William S. Kenyon, U.S. Senator

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William Squire Kenyon

Birthdate: (64)
Birthplace: Elyria, Lorain, OH, USA
Death: September 9, 1933 (64)
Sagadahoc County, ME, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Fergus Lafayette Kenyon and Harriett Anna Kenyon

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Immediate Family

About William S. Kenyon, U.S. Senator


William Squire Kenyon (June 10, 1869 – September 9, 1933) was a Republican U.S. Senator from Iowa, and a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.


Kenyon was born in Elyria, in Lorain County, Ohio. He moved to Iowa in 1870 and attended the public schools. After attending Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, he graduated from the University of Iowa College of Law at Iowa City, Iowa, in 1890. After gaining admission to the bar in 1891, he commenced practice in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in Webster County.

He married Mary Duncombe in 1893, one year after beginning service as a prosecutor for Webster County. In 1894 he was elected Webster County Attorney, and served in that position for two periods, the second after the elected county attorney left to serve in the Spanish-American War.

He was elected to a judgeship of the eleventh judicial district of Iowa in 1900, and served for two years, before leaving to accept a position with his father-in-law, J. F. Duncombe, who was Iowa counsel for the Illinois Central Railroad. Kenyon succeeded his father-in-law as the railroad's Iowa counsel upon Duncombe's death in 1904. In 1908 Kenyon was promoted, and served as the railroad's general counsel for all lines north of the Ohio River. Then in 1910, he was appointed as an Assistant Attorney General of the United States.

U.S. senator

Kenyon, relatively unknown in political circles, announced his candidacy for election to the U.S. Senate by the 1911 Iowa General Assembly. Considered "a conservative with progressive proclivities," he sought to wrest the seat away from fellow Republican Lafayette Young, who had been appointed by the governor upon the death of Jonathan P. Dolliver. On April 12, 1911, Kenyon was elected on the 67th ballot after a session-long stalemate, in which Young was his principal Republican adversary until the 23rd ballot. Kenyon was re-elected to the Senate in January 1913 (by legislative ballot) and November 1918 (by direct popular election, following ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution), defeating Democrat Charles Rollin Keyes, a noted geologist.

In the Senate, Kenyon was considered a leading progressive and co-sponsored the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act, and the Child Labor Act.[ In 1921, he formed the bipartisan "farm bloc" in the Senate, which led to the enactment of several farm-related bills, such as the Packers and Stockyards Act, regulation of grain futures and futures trading in grain, and the Fordney-McCumber Tariff. A supporter of prohibition, he co-authored the Webb-Kenyon Act, which was intended to bolster the ability of states to enforce their own prohibition laws (prior to the adoption of the Volstead Act).

On the eve of the United States' entry into World War I, Kenyon was one of a group of twelve senators who blocked President Woodrow Wilson's armed neutrality bill, which would have given Wilson the power to arm American vessels. However, after Wilson asked Congress to declare war one month later, Kenyon voted in favor of the declaration. Following the Armistice, when Wilson pressed the Senate to support the United States' membership in the League of Nations, Kenyon became a member of the moderate faction known as the "mild reservationists," who allowed for the possibility of membership so long as the treaty were amended to address a specified list of reservations held by those senators and pursued compromise solutions. However, when Wilson refused to compromise, Kenyon continued to oppose U.S. membership.

He served as chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of State in the Sixty-second Congress, chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the War Department (also in the Sixty-second Congress), chairman of the Committee on Standards, Weights and Measures (in the Sixty-fifth Congress), chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor (in the Sixty-sixth Congress and Sixty-seventh Congress), and chairman of the Committee on the Philippines (in the Sixty-sixth Congress).

Federal judge

Kenyon served in the Senate until he resigned in February 1922, to accept appointment by President Warren G. Harding as circuit judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. He served on the court from 1922 until his death in 1933.

In 1926, he wrote the Eighth Circuit's ruling in the principal civil suit arising from the Teapot Dome scandal. Reversing a federal district court in Wyoming, the appellate court panel ordered the lower court to cancel the Mammoth Oil Co.'s leases, demand an accounting of the oil which had been taken from Teapot Dome, and enjoin the company was enjoined from trespassing further on U.S. Government property.

While a sitting federal judge, Kenyon was the subject of numerous offers of appointive and elective office. In January 1923, before the death of President Harding, newspapers speculated that Judge Kenyon would be Harding's leading opponent in the 1924 presidential race. At the 1924 Republican National Convention, he was touted as a potential vice-presidential candidate with Calvin Coolidge, and he received 172 votes on the first ballot. Even though President Coolidge indicated that Kenyon would be acceptable to him, the Convention instead selected Charles Dawes, who did not get along with Coolidge and many others. Coolidge offered Kenyon the position of Secretary of the Navy, but Kenyon declined to accept it. While a judge, he also served as an active member of a blue-ribbon "National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement," better known as the "Wickersham Commission," appointed by President Herbert Hoover to assess the lessons learned from prohibition, among other things.

In 1930, following the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Edward Terry Sanford, Kenyon was considered by some as a favorite to succeed him, but President Hoover instead nominated John J. Parker (who failed to win Senate confirmation) and then Owen Roberts (who was confirmed). In January 1932, when Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes resigned, Kenyon's name was again included on short lists of potential successors, but this time Hoover selected legendary New York Court of Appeals Judge Benjamin Cardozo.


On September 9, 1933, at age 64, Kenyon died in Sebasco Estates, Maine, where he kept a summer home. He was interred in Fort Dodge.

There are streets in Des Moines, Iowa and Fort Dodge, Iowa named after him.

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William S. Kenyon, U.S. Senator's Timeline

June 10, 1869
Elyria, Lorain, OH, USA
September 9, 1933
Age 64
Sagadahoc County, ME, USA