sixteen years.  Faced with the prospect that his malfeasance would be discovered, the Treasurer absconded with nearly $250,000 of state funds.

During the 1888 session, the General Assembly passed 1,571 bills, exceeding the total passed by any other session in the state’s history. Only about 150 of these bills were of a general nature; the rest were special interest bills passed for the private gain of legislators and those in their constituencies. Buckner vetoed 60 of these special interest bills, more than had been vetoed by the previous ten governors combined. Ignoring Buckner’s clear intent to veto special interest bills, the 1890 legislature passed over 1,800 special interest bills. Buckner vetoed 50 of these. His reputation for rejecting special interest bills led the Kelley Axe Factory, the largest axe factory in the country at the time, to present him with a ceremonial “Veto Hatchet”.

When a tax cut passed in 1890 in spite of Buckner’s veto drained the state treasury, the governor loaned the state enough money to remain solvent until tax revenue came in. Later that year, he was chosen as a delegate to the state’s constitutional convention. In this capacity, he unsuccessfully sought to extend the governor’s appointment powers and levy taxes on churches, clubs, and schools that made a profit.

 

Later career

After his term as governor, Buckner returned to Glen Lily. In 1896, the National Democratic Party split from the Democratic Party over the issue of using silver as a form of currency in addition to the existing gold standard.  The new party nominated Buckner for vice president on a ticket with former Union general John Palmer (Illinois).  Palmer and Buckner both had developed reputations as independent executives while serving as governors of their respective states. Because they had served on opposite sides during the Civil War, their presence on the same ticket emphasized national unity. Despite receiving endorsements for major national newspapers, the ticket was hurt by the candidates’ ages, Palmer being 79 and Buckner 73. They received just over one percent of the vote in the election.

Following this defeat, Buckner retired to Glen Lily and remained active in politics but split from the Democratic Party.  At 80 years of age, Buckner memorized five of Shakespeare’s plays when cataracts threatened to blind him.  An operation saved his sight.

On a visit to the White House in 1904, Buckner asked President Theodore Roosevelt to appoint his only son as a cadet at West Point, and Roosevelt quickly agreed.  That son, Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., became the commander of the US force which invaded Okinawa in 1945.  He was killed on Okinawa during mopping up operations. Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. was the most senior American officer killed in action during WW2.

Following the deaths of Stephen D. Lee and Alexander P. Stewart in 1908, Buckner became the last surviving Confederate soldier with the rank of lieutenant general.  In 1912, his health began to fail and he died on January 8, 1914, after a week-long bout with uremic poisoning.  He lies in Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

 

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