Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Arndt Stickles

Degree Program

Department of History

Degree Type

Master of Arts


“Men at some time are masters of their fate:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Thus Shakespeare has the wily Cassius speak, and thus Matthew Lyon must have believed; else he had not contended so fiercely, so incessantly, and so interminably against such adverse circumstances as the average individual would have submitted to sooner or later. Many may have thought so; the facts often indicated so; yet never in a true sense was Matthew Lyon an underling. His fierce spirit was supreme over material things. Even while an indentured servant he resented and successfully resisted the efforts of his master to direct or control his democratic principles. Suppliant though he was in his later years for political preferment, on account of his financial losses ensuing from a curtailment of our commerce during the Napoleonic wars and our own War of 1812 and by a political defeat resulting from his having opposed the administrative policies which preceded our entrance into that war, yet even in that period of political and financial reverses his restless, forceful pen, schooled in the denunciatory era of the Jefferson-Hamilton party strife, wielded an influence not to be disregarded, even by the new political leaders of the day.

Still, Fate, thwarted by an indomitable spirit in life, may now be exercising her influence, for the conflict that marked the career of this “pugnacious but incorruptible” son of Erin did not cease with his demise. It is with difficulty that one can construct from the conflicting statements concerning his actions and career an approximately accurate account of the most significant events of that career. Such is the task the writer will attempt to perform, dealing chiefly with that period succeeding Lyon’s arrival in Kentucky, where for the second time he entered into the activities essential to the development, on a large scale, of an industrial center in frontier life, and where, with better success and less strife than he had formerly experienced, he re-entered the political arena.

Concerning Lyon’s commercial and political experiences in the West very little has been written save occasional brief articles, often inaccurate and founded more or less on hearsay and tradition. McLaughlin’s very unsatisfactory biographical history of Lyon deals but briefly with his Kentucky career; in Aunt Leanna or Early Scenes in Kentucky and also in Recollections of a Frontier Life, written by Lyon’s youngest daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Roe, primarily in the interest of abolition and Methodism, respectively, are related some things of interest concerning Lyon; but since these are the reminiscences of one far removed in time and space from the scenes and events described, her accounts are not wholly reliable. Other secondary matter is more or less a repetition of the outstanding facts of Lyon’s life for contrary to what might be supposed, Lyon enjoyed in his own day a well-founded national fame. From Lyon’s own writings, found in newspapers and various collections in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, from county court records, from departmental, national and state documents, and from occasional secondary matter the writer has obtained the facts contained in this thesis.

Certain incidents in Lyon’s early life so strongly influenced his character and his importance that a knowledge of them was considered necessary to an understanding and appreciation of his later life; for this reason Chapters I and II are included.


American Politics | History | Political History | Political Science | United States History