The son of Daniel and Sarah Gilbert Herr, Andrew Jackson Herr was born December 30, 1828 in Greencastle, Franklin County, Pennsylvania. He attended the Zane Street Grammar School, receiving a secondary education in Philadelphia. After reading with James McCormick, Jack joined the Dauphin County bar in 1850, opening a criminal law practice in Harrisburg. Interrupted by the Civil War, Herr enlisted as a private in the First Regiment, Company E of the First Militia of 1862, mustering in at Camp Curtin. While the regiment disbanded on September 25, 1862, it served its purpose, supplying Gen. McClellan’s troops during the Maryland Campaign (Battle of Antietam).
He served as Dauphin district attorney for nine years, counsel to the county commission, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1875 and 1876, and finally, state senator from 1875 through 1884. He served as president pro tempore during the 1879 session.
Senator Herr chaired the Constitutional Reform Committee in 1875, thereafter chairing the Judiciary General Committee annually. He most frequently voted the Cameron-Quay line, however showed no timidity in casting as an independent. For example, Herr voted against price-fixing legislation relevant to the early coal-rail combinations, supported the 15-mile rate-fare equalization bill, and cast a “yea” for the railroad-passenger-protection act.
A high-tariff proponent and a champion of Pennsylvania interstate economic growth, he opposed legislation designed to solely benefit the interests of John D. Rockefeller’s monopolistic rail-oil trust over those of Pennsylvania corporations. He headed an 1876 Senate committee assigned the task of investigating fraudulent practices of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and supported legislation offering protection to Pennsylvania’s growing industrial labor force during strike periods. In the 1877 U.S. Senate election, he nominated J. Donald Cameron, voted for the 1881 nominating convention fraud bill, and opposed the admittance of women before the bar.
Jack Herr entered the 1879 Senate as President pro tempore during one of state government’s most corrupt periods. Referred to as the “Riot Legislature,” Herr competed with Cameron-Quay lieutenants, loaded with bribe money, who hoped to influence the passage of a $4 million appropriation to bail out the Pennsylvania Railroad, who saw the money has reparations for losses incurred during the 1877 Pittsburgh Railroad Riot. The bill was defeated. Additionally, “King James” McManes’ Philadelphia Gas Works Trust became the most powerful political brokerage in the city, directly influencing over 5,000 patronage jobs. An avid Quay hater, he opposed organization lieutenants and their dabbling in city charter affairs. McManes’ distaste for Quay represented the first major breach between the state GOP and the Philadelphia Republican caucus, otherwise known as the “Philadelphia ring.” For Herr, the opening of the 1879 session also marked the first day of the Senate’s new biennial system, an ironic provision of the 1874 Constitution – one to help end political corruption.The Honorable Andrew Herr married three times, first to Martha Linn Coyle, second to Nannie M. Coyle, and third to Nannie Gilmore. A literary figure of some note, at age-15, Senator Herr published three novels through an English publisher: Maid of the Valley, Story Founded on the Revolution, and The Corsair. He additionally published The Chain of Destiny and contributed frequently to the Saturday Evening Post and Neal’s Gazette in Philadelphia.
Senator Herr died of a brain hemorrhage, March 16, 1894. Members of the Dauphin County bar described the “Colonel” as energetic, ambitious, always with a sunny disposition, and possessing a keen intellect. The Honorable Lewis W. Hall, former Speaker of the Senate, portrayed Herr as a “remarkable man … He had great qualities, not only as a lawyer but (also) as a gentleman of learning. In his death this bar (and that of Pennsylvania’s) has lost a great friend.”
For a detailed description of the “Riot Legislature,” see Sam Hudson, 20-24; Kehl, 74-75; William Henry Egle, History of the County of Dauphin and Lebanon: in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Everts and Peck, 1883), 37; Patriot (Harrisburg), March 20, 1894.)