Helm, John Larue
March 10, 2007 01:31PM
Lawyers and Lawmakers of Kentucky, by H. Levin, editor, 1897. Published
by Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago. Reprinted by Southern Historical
Press. p. 194. Hardin County.

JOHN LARUE HELM, governor of Kentucky, speaker of the house and senate
and one of the most celebrated lawyers of Kentucky, was born at Helm Place,
near Elizabethtown, Hardin county, on the 4th of July, 1802, and died
here September 8, 1867. He descended from Virginian ancestry and belonged
to one of the prominent pioneer families of Kentucky. His grandfather,
Thomas Helm, came to this state from Williams county, Virginia, in 1780
and located on the site of the present city of Louisville. The following
year he removed to Elizabethtown and located at Helm Place, where he
erected a fort for protection against the Indians. His son, George Helm,
born in 1774, was therefore but six years of age when brought by his
parents to the new country beyond the mountains. He was a prominent
pioneer and during the greater part of his active business life followed
agricultural pursuits, but was also a leading factor in the public affairs
of the new county, and represented his district in the state legislature.
He married Rebecca Larue, also of an old family, and one of their nine
children was John Larue Helm, whose name introduces this review.
On the old homestead where his grandfather had located he spent his
early youth, and acquired his literary education in the schools of the
neighborhood. Even in his boyhood days he became connected with official
duties in the interest of the public, serving in a clerical position in
the office of circuit clerk. Here his close application to duty and his
ready adaptability attracted the most notable men of the state, who
directed his studies and encouraged and inspired him to seek the best and
highest life could yield.
He began the study of law while serving as deputy circuit clerk
under Samuel Haycraft. In 1821 he became a law student in the office of
Benjamin Tobin and in 1823 was admitted to the bar. He soon established
a lucrative practice and purchased the old Helm Place, which continued
to be his home throughout the remainder of his life. In 1824 he was
appointed county attorney for Meade county and by re-election held that
office for sixteen years. In 1825 he was elected to the lower house of
the state legislature by the old court party and was one of the youngest
members ever in the assembly. It was an honor well merited although one
conferred upon few of his age. He was re-elected in 1827, 1830, 1833,
1835, 1836, 1837, 1839, 1842 and 1843, serving in all for eleven years.
The year following his retirement from the house of representatives he
was elected to the state senate, where he served from 1844 until 1848.
He was elected speaker of the house in 1835, 1836, 1839, 1842 and 1843,
and made one of the most able presiding officers that ever filled that
position in the general assembly. He was a fine disciplinarian,
extremely just in his rulings and adorned and honored the position. In
1838 he was the candidate of the Whig party for congress, but met defeat.
On his retirement from the senate in 1848 he was elected lieutenant
governor of the state, on the Whig ticket, and by virtue of this office
was chairman of the senate in 1848-9. In 1850 Governor John J. Crittenden
resigned the office of chief executive of the state to become attorney
general in the cabinet of President Fillmore, and in consequence Mr. Helm
took the oath of office and became the eighteenth governor of Kentucky,
serving until the expiration of the term in 1851.
Mr. Helm then resumed legal practice and the care of his farm. His
clientage was extensive and of a very important character. He conducted
the litigation in many cases which attracted widespread attention, and
his fame as a jurist equaled that which attended his political career.
For a few years after his service as governor Mr. Helm, though actively
interested in political affairs, and a recognized leader of his party,
held no office, save that of presidential elector in 1853. His attention,
however, was given to a business enterprise that has resulted most
beneficially to the state. In 1854 he became president of the Louisville
& Nahsville Railroad Company. The road at that time was incomplete, the
stock greatly depreciated, and failure was prophesied by many, but the
business ability, dauntless perseverance and unconquerable energy of Mr.
Helm soon worked a transformation; the remainder of the road then
projected was constructed, and business of a substantial nature rapidly
increased. The line became an important highway of commerce, and the
material interests of the state were thereby largely promoted. He
continued in the presidency until 1860, when he resigned.
The era of civil war was approaching, and it was natural that one of
Mr. Helm's prominence, whose close study of public affairs had made him
familiar with the situation of the country, should take an active part in
the events of public importance at that period. He was opposed to
secession from the Union, and also most strongly opposed to the war
policy of the president of the United States. He was chairman of the
state convention which met on the 8th of January, 1861, and declared
neutrality for Kentucky in the war, but he gave one of his sons, Ben
Hardin Helm, a rising young lawyer of Louisville, where he was actively
engaged in the practice with H. W. Bruce, under the firm name of Helm &
Bruce, to the southern service. He rose to the rank of brigadier-general
and was killed at the battle of Chickamauga, September 20, 1863. After
the dissolution of the Whig party Mr. Helm allied himself with the
Democratic party and was again elected to the state senate, where he
served on the important committee of federal relations. In 1867 he
resigned in order to become the candidate of the Democracy for governor.
In the convention he was nominated on the first ballot, and though there
were three candidates in the field he was elected by an overwhelming
majority, receiving over ninety thousand votes, while the next highest
received only thirty thousand. He never entered upon the discharge of
the duties of the office, however, death coming to him only five days after
his inauguration. Too ill to go to Frankfort, the inaugural ceremonies
were performed in his home in Elizabethtown, September 3, 1867. Five
days later Governor Helm passed away.
In 1830 was celebrated the marriage of John Larue Helm and
Miss Lucinda Hardin, a most cultured and intelligent lady, a daughter of
Benjamin Hardin, one of Kentucky's most distinguished lawyers. When the
general assembly met in session in Frankfort an act was passed
appropriating to Mrs. Helm one year's salary of the chief executive, and
a committee consisting of two members of the senate and three of the
house was appointed to prepare resolutions of respect and sympathy, which
were to be published in connection with a biographical sketch of Governor
Helm and also the addresses delivered in the memorial service held in the
legislature. Three thousand copies were to be issued and one presented to
each member of the legislature. The name of Helm is perpetuated in the
legal profession of Kentucky by a son, James P. Helm, a leading lawyer of
Louisville, and the senior member of the firm of Helm & Bruce, the junior
member being the son of H. W. Bruce.
The public record of Governor Helm was without a blemish. He was
most true and faithful to all duties and obligations that rested upon him,
upholding his convictions of right with a fidelity and courage that knew no
wavering, and even those who were his political opponents acknowledged his
ability and had naught to say against his honorable career. He was a man
of superior talents, a speaker of power and as a lawyer and statesman he
stood in the front ranks in Kentucky.

Helm Larue Green Haycraft Tobin Hardin
Jefferson-KY Meade-KY Williams-VA

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