Early in John McDougal’s life, he and his family moved from Ross County, Ohio to Indianapolis, Indiana. At the age of 14, John McDougal fought in the Black Hawk War. Nine years later, McDougal was appointed superintendant of the Indiana state prison at Jeffersonville. McDougal served as a lieutenant and later as a captain during the Mexican War. His regiment saw action from Santa Cruz to Mexico City. After the war, McDougal briefly returned to Indianapolis.
In 1848, McDougal moved his family to California where his brother George had become a successful merchant. When he arrived in California McDougal tried his hand at gold mining. However, he was not successful and went on to become the manager of his brother’s store in Sutterville (now Sacramento). His brother moved back east and left McDougal in charge of business. As the result of some poor decisions by McDougal, the store was “brought to ruin.”
At age 32, McDougal was elected to represent the Sacramento district at the Constitutional Convention in 1849. At the conclusion of the Convention, when nominated as Lt. Governor, he said, "I reckon I'll take that. I don't believe anyone else will have it." Despite this less than enthusiastic entrance into politics, McDougal succeeded to the office of Governor. During his term he issued so many proclamations beginning "I, John McDougal," that he was soon known throughout the state as "I John." McDougal opposed legislation that would outlaw dueling. He believed that those who dueled weren't fit to live and that by allowing them to continue to duel they would eventually kill each other off. McDougal died of apoplexy in March of 1866.