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William Campbell Preston Breckinridge Passes Away

Today in Masonic History William Campbell Preston Breckinridge passes away in 1904.

William Campbell Preston Breckinridge was an American politician.

Breckenridge was born on August 28th, 1837 in Baltimore, Maryland. He first graduated from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky in 1855 before going on to earn his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the University of Louisville in 1857. After graduation he moved to Lexington, Kentucky to begin practicing law.

In 1861, Breckenridge joined the Confederate Army as a captain. By the end of the war he was a full colonel. After the war he returned to his legal practice in Lexington. He also taught jurisprudence at the University of Kentucky.

In 1885, Breckenridge was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He served five consecutive terms in Congress. His political career came to end when he was sued in 1893 for failing to follow through with a marriage proposal. It was that same year that he married Louise Scott Wing instead of Madeleine Pollard who brought the lawsuit. Despite Breckenridge's reputation in the legal field, he was unable to argue his way out of the lawsuit. The suit gained national attention and caused the end of his political career.

In 1901, Breckenridge spoke at the Convention of the State Federation of Labor in Lexington. His speech was eloquent, although not very popular with that particular audience. In his speech he extolled the virtues of a six-day work week, opposed violent strikes, and encouraged negotiations. The following day, the Vice President of the Federation passed several resolutions which called Breckinridge an "enemy of the trade and labor organizations of the state." This caused a split in the federation's membership.

Breckenridge had strong opinions about racial equality. He once said that the sooner Americans rid themselves of cruel racists in their midsts, "the sooner they will realize that their institutions are in no danger, their civilization is not at stake, and that their permanent and practical undisputed sway can not be overturned." He opposed literacy tests and other paraphernalia of disfranchisement. He also said that he hoped that someday, "all races might enjoy a common liberty secured by an imperial law." He was also a supporter of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. Both Washington and Du Bois published books that Breckenridge recommend to the readership of the Lexington Observer and Reporter, a newspaper that Breckenridge took over editing in 1866. He called Du Bois' book The Souls of Black Folk, the most significant and remarkable book published by an African-American up to that point.

Breckenridge was part of the movement known as New Departure. New Departure was a strategy employed by Democrats trying to distance themselves from the pro-slavery element of the party. Breckenridge and other New Departure Democrats believed that admitting the Black race to the full employment of his civil rights, including the right to testify against whites, was a prerequisite for progress. Along those lines when Breckinridge ran for states attorney of Boyle County in 1869, he ran on the platform that in he intended to admit black testimony in all cases and upheld Fayette County as an example that should be followed by the whole state.

Breckenridge predicted a better day for race relations in America stating:

"Barriers will be removed, prejudices will die, class distinctions be obliterated. Not at once, not in our day; not without fierce contest; not without heroism and sacrifice, but yet slowly, surely, the day grows stronger; the sun rises higher toward the better noon and the glad twilight."

Breckenridge also said "The Negro is a man and the race in its essential unity is one race. Of one blood were all men made."

Breckenridge passed away on November 18th, 1904.

Breckenridge was a member of Lexington Lodge No. 1 in Lexington, Kentucky.

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