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Kentucky Congressman, Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, Kentucky Secretary of State, etc.; the first Postmaster General to hold a position in the Cabinet
William Taylor Barry was born near Lunenburg, Virginia, on February 5, 1784, and moved to Fayette County, Kentucky, with his parents John and Susannah (Dozier) Barry in 1796. He was educated in local common schools, Pisgah Academy, Kentucky Academy, and Transylvania University, and graduated from William and Mary College in 1803. He then studied law with John Cowan, was admitted to the state bar in 1805, and established a practice in Lexington, Kentucky; he was appointed Commonwealth Attorney that same year.
Barry entered politics in 1807, when he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives. Elected to a second term in 1809, he left the Kentucky House in 1810 after being elected as a Democratic Republican to fill the U.S. House of Representatives vacancy caused by the resignation of Benjamin Howard; he served in that body from August 8, 1810 to March 3, 1811, and then returned to Kentucky and volunteered for service in the War of 1812.
Soon after returning to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1814, Barry was elected to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy caused by the death of George M. Bibb, and served from December 6, 1814 to May 1, 1816. He resigned from the Senate to take a position as judge for the Eleventh District of Kentucky, in which capacity he served until being returned to the Kentucky House in 1817. This tenure in the Kentucky House would prove to be his longest, as well as his most productive. During the Bank Panic of 1818, he became well known as an advocate for the relief of debtors and as a supporter of the state-funded Bank of the Commonwealth. He left the Kentucky House in 1821 to become Lieutenant Governor under Joseph Desha, in which position he served until 1822. During his tenure in this position, his "Barry Report of 1822" made a persuasive case for a system of free public education in the state.
Barry left politics in 1822 and became a professor of law and politics at Transylvania University, but resumed his political career to become Governor Desha's Secretary of State in 1824. In 1825, he was elected Chief Justice of the newly formed Kentucky State Court of Appeals, but was voted out of that office in 1825 and once again returned to his law practice. In 1828 he ran for Governor of Kentucky, but lost to Thomas Metcalfe by a narrow margin.
In 1829, President Andrew Jackson named Barry as the first Postmaster General of the United States to hold a position in the Cabinet. Most of his early tenure in this position was relatively uneventful, but as Congress's difficulties with President Jackson increased, some its anger towards his administration turned into an investigation into charges of misuse of funds within the Post Office Department. Although Barry was eventually cleared of any personal wrongdoing, he denounced the inquiry as a purely political move designed to discredit Jackson, who was finally forced to ask for his resignation on April 10, 1835. Jackson tempered this blow by naming Barry Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary on May 1, 1835, but Barry died of a heart attack in Liverpool, England, while on his way to his post in Madrid, on August 30, 1835. Originally buried in England, his remains were reintered in the State Cemetery at Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1854.
William Taylor Barry was married twice. His first wife, Lucy Overton, gave him a daughter, Susan Lacy; son Andrew Jackson was born to his second wife, Catherine Mason.
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This page was last updated on June 19, 2017.