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John David McAdoo (1824-1883)

Associate Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1873-1874

John David McAdoo was born April 4, 1824, in Anderson County, Tennessee to a prominent family. His older brother, William, was a Tennessee politician; William's son, William, Jr., became a U.S. senator, served as secretary of the treasury under President Woodrow Wilson, married Wilson's daughter, Eleanor, and was considered a possible Democratic presidential nominee in 1920 and 1924. John McAdoo attended the University of Tennessee from 1846-48 and was then admitted to the Tennessee bar. He was married in 1852; he and his wife had at least four children.

In 1854 McAdoo moved his family to Texas, settling in Washington County. He practiced law in Washington-on-the-Brazos and ran a large plantation. In 1860 he ran unsuccessfully for Texas attorney general. During the Civil War he served in the infantry and rose to the rank of first lieutenant, was later promoted to assistant adjutant general, and by 1864 he had been appointed brigadier general. He commanded the Third Frontier District, charged with protecting the frontier and catching deserters. Following the war, McAdoo resided in Brenham, the county seat of Washington County. In 1871 he was appointed a circuit judge of the Seventh Judicial District and relocated to Jefferson.

In 1873 McAdoo was appointed associate justice of the supreme court by Gov. Edmund J. Davis; he joined presiding judge Wesley Ogden and Moses B. Walker to form the three-member court that would become known derisively as the "Semicolon Court." In this scandalous moment in Texas political history, the court participated in a conspiracy to keep Gov. Davis in power when it ruled the 1873 gubernatorial election invalid in Ex parte Rodriguez (39 Tex. 705 [1874]), based on the placement of a semicolon in Section 6, Article 3 of the 1869 Texas Constitution. Although Moses Walker delivered the opinion, some sources credit McAdoo as its author. When Richard Coke took his place as governor in January 1874, McAdoo resigned his position on the court.

McAdoo served as postmaster of Marshall from 1876-78 before retiring on his farm near Brenham. He died in Brenham on June 16, 1883. He is buried in Brenham's Prairie Lea Cemetery.


Allardice, Bruce S. McAdoo, John David, Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001).

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

Norvell, James R. The Reconstruction Courts of Texas, 1867-1873, Southwestern Historical Quarterly 62 (1958).

Shelley, George E. The Semicolon Court of Texas, 48 The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 449-468 (April, 1945).

Extended bibliography

Biographical Encyclopedia of Texas 285 (New York, New York: Southern Publishing Co., 1880).

Haley, James Evetts. Fort Concho and the Texas Frontier 113, 117 (San Angelo, Texas: San Angelo Standard Times, 1952).

Speer, Ocie. Texas Jurists 70 (Austin, Texas: the author, 1936).

Additional information available in Southwestern Historical Quarterly as follow:
Volume 48, page 449, 458
Volume 49, page 569
Volume 53, page 375, 379
Volume 60, page 18
Volume 62, page 153, 160
Volume 63, page 65, 66
Volume 82, page 243, 262