William L. Breckinridge
Centre College President (1863-1868)
William Lewis Breckinridge was born near Lexington, Kentucky, on July 22, 1803, the uncle of John C. Breckinridge, Vice President of the United States under James Buchanan. Breckinridge graduated from Transylvania University, and was appointed professor of Ancient Languages at Centre College in 1831. In 1836 Breckinridge became pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Louisville, a position he held for over twenty years. Shortly before the Civil War, Breckinridge was president of Oakland College, Mississippi. Following the death of Lewis Warner Green, the Board of Trustees of Centre College elected Breckinridge as president on October 15, 1863.
Like his predecessor, Breckinridge's heaviest responsibility was keeping the college open during the years of the Civil War. He was an emancipationist, who thought the Union should be preserved and defended by arms if necessary, but as a person with Southern roots, knew the Southerners to be earnest and sincere in their cause. Since Breckinridge had the perspective of both sides, his policy with Centre was that anyone was welcome to attend, regardless of political persuasion. Students and professors could feel confident that expressions of political opinions would not result in reprisals from the president. Weary of his heavy responsibilities of guiding the college through these difficult times, Breckinridge resigned in November, 1868, retiring to his farm in Cass County, Missouri, and to preaching. He died on December 26, 1876, in Missouri.