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About John Ireland, Governor
John Ireland (January 1, 1827 – March 15, 1896) was the 18th Governor of Texas from 1883 to 1887. During Ireland's term, the University of Texas was established, and construction on the Texas State Capitol began. Ireland is credited with the selection of local pink granite as the construction material.
Ireland was born January 1, 1827 in Hart County, Kentucky to Irish immigrants Patrick and Rachel (Newton) Ireland. Although he had little formal education, when he was 18 he was appointed deputy sheriff of the county. He went on to study law and was admitted to the bar.
In 1852, Ireland moved to Texas, where he settled in Seguin and practiced law. Two years later, he married Mathilda Wicks Faircloth. She died in 1856, and the following year Ireland married Anna Maria Penn. They had three children together.
Ireland was elected the mayor of Seguin in 1858. A firm believer in states' rights, Ireland was an ardent secessionist and served as a delegate to the 1861 Secession Convention. He joined the Confederate States Army as a private and was eventually promoted to colonel. Throughout the Civil War, Ireland served within the Texas borders, patrolling along the Rio Grande border and along the Gulf Coast.
Following the war, Ireland participated in the Reconstruction Convention of 1866 and was soon elected judge of the Seguin District. He was removed from his position the following year when Radical Republicans seized power.
Ireland reentered politics in 1872, when he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives and chaired the executive committee of the Democratic party. In 1875, he served as an associate justice on the Texas Supreme Court. Later that year, he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. The new state constitution reduced the number of associate justices on the supreme court, and in 1876 Ireland lost his position.
In late 1875, Ireland decided to run for the U.S. Senate. His primary competition was the current Governor of Texas, Richard Coke. Coke's supporters accused Ireland of having been a member of the Know-Nothing party and of opposing ratification of the new constitution. Ireland lost the election and remained in the Texas House.
During his time as a state legislator, Ireland backed the bill creating the University of Texas at Austin. He was also a proponent of low taxes and favored regulating the railroads. In 1882, Governor Oran Roberts declined to run again, and Ireland received the Democratic nomination. His main competition was G. "Wash" Jones of the Greenback party. Ireland defeated Jones by over 48,000 votes. One of his first acts as governor was to have an amendment added to the state constitution establishing an ad valorem tax. He also reformulated the policy for selling public lands. While "this policy at first increased the state's revenues...[it] eventually led to large accumulations of land in the form of cattle ranches." The ranchers soon began running barbed wire around their own land and the public lands that they used, without permission, for grazing. This practice often cut farmers and other ranchers off from water. During a large drought in 1882, people began cutting the barbed wire, leading to violence between the ranchers and farmers. This practice soon lead to the Fence Cutting War. Ireland called a special session of the legislature in 1884 to pass a law allowing the Texas Rangers to intervene in these disputes. The Rangers were able to quell some, but not all, of the violence.
Construction began on the new Texas State Capitol building during Ireland's tenure. At his insistence, the building was constructed of Texas pink granite instead of imported Indiana limestone.
After completing his second term in office, Ireland again ran for a US Senate seat and again lost. He returned to Seguin to practice law. His profits were invested in land and railroad stocks. During the panic of 1893, Ireland lost everything. He died on March 15, 1896.