The Honorable Jacob Kern was born on February 14, 1790 in Northampton County, the son of Nicholas and Maria Barbara Ollwine Kern. He attended subscription schools, and like many others of his generation, received advanced education as a surveyor and soldier. He married Mary Palmer of Bath, Northampton County, a daughter of one of his mentors, state Surveyor General George Palmer.[i] Jacob and Mary were the parents of noted Pennsylvania physician, George Palmer Kern, born 1817 in Bath, Northampton County.[ii]
Embarking on a military career in 1811, Governor Snyder commissioned Kern lieutenant in the Pennsylvania Militia, Jacob subsequently serving throughout the War of 1812. During the campaign, Governor Findlay promoted the future Speaker to colonel, and in 1821, Governor Hiester appointed him Colonel of the Twenty-sixth Regiment of the Pennsylvania Militia.[iii] Originally an Amalgamation Democrat, Senator Kern enjoyed a cordial relationship with Governor George Wolf as a neighbor, intimate friend, and political advisor. Close professional ties surfaced during Wolf’s stint in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Kern initially emerging as a staunch supporter of the future governor’s “free school system” initiative.[iv]
Northampton voters elected Colonel Kern to the state Senate in October 1831, the year after Kern helped Wolf become governor, serving the General Assembly as a devout “original Jackson man” and Congressman James Buchanan’s die-hard loyalist. Although politically ambitious, he abhorred 1832’s pervasive party factionalism over the Second U.S. Bank issue, informing state Democratic Party leader Lewis Coryell:
“that no person regrets the division that has taken place amongst the democratic party than I do – and I have the consolation to believe that I have not been one of the instruments that caused the division – I can justify myself for the part I took in the contests – and can assure that I would act the same way – were I again in a similar situation.” [v]
Kern lent Buchanan support during the U.S. Senate election after a close battle with former Anti-Mason and U.S. vice presidential candidate Amos Ellmaker of Lancaster County. Paving the way, Philadelphia Democratic boss, Dr. Joel B. Sutherland, dropped out of the running and directed his votes to Buchanan.[vi] In a December 8, 1834 letter to Buchanan, Speaker Kern informed the U.S. senatorial aspirant that he would undoubtedly win his bid to represent Pennsylvania in Washington.[vii] In a note that implies a great deal of groundwork and persuasion in both houses of the legislature, he extended loyalty to Buchanan and pledged support to Jackson as a man who:
“so nobly stood forth in the rescue of our common country from the grasp of a corrupt monied monopoly (Second Bank), as reckless as it was aristocratical, and as merciless as it was powerful.” [viii]
While the Speaker opposed the “Bank,” Kern opposed Jackson’s sub-treasury plan also; supported the privatization of the state’s improvement program; and condemned Anti-Masonic members’ support of the “Unlawful Oaths” bill. Kern failed re-election to Anti-Mason Peter Michler in October 1835. He had no opportunity to prepare a subsequent Senate campaign, as he died in Easton, March 31, 1837.[ix]
[i] Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Lehigh Valley,
Pennsylvania, vol. I, ed. John W. Jordan, Edgar Moore Green, and George T. Ettinger (New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1905) 446.
[iv] The Scotch-Irish of Northampton County, Pennsylvania, 53,390,113.
[v] Jacob Kern to Lewis Coryell, January 16, 1832, Coryell Papers, vol. 2, p 98, HSP.
[vi] SJ, Dec. 6, 1834, 49.
[vii] Jacob Kern to James Buchanan, December 8, 1834, Buchanan Papers, XR506.2, Roll 2, HSP.
[ix] Marriages and Deaths of Northampton County, Pennsylvania: 1799-1851, vol. 3, comp. Henry F.
Marx (Easton: Easton Public Library, 1929), 526, 860.