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Joseph R. Underwood

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Joseph R. Underwood
United States Senator
from Kentucky
In office
March 4, 1847 – March 3, 1853
Preceded byJames T. Morehead
Succeeded byJohn B. Thompson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1835 – March 3, 1843
Preceded byChristopher Tompkins
Succeeded byHenry Grider
Member of the Kentucky House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Joseph Rogers Underwood

(1791-10-24)October 24, 1791
Goochland County, Virginia, U.S.
DiedAugust 23, 1876(1876-08-23) (aged 84)
Bowling Green, Kentucky, U.S.
Political partyWhig
Other political
Spouse(s)Eliza McCowes Trotter (d. 1835)
Elizabeth Threlkeld Cox
ChildrenEugene Underwood, Julia Underwood Cox, Eliza Underwood Rutledge, Jane Underwood Rogers, John C. Underwood, Robert Underwood, Lily Underwood Munford, and Josephine Underwood Woods
Alma materTransylvania University
ProfessionPolitician, Lawyer
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Battles/warsWar of 1812

Joseph Rogers Underwood (October 24, 1791 – August 23, 1876) was a lawyer, judge, United States Representative and Senator from Kentucky.[1]

Early and family life

Joseph Underwood was born in Goochland County, Virginia to John Underwood, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War, and his wife Frances Rogers. His younger brother Warner Lewis Underwood later also represented Kentucky's 3rd Congressional district.

Joseph Underwood moved to Barren County, Kentucky in 1803 and lived with his uncle, Edmund Rogers. He attended private schools and graduated from Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky in 1811. He studied read law in Lexington under Robert Wickliffe, but interrupted those studies to serve in the War of 1812 as a Lieutenant in the Thirteenth Regiment of the Kentucky Infantry.

He married Eliza McCowes Trotter on March 26, 1817 and they had several children before her death in 1835, including Eugene Underwood (1818-1893), Julia Underwood Cox (1822-1875)(whose Washington D.C. husband John Threlkeld Cox, the son of the Mayor of Georgetown would become a Confederate cavalry colonel and perhaps brevet brigadier general),[2] Eliza Underwood Rutledge (1829-1865) (whose Tennessee husband became a Confederate Major) and Jane Underwood Rogers (1830-1907). After her death, Underwood married Elizabeth Threlkeld Cox (1818-1884) (sister of John Threlkeld Cox who married his eldest daughter Julia). Their children included John Cox Underwood (1840-1913), Robert Underwood (1844-1907), Lily Underwood Munford (1854-1885), and Josephine Underwood Woods (1858-1920).[3]


He was admitted to the bar in 1813 and began practicing law in Glasgow, Kentucky.

Underwood served among Glasgow's town trustees and as county auditor until 1823. He was a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1816 to 1819.

In 1823, he moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and again was elected to the State House of Representatives, serving from 1825 to 1826. He ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of Kentucky in 1828, then served as a judge of the Court of Appeals from 1828 until 1835, following the Old Court-New Court controversy.

An opponent of Andrew Jackson and outspoken emancipationist, Underwood was elected as a Whig to the United States House of Representatives, serving Kentucky's District 3 from March 4, 1835 until March 3, 1843. There he was chairman of the U.S. House Committee on the District of Columbia. He declined to be a candidate for renomination in 1843, and resumed the practice of law. He was a presidential elector on the Whig ticket in 1844, and voters again elected him to the State House in 1846, where he served as speaker.

Underwood was elected as a Whig to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1847 to March 3, 1853, when he did not run for reelection.

Underwood manumitted his slaves and sent them to Liberia, he also urged others to do likewise, although he supported the Compromise of 1850. Before the American Civil War, Underwood campaigned in Kentucky for the Constitutional Union Party. He inherited seven slaves in 1858 when his older cousin died however he immediately manumitted them as well. He wanted slavery to end, but also favored a form of gradual emancipation rather than immediate emancipation. He did not believe the federal government had the authority to impose slavery-related laws on states according to the constitution, but was opposed to secession. He ran for the state legislature again and was elected, serving two more terms, from 1861 to 1863 and fighting secessionists in the border state legislature. However, two of his sons would support the Confederacy. He attended the Democratic National Convention in 1864 and helped rebuild that party in the state.[4] During the civil war he was a "strong Union sympathizer" and was outspoken about his support for the union.[5]

Death and legacy

Underwood died near Bowling Green and was interred in Fairview Cemetery.[6] Western Kentucky University has his papers.[7] His son John C. Underwood became a Confederate Engineer and later Bowling Green's city engineer and briefly mayor, as well as Kentucky's 21st Lieutenant Governor. His grandson Oscar Wilder Underwood (Eugene's son) became majority leader in the U.S. House as well as the U.S. Senate.


  1. ^ CongBio|U000011
  2. ^ Allardice, Bruce S. (2008). Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register. ISBN 9780826266484.
  3. ^ findagrave no. 7781981
  4. ^ Nancy D. Baird, "Joseph Rogers Underwood" in John E. Kleber (ed.), The Kentucky Encyclopedia (University Press of Kentucky) p. 906 citing Jean F. Keith, "Joseph Rogers Underwood: Friend of African Colonization" FCHQ 22 (April 1948) pp. 117-33
  5. ^ Simon Bolivar Buckner: Borderland Knight By Arndt Stickles pg. 102
  6. ^ Find a Grave No. 7781081
  7. ^[bare URL PDF]
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 3rd congressional district

1835 - 1843
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by  U.S. senator (Class 2) from Kentucky
Served alongside: John J. Crittenden, Thomas Metcalfe, Henry Clay, David Meriwether, Archibald Dixon
Succeeded by
This page was last edited on 9 July 2022, at 17:51
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