William Johnson (judge)

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William Johnson
WilliamJohnson.jpg
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
May 7, 1804 – August 4, 1834
Nominated byThomas Jefferson
Preceded byAlfred Moore
Succeeded byJames Wayne
Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives
In office
1798–1800
Preceded byRobert Barnwell
Succeeded byTheodore Gaillard
Personal details
Born(1771-12-27)December 27, 1771
Charleston, South Carolina, British America
DiedAugust 4, 1834(1834-08-04) (aged 62)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Spouse(s)Sarah Bennett (1794–1834)
EducationPrinceton University (BA)

William Johnson Jr.[1][2] (December 27, 1771 – August 4, 1834) was a state legislator and judge in South Carolina, and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1804 to his death in 1834.

Early life[edit]

Johnson was born in Charleston. His father, William Johnson, was a blacksmith and supporter of the American Revolution who represented Charleston in the general assembly. During the Revolution, he was among the patriots deported to St. Augustine by British commander Sir Henry Clinton.[3] His mother, Sarah Johnson, née Nightingale, was also a revolutionary. "During the siege of Charleston, [she quilted] her petticoats with cartridges, which she thus conveyed to her husband in the trenches." [3]

The younger Johnson graduated from Princeton University in 1790, read law with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, passed the bar in 1793, and practiced in Charleston.[citation needed]

In 1794, he married Sarah Bennett, the sister of Thomas Bennett, Jr., who later served as Governor of South Carolina. They had at least one child, Anna Hayes Johnson, who was the second wife of Romulus Mitchell Saunders. Anna Johnson and Romulus Saunders were the parents of Jane Claudia Saunders, the wife of Bradley Tyler Johnson, who served as a general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.[4]

Start of career[edit]

Johnson was an adherent of the Democratic-Republican Party, and represented Charleston in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1794 to 1800. From 1798 to 1800 he served as Speaker of the House.

In 1798 Johnson was appointed an associate justice of the state Court of General Sessions and Common Pleas.

U.S. Supreme Court[edit]

The home of Justice Johnson still stands at 156 Rutledge Ave. in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.

On March 22, 1804 President Thomas Jefferson nominated Johnson to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, as the successor of Alfred Moore. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 7, 1804, and received his commission the same day. He was the first of Jefferson's three appointments to the court, and was selected for sharing Jefferson's political philosophy. Johnson was the first member of the Court who was not a Federalist.

In his years on the Court, Johnson developed a reputation as a frequent and articulate dissenter from the Federalist majority. While Chief Justice John Marshall was frequently able to steer the opinions of most of the justices, Johnson demonstrated an independent streak. In one notable instance, in 1808 he defied the orders of the federal Collector of the Port of Charleston, Attorney General Caesar A. Rodney, and President Jefferson, because he felt that the executive branch's control of maritime trade was an impermissible extension of its constitutional powers. (Johnson was nominated for Collector of the Port of Charleston on January 23, 1819, but chose to remain on the Court.)

During the Nullification Crisis in South Carolina from 1831 to 1833, Johnson again displayed his independent streak by moving away from Charleston so as not to be swayed by the intensity of local public opinion.

Career as author[edit]

In 1822 Johnson authored the two-volume Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene, a comprehensive work about the major general in the Continental Army who played a vital role in the defeat of the British during the American Revolution.[5]

Death and burial[edit]

Johnson died in New York City August 4, 1834 following surgery on his jaw. He was buried at St. Philip's Episcopal Church Cemetery in Charleston.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ William Johnson Jr. at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  2. ^ Life and Judicial Work of Justice William Johnson Jr.
  3. ^ a b Johnson, Bradley T. "The Memoir of Jane Claudia Johnson." Southern Historical Society Papers, volume XXIX, 1901, pg 34.
  4. ^ Hanson, George Adolphus. Old Kent: the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Notes Illustrative of the Most Ancient Records of Kent County, 1876, pg 57
  5. ^ Johnson, William (1822). Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene. I. Charleston, SC: A. E. Miller. p. title.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Robert Barnwell
Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives
1798–1800
Succeeded by
Theodore Gaillard
Legal offices
Preceded by
Alfred Moore
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
1804–1834
Succeeded by
James Wayne