Born in Brookville, Indiana, St. John served as lieutenant colonel of the 143rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry in the Union Army during the American Civil War. From 1873 he sat in the Kansas Senate, and was the Republican Governor of Kansas from 1879 to 1883. Active in the temperance movement, he successfully promoted a prohibition amendment to that state's constitution. St. John also helped create the Kansas Freedmen's Relief Association during the Great Exodus of African-Americans to Kansas in 1879.
He was the Prohibition Party candidate for President of the United States in the 1884 election. On October 2, 1884 he was nearly shot, with the bullet hitting the window next to him. He received 147,482 votes (about 1.5%) on a ticket with William Daniel. The election was won by Grover Cleveland of the Democratic Party. St. John was also surpassed by two other unsuccessful candidates:
St. John died after suffering heat exhaustion in 1916 in Olathe, Kansas.
Susan Parker St. John.
A close relative of Quanah Parker, the noted Comanche chief, Susan St. John shared exciting times with her husband, John. It was during his administration that the prohibition amendment was passed and the governor was so prominently associated with the movement that he was nominated for the presidency on the prohibition ticket in 1884. Mrs. St. John served as a regent of Kansas State Collage from 1889 to 1901 and helped establish a home for elderly women in Topeka. She also organized what was reported to be the first women’s cultural club in Kansas.