Richard Hickman Menefee (December 4, 1809 – February 20, 1841) was a U.S. Representative from Kentucky. Due to his oratory skill, he was dubbed “the young Patrick Henry of the West.” He was presumed the successor to Henry Clay as leader of the Whig Party until his death at age thirty-one.
Menefee received a meager education in his early life. A dispute with his stepfather caused him to leave home in his mid-teens. He worked as a teacher to support himself and pay to finish his education. He graduated from Transylvania University and studied law. In 1831, he was appointed Commonwealth’s Attorney for Kentucky’s eleventh district and was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives the following year.
In 1836, Menefee was elected to the House of Representatives. His best known speech in that body urged restraint in the Caroline affair with the British. His reputation, and that of fellow Kentuckian John J. Crittenden, were tarnished due to their involvement in a duel between Representatives William J. Graves and Jonathan Cilley in which the latter was mortally wounded. He did not stand for re-election following his term in office and returned to his legal practice. In 1841, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, but died five days later before he could take office. Menifee County, Kentucky, despite the spelling discrepancy, is named in his honor
Eulogy given by Thomas F Marshall at the death of Hon Richard Hickman Menefee:
- Hon. Richard H Menefee, the statesman and lawyer, in honor of when Menifee County was named, was born near Owingsville, Bath County, Kentucky, in the year 1810(1809). In early life he taught a school, to supply the means for obtaining a profession.His success at the bar was rapid and brilliant. He was barely eligible when he was elected to represent the county of Montgomery in the Kentucky legislature. In that body he served terms, 1835, ’37 and early established a character for ability which spread his name through the state. At twenty-seven years of age, as the Whig candidate he was elected to congress by 234 majority over Judge Richard French, one of the most popular and astute Democratic politicians of the day, and in a district where the latter had been elected two years before, by an overwhelming majority. He served but one term, 1837-39. His efforts on the floor of the house, bearing the impress of high genius and commanding talent, soon placed him in the front rank of debaters, at a time when congress was remarkable for the number of its able men. At the close of his term of service he removed to Lexington, as a larger field for the practice of his profession. Business flowed in upon him, and he was rapidly amassing a fortune which would have enabled him to re-enter public life, and accomplish those ardent desires cherished form his early boyhood. His career was prematurely checked by his death, Feb. 20, 1841, when only 31 years of age. Over the whole state his death cast a gloom. It has been the fortune of but few men, of the same age, to achieve a reputation so splendid. Born in obscurity, and forced to struggle in early life against an array of depressing influences sufficient to crush any common spirit, he had rapidly but surely attained an eminence which fixed upon him the eyes of all America, as one of our most promising statesmen,while at home his view of public policy were known to be at once liberal, comprehensive; and profound, he was great as a lawyer and greater as a statesmen.
- The eulogy of Thomas F. Marshall upon Mr Menefee’s life and services —
the tribute of genius to genius, of brilliant but erratic genius to genius still more brilliant but self-poised and commanding — is one of the most graceful and eloquent in the whole field of panegyric literature.
Richard Hickman Menefee’s son Richard Jouett Menefee contributed to the content of the book that honors his father.
Hon Richard H Menefee’s death date is given as 20 and 21 Feb 1841. Since his eulogy gives his death date as 20 Feb 1841, that is the date used here.