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John Ireland (1827-1896)

Associate Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1875

John Ireland was born January 1, 1827, in Millerstown, Kentucky. His family had limited financial resources, and his early education was limited to common schools. At the age of 20 he was appointed deputy sheriff of Hart County, and about a year later, he was elected constable, a position he held for approximately three years. In 1851 he undertook the study of law in the offices of Robert D. Murray and Henry C. Wood in Mumfordsville. A year later he was admitted to the bar.

In 1853 Ireland left Kentucky and settled in Seguin, Texas, where he practiced law. He was married in 1854, was widowed two years later, and remarried in 1857. He fathered three daughters and later adopted the son of one of his daughters.

Ireland established himself as a leader beginning in 1858 when he was elected mayor of Seguin. He participated in the Constitutional Convention of 1861, where he voted in favor of secession. He enlisted as a private in the Confederate volunteer army and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Following the Civil War he resumed his law practice in Seguin. He participated in the 1866 constitutional convention and was elected judge of his judicial district, but was among the officials removed from office as "impediments to reconstruction" when Texas came under military control in 1867. In 1872 he was elected to serve in the House of the Thirteenth Legislature, and in 1874 he was elected to the Senate of the Fourteenth Legislature. As a legislator, Ireland became known as "Ox Cart John" for his opposition to railroad subsidies, which he believed encouraged monopoly and privilege.

In 1875 Ireland was appointed associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court. He held the position until 1876, when the constitution of that year reduced the court from five to three judges.

Following his supreme court service, Ireland had an unsuccessful bid against Richard Coke for a U.S. Senate seat, and he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House in 1878. In 1882 he was elected governor of Texas and was reelected in 1884; he served in that position from January 1883 to January 1887. As governor he called a special session of the legislature and later called in the Texas rangers to restore order during the Fence-Cutting War of 1883, which pitted ranchers who relied on open ranges against those who fenced their ranchland, denying access to food and water sources on lands that had once been accessible. Governor Ireland was responsible for the current state capitol's exterior appearance. He refused to sign a contract for the building, under construction during his terms as governor, unless native stone was used rather than importing stone from out of state; the capitol's distinctive pink Texas granite fa├žade is the result of his determination.

After two terms as governor, Ireland ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1887; it was his last political campaign. He returned to legal practice in Seguin. Ireland never forgot his humble beginnings, and was remembered for providing financial assistance to many good causes and to young people struggling for success. He died of heart disease in San Antonio on March 15, 1896 at the age of sixty-nine.

Notable opinions

Lewis v. Aylett, 45 Texas reports 190 ("first settled the principle in Texas jurisprudence that real estate can not pass by a nuncupative will").


In Memoriam, 89 Texas reports v (1896).

Davenport , Jewette Harbert. The History of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas 127 (Austin, Texas: Southern Law Book Publishers, 1917).

Elliott, Claude. Ireland, John, Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001).

Lynch, James Daniel. The Bench and Bar of Texas 306-311 (St. Louis, Missouri: Nixon-Jones Printing Co., 1885).

Extended bibliography

Bentley, H. L. The Texas Legal Directory 42 (Austin, Texas: Democratic Statesman Office, 1877).

Biographical Encyclopedia of Texas 212 (New York, New York: Southern Publishing Co., 1880).

Daniell, Lewis E. Personnel of the Texas State Government 53 (San Antonio, Texas: Maverick Printing House, 1892).

Daniell, Lewis E. Texas, the Country and Its Men 111 (Austin?, Texas: the author, 1924?).

Daniell, Lewis E. Types of Successful Men of Texas 439 (Austin, Texas: E. Von Boeckmann, 1890).

Davenport, Jewette Harbert. The History of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas 127 (Austin, Texas: Southern Law Book Publishers, 1917).

Davis, Ellis A. and Edwin H. Grobe. 1 The New Encyclopedia of Texas 261 (Dallas, Texas: Texas Development Bureau, 1929?).

DeShields, James T. They Sat in High Place 319 (San Antonio, Texas: The Naylor Co., 1940).

Oak Hill, Cedar Valley Pioneers 10. Mary M. Johnson, ed. (Austin?, Texas: Oak Hill-Cedar Valley Pioneer Association, 1956).

Johnson, Sidney Smith. Texans Who Wore the Gray 42 (Tyler?, Texas: the author, 1907).

Kittrell, Norman Goree. Governors Who Have Been, and Other Public Men of Texas 81, 90 (Houston, Texas: Dealy-Adey-Elgin Co., 1921).

Loughery, E. H. Texas State Government 66 (Austin, Texas: McLeod & Jackson, 1897).

Lynch, James Daniel. The Bench and Bar of Texas 13, 306, 533 (St. Louis, Missouri: Nixon-Jones Publishing Co., 1885).

Seals, Everett Young. John Ireland and His Time (Master's thesis, University of Houston, 1955).

Smith, Maggie Ruhamah Ruie. The Administration of Governor John Ireland, 1883-1887 (Master's thesis, University of Texas, 1934).

Speer, Ocie. Texas Jurists 80 (Austin, Texas: the author, 1936).

The Encyclopedia of the New West 82. William S. Speer, ed. (Marshall, Texas: The United States Biographical Publishing Co., 1881).

Additional information available in Southwestern Historical Quarterly as follow:
Volume 6, page 204
Volume 11, page 62, 303, 304, 306
Volume 42, page 308
Volume 43, page 304n
Volume 44, page 439, 492, 495
Volume 45, page 21
Volume 48, page 566
Volume 51, page 11
Volume 52, page 159, 235
Volume 53, page 31, 33
Volume 55, page 275, 302
Volume 56, page 430, 516
Volume 58, page 95, 401
Volume 59, page 458
Volume 60, page 18, 443, 445
Volume 61, page 79, 80, 93, 97, 98n, 217
Volume 62, page 156, 331
Volume 63, page 65
Volume 65, page 12, 449
Volume 68, page 497
Volume 70, page 96, 302, 310, 420, 508, 626, 632, 642, 643
Volume 71, page 250, 252, 253, 258, 263, 269, 275
Volume 73, page 84, 90
Volume 81, page 286, 289, 291

Moore, Walter B. Governors of Texas-John Ireland, Dallas Morning News, May 29, 1963.

Governor's Papers. Archives Division, Texas State Library (Austin, Texas).

John Ireland Papers. Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas (Austin, Texas).

In Memoriam, 89 Texas reports v (1896).