Wickliffe Trial

In 1829, Robert Wickliffe was running for the legislature from Fayette County.  Wickliffe was a large slave holder.  During the campaign, the Kentucky Gazette ran an unsigned letter “defaming” him.  The Gazette was published by Thomas R. Benning.  Charles Wickliffe, Robert’s son, published on March 4, 1829 an article in the rival Kentucky Reporter calling Benning “a vile wretch, fiend, poltroon and slander.”  On March 9, Wickliffe, armed with a pistol, visited Benning’s office at the Gazette and demanded the name of the unsigned letter’s writer.  After an argument, Benning was killed.[i]

Wickliffe was charged with murder.  His family hired Henry Clay and John J. Crittenden to defend him.  He was tried at the courthouse on March 11, 1829.  During summation, Clay delivered a stirring oratory on the natural right to self-defense.  The jury, mostly pro-slavery, returned a not guilty verdict in five minutes.  Wickliffe was killed later that year, in a duel with George Trotter, the new editor of the Kentucky Gazette.[ii]

 

[i] Wright, pages 58-59, Coleman (Squire’s), pages 34-35 and Kentucky Reporter, March 11, 1829.

[ii] Wright, pages 58-59, Coleman (Squire’s), pages 34-35 and Kentucky Reporter, March 11, 1829.

References: 
William M. Ambrose, Bluegrass Court Houses, Limestone Press, Lexington, 2013.
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