December 27, 1784 – Kentucky Begins Its Bid to Join the Union as the 15th State

On December 31, 1776, the region of Virginia beyond the Appalachian Mountains was established as Kentucky County by the Virginia General Assembly. The movement for statehood began in 1784 with a constitutional convention for Kentucky, called by Colonel Benjamin Logan on this day in history in Danville, the capital of Kentucky County, Virginia. But this and numerous subsequent conventions failed to produce a consensus on government. A ninth convention in 1788 finally agreed on terms, and the U.S. Congress offered Kentucky the opportunity to become the 15th state in the Union, effective on June 1, 1792.

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Kentucky is one of four U.S. states to officially use the term commonwealth. The term has also been used by Virginia, from which Kentucky was created. The other two states calling themselves “commonwealths” are Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

In addition, Kentucky is one of only five states that elects its state officials in odd-numbered years (the others being Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia). Kentucky holds elections for these offices every four years in the years preceding presidential election years. Thus, Kentucky held gubernatorial elections in 2011 and 2015.

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As Walter A. McDougall observed in his American history, Freedom Just Around the Corner: “Thanks to the phosphate-rich loam feeding its grass Kentucky was always about horses.” The French counsul observed in 1793 that “horses and lawsuits comprise the usual topics of conversation.”

Indeed, today, Kentucky is home to the celebrated Kentucky Derby, which is the longest running horse race in the United States, held every year in May. The Derby was established in 1875, and is known as the most exciting two minutes in sports. It is also called the “Run for the Roses” because of the garland of roses that is presented to the winner. The race is held at the Churchill Downs Racetrack, the land for which was donated by John and Henry Churchill, the uncles of Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr.

Clark had traveled to England and France in 1872, attending the Epsom Derby in England. This inspired him to create a spectacle horse racing event in America. The Louisville Jockey Club, founded by Clark, raised the money to build the oval-shaped track, which is currently 1.25 miles in length and 80 feet all the way around.

Horses leave the starting gate for the start of the 133rd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, May 5, 2007. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Horses leave the starting gate for the start of the 133rd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, May 5, 2007. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

The Kentucky Derby is only open to three-year-old thoroughbred horses.  Spectators purchase tickets for the Kentucky Derby up to a year in advance and dress to impress, with women wearing very large fancy hats. Approximately 150,000 people attend the Kentucky Derby each year from all around the globe for the 120-second-long race, punctuated by sips of Mint Julep, the official drink of the Kentucky Derby.

A Mint Julep is made of bourbon, confectioners’ sugar, a bit of water (or simple syrup), and plenty of mint, and served over cracked or crushed ice.

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But the drink most associated with Kentucky is of course straight Kentucky Bourbon itself, named for the Kentucky county of Bourbon. Bourbon became popular in part because, based on corn, it was less expensive to produce than scotch. During the late 18th century, members of the Böhm family, who eventually changed the spelling of their surname to “Beam”, emigrated from Germany and settled in Kentucky. Johannes “Reginald” Beam (1770–1834) was the one who began producing whiskey in the style that became known as “bourbon.” Jacob Beam sold his first barrels of corn whiskey around 1795. The whiskey was initially called Old Jake Beam, and the distillery was known as Old Tub. Later, one Dr. James Crow, a Scottish chemist-physician who came to Kentucky in 1823 and began working for a distiller, allegedly created the sour mash process still used today. (Old Crow is a brand owned by Jim Beam.)

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When in Kentucky, you might want to accompany your bourbon with a Hot Brown, a famous dish originating at the Brown Hotel in Louisville in 1926. It’s an open-faced sandwich with turkey, bacon, and tomato with a creamy cheese sauce, and can still be eaten today at the very same hotel, as well as at restaurants all over the state.

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Louisville is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the 30th-most populous city in the United States. It was founded in 1778 by Colonel George Rogers Clark during the American Revolution as a communication post, and is named after King Louis XVI of France, making Louisville one of the oldest cities west of the Appalachian Mountains. But don’t assume you know how to pronounce it. Even among residents, you will hear variations of LooAvul, LooEvul, Luhvul, Louieville, Looeyville, Looaville and Looooooo-vul.

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The Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), sometimes also referred to as Kentuckiana, includes Louisville which is in Jefferson County, and 12 surrounding counties: seven in Kentucky and five in Southern Indiana. As of 2014, the MSA had a population of 1,269,702, ranking 44th nationally.

And yet! None of these places have anything to do with the capital of Kentucky, which is Frankfort, the fifth-smallest state capital in population in the United States.

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