Secretary of State

Joseph Cabell Breckinridge

Term of OfficeSeptember 2, 1820 - September 1, 1823
PartyJeffersonian Republican
Governor during his term of OfficeGov. John Adair
Assistant Secretary of StateCuthbert S. Anderson (9/9/1820 - 5/15/1821); Terence Cooney (5/15/1821 - 8/26/1822); Robert J. Waggener (8/26/1822 - 9/2/1823)
EducationStudied with Dr. Archibald Alexander; graduate of Princeton (New Jersey)
Spouse(s)Mary Clay Smith
ChildrenJohn C.; Mary, Frances, Caroline & 2 unknown
ParentsJohn and Mary (Cabell) Breckinridge
ResidenceKentucky (Lexington, Fayette County)
OccupationAttorney; Professor of Religion
Birth Date7/14/1788
Birth PlaceVirginia (Albemarle County)
Date of Death9/1/1823
Cause of DeathFever
Other State Offices HeldKentucky House of Representatives (1816-1818); chosen as Speaker of the House
Military ServiceWar of 1812 (served as Major with General Samuel Hopkins)

Mary Clay Smith was the daughter of Princeton's president, Dr. Samuel Stanhope Smith.

He was one of the founders & ruling elders of the Second Presbyterian Church in Lexington.

On Aug. 27, 1822, the General Assembly approved the payment of $51 "in favor of David Jones for services rendered in the Secretary's office from the 6th Sep 1820 until 26th Aug 1822 at $.50 per week." (ref: Adair's Executive Journal, entry for Aug 27, 1822, no page number). Jones' duties are not identified.

QuoteDr. Lewis Collins said of Breckinridge, "He carried his religious character wherever he went, and died as he had lived, a Christian gentleman. His life is worthy of study, and his example of imitation."

Joseph Cabell Breckinridge was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, on July 14, 1788. His parents were John and Mary (Cabell) Breckinridge. In 1793, his family moved to Lexington. He studied with Dr. Archibald Alexander and then entered Princeton in 1804. He studied there until 1806 when his father died, and he returned to finish his studies in 1810. After graduating, he studied law and began his law practice in Lexington. Breckinridge served as a major with General Samuel Hopkins during the War of 1812.

In 1816, he was elected to the Kentucky House. In 1817 and 1818, he was reelected and was chosen as Speaker of the House. In 1820, he was appointed Secretary of State by Governor John Adair. He moved to Frankfort to serve in this position and also to practice law. He died suddenly of a fever on September 1, 1823.

Joseph Breckinridge married Mary Clay Smith, the daughter of Princeton’s president, Dr. Samuel Stanhope Smith, soon after his graduation. The couple had four daughters and one son. In addition to one daughter who never married, the couple had Mary, Frances, and Caroline, and one son, John Cabell. (Note: “The Kentucky Encyclopedia” states Joseph & Mary Smith Breckinridge were the parents of six children: 5 daughters & 1 son.)


"Biographical Encyclopedia," (1878), page 19;

Collins, "History of Kentucky, Vol. II," (1874), page 198.