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New Albany Bicentennial

June 11, 2013

NEW ALBANY BICENTENNIAL: Michael C. Kerr

(Continued)

NEW ALBANY —

Of course, Kerr’s political ascension wasn’t without conflict. In the same year he built his beautiful new house, friends had convinced the lawyer to seek the Democratic nomination for his Congressional district. But trouble was brewing. 

According to a presentation by Elizabeth “Bebe” Cody to the Floyd County Historical Society in 1992, Kerr had become privy to some information about a group of local Southern sympathizers called the Knights of the Golden Circle. In a 1919 book called “Indiana and Indianans,” author Jacob Dunn asserts that Kerr may have at one time been a member of the political arm of the group. 

It seems that upon finding out about plans for a military revolution in Indiana, including an attempt to “subdue” the governor and wage an attack against Louisville, the young statesman reconsidered his allegiance and divulged the information to Republican leader and Indiana Gov. Oliver Morton. The suspects were rounded up and no military coup ensued. After Kerr’s death, Morton honored his Hoosier colleague.

“His name will be remembered with pride and with affection in Indiana. He was one of her most highly favored and gifted sons, and it gives me satisfaction to bear testimony to his patriotism,” Morton said. “He was regarded by men of all parties in Indiana as an honest man, an able man, a patriotic man, and that his death was mourned by all his neighbors, and by all who knew him, without distinction of party.”

Kerr ended up being elected to Congress by a slim margin the same year of the would-be revolt, and served almost continuously from 1865 to 1873, the exception of which was the year 1872 when he lost an at-large congressional seat by fewer than 200 votes. 

While in Congress, Kerr gained a reputation for being an educated partisan among his peers. Those who knew him attested that despite not being the most eloquent of speakers, his rational, well-researched arguments contributed greatly to floor discussions. A Constitutionalist, avid state’s rights advocate and opponent of a “greenback” economy, Kerr remained true to his beliefs and could not be easily swayed from his deep convictions, so his colleagues said in a book published by Congress called “Memorial Addresses on the Life and Character of Michael C. Kerr.” 

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