- John W. Johnston
name = John Warfield Johnston
caption = United States Senator
birth_date = birth date|1818|9|9|mf=y
birth_place = "Panicello", Washington County,
Abingdon, Virginia Richmond, Virginia
death_date = death date|1889|2|27|mf=y
death_place = Richmond, Virginia
office = Virginia State Senate (1846–1848)
United States Senate(1870–1883)
party = Democratic Party
religion = Catholic
spouse = Nicketti Buchanan Floyd
John Warfield Johnston (September 9, 1818 – February 27, 1889) was an American lawyer and politician from
Abingdon, Virginia. He served in the Virginia State Senate, and represented Virginiain the United States Senatewhen the state was readmitted after the American Civil War. He was United States Senator for thirteen years; in national politics, he was a Democrat.
Johnston had been ineligible to serve in Congress because of the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbade anyone from holding public office who had sworn allegiance to the United States and subsequently sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. However, his restrictions were removed at the suggestion of the
Freedman's Bureauwhen he aided a sick and dying former slave after the War. He was the first person who had sided with the Confederacy to serve in the United States Senate.Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 11–14]
Several issues marked Johnston's senatorial career. He was caught in the middle during the debate over the Arlington Memorial. The initial proposal to relocate the dead was distasteful to Johnston, yet the ensuing debate caused him to want to defend the memory of
Robert E. Lee; the need to stay quiet for the sake of the Democratic Party, however, proved decisive. Johnston was an outspoken opponent of the Texas-Pacific Bill, a sectional struggle for control of railroads in the South, which figured in the Compromise of 1877. He was also an outspoken Funder during Virginia's heated debate as to how much of its pre-War debt the state ought to have been obliged to pay back. The controversy culminated in the formation of Readjuster Partyand the appointment of William Mahoneas its leader; this marked the end of Johnston's career in the Senate.
Family and early life
Johnston was born in his paternal grandfather's house, "Panicello", near
Abingdon, Virginia, on September 9, 1818. He was the only child of Dr. John Warfield Johnston and Louisa Smith Bowen. His grandfather was Judge Peter Johnston, who had fought under Henry "Light Horse" Harry Lee during the Revolutionary War, and his great-grandmother was the sister of Patrick Henry. [Warmuth, "Images of America: Abingdon Virginia", 34.] His mother was the sister of Rees T. Bowen, a Virginia politician, and his paternal uncles included Charles Clement Johnstonand General Joseph Eggleston Johnston. His first cousin was U. S. Congressman Henry Bowen. Johnston's ancestry was Scottish, English, Welsh, and Scots-Irish.
Johnston attended Abingdon Academy, South Carolina College at Columbia, and the law department of the
University of Virginia at Charlottesville. He was admitted to the bar in 1839 and commenced practice in Tazewell, Tazewell County, Virginia.Biographical Directory of the United States Congress]
On October 12, 1841, he married Nicketti Buchanan Floyd, the daughter of Governor John Floyd and Letitia Preston, and the sister of Governor
John Buchanan Floyd.Summers, "History of Southwest Virginia", 765.] His wife was Catholic, having converted when young; Johnston converted after the marriage. [Fogarty, "Faith in Virginia", 5.]
In 1859, he moved his family to
Abingdon, Virginia, and lived at first on East Main Street. An Abingdon resident noted that "it was a delightful home to visit and the young men enjoyed the cordial welcome that they received from the old and the young." [Cosby, "Remembrances of Abingdon", 8] While there, the family started construction of a new home called "Eggleston", three miles (5 km) east of town; the family's affectionate name for it was "Castle Dusty". [John Warfield Johnston to Lavalette Johnston, November 6, 1868, John Warfield Johnston Papers, Special Collections Department, Duke University Library, Durham, North Carolina. This is just one of several letters in which he calls their home this.] They moved in sometime after August of 1860.
Johnston and Nicketti Buchanan Floyd had twelve children, one of whom was Dr. George Ben Johnston, prominent physician in Richmond who is credited with the first antiseptic operation performed in Virginia. [cite web|url=http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/VAGuide/tour15.html|title=Virginia A Guide to the Old Dominion|year=1992|publisher=Virginia State Library and Archives|accessdate=2006-07-26] Both the Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon and the Johnston-Willis Hospital in Richmond are named after him.
Johnston served as commonwealth
attorneyfor Tazewell County between 1844 and 1846. In 1846, he was elected to serve the remainder of the 1846–1847 term in the Virginia Senate, representing Tazewell, Wythe, Grayson, Smyth, Carroll, and Pulaski counties. [Leonard, "The General Assembly of Virginia", 424.] He was re-elected for the 1847–1848 session. [Leonard, "The General Assembly of Virginia", 428.]
During the Civil War, he held the position of Confederate States receiver, and was also elected as a councilman for the town of Abingdon in 1861. [Summers, "History of Southwest Virginia", 648.] Not much is known of his activities during the war, but he did send a letter to Brigadier-General John Echols that the Order of Heroes of America, was "growing fearfully" in southwest Virginia."Official Records", Series IV, V 3, p. 812, 816] This secret order was composed of Union sympathizers. This information was used in conjunction with other reports to request a suspension of "habeas corpus" so that the military could make arrests.
After the war, in 1867, he founded the Villa Maria Academy of the Visitation in Abingdon for the
education of girls. [Lang, "Villa Maria Academy of the Visitation", 1] He was judge of the Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery of Virginia in 1869–1870. [Summers, "History of Southwest Virginia", 600.] Also around 1869, he formed a law partnership with a young local attorney, and his future son-in-law, Daniel Trigg. In 1872, they set up their offices in a small building near the courthouse which became known as the Johnston-Trigg Law Office. [King, "Places in Time, Volume One", 58]
In November 1868, he wrote a letter to his daughter, which revealed that butter was scarce and that he doubted he would get a supply for the winter, but that "when we have spare ribs, sausages & crackilin bread, we can do without butter. The fact is I begin to consider butter a luxury anyhow, that poor people have no business with." [John W. Johnston to Lavalette McMullen, November 6, 1868, LS, John W. Johnston Papers, Special Collections, Duke University]
In 1869, modern-day Virginia was essentially a military zone.
Gilbert C. Walkerwas elected as governor in this year and ushered in a moderate conservatism, with Whiggish roots. The new General Assembly ratified the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to end Reconstruction and also elected two people as representatives for the U. S. Senate, including Johnston. He was to serve the unexpired portion of a six-year term that started in March 1865. ["Senate Journal", January 28, 1870.] Johnston received a letter from William Mahone, sent on October 18, 1869, that he must go to Richmond "without fail, by the first train. You are Senator." [William Mahone to John W. Johnston, October 18, 1869, LS, John W. Johnston Papers, Special Collections, Duke University.]
Johnston was one of the few Virginia men eligible to hold office: at the time, anyone who had fought for, or served, the former Confederacy was ineligible to hold office under the Fourteenth Amendment until their "political disabilities" were removed by Congress by a two-thirds vote. Johnston's were removed because word had reached the local Abingdon
Freedman's Bureauofficer that he had helped care for an elderly former slave, Peter, who had passed through Abingdon on his way to Charlotte County, Virginiafrom Mississippi. [Johnston, "Hunting for His People", 6] [Maddex, "The Virginia Conservatives", 87.]
The Norfolk and Western Railroad passed convert|200|yd|m from Johnston's house, and former slaves used the tracks as a guide to return home from where they had been sold. In the summer of 1865 Johnston aided many with food and shelter, and in August of that year he found Peter near death in a stable near the railroad; Johnston carried him to the house, where he stayed at least a month.Johnston, "Hunting for His People", 6–13.]
When Peter regained enough strength he told his story, which Johnston later wrote down and is now kept with his papers at
Duke University. Peter had been a slave of a Mr. Read in Charlotte County, a neighbor of John Randolph. He had been sold (apparently because of Read's debts) to a trader, leaving behind a wife and young daughter to work a cotton field for thirty-five years in Mississippi. When he was freed, Peter walked from Mississippi until he reached Abingdon in his quest to return home. [Stevenson, "Editor's Foreword", 4] Johnston wrote: "It was evident to me and my wife that all our care could not rebuild that worn-out body, and that death was near at hand. He weakened rapidly ... His life was weary, toilsome, and full of trouble. But surely the Lord has rewards for such as he, and will give him rest in all eternity, and permit him to see Susy and his Mammy and Daddy." [Johnston, "Hunting for His People", 12] Peter died of tuberculosis.Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 4.]
The Freedman's Bureau agent wrote to Congressman
William Kellyof Pennsylvania requesting the removal of Johnston's disabilities because of his charity. Kelly did so and the bill passed both houses of Congress. Johnston only discovered all of this when he read about the passage of the bill in the newspaper. [Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 2.]
Johnston went to Washington in December in hopes that Virginia would be readmitted to the Union. It was, however, not until January 26, 1870, that Virginia was readmitted; Johnston was able to take his seat shortly afterward. [John W. Johnston to M. B. D. Lane, November 15, 1869, December 3, 1869, December 21, 1869, LS, Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, Harrogate, Tennessee] The delay was due to a Congressional need to pass an act that would allow Virginia representation in the body.
When Johnston arrived on January 28 to take his seat, he had some difficulty.
George F. Edmundsof Vermontquestioned whether he was the right Mr. Johnston and thought a fraud was being perpetrated until Waitman T. Willeyof West Virginia vouched for Johnston's identity, allowing his qualification. [Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 5–6] Later, he was in the process of signing a document put before him, but without having read it. This was the ironclad oath, that required all white males to swear they had never borne arms against the Union or supported the Confederacy. If the senator sitting next to Johnston, Thomas F. Bayardof Delaware, had not noticed, Johnston would likely have been "disgraced ... forever in the eyes of the people of Virginia ..." [Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 7] The oath had been deemed unconstitutional in 1867, but its use was not effectively ended until 1871. At this time, Johnston was the only senator who had sided with the Confederacy—all the rest were either Northerners by birth or had been "Union men".
At the time he joined the Senate, the two parties in Virginia were the Conservatives and the Radicals. Johnston was a Conservative, which was an alliance of pre-War Democrats and Whigs. The Democrats had once been bitter rivals of the Whigs and would not join a party of that name, giving rise to the Conservative party. Which direction Johnston would vote in the national arena was unknown, but mattered little because the Senate was overwhelmingly Republican. [Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 11–13] There were only 10 Democrats at the time out of 68 senators. There was speculation that Johnston might side with the Republicans and "turn traitor to his party and state ... for patronage" based on a letter he had written to the new Virginia governor.Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 13] These doubts were settled when Johnston declined a formal invitation to join the Republican caucus and went to a joint meeting of House and Senate Democrats; it was declared that "a Conservative in Virginia was a democrat in Washington."
Johnston served from January 26, 1870, to March 3, 1871, and was re-elected on March 15, 1871, for the term beginning March 4, 1871. He was re-elected again in 1877 and served until March 3, 1883. He was a member Committee on Revolutionary Claims, and later served as its chairman during the Forty-fifth and Forty-seventh Congresses. [cite web|url=http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsb&fileName=041/llsb041.db&recNum=6547|title=S. 1348] He was also chairman of the Committee on Agriculture during the Forty-sixth Congress.
In November 1881, Johnston served on the Committee on Foreign Relations. It is recorded that when
Clara Barton's plea to President Chester Arthurto sign the First Geneva Convention(establishing the International Red Cross), Arthur's favorable reply was referred to this committee and Johnston was named as one of the members. [Barton, "The Red Cross", 72]
Arlington Memorial controversy
On December 13, 1870,
Thomas C. McCreery(D) of Kentuckyintroduced a resolution regarding the Arlington House, the former home of Robert E. Lee, that brought down a firestorm of objections. ["Journal of the Senate", December 13, 1870.; Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 14–23] The resolution called for an investigation to establish its ownership and the possibility of returning it to Mrs. Robert E. Lee. In addition, McCreery proposed the government fix up the premises, return any Washington relics discovered, and determine whether a suitable location nearby existed to relocate the dead. ["Journal of the Senate", December 13, 1870.] Johnston described the excitement caused as the most pronounced he would see in his thirteen years in the Senate. It put him in "the most painful and embarrassing position of my life". and he was vehemently opposed:
However, in the course of the speeches opposing the resolution, Johnston felt General Lee's memory had been attacked and he felt duty bound to defend him. The Democratic Party, knowing his views and that of his state, approached him and asked him to keep silent for the sake of the party and the relief of Virginia. Johnston correctly predicted that he would be attacked at home. [Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 24–25] He was up for re-election, and the opposing candidates used his position against him. A delegation from the
Virginia General Assemblytravelled to Washington to talk with the Democrats and assess the situation and were satisfied by the reports they received. [Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 26]
Later, Johnston made a speech on behalf of Mrs. Lee and her Memorial proposal. His first attempt to speak was objected to and he was denied permission. [Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 41] Near the end of the session, when an unrelated bill was under discussion, Johnston made a motion related to it and then used the opportunity, which was allowed to Senators, to make his speech; this caused "great indignation and impatience on the floor". [Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 42] The Lee family and their advisors desired that the "true facts about the sale of Arlington and the nature of her claim to the property, should be placed before the country" [Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 27] so that, if found in her favor, she could receive compensation and then donate the property to the government. [Johnston, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate", 30–31] Eventually the
Supreme Court of the United Statesdid find in the family's favor in 1882.
When Johnston was up for re-election in 1877, he was involved in the controversial Texas-Pacific Bill, a battle between Northern and Southern railroad interests. Johnston was opposed to Tom Scott's
Texas and Pacific Railway, and the bill, which favored Scott's interests. Scott was trying to persuade Southern states to accept his railroad so that they would subsequently appoint senators who would vote for the bill.Woodward, "Origins of the New South", 34] Johnston's seat was vulnerable if Scott succeeded in influencing the Virginia legislature, as it was known that he opposed the bill. As Johnston wrote in a letter, "...what I have done about the Pacific road is before the people and I cannot recall it if I would. It would not be policy to retreat from my position nor am I inclined to do so, if was policy. I thought & I think that I was right & am therefore ready to take the consequences. I intend to fight it out on that line." [John W. Johnston to Daniel Trigg, October 23, 1875, LS, John W. Johnston Papers, Special Collections, Duke University] William Mahone worked to prevent his re-election. [Blake, "William Mahone", 146] Most Southern states went along with Scott, but Virginia and Louisiana did not, and Johnston was re-elected.
The Texas-Pacific Bill remained a bargaining chip in the
Compromise of 1877, following the 1876 Presidential election crisis. Later, Johnston gave a speech in 1878 in Congress against the railroad, specifically Bill No. 942, which he viewed as "a positive menace to the commercial interests of the South." [cite web|url=http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC06193136&id=cUsKAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA3&lpg=PA3&dq=%22john+warfield+johnston%22|title=The True Southern Pacific Railroad Versus the Texas Pacific Railroad: Speech of Hon. John W. Johnston|accessdate=2006-07-25|year=1878|pages=12]
Funder and Readjuster debate
Another issue that marked Johnston's career was the Funder vs. Readjuster debate. Funders maintained that the state was obligated to pay back its entire pre-War debt, whereas the Readjusters suggested differing, lesser figures, regarding how much was owed. [Maddex, "The Virginia Conservatives", 233–238] The controversy culminated in the end of the Conservative Party in Virginia and the formation of the
Readjuster Partyand the Democratic Party. William Mahone was chosen as head of the Readjusters and they gained control of the state legislature in 1879, but not the governorship. [Blake, "William Mahone", 182] The legislature then elected Mahone as the successor to Democrat Robert E. Withersin the U. S. Senate. [Blake, "William Mahone", 183] However, without a sympathetic governor, they could not enact their reforms. Their next chance came in the election of 1881; their aim was to elect a governor, but most importantly to maintain control of the state legislature, since it would elect "a successor to the Hon. John W. Johnston..." [Blake, "William Mahone", 186] Their party succeeded and the legislature elected prominent Readjuster, and Mahone's "intimate friend", Harrison H. Riddlebergerto replace Johnston, eighty-one to forty-nine. [Longacre, "Fitz Lee", 200; Blake, "William Mahone", 189, 216 fn 95]
Death and legacy
After serving in the Senate, Johnston resumed his legal practice. He died in
Richmond, Virginia, on February 27, 1889, aged seventy. He was conscious until his death and was aware that he was dying.Louisa J. Trigg to Lavalette McMullen, February 28, 1889, L, John W. Johnston Papers, Special Collections, Duke University] On March 1, his family brought his body from Richmond to Wytheville, where he was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery.
On May 11, 1903, a ceremony was held to install the portraits of deceased judges in the Washington County Courthouse. David F. Bailey was the speaker that presented the portrait of Johnston. [Summers, "History of Southwest Virginia", 601–602] In his speech, he described Johnston:
Johnston was outlived by his wife, Nicketti, who died on June 9, 1908, aged eighty-nine.
* [http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC06193136&id=cUsKAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA3&lpg=PA3&dq=%22john+warfield+johnston%22 The True Southern Pacific Railroad Versus the Texas Pacific Railroad: Speech of Hon. John W. Johnston] 1878
* [http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa/moa-cgi?notisid=ABQ7578-0134-14 Repudiation in Virginia] , The North American Review. Volume 134, Issue 303. University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa. February 1882.
* [http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa/moa-cgi?notisid=ABQ7578-0140-31 Railway Land-grants] , The North American Review. Volume 140, Issue 340. University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa. March 1885
* [http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa/moa-cgi?notisid=ABP2287-0032-31 The True South vs the Silent South] , The Century. Volume 32, Issue 1.
The Century Company, New York. May 1886
* Johnston, John Warfield, "Reminiscences of Thirteen Years in the Senate," John Warfield Johnston Papers, Special Collections Department, Duke University Library, Durham, North Carolina.
* Wallenstein, Peter and Wyatt-Brown, Bertram, eds. (2005) "Virginia's Civil War". Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Press. ISBN 0-8139-2315-8.
NAME=Johnston, John W.
SHORT DESCRIPTION=19th century American lawyer and politician
DATE OF BIRTH=September 9, 1818
PLACE OF BIRTH=Washington County,
DATE OF DEATH=February 27, 1889
PLACE OF DEATH=Richmond,
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