James A. McKenzie was born on August 1, 1840, in Bennettstown in Christian County, Kentucky. He attended the common schools of Christian County and, later, Centre College in Danville. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1861; he practiced law in Hopkinsville and was also engaged in farming.
A lifelong Democrat, he served in the Kentucky Legislature from 1867 to 1871. He then was elected to three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1877-83) but failed to secure renomination in 1883. He served as Kentucky Secretary of State during the administration of J. Proctor Knott (1883-88).
He nominated James G. Carlisle for President at the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis in 1888 and was the commissioner from Kentucky to the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893. President Grover Cleveland appointed him Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Peru. James McKenzie was widely regarded as a speaker of uncommon eloquence.
He married Amelia C. Parish Blakey on August 16, 1864, in Christian County; the couple had three children: Mamie L. (McKenzie) Potter, James A. McKenzie, and Kate A. McKenzie.
He retired to his farm near Long View and died at Oak Grove in Christian County on June 25, 1904. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Bowling Green.
Samuel Elliott Carpenter, ed., "Illustrated Centennial Record of the State of Kentucky," (Louisville, 1892), pgs 22-23;
H. Levin, "Lawyers and Lawmakers of Kentucky," (Chicago, 1897), pgs 443-44;
"Biographical Directory of the American Congress," (Washington, D.C., 1949), pg 1305;
"Kentucky Marriages, 1851-1900";
no obituary located.