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John Cabell Breckinridge. Hand-colored lithograph on paper, c. 1865, by Currier & Ives Lithography Company. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.


Breckinridge, John Cabell (21 January 1821–17 May 1875), vice president of the United States and Confederate general, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of Joseph Cabell Breckinridge and Mary Clay Smith. Breckinridge was an only son born into a devoutly Presbyterian family that was distinguished by its leading role in the early history of the Jeffersonian Republican party in Kentucky. His grandfather was a U.S. senator, and his father was a lawyer and Kentucky state representative whose death in 1823 left the young Breckinridge to be raised by his mother and a grandmother at a family estate near Lexington. Breckinridge graduated from Centre College, Kentucky, in 1839, read law at the College of New Jersey in Princeton, and returned home to finish his legal studies at Transylvania University. He received his law degree in 1841 and moved to Burlington, Iowa, to start his law practice. Two years later he was permanently back in Kentucky, where he married Mary Cyrene Burch in 1843; they had six children....