James Kerney was born on Lamberton Street in Trenton on April 29, 1873, one of 10 children of a tailor and his wife who had emigrated from Ireland in the early 1860s. He left school before eighth grade, worked at a grocery store and then for a wagon painter by day while studying stenography at night. After jobs as a railroad clerk, in a shipping office and as a stenographer, he was hired in 1895 as a reporter for the True American.
In 1901, he went to work for a new paper, The Trenton Times. He soon became editor and partial owner, and under his direction the newspaper flourished; within 20 years he had acquired the city’s two competing newspapers and its only Sunday paper.
James Kerney became a trusted friend and advisor to Woodrow Wilson, from Wilson’s Governorship of New Jersey through his terms as President of the United States. In 1918, Wilson sent him to France to coordinate public information on the American war effort. Subsequently, he served as Special Ambassador to Haiti. On his return to this country he continued to write on wartime events for the national press, and ultimately wrote The Political Education of Woodrow Wilson.
James Kerney’s life was centered by his devotion to his church and his family. His dedication to family, to God and to the community was exemplified through his true values of acceptance, humility and faith. And his extra-ordinary examples of philanthropy for the betterment of his community continue to lead the way for those less fortunate in the Trenton area.
Governor Edward C. Stokes, friend and confidant of James Kerney expressed so eloquently upon his death, what James Kerney’s life meant to the entire Trenton community:
“The simplicity of his life was as much an element of his greatnes as the conspicuous honors and successes of his career. No review of Kerney’s life would be complete without reiteration of his intense humanity. He was always looking after the unfortunate. Even those who had fallen into evil ways always found in him a helping hand. No one ever fell so low but that Kerney was willing to aid and uplift. He was Christ-like in his ministration to God’s people. It is only as individuals such as Jim Kerney are allowed to work out their own careers that this land will remain a land of the free and a home of the happy.”
James Kerney’s work in the political arena led him to a directorship of American Information in France during World War I and also a stint, serving as Special Ambassador to Haiti under President Herbert Hoover.
When he was appointed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey, the New York Times editorialized James Kerney with the following comment:
“His lawyer associates can tell him what the law is and Jim Kerney can tell them what life is.”
One of his most quoted documents was a letter of advice he wrote to his three sons, "Letter to 3 Sons".