John Coggswell Conner, congressman, was born in Noblesville, Indiana, on October 14, 1842. In 1861 he received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He withdrew soon afterwards, enlisted in the United States Army, and obtained a commission. He served during the Civil War as a first lieutenant in the Sixty-third Indiana Infantry. After the war he unsuccessfully sought a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives. He rejoined the army in 1866 and this time received a captain's commission in the Forty-first Regiment, United States Infantry. He served in Texas with that unit until November 29, 1869. Between 1866 and 1869 he settled in Sherman. In 1869 he campaigned successfully in Texas as a Democrat for a congressional seat. Described by the New York Times as a "Democratic carpetbagger from Indiana," Conner was the lone Democrat representing Texas in the state's first congressional delegation since the Civil War. He was reelected in 1871 to the Forty-second Congress, defeating his Republican opponent with over 75 percent of the vote.
When Conner arrived in Washington his right to be seated in Congress received a strong challenge from a number of House Republicans. John P. Shank of Indiana moved that Conner be denied his seat until the House Committee on Elections reviewed the legitimacy of his campaign. Benjamin Butler, Republican from Massachusetts, supported Shank's motion and introduced evidence that claimed Conner had conducted himself less than honorably as an army officer in Texas. Shank's motion was defeated, and Conner took his seat. Predictably, once in Congress Conner opposed Republican-initiated Reconstruction legislation designed to assist freedmen, such as enforcement acts for the Fifteenth Amendment. On the other hand he supported economic measures that benefited his region and frequently found himself aligned with the Texas Republicans on such matters as currency, railroads, and tariffs. Relations with the Indians occupied much of Conner's congressional attention. He sought greater protection from the Indians on the Texas frontier, charging that while the government honored its treaties with Indians, the Indians failed to abide by the agreements. In his opinion Indians were an obstacle to progress, and as a result he opposed any government policies designed to aid them.
Because of a lingering illness Conner did not seek renomination for the Forty-third Congress in 1872. He died in Washington on December 10, 1873, and is buried in the Old Cemetery, Noblesville, Indiana.
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Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1971.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Philip J. Avillo, Jr.,
“Conner, John Coggswell,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
December 1, 1994