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John Worth Kern (December 20, 1849August 17, 1917) was a U.S. Democratic politician from Indianamarker. Born in Alto, Indianamarker, Kern studied law at the University of Michiganmarker. He began to practice law in Kokomo, Indianamarker, 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 Indianapolismarker, 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. Shiveley 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 Shiveley, 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.

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 Carolinamarker, nine months after leaving the Senate. He was originally interred on the Kern estate near Hollins, Virginiamarker and then interred in Crown Hill Cemeterymarker, Indianapolis, Indianamarker twelve years later.


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.

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