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John E. Kenna

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John E. Kenna
United States Senator
from West Virginia
In office
March 4, 1883 – January 11, 1893
Preceded byHenry G. Davis
Succeeded byJohnson N. Camden
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from West Virginia's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1877 – March 3, 1883
Preceded byFrank Hereford
Succeeded byCharles P. Snyder
Personal details
Born(1848-04-10)April 10, 1848
Kanawha County, Virginia (now West Virginia)
DiedJanuary 11, 1893(1893-01-11) (aged 44)
Washington, D.C.
Political partyDemocratic

John Edward Kenna (April 10, 1848 – January 11, 1893) was an American politician who was a Senator from West Virginia from 1883 until his death.



Kenna was born in Kanawha County, Virginia (now West Virginia, near the city of St. Albans) and lived his early life at Upper Falls, where his father was lockmaster and owned a sawmill.[1] He had little education, and at the age of 16 he served in the "Iron Brigade" with General Joseph O. Shelby in the Confederate States Army and was wounded. After returning home, he read law and was admitted to the bar in 1870. He became very active in the emerging Democratic Party of West Virginia.

He rose from prosecuting attorney of Kanawha County in 1872 to Justice pro tempore of the county circuit in 1875, and to the United States House of Representatives in 1876. While in the House he championed railroad legislation and crusaded for aid for slack-water navigation to help the coal, timber, and salt industries in his state. These activities earned him a seat in the United States Senate in 1883, where he continued fighting for his two causes.

Kenna became Democratic minority leader and emerged as a powerful and controversial speaker on the issue of the independence of the executive branch of the government. He forcefully defended President Grover Cleveland on several issues and indicted the Senate Republican majority for failure to pass tariff reforms. Kenna was a practicing Catholic and member of the congregation at St. Joseph's on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.[2] In late April 1891, he successfully argued the Ball v. United States case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which spared the lives of two West Virginians accused of murder in Texas.[3][4]

Kenna died on January 11, 1893, at the age of 44.[5] He was still in office at the time of his death, and was succeeded by Johnson N. Camden. He had 6 children, including Ed Kenna.

Longtime Washington journalist Benjamin Perley Poore described Kenna as "a tall, thick-set man" who was "negligent in his dress and rather slow in the utterance of his sentences."[6]

Kenna is the namesake of the town of Kenna, West Virginia.[7] In 1901, the state of West Virginia donated a marble statue of Kenna to the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection.

See also



  1. ^ Courtesy of Dr. William H. Dean, Ph.D. From Coal, Steamboats, Timber and Trains: The Early Industrial History of St. Albans, West Virginia & The Coal River, 1850-1925. "History of Upper Falls, West Virginia | Upper Falls, WV". Archived from the original on April 26, 2012. Retrieved December 14, 2011. UpperFallsWV.blog.com
  2. ^ Google Books Donahoe's Magazine, Volume 27, 1892
  3. ^ ""A Celebrated Case"". Logan County Banner (Logan, WV). May 7, 1891. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  4. ^ "Ball v. United States (1891)". Justia: U.S. Supreme Court. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  5. ^ "Senator John E. Kenna Dies At Washington After A Long And Painful Illness". The Press Herald. Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. January 20, 1893. p. 1. Retrieved November 4, 2023 – via Newspapers.com Open access icon.
  6. ^ Poore, Ben. Perley, Perley's Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis, Vol.2, p.509 (1886).
  7. ^ Kenny, Hamill (1945). West Virginia Place Names: Their Origin and Meaning, Including the Nomenclature of the Streams and Mountains. Piedmont, WV: The Place Name Press. p. 346.
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by U.S. Representative of West Virginia's 3rd Congressional District
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 2) from West Virginia
Served alongside: Johnson N. Camden, Charles J. Faulkner
Succeeded by