Secretary of State

Caleb Powers

Term of OfficeJanuary 1, 1900 - May 21, 1900
PartyRepublican
Significant AccomplishmentsElected Kentucky Secretary of State in 1899 at age 30, however the election was contested. After the assassination of Democratic gubernatorial candidate, William Goebel, in January 1900, Powers faced criminal charges. He was unable to complete his term in office.
Governor during his term of OfficeWilliam S. Taylor; William Goebel; J.C.W. Beckham
EducationUnion College (Barbourville, Knox County, Kentucky); Agricultural & Mechanical College (later called the University of Kentucky, Lexington, Fayette County); U.S. Military Academy; Law Department of Northern Indiana Normal School at Valparaiso, Indiana; post-graduate work at Centre College (Danville, Boyle County, Kentucky)
Spouse(s)Laura Rawlings; Dorothy (maiden name unknown)
ParentsAmos & Elizabeth (Perkins) Powers
ResidenceKentucky (Barbourville, Whitley County); Washington, D.C.
OccupationAttorney
Birth Date2/1/1869
Birth PlaceKentucky (Whitley County)
Date of Death7/25/1932
Place of DeathMaryland (Baltimore)
Place of BurialKentucky (Barbourville Cemetery, Knox County)
National OfficesU.S. Congress (1911-1919); Assistant Counsel for the U.S. Shipping Board (1921-1932)
County Offices HeldSuperintendent of Public Schools (Knox County, Ky.), 1894-1899
NoteThe gunshot that resulted in the assassination of William Goebel, Democratic gubernatorial candidate, was reputedly fired from the Secretary of State's office corner window, located on the second floor of the Old Capitol Annex. Powers was in another county when the shooting occurred. (ref: "Kentucky Encyclopedia".) To research Gov. Taylor's pardon of Goebel, see the Timeline on this website. Gov. Augustus Willson's pardon of Powers will be added. The May 21, 1900, date for the end of Powers' service was derived from Gov. Taylor's Executive Journal.
Historical FirstsFirst Kentucky Secretary of State convicted as an accessory to murder. After a fourth trial, which resulted in a deadlocked jury, he was pardoned by Gov. Augustus Willson. Powers had served 8 years in jail.

Caleb Powers was born in Whitley County, Kentucky, on February 1, 1869. He was the son of Amos Powers, a farmer, and Elizabeth (Perkins) Powers. He was educated in the Knox County public schools before studying at Union College and the Agricultural and Mechanical College (later the University of Kentucky). In 1891, he had to leave the U. S. Military Academy because of poor eyesight. He later studied in the law department at Northern Indiana Normal School at Valparaiso, Indiana, and graduated in 1894. Also, in 1894 he was admitted to the bar. He took a postgraduate course in law at Centre College.

Powers began practicing law in Barbourville. He was elected as a Republican Superintendent of Public Schools in Knox County, serving from 1894 to 1899. His educational reforms helped secure his nomination and election as Secretary of State, at age thirty, in 1899. The election was contested, however, and the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, William Goebel, was assassinated.

Powers was arrested and indicted as an accessory to murder. He was convicted in a series of three highly partisan, controversial trials. A fourth trial in January 1908 resulted in a deadlocked jury. Six months later Republican Governor Augustus Willson pardoned Powers. He had served eight years in jail, and then he spent as many years in Congress, from March 1911 to March 1919. He was not a candidate for reelection in 1918.

He moved to Washington, D.C., in 1921 and served as assistant counsel for the U. S. Shipping Board until his death in Baltimore on July 25, 1932. He is buried in the City Cemetery.

Caleb Powers married Laura Rawlings in January 1896; she died six months later.

Upon his death, he was survived by his second wife, Dorothy, his daughter Elsie, two sisters, Mrs. Rebecca Green and Mrs. M. P. (Katherine) Lewallen, one brother, John Powers, and one half-sister, Mrs. Nancy Blakely Croley.

References:

"Caleb Powers, My Story", (1908);

"Kentucky Encyclopedia", (1992);

"Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1949", (1950);

Obituary, "Mountain Advocate" [Barbourville], July 29, 1932.

"Assassination at the State House: The Unsolved Mystery of Kentucky's Governor Goebel", Ron Elliott, McClanahan Publishing House, 1995.