John W. Kern

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John Worth Kern
United States Senator
from Indiana
In office
March 4, 1911 – March 4, 1917
Preceded by Albert J. Beveridge
Succeeded by Harry S. New
Democratic Conference Chairman of the United States Senate
In office
March 4, 1913 – March 4, 1917
Deputy J. Hamilton Lewis (Whip)
Preceded by Thomas S. Martin
Succeeded by Thomas S. Martin
Personal details
Born December 20, 1849
Alto, Indiana
Died August 17, 1917 (aged 67)
Asheville, North Carolina
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Alma mater University of Michigan

John Worth Kern (December 20, 1849 – August 17, 1917) was a Democratic United States Senator from Indiana. While the title was not official, he is considered to be the first Senate Majority leader (and in turn, the first Senate Democratic Leader), while serving concurrently as Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Born in Alto, Indiana,[1] Kern studied law at the University of Michigan. He began to practice law in Kokomo, Indiana, where he served as city attorney (1871–1884). He was elected to the Indiana Senate in 1893, serving for four years, serving at the same time as assistant U.S. Attorney for Indiana. From 1897 to 1901 he was city solicitor of Indianapolis, and was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Governor of Indiana in 1900 and 1904. After these defeats, he returned to his law practice, travelled to Europe, and spent six months at a sanatorium in Asheville, North Carolina, for reasons of health.

In 1908, he became a Midwestern compromise vice presidential candidate on William Jennings Bryan's third unsuccessful run for the presidency. After Bryan was defeated by Taft, Kern was subsequently outmaneuvered by Democrat Benjamin F. Shively for an open U.S. Senate seat for Indiana.

But when Indiana's other Senate seat opened in 1910, the Democratic-controlled state legislature rewarded him with a seat in the United States Senate. This election brought ten new Democrats—most of them progressives—into the Senate. Joining Benjamin Shively, Kern became a progressive Democrat and an opponent of monopolistic corporate power. He quickly became involved in an effort to shake up his party's conservative leadership. In 1912, he played a leading role in the preparation of the progressive platform of the Democratic Party, which featured declarations in favor of banking and tariff reform and the popular election of senators.

After the election of 1912, which featured the election of Woodrow Wilson, the return of a Democratic majority to the House, and the election of another eleven progressive Democrats to the Senate combined with Kern's national stature as a progressive, his skills at conciliation, and his personal popularity resulted in his unanimous election as majority leadership in the Senate. As leader, he played a key role in organizing the Senate and his party. He worked closely with the president and often visited with him privately. He kept the peace and promoted unity that helped propel Wilson's initiatives through the Senate. These included tariff reform, the nation's first income tax (as permitted by the 16th Amendment), the passage of the Federal Reserve Act, enactment of antitrust laws, and the establishment of the Federal Trade Commission.

In 1913 Kern was contacted by the labor activist Mary Harris Jones ("Mother Jones"), imprisoned by a military court in West Virginia during the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912. As a result Kern introduced the Kern Resolution, adopted by the Senate on May 27. The resolution led to the United States Senate's Committee on Education and Labor opening an investigation into conditions in West Virginia coal mines. Congress almost immediately authorized two similar investigations: the copper mining industry in Michigan, and mining conditions in Colorado.[2]

A champion of the direct election of senators, Kern was defeated for reelection in 1916. At Bryan's urging, Wilson considered him for appointment to high public office, but Kern died on August 17, 1917 in Asheville, North Carolina, nine months after leaving the Senate. He was originally interred on the Kern estate near Hollins, Virginia and then interred in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana twelve years later. J.W.Kern was the eldest of 8 boys, the youngest followed not too far behind John's footsteps.


  • Walter J. Oleszek, "John Worth Kern: Portrait of a Floor Leader," in First Among Equals: Outstanding Senate Leaders of the Twentieth Century, Richard A. Baker & Roger H. Davidson, eds., Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1991, 7–37.
  1. ^ "Time Line of Howard County, 1844-". Kokomo-Howard County Public Library. Retrieved 2 June 2014. 
  2. ^ The court-martial of Mother Jones by Edward M. Steel, page 61
Party political offices
Preceded by
Henry G. Davis
Democratic vice presidential nominee
Succeeded by
Thomas R. Marshall
Preceded by
Thomas S. Martin
Democratic Conference Chairman of the United States Senate
Succeeded by
Thomas S. Martin
United States Senate
Preceded by
Albert J. Beveridge
United States Senator (Class 1) from Indiana
Succeeded by
Harry S. New