Saturday, December 3, 2011

Whiteside Godfrey Hunter (1841-1917)

From the collection of the Kentucky Historical Society.

   A distinguished but now obscure political figure, Whiteside Godfrey Hunter is in all likelihood the only "Whiteside" ever to be elected to political office in the United States. Born of humble beginnings in Ireland, Hunter would later immigrate to the United States, settling first in Pennsylvania and later Kentucky. He would attain prominence in politics in the latter state, serving three terms in the Kentucky legislature. Hunter later was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions of 1880, 1892 and 1896 and between 1886 and 1903 was elected to three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from Kentucky. Hunter would gain additional notoriety on the diplomatic front when he was named as U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala and Honduras.
   Born in Londonderry, Ireland on Christmas Day 1841, Whiteside Godfrey Hunter's early education occurred in his native country and would immigrate to the United States in 1858. Hunter originally settled in the New Castle, Pennsylvania area and soon after took up the study of medicine in PhiladelphiaAfter being licensed to practice in his chosen profession, Hunter enlisted in the Union Army and served as an assistant surgeon with the 149th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He would later join the 211th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (serving as its chief surgeon) and is recorded as having participated "in all the great battles fought by the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula to Appomattox".
    At the close of the hostilities, W. Godfrey Hunter relocated to Burkesville, Kentucky, becoming what was referred to then as a "carpetbagger". He married to Susan Josephine Alexander (1850-1923) in Burkesville in September 1869.The couple were wed until his death and were the parents of three children, Blanche, William and W. Godfrey Jr
   In 1874 Godfrey entered the political forum for the first time, winning election to the Kentucky House of Representatives from Cumberland County. He would serve three terms in that body and in 1880 was named as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Chicago, where he was one of over three hundred delegates that lobbied for ex-President Grant to be nominated for a third term. Despite their efforts, the Republican nomination instead went to James Garfield from Ohio.

Hunter during his time in Congress.

    Through the late 1870s and early 1880s Hunter became acknowledged as a leading Republican political figure in Kentucky, and in 1878 and 1882 made two unsuccessful runs for Congress. In 1886 he launched another campaign for Congress and was successful, besting Democratic nominee John Rhea that November by a vote of 13, 379 to 12, 372Hunter would lose his reelection bid in 1888 to Republican Isaac Herschel Goodnight (1849-1901) and in 1892 narrowly lost to Goodnight for the second timeIn 1894 Goodnight declined renomination and that November Hunter went on to win his second term in the house, defeating Democrat C.V. McElroy by a vote of 16,545 to 15,444.
   Serving in the session of 1895-96, Hunter was named to the house committees on Coinage, Weights and Measures and Levees and Improvements. In 1896 Hunter set his sights on the U.S. Senate but saw his hopes dashed when the Kentucky legislature deadlocked and elected William J. DeBoe instead. Despite losing out on the senatorial nod, Hunter was dealt further consternation when bribery accusations were leveled against him in connection with that election. The New Albany, Indiana weekly reported on those charges in late 1897 and noted that "he was recently tried on those charges and acquitted."

                                 Hunter as he appeared in the New Albany Weekly Tribune, Dec. 3, 1897.

   In November 1896 Hunter lost his bid for a third congressional term, being defeated by John S. Rhea. Despite this loss, bigger things were in store for Hunter, and in late 1897 he was appointed by President William McKinley as United States Minister to Guatemala and Honduras. The appointment was widely lauded by Kentucky newspapers of the time, and Hunter would serve in that capacity until December 1902.
   Following his return to the United States, Hunter was elected to his third and final term in Congress in November 1903, narrowly winning a special election that had been occasioned by the death of Kentucky representative Vincent Boreing, who had died in office some weeks previously. Hunter served until March 1905, having declined renomination the previous November. At the conclusion of his term, Hunter returned to Louisville, Kentucky and there engaged in land development until his death on November 2, 1917, having suffered from hemorrhages of the kidneys in the days prior to his death. He was survived by his wife Susan and both were interred at the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

From the Maysfield Daily Public Ledger, November 22, 1897.

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