Johnson, Reverdy


1867 ALS while Maryland US Senator, to Governor Thomas Swann, likely discussing President Johnson and the soon-to-be-passed, vetoed, and later the veto-overridden 1867 Reconstruction Acts


Autograph ID: 5893
Condition: Very good, mail folds, small chip to top of 2nd leaf
Description: “(1796-1876) Maryland law colleague of Luther Martin, William Pinkney & Roger B. Taney. Whig US Senator 1845-49 & 1863-68, Attorney General (Taylor) March 8, 1849-July 21, 1850. Represented slave-owning defendant Sandford in the 1857 Dred Scott case, although personally opposed to slavery. A key figure in keeping Maryland from seceding, delegate to the 1861 Peace Convention, mbr of Maryland House of Delegates 1861-62. Represented Major General Fitz John Porter at his court-martial for cowardice and disobedience. After the capture of New Orleans, he was asked by President Lincoln to revise General B. F. Butler’s decisions in regard to foreign governments, and reversed all of them to the Administration’s satisfaction. In 1865, he defended Mary Surratt for plotting and aiding Lincoln’s assassination. In the Senate, Johnson also served on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction which drafted the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, but he voted against its passage. In 1867, he voted for the Reconstruction Act of 1867, the only Democrat to vote for a Reconstruction measure in 1866 or 1867. At the end of the Civil War, the Congress passed 4 statutes known as “Reconstruction Acts.” A key feature of the Acts included the creation of 5 military districts in the South, each commanded by a general, to serve as the acting government for the region. The establishment of military government was due primarily to the belief that the introduction of Negro suffrage would only be possible with a show of strength. In May and June of 1865 President Johnson appointed Provisional Governors for the Southern states and ordered enforcement of Federal laws in those states. These measures were intended to have the result, when a state’s constitution should have been amended, of restoring the state “to its constitutional relations to the Federal Government,” but Congress, by an act of March 2, 1867, divided the 10 Southern states into 5 military districts, each to be commanded by at least a brigadier general. Congress also required each state draft a new state constitution to be approved by Congress. The states also were required to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment and grant voting rights to black men. President Johnson’s March 27 vetoes of these measures were overridden by Congress. After Ex Parte McCardle (1867) came before the Supreme Court, Congress, fearing the Court might strike the Reconstruction Acts down as unconstitutional, repealed the Habeas Corpus Act of 1867 revoking to the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over the case. As Minister to the United Kingdom 1868, negotiated Johnson-Clarendon Treaty for settling disputes arising out of the Civil War, which the Senate refused to ratify. Resuming law practice, he was engaged by the US government to prosecute cases against the Ku Klux Klan.

4pp (2 8 x 5 leaves) ALS while US Senator with seemingly highly interesting content, Washington, Sunday February 24 1867, to “My dear Govr” (Thomas Swann, now a fellow Democrat) marked “Private” by Johnson. Johnson has received Swann’s letter and saw the President (Andrew Johnson) at the earliest moment. The President knows Swann is his “sincere friend”. Senator Johnson does seem to say that the President may act on what Gov. Swann has written but Senator Johnson is by no means sure that he will. President Johnson admits that a law passed by a constitutional vote over his objection is as binding upon him as if passed under his approval but he appears unwilling to say so (?). Senator Johnson mentions a veto, Congress may pass (?) unless some Senators insist on debating it so as to forestall a vote. Senator Johnson does not believe that any will and in the House the previous (?) would make it impossible. Senator Johnson shares with Swann his deep anxiety for the fortunes of our country and mentions consequences “personal to myself.” The President requested Senator Johnson to say to Swann that he knows his friendship and returns it. Owing to Reverdy Johnson’s terrible handwriting, it is difficult to “translate”, unfortunately, but this letter is worthy of more patience and further research!

THOMAS SWANN (1809-1883) Maryland Know-Nothing & Democratic politician, Baltimore mayor 1856-60, 33rd Governor of Maryland 1866-69, US Rep 1869-79. Elected Mayor of Baltimore in 1856 from the Know-Nothing (American) Party in one of the bloodiest elections in state history with widespread vote fraud. In 1858, he ran for re-election, and while there was less violence, vote results were again compromised due to large voter intimidation, and the Know-Nothings took many state offices. In 1864, Swann was elected Governor as a Republican, took the oath of office Jan. 11, 1865, but did not become Governor de facto until a year later. Swann was opposed by state Radical Republicans as he supported the Reconstruction policies of Andrew Johnson. He joined the Democratic Party while Governor. In 1867, the Assembly nominated him to succeed John A. J. Creswell in the US Senate. Radical Republicans refused to admit Swann into the Senate and he was persuaded by Democrats to remain as Governor. He was elected US Rep and served 1869-79, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs 1875-79. ”
Type: Letter

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