John Vernard Dowdy was born in Waco, McLennan County, Texas, on February 11, 1912. He spend his early years in Rusk, Texas and graduated from high school in Henderson, Texas, in 1928. He attended the College of Marshall (now East Texas Baptist University) from 1929 to 1931.
In the spring of 1932, he began working in a law office at Center, Texas, as a secretary, and in August became the official court reporter of the newly established 123rd Judicial District of Texas. From January 1, 1937 to January 1, 1945, he served as court reporter of the 3rd Judicial District in Athens, Texas. During this time, he was admitted to the bar and began practicing law in 1940. He was elected District Attorney of the 3rd Judicial District in 1944 and took office on January 1, 1945 serving eight years until his election to Congress in 1952.
Dowdy was elected as a Democrat to the 82nd Congress to fill a vacancy caused by the resignation of Tom Pickett. In the House, he served on the House Administration Committee and the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, serving as chairman of the Postal Operations Subcommittee in 1955 and 1956. He later served on the Judiciary and District of Columbia committees.
As a member of the Judiciary Committee, he authored legislation for protecting National Defense facilities; amended criminal laws to embrace air piracy; empowered postal authorities to police the mails; and proposed reforms in the control of obscene, pornographic, and subversive literature.
Dowdy was elected to ten Congresses serving from September 23, 1952 to January 3, 1973. However his years of service were not without controversy. On March 31, 1970, he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Baltimore, Maryland, on charges of conspiracy, perjury, and promoting bribery. The indictment charged that Dowdy allegedly accepted a $25,000 bribe on September 22, 1965 to intervene in a federal investigation of Monarch Construction Company of Silver Springs, Maryland.
Consequently, Dowdy was arraigned on the indictments on April 10, 1970. The trial began on November 8, 1971, and he was convicted on eight counts on December 30, 1971. Subsequently, he announced his retirement from Congress on January 18, 1972 and began serving a six month prison sentence on January 18, 1974.
However, in documents donated by his family to the Baylor Collections of Political Materials following his death in 1995, tapes, correspondence, and trial transcripts indicate that Dowdy may have been set up by those who opposed his conservative stance. These extensive documents are open to researchers.