Reverdy Johnson

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Johnson, Reverdy,

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 CaseDred Scott Case,
argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1856–57. It involved the then bitterly contested issue of the status of slavery in the federal territories. In 1834, Dred Scott, a black slave, personal servant to Dr. John Emerson, a U.S.
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 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. SurrattSurratt, Mary Eugenia
, 1820–65, alleged conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, hanged on July 7, 1865. A widow (her maiden name was Jenkins) who had moved from Surrattsville (now Clinton), Md., to Washington, D.C.
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, 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 claimsAlabama claims,
claims made by the U.S. government against Great Britain for the damage inflicted on Northern merchant ships during the American Civil War by the Alabama
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; 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).

Johnson, Reverdy

(1796–1876) lawyer, public official; born in Annapolis, Md. He graduated from St. John's College (1811), and was admitted to the bar in 1816. He became a nationally prominent authority on constitutional law. He sat in the U.S. Senate (Whig, Md.; 1845–49) and was briefly attorney general. He successfully argued in the Dred Scott case (1857) that as a slave Scott could not be a citizen and therefore had no legal standing. A pro-Union Democrat during the Civil War, he returned to the Senate from 1863–67. He defended Mary Surratt and others against charges of complicity in the assassination of Lincoln and worked to save President Johnson from impeachment. As U.S. ambassador to Great Britain (1868–69), he negotiated several important agreements.
References in periodicals archive ?
El unico que se salva es el senador Reverdy Johnson, el britanico Tom Wilkinson hace milagros con su papel de un pragmatico defensor del derecho, en los peores tiempos.
Though the Panic of 1837 was around the corner, there had been no local, state, or national economic crisis precipitating the bank's closure, and any signs of weakness or instability had been a few years earlier, before the ascension of new bank president Evan Poultney and several new and prominent directors, led by rising lawyer Reverdy Johnson.
Reverdy Johnson, the Lincoln pallbearer who was Mrs.
Idealistic lawyer Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a protege of southern senator Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), is hired to defend Surratt against the bombast of prosecutor Joseph Holt (Danny Huston) before a military tribunal headed by General David Hunter (Colm Meaney).
Senator and lawyer Reverdy Johnson (Wilkinson) is appointed Mary's defence counsel.