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Reverdy Johnson


REVERDY JOHNSON was born in Annapolis, Maryland, on the 21st of May, 1796. He was the son of the Hon. John Johnson, who was the chief judge of the first judicial district of Maryland from 1811 until 1821, when he was appointed chancellor of the State of Maryland.

Reverdy Johnson studied law with his father, and entered upon practice in Prince George's county, and in the city of Annapolis, in his native State. While pursuing his profession, he was engaged in reporting the decisions of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, having prepared the greater part of the well-known series of seven volumes of Harris and Johnson's Reports, which extended to some time in the year 1826.

While pursuing this employment, and engaging in the active practice of his profession, he was appointed a deputy attorney-general of Maryland.

In 1817, he removed to the city of Baltimore. In 1820, he was appointed chief commissioner of insolvent debtors. He held this office until 1821, when he was elected to the Senate of Maryland. In this body he served for two years, and was re-elected, and served nearly two years longer as a State Senator. He then resigned the office, in order to devote himself to a rapidly increasing practice, which he pursued until 1845, with distinguished ability and success, reaching, by general consent, the leadership of the Maryland bar.

In 1845, he was elected a Senator in Congress. He retained this position until 1849, when he resigned it to accept the office of Attorney-General of the United States, tendered him by 
president Taylor. Upon the death of that President, he retired from office, and continued to practice in the Supreme Court of the United States, in which he had established a great and well-deserved reputation as a jurist. He was obliged, by the exigency of the times, and by his own disposition to use every effort to restore tranquillity to the country, to re-enter political life in 1861. In that year lie was a delegate to the Peace Congress. In 1862 he was elected, by the Legislature of Maryland, a Senator in Congress for the term commencing in 1863 and ending March 4th, 1869.

His distinguished services in the Senate, during the period of the rebellion, and his masterly and vigorous efforts to maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and the laws during the progress of the rebellion, and after its termination, are well known to the whole country.

During the term of President Lincoln, he was sent to New Orleans, for the purpose of adjusting grave questions which had arisen with foreign governments, by reason of the alleged undue exercise of military and civil authority, by the general then commanding in Louisiana. His action in restraining and correcting the abuses, which he had been requested to remedy, was fully approved of by the Government at Washington. 

Since the close of the rebellion, Mr. Johnson has, with signal ability, manifested his devotion to the Constitution of the United States. He has uniformly insisted that this instrument was as binding upon ourselves as upon those who sought to violate it In 1861. His selection as a member of the joint select committee on reconstruction was most judicious, for no member of the Senate was more thoroughly informed on the subject, or more impartial.

The debates in the Senate bear testimony to the earnest zeal with which he has endeavored to confine all parties and sections of the country within the boundaries of constitutional law. ln so doing, he has not ministered to the prejudices or hostilities of any political organization, in order to win popularity or promote his personal ambition. He has steadily disregarded the dictates of popular clamor and popular passion, and has been content to pursue that course which will secure to him the approbation of all good men and the applause of posterity. His political action has been so calm and impartial as to be wholly judicial in character. This quality of mind, singularly displayed through his senatorial career, was never more distinctly marked than during the trial of the President before the Senate.

In May, 1868, President Johnson nominated him for minister to the court of St. James, as successor to Hon. Charles Francis Adams, and he was confirmed by unanimous vote of the Senate. In the ensuing autumn Mr. Johnson negotiated a treaty with the British Government covering the Alabama Claims, the Northwestern boundary controversy, etc. This treaty was laid before the Senate in February 1869, and after discussion rejected, only one or two votes being recorded in its favor. In April, 1869, Mr. Johnson was recalled, and John Lothrop Motley, the historian, appointed his successor. Since his return to the United States he has devoted himself to his profession, of which he is esteemed one of the ablest members. He was consulted in reference to the Washington Treaty of 1871, and approved of its provisions. Notwithstanding his advanced age, neither mind nor body seems to have lost any portion of its vigor, and so far as we can judge, he may rival the English statesmen and jurists in maintaining his position up to his ninetieth year.

Source: Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872  

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