David McKendree Key

David McKendree Key

Key, David McKendree, 1824-1900, American politician and jurist, b. Greene co., Tenn. He practiced law in Chattanooga, Tenn., from 1853 to 1870, except during the Civil War, when he was an officer in the Confederate army. He served in the U.S. Senate (1875-77) to complete Andrew Johnson's term. In 1877, President Hayes chose Key to be his Postmaster General, an action that provoked sharp criticism from Republicans, who felt that the presence of an ex-Confederate in the cabinet violated party principles. From 1880 to 1894, Key served as U.S. judge for the eastern and middle districts of Tennessee.
David McKendree Key (January 27, 1824 – February 3, 1900) was a Democratic U.S. Senator from Tennessee from 1875 to 1877 as well as the U.S. Postmaster General under President Hayes.

Key was born in Greene County, Tennessee, the son of Reverend John and Margaret (Armitage) Key. In 1826 the family removed to Monroe County where Key was reared, graduating from Hiwassee College in 1850. He selected the legal profession as his voca­tion through life, and the same year of his graduation was admitted to the bar. For two years he practiced law at Madisonville, then a short time at Kingston, and in February, 1853, moved permanently to Chattanooga. In 1857 Key married Eliza­beth Lenoir, with whom he had nine children.

When the Civil War broke out, Key enlisted in the Forty-third Confederate Tennessee Regiment of Infantry, served until the close of the war, and was mustered out as a lieutenant colonel. He then resumed the practice of law until 1868.

Key was a member of the Tennessee state constitutional convention of 1870, which composed the basic instrument of government of the state still in effect, and in August of the same year was elected chancellor of the Chattanooga (3rd) division. He maintained his chancellorship during an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. House in 1872 but he resigned in 1875 to accept the appointment by governor of Tennessee James D. Porter to a vacant Senate seat caused by the death of Andrew Johnson. Defeated in the next election in the Tennessee General Assembly, in 1877 he was appointed Postmaster ­General by President Hayes, and filled the office until August 25, 1880. His appointment to the position of Postmaster General was a part of the Compromise of 1877 to ensure Democratic power in the Republican cabinet. Later he accepted appointment as federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee and U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. He died in Chattanooga and is buried there.

See also


  • Retrieved on 2008-02-13
  • Goodspeed Publishing, History of East Tennessee, Hamilton County. (1887)
  • Dictionary of American Biography
  • Abshire, David. The South Rejects a Prophet: The Life of David Key. New York: F.A. Praeger, 1967.
  • Murrin, John M. Liberty, Equality, Power. Fourth Edition. Australia: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.


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