Thomas Kirker was an early governor of Ohio and political leader.
Born in Tyrone County, Ireland, in 1760, Kirker immigrated with his family to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, at the age of nineteen. After marrying Sarah Smith in 1790, he and his wife moved to Kentucky. The Kirkers did not remain in Kentucky long, moving north to modern-day Ohio in 1793. Eventually, Kirker settled in Liberty Township in Adams County, where he lived the rest of his life.
Kirker became an influential figure in the Northwest Territory, and Governor Arthur St. Clair appointed him to be a justice of the peace in 1797. Over the next several years, Kirker, a member of the Democratic-Republican Party, actively campaigned for Ohio statehood to the consternation of Governor St. Clair, a member of the Federalist Party. Kirker represented Adams County at Ohio's first Constitutional Convention in 1802 and as a member of the General Assembly (1803-1815, 1816-1817, and 1821-1825). He served as speaker of the Ohio Senate for seven terms between 1804 and 1815 and as Speaker of the Ohio House from 1816 to 1817.
Kirker became acting governor of Ohio in March 1807, when Governor Edward Tiffin resigned to become a United States Senator. His term was supposed to end after the gubernatorial election in October 1807, but Return J. Meigs Jr.'s election was overturned because he had not resided in Ohio for four straight years prior to the election. Instead, Kirker remained as acting governor for the duration of the 1807-1808 term.
As governor, Kirker dealt with Ohio citizens' concerns about Native American threats in western Ohio. He sent Thomas Worthington and Duncan McArthur to Fort Greene Ville in late 1807 to investigate, but the two men found no evidence to support the settlers' concerns. Because of Worthington's and McArthur's report, military conflict with the Native Americans did not materialize during Kirker's administration.
In 1808, Kirker ran against fellow Democratic-Republicans Thomas Worthington and Samuel Huntington for the governorship. Both Kirker and Worthington held similar political beliefs, arguing that the state legislature was supreme in creating law, while Huntington believed that ultimate authority to determine constitutionality of law rested with the Ohio Supreme Court. Kirker and Worthington split the vote among those sharing their view, allowing Huntington to gain the majority and become the state's next governor. Kirker returned to the state legislature, where he continued to represent Adams County until he retired from public service. He died in 1837.