Johnson, Reverdy

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Johnson, Reverdy

Reverdy Johnson, 1796–1876, American lawyer and statesman, b. Annapolis, Md. Admitted to the bar in 1816, he served in the Maryland legislature (1821–28) and the U.S. Senate (1845–49) and was attorney general under President Taylor. Johnson won a reputation as one of the ablest constitutional lawyers of the period. His constitutional argument as counsel for the defense in the Dred Scott Case is known to have greatly influenced the Supreme Court, particularly Chief Justice Roger Taney. A Whig and then a conservative Democrat, Johnson was sympathetic with the South but was absolutely opposed to secession and used his influence to keep Maryland in the Union. He played an important role in the unsuccessful defense of Mary E. Surratt, alleged accomplice of John Wilkes Booth. In his second term in the U.S. Senate (1863–68), he supported President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction program, and his opposition to the impeachment of Johnson influenced other senators in voting for the President's acquittal. In 1868 he was appointed minister to Great Britain, where he negotiated the Johnson-Clarendon Treaty to settle the Alabama claims; the treaty was rejected by the U.S. Senate largely for party reasons, and Johnson was recalled in 1869.

See biography by B. C. Steiner (1914, repr. 1970).

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