Francis Kernan

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Francis Kernan
Hon. Francis Kernan, N.Y - NARA - 527657 (1).jpg
United States Senator
from New York
In office
March 4, 1875 – March 3, 1881
Preceded byReuben E. Fenton
Succeeded byThomas C. Platt
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 21st district
In office
March 4, 1863 – March 3, 1865
Preceded byR. Holland Duell
Succeeded byRoscoe Conkling
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the Oneida County, 1st district
In office
January 1, 1861 – December 31, 1861
Preceded byJames McQuade
Succeeded byCharles M. Scholefield
Personal details
Born(1816-01-14)January 14, 1816
Wayne, New York
DiedSeptember 7, 1892(1892-09-07) (aged 76)
Utica, New York
Resting placeSt. Agnes Cemetery,
Utica, New York
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseHannah A. Devereux (m. 1843-1892, his death)
EducationGeorgetown University
ProfessionPolitician, Lawyer

Francis Kernan (January 14, 1816 – September 7, 1892) was an American lawyer and politician. A resident of New York, he was active in politics as a Democrat, and served in several elected offices, including member of the New York State Assembly, member of the United States House of Representatives, and United States Senator from 1875 to 1881. His rank in his profession was well summed up by Judge Martin Grover, as being without a superior as an all-round lawyer at the bar of New York State. In dress, manner, decision, learning, and unassuming dignity of bearing and geniality, he was a rare type of the best of the old school of lawyers.[1]

Early life[edit]

Kernan was born in Wayne, New York[2][a] on January 14, 1816,[3] the son of General William Kernan, who came to America from County Cavan, Ireland in 1800, and Rose Anna (Stubbs) Kernan, who was also a native of Ireland.[4]

He graduated from Georgetown University in 1836. Kernan then studied law with his brother in law Edward Quinn of Watkins Glen, New York, and moved to Utica, New York in 1839 intending to pursue a legal career. He completed his studies with Joshua A. Spencer, was admitted to the bar in July 1840, and then practiced law in partnership with Spencer as Spencer and Kernan. He later practiced in partnership with relatives as the senior partner of Kernan and Quinn, later Kernan, Quinn and Kernan. From 1854 to 1857, Kernan was Reporter of Decisions for the New York Court of Appeals.[3]


Kernan was a longtime Utica school board member,[3] and a member of the board of managers of the New York State Hospital.[4] He also served as president of St. John's Female Orphan Asylum, co-founded in 1843 by his father-in-law, Nicholas Devereux, and Devereux's brother John.[5] It was staffed by the Daughters of Charity from Emmitsburg, Maryland, while the Christian Brothers, ran St. Vincent's orphanage for boys.[6]

He was a member of the New York State Assembly (Oneida County, 1st District) in 1861, and delegate to the 1867 New York Constitutional Convention. From 1870 until his death, Kernan served on the University of the State of New York Board of Regents.[3]

He was elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-eighth Congress, defeating Republican Roscoe Conkling, and served from March 4, 1863 to March 3, 1865. In Congress he rendered important service as a member of the judiciary committee. In 1864, he was defeated for re-election by Conkling.[3] Their political differences did not interrupt a warm personal friendship. As a member of the New York Assembly and the U.S. House during the American Civil War, Kernan was a prominent War Democrat, and was thoroughly in accord with the national government in its efforts to maintain the integrity of the Union. He was instrumental in having the per capita tax on emigrants declared unconstitutional. In 1871, Kernan was an ally in Samuel J. Tilden's efforts to overthrow the Tweed ring.[7]

In 1872, he was the Democratic/Liberal Republican candidate for Governor of New York, but he was defeated by Republican John Adams Dix.[3]

In January 1875, Kernan was elected a U.S. Senator from New York, the first Catholic senator from New York[8] and its first Democratic senator in 24 years.[9] He served from March 4, 1875 to March 3, 1881, alongside Roscoe Conkling.[7] He numbered among his friends Abraham Lincoln, Horatio Seymour, Samuel J. Tilden, Thomas F. Bayard, Grover Cleveland, and other distinguished Americans, and his counsel and advice were often sought by them. He showed so decided a spirit of justice and moderation that he was often consulted by President Lincoln on matters pertaining to the conduct of the war.[1]

At the 1876 Democratic National Convention in St. Louis, Kernan nominated Samuel J. Tilden for President.[7] In 1880, Kernan received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Georgetown University.[4] In January 1881, Kernan was defeated for re-election by Republican Thomas C. Platt. After Platt's resignation in May 1881, Kernan ran again for the Senate in the following special election but was defeated by Republican Warner Miller.[10] At the Democratic convention of 1884, held at Chicago, he was not a delegate, but he was present at the special request of the leaders of his party and was one of the most efficient advocates, outside of the convention, for the nomination of Grover Cleveland.

He represented Georgetown College at the Catholic Congress of laymen at Baltimore in 1889, and delivered a memorable address on that occasion. In charity he gave much, considering his means, as he was never a very wealthy man, to his church and to charitable institutions; and his legal advice was often freely given to the clergy and to Georgetown University.[1]


In 1843, Kernan married Hannah A. Devereux, daughter of Nicholas Devereux of Utica, one of the principal patrons and benefactors of the Catholic Church and its charitable institutions in Central and Western New York. They were the parents of 10 children.[3]

In the rancor of politics, "...his religious views were ruthlessly assailed, but during his whole public life no breath of suspicion was ever cast on...his character or the integrity of his action, in the discharge of the high trusts confided to him."[7] He was a great home-lover, with no fondness for the theatre, opera, or club life. He was fond of reading, of a game of cards, and was a fine conversationalist. Occasionally, but not often, he attended dinners and receptions in Washington and Utica. He often worked in his home at night over lawsuits and congressional speeches. In person he was tall, had a good figure, and an attractive, intellectual face. Without pretense or sham, he was one of nature's gentlemen. His old age was calm, genial, peaceful, and contented.[1]

Death and burial[edit]

Kernan died in Utica on September 7, 1892 and was interred at St. Agnes Cemetery in Utica.[3]


  1. ^ Some sources indicate Tyrone, New York.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Francis Kernan". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.




External sources[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of New York
Succeeded by
First Liberal Republican nominee for Governor of New York
Succeeded by
New York State Assembly
Preceded by
James McQuade
New York State Assembly
Oneida County, 1st District

Succeeded by
Charles M. Scholefield
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 21st congressional district

Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 1) from New York
Served alongside: Roscoe Conkling
Succeeded by