Robert Ward Johnson

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Robert Ward Johnson
Hon. Johnson - NARA - 528703.jpg
Confederate States Senator
from Arkansas
In office
February 18, 1862 – March 18, 1865
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Member of the Provisional C.S. Congress
from Arkansas
In office
May 18, 1861 – February 17, 1862
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
United States Senator
from Arkansas
In office
July 6, 1853 – March 3, 1861
Preceded by Solon Borland
Succeeded by Charles Mitchel
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arkansas's At-large district
In office
March 4, 1847 – March 3, 1853
Preceded by Thomas Newton
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Personal details
Born (1814-07-22)July 22, 1814
Scott County, Kentucky, U.S.
Died July 26, 1879(1879-07-26) (aged 65)
Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S.
Resting place Mount Holly Cemetery,
Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S.
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sarah Smith,
Laura Smith
Alma mater St. Joseph's College, Bardstown

Robert Ward Johnson (July 22, 1814 – July 26, 1879) was an American politician from the State of Arkansas. Considered a member of The Family, a political network in Arkansas, he was the nephew of three Johnson brothers in Kentucky who each served as US Congressman from the state, and held other prominent business and political positions in the state and nationally.

Early life and education[edit]

Portrait of Johnson in his younger years.

Robert Ward Johnson was born to Benjamin and Matilda (née Williams) Johnson in Scott County, Kentucky;[1] his father had three brothers who were elected as US Congressmen and the family was politically prominent in the state. His grandfather had acquired thousands of acres of land in the area at the end of the eighteenth century. The family were slaveholders.

Robert Johnson's siblings included a sister Juliette. His paternal uncles were Richard Johnson, a United States Representative and Senator, and Vice President of the United States under Martin Van Buren; and his brothers James Johnson and John Telemachus Johnson, older and younger, respectively, who were each elected as US Representatives from Kentucky.

In 1821 when Robert was seven, his parents moved the family to Arkansas Territory, where his father had been appointed as Superior Judge.[1] They settled in Little Rock. His father was appointed in 1836 as the first federal district judge in the new state of Arkansas.[1] Johnson was later sent back to Kentucky to study at the Choctaw Academy, which his uncle Richard Johnson had founded in 1825 on his farm near Georgetown, primarily to educate Choctaw boys from the Southeast in the English language and European-American culture. He was handsomely paid by the federal government.[1][2]

At times, 200-300 boys were there as students. The Choctaw students were at the school in the period prior to the Indian Removal in the 1830s of the Five Civilized Tribes, but they were under pressure in the Southeast from encroaching settlers. His uncle kept the school going into the late 1830s, after some peoples had been forcibly relocated to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.[2] The youth Johnson went on to study at Saint Joseph's College, an academy in Bardstown, and graduated.

After St. Joseph's, Johnson returned to Little Rock, which was the capital. He studied law (read the law) as a legal apprentice and was admitted to the bar in 1835. He married Sarah Smith in 1836. They had six children together; three survived to adulthood. Sarah died in 1862, during the American Civil War. The next year, Johnson at the age of 49 married her younger sister, Laura Smith. They had no children.

Political career[edit]

In Little Rock, Johnson soon became involved in Democratic Party politics. He was elected as the prosecuting attorney for Little Rock and served from 1840 to 1842. He effectively acted as the state's attorney.

His sister Juliette married Ambrose Sevier, who was later elected as US Senator from Arkansas. Both Sevier and Johnson became part of The Family, a group of men related by marriage and politics, who dominated the state Democratic Party and politics, and its national representation in the antebellum years.

Prior to the Civil War, Johnson moved his family to Helena, Arkansas, in the Mississippi Delta, where he established his law practice. Johnson was elected from there, beginning in 1846, to the Thirtieth, Thirty-first, and Thirty-second Congresses. He became chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs. In this period, his brother-in-law Sevier was chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Johnson declined to run for reelection in 1852. He was appointed by the legislature to the United States Senate to fill the unexpired term of Senator Solon Borland. In 1855, he was elected by the legislature to the seat, serving the full term until 3 March 1861. After the outbreak of the American Civil War, he served as a delegate to the Provisional Government of the Confederate States in 1862. He served as a member of the Confederate Senate from 1862 to 1865.

Later life[edit]

The American Civil War ended Johnson's political career. Property damage and the abolition of slavery ruined him economically. After the war, he practiced law in Washington, D.C. for more than a decade. Returning to Arkansas in the late 1870s, he ran unsuccessfully for reelection to the Senate in 1878. Robert Ward Johnson died in Little Rock in 1879. He is buried in the historic Mount Holly Cemetery there.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Robert Ward Johnson (1814-1879)", Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, accessed 12 November 2013
  2. ^ a b Carolyn Foreman, "The Choctaw Academy", Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 6, No. 4, December 1928, accessed 12 November 2013

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]