Unknown - March 25, 1897
Alexander M. Kenaday
December 8, 1824-March 25, 1897
Alexander McConnell Kenaday, founder and lifetime secretary of the National Association of Veterans of the Mexican War, was born on December 8, 1824 in Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia). As a young man he removed with his parents to St. Louis, Missouri where he learned the printing trade. He also worked aboard the Mississippi River steamboat of which his father was the captain.
In 1846 Kenaday was employed in a newspaper office in New Orleans when the U.S.-Mexico War began. Seized by a patriotic fervor, he enlisted in one of the regiments of Louisiana Volunteers called out by General Gaines. But no sooner did he arrive in Texas than his organization was mustered out of service.
In April 1847 Kenaday enlisted again, this time in the Third Dragoons, one of ten new regiments created by an act of Congress in February 1847. Serving with General Winfield Scott's army, Sergeant Kenaday saw action in all the battles in and around Mexico City in August and September 1847. At the Battle of Churubusco, he particularly distinguished himself by unloading gunpowder from a burning wagon until ordered to stop by General William Worth.
During the postwar California Gold Rush of 1849, Kenaday went west to seek his fortune. In San Francisco he met and married Mary Louise Canniff, Together they had several children, none of whom survived to adulthood.
Kenaday first became involved in helping his fellow Mexican War veterans when he was called upon to "pass the hat" to raise money for the burial of indigent veterans. In 1866 he initiated the founding of the San Francisco Associated Veterans of the Mexican War.
In 1868 Kenaday traveled to Washington, D.C. in 1868 to seek passage of federal legislation that would establish an old soldiers' home on the West Coast. He was still trying to accomplish that goal when he proposed the founding of The National Association of Veterans of the Mexican War. The first meeting of the organization took place at Willard's Hotel in Washington in January 1874.
As Secretary of the NAVMW, a post to which he was continually re-elected for the next twenty-three years, Kenaday was the de facto guiding force of the organization and the man who actually kept it functioning.
After taking up permanent residence in Washington, Kenaday operated the national office of the NAVMW out of his G Street home, where he published a monthly newspaper, The Vedette, and, from 1874 to 1887, lobbied Congress for passage of a Mexican War service pension.
Passage of the Mexican War service pension act by Congress on January 29, 1887 was undoubtedly Kenaday's greatest accomplishment and the one that most directly benefited his fellow veterans as well the widows of U.S-Mexico War veterans. Afterward, as a pension agent, Kenaday successfully prosecuted the claims of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Mexican War veterans.
Not contented to rest on his laurels, Kenaday continually pressed Congress to increase pensions for Mexican War veterans.
Immediately after the U.S.-Mexico War, Kenaday returned to the printing trade, which led him to take an active role in the late nineteenth century labor movement. In 1865, as president of the San Francisco Trades Assembly, he unsuccessfully advocated passage of an eight-hour bill in California.
Alexander McConnell Kenaday passed away at his home in Washington on March 25, 1897 at the age of 72 and was buried at Washington's Rock Creek Cemetery.
For further reading:
Origins and Progress of the National Association of Veterans of the Mexican War. Washington, D. C.: National Association of Veterans of the Mexican War, 1887.