John Charles Watrous

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John Charles Watrous (August 1, 1801 – June 17, 1874) was a United States federal judge.

Born in Colchester, Connecticut, Watrous received an A.B. from Union College in 1828 and read law in 1830. He was in private practice in Selma, Alabama from 1830 to 1835, and in Woodville, Mississippi from 1835 to 1836. He was a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1837, returning to private practice in Texas from 1837 to 1838. He was the attorney general of the Republic of Texas from 1838 to 1839 and was again in private practice in Galveston, Texas from 1839 to 1845.

On May 27, 1846, Watrous was nominated by President James K. Polk to a new seat on the United States District Court for the District of Texas created by 9 Stat. 1. Watrous was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 29, 1846 and received his commission the same day. After his appointment to the federal bench, Watrous became the object of severe criticism, in part because his decisions in a number of cases went against the wishes of some members of the legislature and because of his personal connections with land speculation in the state. The alleged relation of Watrous to an attempt to validate forged land certificates resulted in the Texas legislature's passing a resolution in 1848 asking the judge to resign. Impeachment proceedings against him began in the United States House of Representatives in January 1851 with the presentation of three petitions or memorials. The main charges against him were violating Texas statutes punishing those dealing in fraudulent land certificates, misusing his judicial influence, and holding sessions of court improperly. After numerous investigations the case was dropped by a vote of 111 to 97 on December 15, 1858. Complaints continued to be presented to each succeeding Congress; Sam Houston, on February 3, 1859, made a scathing attack on Watrous, and Rep. Andrew J. Hamilton prosecuted the impeachment until the adjournment of Congress on March 3, 1861.[1]

The U.S. District Court for the District of Texas was subdivided into Eastern and Western Districts on February 21, 1857, by 11 Stat. 164. Watrous continued as judge for the Eastern District.[2]

Because Watrous refused a Confederate appointment during the U.S. Civil War, he was able to retake his seat after the fall of the Confederacy. He resigned from the bench on April 19, 1870.



Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Texas
Succeeded by
seat abolished
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas
Succeeded by
Joel C. C. Winch