|United States Senator
January 23, 1901 – March 4, 1905
|Preceded by||Frank J. Cannon|
|Succeeded by||George Sutherland|
April 11, 1862|
|Died||October 18, 1918
Salt Lake City, Utah
Immigration and mining
Born near Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, he moved with his parents to O'Neill in Holt County, Nebraska, where he attended the public schools until he was 17, worked on his family farm, and engaged in the freighting business. He moved to Park City, Utah, in 1883, and worked in mining, prospected, and operated several mines. In 1889 and his partner David Keith discovered the rich ore that became the famous Silver King Coalition Mine in Park City. They would eventually own several mines throughout Utah, Nevada, Colorado and California. In Park City, Kearns, a Catholic, married Jennie Judge in 1890, and had three children.
He was elected as a Republican to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy in the term commencing March 4, 1899. At the time, U.S. Senators were still selected by state legislatures. Utah's state legislators had already indicated they would not support the incumbent, Republican Frank J. Cannon, for reelection. Alfred W. McCune, one of Salt Lake City's most prominent businessmen, sought and won the backing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in his bid for the seat. But the legislature quickly deadlocked over the election. One-hundred and twenty-one ballots were cast, and no winner emerged. On February 18, a state representative accused McCune of trying to buy his vote. A seven-member legislative voted 7-to-2 to absolve McCune of the charge, and although balloting resumed on March 8 McCune still lacked enough votes to win office (he had only 25 votes). The legislature adjourned without having chosen a senator.
Utah's U.S. Senate seat remained vacant until January 1901. The Republicans regained their majority in the state legislature in the election of 1900, and elected Thomas Kearns to fill the seat. The election was still hotly disputed. Kearns received only 8 votes on the first ballot, and balloting continued for four more days. On January 22, Kearns won the election by a unanimous Republican vote of 37-to-25 (Democrats voting for McCune).
He served from January 23, 1901, to March 4, 1905. Kearns was the first Utahn to establish a national and international political reputation, partly because of his personal and political friendship with President's William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and Howard Taft . Through Kearns' efforts as Utah's U.S. Senator, Fort Douglas became a regimental post.
Supporters of Kearns formed the American Party. Though not publicly among the party's organizers, Kearns was influential in the party. The party was endorsed by the Salt Lake Tribune—which Kearns and his partner David Keith purchased in October 1901—and was successful in Utah politics from 1904 to 1911.
Business and later life
After finishing his term in 1905, Kearns resumed his work in the mining, railroad, newspaper and banking businesses. Kearns and his partner David Keith purchased The Salt Lake Tribune newspaper in 1901 through a surrogate. He was one of the original incorporator's of the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad and helped to ensure its success in completion from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas and on to Los Angeles. He resided in Salt Lake City, Utah, until his death in 1918. He died of a stroke eight days after he was hit by a reckless driver on the corner of Main and South Temple. Interment was in Mount Calvary Cemetery.
Kearns and his wife Jennie Judge Kearns, provided all the necessary funds to build the Kearns-Saint Ann's Orphanage, now Kearns-St. Ann's Catholic elementary school. They built a grand chateauesque marble, granite and sandstone palace residence on Brigham Street, now South Temple. Mrs. Kearns donated it to the state in 1937 to be used as the official Governor's residence; it is still being used as the Utah Governor's Mansion.
- "Thomas Kearns," by Miriam B. Murphy, Utah History to Go
- O. N. Malmquist, The First 100 Years, p. 182
- Cannon had voted against the Dingley Act, which would have raised tariffs on sugar and helped the Utah sugar industry. The Dingley bill was strongly supported by the LDS Church hierarchy, who now opposed his reelection. Other factors were his support for Free Silver; rumors about immoral acts he may have committed while living in Washington, D.C.; and that the Utah legislature was controlled by Democrats. See: Powell, p. 70.
- Alexander, p. 10.
- Whitney, p. 527.
- Committee on Privileges and Elections, p. 863.
- "Utah With One Senator." New York Times. March 11, 1899.
- Appletons' Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events, p. 771.
- Powell, p. 158.
- Jeffrey D. Nichols (2002). Prostitution, Polygamy, and Power: Salt Lake City, 1847–1918 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, ISBN 978-0-252-02768-0) pp. 137–138.
- Dean L. May (1987). Utah: A People's History (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, ISBN 978-0-87480-284-9) p. 162
- Malmquist, O.N.:The First 100 Years, pp. 209.
- Alexander, Thomas G. Mormonism in Transition. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
- Appletons' Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1902.
- Committee on Privileges and Elections. In the Matter of the Protests Against the Right of Hon. Reed Smoot, A Senator From the State of Utah, to Hold His Seat. Doc. No. 486. 59th Cong, 1st Sess. Committee on Privileges and Elections. United States Senate. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1906.
- Powell, Allan Kent. Utah History Encyclopedia. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1995.
- Thomas Kearns at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Works by Thomas Kearns at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Thomas Kearns at Internet Archive
- Thomas Kearns at Find a Grave