Thomas Perkins Kennard (1828-1920)
Thomas Perkins Kennard (1828-1920) was a prominent Republican politician in the early days of Nebraska. He was a member of the commission that selected the village of Lancaster, renamed Lincoln, as the capital of Nebraska. As one of the city's earliest and most influential residents, he is often called the "Father of Lincoln." His original house in Lincoln still stands today, restored as the Nebraska Statehood Memorial and a museum of the Nebraska State Historical Society.
Born in Ohio on December 13, 1828, to English Quakers,Thomas Perkins Kennard is known as the Father of Lincoln, Nebraska. His family were Quakers, perhaps emigrating on the same boat as William Penn, and first lived in Pennsylvania. His father, Thomas Sr., moved the family to Ohio in 1814. Thomas P. was born to Thomas Sr.’s second wife, Elisabeth. The Kennards moved to Indiana when Thomas P. was young. Typical of farmers at the time, the younger Thomas received little schooling; he claimed but one year of formal education by the time he reached age 16. He found himself ill suited to farming and instead apprenticed at a mill. In the 1850s, he decided to become a lawyer, and married a non-Quaker. For both choices he was separated from the Quaker Church.
Kennard completed his legal training and worked in both Greensboro and Anderson, Indiana. Firm abolitionist convictions drew him to the Republican Party, he soon became involved in the early Party in Indiana.
Two of his brothers came to Nebraska in 1856 and Thomas joined them in 1857, residing in De Soto, a settlement north of Omaha near modern-day Blair. Thomas and his brother Levi began a successful land agency, allowing his family to join him at De Soto in 1858. In addition to helping with the land agency, Thomas practiced law and ran a hotel.
As he had in Indiana, Kennard was involved in Republican politics. In addition to abolitionism, he supported women’s suffrage and opposed the death penalty. He was elected to several local positions, including mayor of De Soto.
In 1866, Kennard made the Union (Republican) Party ticket as secretary of state. In the elections of that year, Nebraskans narrowly voted to become a state and selected Kennard as the first secretary of state. He won his office by 130 votes.
Nebraska’s statehood became official on March 1, 1867. David Butler became governor on March 27th. As secretary of state, Kennard had the second highest position in state government. He was in charge of handling official documents and ensuring that all necessary supplies were in order during legislative sessions.
Omaha had been the capital of Nebraska Territory since 1854, when Territorial Governor Thomas Cuming selected it as the site of the capital. The location became a major point of controversy after Nebraska became a state. At the time, more people lived south of the Platte than north, but the north part of the state had more representation. Those living in the southeastern part of the state wanted to move the capital to a location south of the Platte.
On June 14, 1867, a commission was created by the legislature to select the site of a new capital. Governor David Butler, State Auditor John Gillespie and Kennard were designated as the commission. They were instructed to pick a site in Seward, the southern portions of Saunders and Butler, or in the northern part of Lancaster County. Whatever site they chose would be renamed “Lincoln.” (Omaha Republicans passed that resolution in an attempt to dissuade Democrats in the southern part of the state from moving the capital.)
After touring the areas designated by the bill, the commissioners chose the village of Lancaster, in Lancaster County, to be the new capital on August 14, 1867. (Ashland was Gillespie’s choice, but he later joined Butler and Kennard in choosing Lancaster.) At the time, Lancaster was geographically central to the southeastern Nebraska population, and was near to the salt flats that commissioners thought could one day be economically profitable.
To instill confidence in the new town of Lincoln, Kennard and the other commissioners built expensive houses within or near the original plat of the capital. Kennard’s house stands to this day.
Kennard's Later Years
Kennard chose not to run for reelection in 1870. Impeachment charges were brought against both of his fellow commissioners the following year. Butler was impeached, but Gillespie was not. Kennard entered into business activities after leaving public life, including dry goods, banking, and railroads. His work with railroads was his biggest endeavor. In 1867, he helped lay out the towns of Blair, Arlington, and Kennard along the Omaha, Sioux City & Pacific Railroad line. He served as a lawyer for Union Pacific in 1878, to help that company build a track to Lincoln.
Kennard maintained an interest in politics. He was elected to the state senate in 1876, and in 1877 he served as a commissioner to Indian Territory to appraise land. After that, he again returned to private life, mostly focusing on a law firm he opened with his sons. He remained a major player in state politics, though he never again ran for office. In 1878 he helped found the Nebraska State Historical Society.
Kennard's wife died in 1887. That same year he sold his first house and built a new one to the east, on the same block. He participated in several business ventures in his later life. At one time he rented space in one of his offices to William Jennings Bryan, who used it for his newspaper, The Commoner. Kennard entered into a joint venture with his son-in-law, James Riggs, but it ended in scandal when Riggs and Lulu Kennard were divorced in 1893. Thomas was elected to the Republican National Convention in 1896, and in 1898, was appointed the receiver of public moneys for the US Land Office in Lincoln. He held that post until 1902; that was his last public office. He spent the next few years dealing with streetcars and railroads, until his retirement in 1910. He died in 1920, and is now remembered as the “Father of Lincoln.”
Buecker, Thomas R. “The Father of Lincoln, Nebraska: The Life and Times of Thomas P. Kennard.” Nebraska History (Summer 2014): 78-93.
James W. Pieper, comp., “Thomas Perkins Kennard (1828-1920),” November 3, 2014. TEMPLATE : NAME OF WEBSITE Accessed, December 7, 2022.