JAMES LAWSON KEMPER was born in Madison County, Virginia. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Washington College in 1842, and went on to study law. He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates between 1853 and 1863, and was Speaker in the 1861, 1862, and 1863. Commissioned as a Captain during the Mexican War too late for active service, he was mustered a Colonel during the Civil War and promoted to Brigadier General, serving at Gettysburg, and promoted to Major General after Gettysburg. When the war was over, he practiced law in Madison, Virginia. Elected governor after Virginia had been readmitted to the Union, Kemper urged full recognition of civil rights for blacks. At the same time, he asked that Congress share the burden of state education for blacks and assume the state's debt, both as incidents of war. After his gubernatorial term ended, ill health resulted in his retirement from public life.

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Garraty, John A. and Carnes, Mark C., eds. American National Biography, Vol. 12. New York, Oxford University Press, 1999.

Leonard, Cynthia Miller. The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619-January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1978.

Library of Virginia. James Lawson Kemper Papers, 1800-1951. Accession 24692.  Personal Papers Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA  23219.

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 5. New York: James T. White & Company.

Salmon, Emily and Edward D. C. Campbell, Jr.  Hornbook of Virginia History. 4th ed. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1994.

Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols

Younger, Edward and Moore, James Tice, eds. The Governors of Virginia, 1860-1978. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1982.