Solomon P. Sharp (August 22, 1787 - November 7, 1825) attorney general of Kentucky and member of congress and of the Kentucky legislature, was born in Abingdon Washington County, Virginia, in 1787, and died at Frankfort, Kentucky, on the 7th of November, 1825, meeting his death at the hand of Jereboam O. Beauchamp.
Sharp was considered one of the most gifted and noblest of Kentucky's statesmen. Traduced while living, the peculiar circumstances of his taking off have come down through the annals of time embellished with imaginary details and made the warp of a romance and of a drama. No more instructive or interesting life, no nobler or more elevating character, no brighter intellect and no more unselfish devotion to duty to family and to friends, can be found in the history of Kentucky's Lawyers and Lawmakers than is exemplified in the rehearsal of the life of Solomon P. Sharp. Without the influence of wealth he made his way from the obscurity of the farm to high and honored office. His indomitable will, his native intellect, his adherence to the right, his wonderful power and mastery of every subject with which he was connected, compressed into his brief life of thirty-eight years more of activity and of accomplished work than ordinarily is compassed by the "three-score and ten" allotment of man.
His father, Thomas Sharp of Washington County, Virginia entered the service of the united colonies and was commissioned captain. With two brothers he participated in the decisive battle of King's mountain, recognized now by students of history as the turning point in the war for independence, and in that engagement was severely wounded. These brothers were descended from good English stock, their father being a grandson of John Sharp, lord archbishop of the diocese of York, England. In the famous cathedral at that place there stands today a statue of that illustrious divine, the resemblance to the descendants of the American branch being easily traced. The wife of Captain Thomas Sharp was Jean Maxwell, a native of Scotland. They came to Kentucky at a very early day, enduring all the hardships of the pioneer, settling near Russellville in what is now Logan County, about 1798. The father died, leaving a family of eight children, and this necessitated young Solomon P. Sharp to work early and late in order to gain a livelihood and assist in the support of the family. It is a matter of history that he acquired a masterful knowledge of Latin and Greek while following the plow and became proficient in the branches usually taught today in high schools and colleges, having no assistance in this task, his determination to acquire a liberal education being accomplished by the indomitable will power which enabled him later to surmount all obstacles.
When very young, Mr. Sharp had fixed his mind on the law as the profession he should follow and addressed his every effort to achieve this end; and he did this with such success that in 1809 he was licensed to practice and admitted to the bar at Russellville. His ability and sterling qualities of mind and heart were even then of so marked a character that he was elected to represent Warren county in the state legislature in 1809 and again in 1810 and 1811. At the last session he had as a compeer on the floor of the house, Ben Hardin, then twenty-seven years of age, and for the first time a member of a legislative body. At this session of the general assembly Ben Hardin, with the aid of Colonel Sharp, secured the passage of a bill the object and effect of which was to discourage dueling and inaugurate a course of legislation that has contributed to rid the country of this great evil. In 1849, during the constitutional convention of that year, Mr. Hardin advocated the incorporation of a similar provision in the constitution then being framed, and said: "The act of the assembly of 1811 on dueling was drawn up by myself and carried through the house of representatives by the aid of a gentleman younger than myself, Solomon P. Sharp, one of the ablest and most eloquent men Kentucky ever knew." Thus, after a lapse of thirty-eight years, we find this statesman giving testimony unasked to the character of his deceased contemporary and friend.
In 1812, Solomon P. Sharp, with all the enthusiasm of youth and with the martial spirit of his forefathers of Revolutionary fame, organized a company for service in the pending war and was made captain thereof. He had a great fondness for military life, its spirit, its activity and its discipline strongly appealing to his nature. Later he was made a colonel of militia and earned his title by giving of his time and talent to perfect the volunteer organization of his state with which he was associated. Colonel Young Ewing, writing from Christian County under the date of January, 1827, says of Colonel Sharp: "I served with him in the army during the War of 1812, in which he volunteered his services as a private soldier, and was, in the organization of the army, preferred to the command of a battalion in the regiment I had the honor to command; and in no single instance had I reason to complain, for I always found him prompt, decisive and manly in executing all orders coming from the commanding general or myself."
Colonel Sharp's faithful service in the lower house of the state legislature led to his being called to broader fields of usefulness, his district sending him to congress in 1813 and re-electing him in 1815. In the four years in which he was one of Kentucky's representatives in the council chambers of the nation, from 1813 to 1817, he was the associate of Henry Clay, James Clark, Ben Hardin, R. M. Johnson and Stephen Ormsby, from his own state, while John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina, was his intimate friend and room-mate in Washington. His career in the capital city was marked by earnestness and devotion to the interest of his people, and Calhoun pronounced him "the greatest mind that has come to congress up to his time from beyond the mountains."
Retiring from congressional life, Colonel Sharp, with renewed energy, resumed the practice of law, but was again sent to the state legislature in 1817 and 1818. His reputation for ability and integrity was as wide as the state, and the demands on his time as a member of the legal profession, in cases of large import pending in the United States courts and in the court of appeals at Frankfort, impelled him to take up his residence in that city in 1820. The following year he was appointed by Governor John Adair to the position of attorney-general of Kentucky and served under the administration, when he was re-appointed by Governor Adair on the 1st of June, 1821, and soliciting his acceptance of the office of attorney-general, was concluded in the following words: "I need not say to you that the office has fallen into disrepute in public estimation, and the salary been improperly reduced, more from an eye to the former occupant than to the office. It is my wish so to fill it at present that it may be again renovated and take its due stand in the government." The superior ability of Colonel Sharp not only raised the office to its old dignity, but even advanced it to a still higher standard.
In the spring of 1825 Colonel Sharp was one of the state commissioners appointed to do honor to that patriot and statesman, the Marquis de LaFayette, then on a visit to America, and as such, in the absence of the gentleman delegated to deliver the address at Louisville, was called upon to fill his place and made extemporaneously a most eloquent and touching address, extending to the French hero the hospitality of the state and welcoming him in the name of all its citizens. His ready wit, command of language and elegant presence enabled him thus readily to adapt himself to any and all circumstances and to acquit himself in a most creditable manner, reflecting honor on the state he represented.
In 1825 Colonel Sharp was elected representative from Franklin County to the general assembly, as choice of his party,--the "Relief" or the "New Court party,"--his opponent being the Honorable John J. Crittenden, who had been United States senator from Kentucky and was recognized as one of the most able and honorable citizens of the state. His majority, after a very hotly contested canvass, was sixty-nine, the vote case being one of the fullest ever polled in the county. Colonel Sharp's popularity among the masses, his acknowledge ability, his eloquent addresses and his sterling worth and adherence to the rights of the people against oppression, had made him a powerful force in the contest of Relief and Anti-Relief, which for five years (1820-1825) had been a live issue before the people of the state. Possibly no state in the Union has been so near to internecine war as was Kentucky in those days of depression and panic.
Mr. Sharp was regarded as one of the most active and powerful of the advocates of the Relief party and its candidate for speaker of the house, for which high office he had received the caucus nomination on the night of his death. In the prime of life, in possession of every faculty, the center of a charming home circle, loved and respected by his fellow citizens, entrusted by them with the care of their interest in the important session just begun, named by his party as their standard-bearer and chief, while in the enjoyment of a large and lucrative practice and possessed by a handsome competence accumulated by his industry, and in the midst of political triumphs and domestic happiness, he was cut down in the dead hour of midnight! Jereboam O. Beauchamp called him from his bed to the door, asking shelter for the night and using the name of an intimate friend to lure him and to shield his own identity. While extending one hand to his victim in simulating friendly greeting, with the other he thrust the deadly knife into Colonel Sharp's body and fled away into the darkness of the night, leaving him expiring on the threshold of his hospitable home! No event in the history of Kentucky had been more tragic, none had so stirred the state, nor indeed the nation, for Solomon P. Sharp was no ordinary man, and his service in congress had given him a national reputation. With him died the Relief party.