Governor John Pierce St. John

Kansas Governor John Pierce St. John.

Kansas Governor John Pierce St. John.

John Pierce St. John was the eighth governor of the State of Kansas and the Prohibition presidential nominee in 1884. Under his tenure as governor, Kansas became the third state to enact a statewide alcohol prohibition, which would last until 1948 and remain in some form until 1987.

St. John was born in Brookville, Indiana, on February 25, 1833, the son of Samuel and Sophia Snell St. John. He was educated in a log schoolhouse, and in 1852 at the age of 19, he crossed the plains to California. There, he was engaged in various pursuits, from mining to merchandising. He participated in the wars with the Indians in northern California and southern Oregon in the years 1853-54, being twice wounded. He then visited the Sandwich Islands, Mexico, and Central and South America. While working as a miner in California, he decided to study law. After his travels, he entered the office of Starkweather & McLain of Charleston, Illinois, in 1860, where he completed his studies and was admitted to the bar the following year.

When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a private in Company C, Sixty-eighth Illinois Infantry. He served with that regiment in Virginia until it was mustered out in November 1862. He was then commissioned as a captain and placed in command of troops that were rendezvoused in camp at Mattoon, Illinois. When the 143rd Illinois Infantry was organized, he was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel of the regiment and continued to serve with that rank until the close of the war. Returning to Charleston, he then partnered with Judge McLain, the surviving partner of the old firm with which he had studied. A few months later, he moved to Independence, Missouri, where he opened a law office and made his debut in the political arena.

In May 1869, he moved again to Olathe, Kansas, where he formed a partnership with M. V. B. Parker, an association that lasted until 1875, when it was dissolved by mutual consent. In 1872, St. John was elected to the Kansas State Senate but declined a nomination for a second term. In 1876, he was a candidate before the Republican State Convention for governor but was defeated by George T. Anthony. In 1878, he was again nominated and, this time was elected; re-elected in 1880 and was nominated for a third term in 1882 when he was defeated at the polls by George W. Glick.

Governor John Pierce St. John Inaugeration by Harpers Weekly, 1879,

Governor John Pierce St. John Inauguration by Harpers Weekly, 1879.

Governor St. John was an ardent temperance advocate and the Prohibition presidential candidate in 1884. The amendment to the Kansas Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, importation, and sale of intoxicating liquors within the state, was probably due as much to his influence as to that of any other one person. It is said that in sixteen years, he traveled 350,000 miles and made 4,000 speeches, mostly on the subject of liquor traffic, and never missed an appointment. Upon retiring from the governor’s office, he became interested in mining operations in Missouri. St. John died after suffering heat exhaustion on August 31, 1916. The city of St. John, Kansas, is named after him.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of Kansas, updated April 2024.

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