John t. John photo

John St. John
Presidential Candidate 1884

John P. St. John was born February 35th 1833 in brooksville, Indiana.  He was elected the 8th Governor of Kansas and served from 1879 to 1883.  During his tenure he greatly advocated prohibition and during his tenure Kansas became a 'dry' state.  Governor St. John’s administration was highly praised for its honesty and integrity of leadership. The governor’s moral ground and rigid standards of honor for life and liberty gave way to a trusted citizenry and his two-term administration was not blemished with a single questionable act.

He was defeated for a third term in 1882 by George W. Glick. St. John’s defeat did not dampen his ambition for higher public office. The Prohibition Party of the day was a force of power that was not going away, and the party ultimately nominated St. John for president of the United States in 1884. His stature as a candidate caused his campaign to attract national attention, and he tallied 15 times more votes then any previous prohibition candidate. The votes he received in New York alone were so voluminous that they cut the Republican Party’s tally greatly and cost James G. Blaine that state and the presidency, making Grover Cleveland the first Democratic president since the Civil War.

Although St. John didn’t get the presidency, his righteous enthusiasm for morality and prohibition continued; he traveled in excess of 350,000 miles across the country advocating its just cause until his death in 1916.   

Source: Kansaspedia: Kansas Historical Society

John Pierce St. John (25 Feb. 1833-31-Aug. 1916) was the Prohibition candidate for President in 1884.
   St John was born in brookville, Indiana. During the Civil War, he was Lieutenant Colonel of the 143rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Moving to Kansas, he was elected to the Kansas Senate and later became Governor of Kansas.
   St. John, although primarily a Republican, was active in the temperance movement. He succeeded in obtaining the adoption of a Prohibition amendment to the Kansas state constitution and was burned in effigy as a reward. While campaigning for President on the Prohibition ticket, in 1884, he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt, the bullet hitting a window next to him.
   As were many early Prohibitionists, St John was also active in the anti-slavery movement. He helped organize the Kansas Freedmen's Relief Association in 1879. He was also a religious radical, late in life transferring his allegiance from the Congregational Church to Christian Science; Christian Science at that time was an upstart, unconventional alternative to traditional Christianity, and it was headed by a woman, Mary Baker Eddy.
   John St. John died of heat exhaustion in Olathe, Kansas, aged 83. The city of St John, in Kansas, is named for him.

Information mostly from Wikipedia.

John St. John was a lawyer, prohibition activist, the 8th Governor of Kansas, and the Prohibition Party candidate for president in 1884.

John Pierce St. John was born in brooksville Indiana, in 1833. He was the son of Samuel and Sophia Snell St. John, and grew up with a brother and a half-brother. He was educated in public schools. In 1848, his family moved to Olney, Illinois. His parents died shortly after. His father was an alcoholic, and his mother suffered from anxiety and depression. When he was 19, St. John moved to California, and spent years working various jobs, including mining, logging, and clerking at a general store. In 1852, John St. John married his first wife, Mary Jane brewer. They had one son, they and divorced in 1859.

In 1853 and 1854, served as a solder in military operations against Native-Americans in Norther California and Southern Oregon, and was wounded twice. He traveled to abroad to multiple places, including Mexico, Central and Southern America, and the Sandwich Islands. In 1859, St. John moved to Independence, Illinois. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1860. He worked at the law firm Starkweather and McLain, in Charleston, Illinois. In March 1860, he married his second wife, Susan J. Parker and had 3 children (one of whom died in infancy).

St. John served in the military during the Civil War. In April 1862, he joined the army, He served as captain of Company C, 68th Illinois Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. In October 1862, St. John encountered a starving escaped slave in Illinois, and gave him some bread. This was illegal under Illinois 1853 Black Laws (which banned African Americans from migrating to Illinois and had punishments for those who helped them). St. John decided to help the man anyways and was charged. But, St. John managed to successfully defend himself and avoided conviction. He was later promoted to lieutenant colonel, and recruited, organized, and commanded the 143rd Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry.

After the Civil War, St John moved back to Independence, Missouri, to practice law. In 1869, St. John moved to Olathe, Kansas. St. John gained prominence in Kansas as a supporter of the temperance and prohibition movement. In 1872, he was elected the Kansas State Senate as a Republican. In 1876, the Prohibition Party had tried to recruit him as their candidate for Governor of Kansas; but he declined. In 1878, St. John decided to run for Governor, was nominated by the Republican Party, and was elected.

St. John served two terms as the 8th Governor of Kansas, from January 13th, 1879 to January 8th, 1883. St. John was the first governor to be inaugurated at the newly completed East Wing of the Kansas State Capital Building. As governor, he pushed for funding to complete the west wing of the State Capital Building.

As Governor, St. John helped to lead a campaign to establish statewide Prohibition in Kansas. In 1880, voters passed a state constitutional amendment, banning the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors, with the exception for medical and scientific purposes. In 1881, the state legislature passed a state prohibition law for enforcing the new provision in the state constitution. This helped to kick off what some term the second wave of state level prohibition. Earlier in the 1850’s, 14 states (starting with Maine in 1851) established state level prohibition laws. Most of these ended up later being repealed or struck down by courts. Kansas became the first state in the second state prohibition wave in the 1880’s and the first state to formally establish prohibition in its state constitution. By the end of the decade 6 states had established prohibition laws, and various other states had passed laws further restricting alcohol.

Another key issue that St. John had dealt with as governor, the migration of freemen to Kansas. After the Civil War had ended and slavery was abolished, the country had entered into Reconstruction: a period in which the federal government had tried to reintegrate the former confederate states into the union and deal with the transition of former slaves to free citizenship. Kansas had been seeing significant migrations of African Americans as part of the Exodus movement as early as 1875. After the disputed presidential election of 1876, the Democrats and Republicans made a deal in the Compromise of 1877. Republican Rutherford Hayes became president and federal troops were withdrawn from the south. This was followed by increased violence by white supremacists, and increased efforts by politicians in southern states to attack the voting and civil rights of African Americans; ultimately leading to the establishment of Jim Crow. By 1878, there were mass migrations of African Americans into western states. Politicians in various states had sought to resist this migration and deny the migrants a home. In response, St. John insisted that Kansas should welcome the migrants, out of conviction that it was the right thing to do.

Governor St. John worked to form the Freedman’s State Central Association to assist former slaves migrating to Kansas. He had the state government work to settle African-American settlers on plots of land across the state. St. John had attempted to try to have migrants settled evenly across the state. He he faced resistance in some communities, where local officials tried to block migrants, but St. John stuck to his efforts, and overall had generally succeeded in making Kansas a refuge for African American migrants.

His other actions as governor included things such as working to make state institutions more financially self sufficient, siding with a group of settlers in a land dispute with the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston Railroad Company (which the courts ended up deciding in the settlers favor in 1881), and stationing militia to guard the Kansas-Oklahoma against potential raids from Native-Americans in Oklahoma. In 1879, the town (now city) of St, John, Kansas (previously named Zion Valley) was named after Governor St. John. This was done as part of an unsuccessful effort to get the town named the county seat for Stafford County. In 1882, St. John lost reelection to George W. Glick.

After leaving the governor’s office, St. John devoted more of his time to promoting the temperance and prohibition cause. He traveled to speak at temperance meetings across the country. In 1884, after the national Republican Party declined to add support for prohibition to its national platform, St. John left the Republican Party and joined the Prohibition Party. In the summer of 1884, St. John went on a speaking tour of the Copeland Temperance Circuit (a network of 34 temperance meeting camps across New York State, organized by John Copeland). While he was on the speaking tour, St. John was notified that the Prohibition National Convention, which met on July 23-24 in Pittsburg, had nominated him for President. St. John formally announced his acceptance of the nomination at a temperance camp meeting in Cuba, New York, on August 26th, and after finishing his speaking tour, turned his central focus to his presidential campaign.

John St. John’s ran a strong campaign, which reflected and advanced the growing prominence of the Prohibition Party. The Prohibition Party was experiencing strong growth in the early 1880’s. This was further accelerated by an increasing number of prohibition supporting Republicans defecting from the party due to its refusal to embrace prohibition in its platform. In addition, St. John gained support from some of the pro-civil service reform, pro-public ethics activists who were alienated from the major party candidates, by Republican candidate James G. Blain’s history of corruption allegations and Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland’s history of having fathered a child out of wedlock.

John St. John campaigned on a platform which included support for prohibition, support for women’s suffrage, and support for strengthening civil service laws. He presented himself as a champion of the working man, who would improve the economy and put the public interest above the interest of the greedy elite. He encouraged people to vote based on principle and argued against those who attacked third party voting as a wasted vote. For instance, in a speech in New York City, St. John stated,

“Some people say our party, that it has not got money nor uniforms nor 80,000 torchbearers. Very true. But we are lighting a torch that will burn forever. We have no influence, they say. Very true. We have not sufficient interest with the railroad companies to secure palace cars to haul us all over the country. In fact, I’m inclined to the belief that, being in the interest of the laborer, it would not be becoming in us to ride through Hocking Valley in a palace car, when laborers are working under the ground with barely enough to live on. [Applause.] We pay our own fare. If we have not sufficient money we go on foot, [cheers,] but we reach our destination. People say: ‘oh we don’t want to throw away our vote.’ Let me tell you that no vote cast for principle ever was thrown away. [Cheers]”.

He gave speeches at events crowds of hundreds and thousands of people. For instance, when St. John visited the City of Buffalo, New York, a group of 300 prohibitionists from across Western New York marched through the streets of Buffalo, and around 600 people gather to hear him speak.

While St. John campaigned across the country, his campaign focused on areas on the Northeast and Midwest, where prohibitionist sentiment was strong. His campaign efforts were most strongly concentrated in New York state, which not only had a strong prohibitionist element, but was the key swing state of the election.

During the campaign, the Republican Party and Blaine campaign feared that St. John would attract enough voters to cost them the election. After failing to convince St. John to drop out of the election, they launched aggressive efforts to publicly attack the St. John campaign and discourage people from the voting. But the St. John persisted.

In the 1884 election, John St. John over 147,000 votes nationwide, and 25,000 votes in New York state. His vote totals were over 14 times larger than the 1880 prohibition party presidential candidate, Neal Dow. His 25,006 votes in New York were far greater than the less than 1,200 vote difference between James Blaine and Grover Cleveland in New York. There is a good case to be made that St. Johns strong performance in New York prevented Blaine from gathering enough support to win the state, and thus resulted in him losing the 1884 election to Grover Cleveland. The case for St. John’s role in deciding the 1884 presidential election has been made in historical works such as "Wet or Dry? The Presidential Election of 1884 In Upstate New York", by Emil Pocock, and “The Impact of John St. John’s Campaign in New York State on the Results of the 1884 Presidential Election”, by Jonathan Makeley.

The 1884 election was the first time that the Republican Party had lost a presidential election since they had elected their first president, Abraham Lincoln, in 1860. Many Republicans at the time blamed St. John for their loss. Some angered Republicans burned wooden effigies of St. John, some harassed or assaulted people who voted for St. John, some boycotted pro-St. John churches and businesses, and some bosses fired employees who voted for St. John. Prohibition Party members were derided as “cranks” by opponents. But this persecution did not stop the Prohibition Party.

The Prohibition Party had distinguished itself as a political force to be reckoned with. The Prohibition Party continued to grow in membership and mounted even larger campaigns. In 1888, Prohibition Party presidential candidate Clinton Fisk received over 249,000 votes, and in 1892, John Bidwell got over 270,000.

After the 1884 election, John St. John returned to Olathe, Kansas. He continued to travel the country promoting temperance and prohibition. According to the Kansas State Historical Society, St. John traveled over 350,000 miles across the country promoting the cause, before his death. St. John died on August 31st, 1916, he and was buried in Olathe Memorial Cemetery.

brainard, Rick. "Governor John Pierce St. John." Kansas State History. Accessed June 18, 2019.

"City History." City of St. John, Kansas. Accessed June 18, 2019.

"John P. St. John." Kansas Historical Society. Accessed June 18, 2019.

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"John Pierce St. John." National Governors Association. Accessed June 18, 2019.

"John Pierce St. John (1833-1916) - Find A Grave..." Find A Grave. Accessed June 18, 2019.

Makeley, Jonathan. “The Impact of John St. John’s Campaign in New York State on the Results of the 1884 Presidential Election”. University at Buffalo, 2019.

National Research Council (US) Panel on Alternative Policies Affecting the Prevention of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; Moore MH, Gerstein DR, editors. Alcohol and Public Policy: Beyond the Shadow of Prohibition. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1981. Temperance and Prohibition in America: A Historical Overview. Available from:

Pocock, Emil. "Wet or Dry? The Presidential Election of 1884 In Upstate New York." New York History 54, no. 2 (1973): 174-90.

-- Biography prepared by Jonathan Makeley

Former Kansas governor and prohibition activist, John St. John ran as the Prohibition Party candidate for president in 1884. He had strong national results, receiving over 147,000 votes nationwide. In New York, he received over 25,000 votes. His strong results in New York and his ability to attract disaffected voters away from the major parties arguably lead to Republican James Blaine losing the state to Grover Cleveland, and bringing an end to the Republicans six-time presidential winning streak. 
     During the election, St. John made dozens of speeches at temperance camp meetings and Prohibition Party rallies. He attracted crowds with hundreds, and at times thousands, of people. He gave his speech formally accepting the Prohibition Party nomination for president at a temperance camp meeting in Cuba New York, to a crowd of over 3,000 people. On October 18th, he held a campaign event at Chickering Hall in New York City, during which he spoke to a crowd of several hundred people. In the speech, he made the following statement: “Some people say our party, that it has not got money nor uniforms nor 80,000 torchbearers. Very True. But we are lighting a torch that will burn forever. We have no influence, they say. Very true. We have not sufficient interest with the railroad companies to secure palace cars to haul us all over the country. In fact, I’m inclined to the belief that, being in the interest of the laborer, it would not be becoming in us to ride through Hocking Valley in a palace car, when laborers are working under the ground with barely enough to live on. [Applause.] We pay our own fare. If we have not sufficient money we go on foot, [cheers,] but we reach our destination. People say: ‘oh we don’t want to throw away our vote.’ Let me tell you that no vote cast for principle ever was thrown away. [Cheers]”. On October 24th, he visited the city of Buffalo for two events. Hundreds of supporters from Buffalo and across Western New York came to see him. A crowd of 300 prohibitionists paraded through Buffalo and converged at St. John’s first event. His second event attracted a crowd of 600. He spoke about how the Prohibition Party was a party of principle that championed prohibition. He spoke about how the major parties had abandoned the homes of the country and were siding with the liquor interests. He spoke in favor of women’s suffrage and the need to champion the interests of the working class. When all was said and done, St. John was able to receive the largest presidential vote result that the party had gotten so far at the time, greatly increased public awareness of the party, help attract many people to join the party, and started off a series of Prohibition Presidential candidates receiving hundreds of thousands of votes per election.

Sources: "Blaine's Cowardice. Governor St. John Addresses Two Rousing Meetings." The Buffalo Times (Buffalo), October 24, 1884. POCOCK, EMIL. "Wet or Dry? The Presidential Election of 1884 In Upstate New York." New York History 54, no. 2 (1973): 174-90. "St. John In Town." Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo), October 24, 1884. "Their Votes Not Thrown Away." New York Times (New York City), October 18, 1884

               -- Contributed by Jonathan Makeley