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John M. Hansford (? - 1844)

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Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas, 1840-1842

It is not certain when or where John M. Hansford was born. He arrived in Texas from Glasgow, Kentucky in 1835. After a brief period in Nacogdoches County he had settled near Jonesville in Harrison County by 1837. He served in the House of Representatives of the Third and Fourth Congresses of the Republic of Texas from 1838 to 1840, serving as Speaker of the House in the Third Congress. In 1840 he was appointed district court judge of the Seventh District, which automatically made him an associate justice of the supreme court.

While on the bench Hansford became entangled in and was ultimately a victim of the Regulator-Moderator War, a violent East Texas feud that erupted in Shelby and Harrison Counties and spread into several neighboring counties during the years 1839-1944. The area lay near the "neutral zone," a strip of land claimed by neither the U.S. nor Mexico, which had become a haven for outlaws, fugitives, and swindlers. At one point Sam Houston reportedly suggested removing both counties from the Republic due to the lawless conditions.

The conflict between two rival, self-appointed vigilante groups, the Regulators and the Moderators, escalated in July 1841 at a murder trial in which John M. Hansford was the presiding judge. The defendant, Charles W. Jackson, was an organizer of the Regulators, and Hansford was a friend of Moderators. When Jackson came to trial, the courtroom was filled with armed spectators, intimidating Hansford and rendering him unable to hold court.

In January 1842 the Congress brought articles of impeachment against Hansford for alleged misdemeanors in office stemming from the incident, as well as other accusations that had been lodged against him. Charges included that he ordered that the jury in the Jackson trial be taken into custody and given only bread and water and that the defendant, who had been out on bail, be put in irons. After Hansford left the area, he allegedly sent word to the sheriff to release them. He was also charged with bringing ridicule, contempt, and disrepute to the office and subverting the rights of citizens by wrongfully, unjustly, and illegally imprisoning two other citizens as accessories to murder in another case; imposing large and extraordinary fines on citizens; and appearing in court on repeated occasions "in a state of intoxication and drunkenness." On January 22, 1842, Hansford resigned from office, and the Senate withdrew the articles of impeachment.

Hansford's troubles with the Regulators were not over, however. On his way home from church one Sunday in January 1844, he was shot and killed by a mob of Regulators when he refused to give up slaves he was holding under a writ of sequestration. By summer the militia was called in and the feud was ended in a bloodless surrender.

Sources

Blake, Robert Bruce. Hansford, John M., Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001). http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/HH/fha54.html

Cuthbertson, Gilbert M. The Regulator-Moderator War, Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001). http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/RR/jcr1.html

Ericson, Joe E. Judges of the Republic of Texas (1836-1846) 131 (Dallas, Texas: Taylor Publishing Co., 1980).

Seale, William. San Augustine, In the Texas Republic, 72 Southwestern Historical Quarterly 347-358.

1 Journals of the Sixth Congress of the Republic of Texas 1841-1842, 157, 165, 166, 170, 186, 202-3, 204-10, 233-6, 269-70. Harriet Smither, ed. (Austin, Texas: Texas Library and Historical Commission, 1940).

Extended bibliography

Fulmore, Zachary Taylor. A History and Geography of Texas as Told in County Names 198 (Austin, Texas: Steck, 1915).

Neville, Alexander White. The History of Lamar County 219 (Paris, Texas: North Texas Publishing Co., 1937).

Thrall, Homer S. A Pictorial History of Texas 550 (St. Louis, Missouri: N. D. Thompson, 1885).

Additional information available in Southwestern Historical Quarterly as follow:
Volume 32, page 284
Volume 34, page 64
Volume 44, page 459
Volume 49, page 377n, 378
Volume 58, page 270
Volume 60, page 17
Volume 72, page 353