Monday, August 28, 2006

Breach of Promise

William C.P. Breckinridge, a notorious Democratic U.S. congressman from Kentucky (1885-95), was born on this day in 1837 in Baltimore, Maryland.

A member of a prominent Kentucky family (his grandfather, John, was a U.S. senator and attorney general, and his second cousin, John C., was U.S. vice president), William served as a cavalry colonel in the Confederate Army and ultimately as Jefferson Davis' body guard during the Civil War. After period of post-War rehabilitation as an editor and law professor, Breckinridge followed the flow of family bloodlines into politics, serving in Congress, showing his oratorical prowess and getting mentioned as possible presidential material.

On his political rounds, he lectured at women's schools on the virtue of chastity. During a rail trip in 1884, the married congressman met 17-year old Madeleine Pollard, a student at Wesleyan Female Seminary in Cincinnati, and began illicit affair with her, siring two children with her as he smuggled her from Cincinnati to Lexington to Washington. After almost 9 years, however, when the then-current Mrs. Breckinridge passed away, Mr. Breckinridge shocked Miss Pollard and his friends alike when he took Louise Scott Wing as his wife.

Miss Pollard countered by hauling Breckinridge into court on a claim of breach of promise, and the whole sad affair burst onto the front pages of the newspapers. Breckinridge at first denied that he had any relationship with Miss Pollard, but afterwards, when his story unraveled, he claimed that Miss Pollard was a "fallen woman" who did not deserve the law's protection. Public opinion quickly turned against Breckinridge, and the jury awarded Miss Pollard $15,000.

Breckinridge nevertheless ran for reelection in 1894, crying, a la Swaggart, as he asked for his constituents' forgiveness in a speech at the Louisville Opera House. The turnout for the election was the highest in the history of the district, resulting in Breckinridge's defeat by a few hundred votes.

It was the end of Breckinridge's political career. He died on November 18, 1904 in Lexington, Kentucky.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ron/Dad al la Swaggart. That was a good one . I had a good laugh.

11:55 PM  

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