Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Bunning Seat -- Jesse Bledsoe

Being a U.S. Senator wasn't such a great deal in 1814. You didn't get paid very much. Most of the real action was in the House. Washington itself was a bizarre place -- a mostly empty wasteland with a few huge buildings and some really broad streets that was overcrowded when Congress was in session and was largely deserted the rest of the time. Not to mention the mosquitoes. And things got worse after the British torched the place on August 24, 1814.

Maybe all of this explains why Jesse Bledsoe resigned from the Senate on Christmas Eve, 1814. I don't know. I can't find a good explanation. Some historians seem to have thought that he was merely serving out a partial term, but that was not correct. He was chosen for the full term in 1812 -- replacing John Pope, who had been chosen in 1806.

Anyway, let's backtrack a bit. Bledsoe was born in Culpeper County, Virginia in 1776. He was part of a prominent family of "Separate Baptists" -- a group closely related to the modern churches of Christ. In 1800 or so he began practicing law and was a member of the Kentucky House when he was chosen to go to the Senate. After less than two years, he gave up his seat.

It should also be noted that in January 1815 -- right after Bledsoe left Washington -- Barton W. Stone (the famous Restoration preacher) opened a school in Lexington, Kentucky. Stone later baptized Bledsoe -- a decision that later had significant consequences for Bledsoe.

Bledsoe served in the Kentucky Senate from 1817 to 1820, and became Judge of the Lexington Circuit Court in 1822. He also practiced law and taught at Transylvania (his alma mater). He was apparently quite a person -- a person known for his skill in classical languages who was regarded by Henry Clay as the strongest advocate he ever opposed.

But eventually he gave all this up to become a minister in the Restoration Movement. He moved to Mississippi in 1833 and went to Texas (which was not yet part of the United States) in 1835. He died at Nacagdoches on June 25, 1836.

One more point should be made. For reasons that I do not understand, the Wikipedia entry on Jesse Bledsoe reflects a number of personal attacks on his character, and even asserts that he died under circumstances that his kinfolk "could only describe as a significant fall from grace." I have no idea what this means. But for what it's worth, this book states that Bledsoe received in his last moments "every attention" that the citizens of Nacagdoches could render him. It also says that the Bledsoe family contributed significantly to the growth of churches of Christ in Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and California. For all I know, the story of Jesse Bledsoe is the story of a man who walked away from a very successful career to spread the Gospel. But I can't tell.

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