Johnston, John W. & Withers, Robert E. (ON HOLD)


Virginia’s post-Reconstruction Era US Senators


Autograph ID: 5230
Condition: Very good
Description: “JOHN W. JOHNSTON (1818-1889) Virginia lawyer and Democratic politician, nephew of General Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston attended the law department of the University of Virginia, was admitted to the bar in 1839 and commenced practice in Tazewell, Virginia. In 1841, he married the daughter of Governor John Floyd and the sister of Governor John Buchanan Floyd. In 1859, he moved his family to Abingdon, Virginia. One of his 12 children was prominent Richmond physician Dr. George Ben Johnston, credited with the first antiseptic operation performed in Virginia. Both the Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon and the Johnston-Willis Hospital in Richmond are named after him During the Civil War, he was Confederate States receiver, and was also elected as a councilman for the town of Abingdon in 1861. After the war he was judge of the Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery of Virginia in 1869–70. He served in the US Senate 1870-1883 after Virginia was readmitted after the Civil War. He had been ineligible to serve in Congress because of the 14th 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 Bureau when 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 US Senate. In 1869, modern-day Virginia was essentially a military zone. The new General Assembly ratified the 14th & 15th Amendments to end Reconstruction and also elected 2 US Senators, including Johnston. He was to serve the unexpired portion of a 6-year term that started in March 1865. 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. The delay was due to a congressional need to pass an act to allow Virginia representation in the body. At the time he joined the Senate, the two parties in Virginia were the Conservatives and the Radicals. He was a Conservative, which was an alliance of pre-War Democrats and Whigs. 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 Jan. 26, 1870-Mar. 4, 1883. He was caught in the middle during the debate over the Arlington Memorial. On December 13, 1870, Thomas C. McCreery (D) of Kentucky introduced a resolution regarding the Arlington House, former home of Robert E. Lee, that brought down a firestorm of objections. The resolution called for an investigation to establish its ownership and the possibility of returning it to Mrs. Lee. McCreery also proposed the government fix up the premises, return any Washington relics discovered, and determine whether a suitable location nearby existed to relocate the dead. In 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, asked him to keep silent for the sake of the party and the relief of Virginia. Johnston later made a speech on behalf of Mrs. Lee and her Memorial proposal.
He 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 Party and the appointment of William Mahone as its leader; which marked the end of Johnston’s career in the Senate. After serving in the Senate, Johnston resumed his legal practice. ROBERT E. WITHERS (1821-1907) Virginia physician, soldier, newspaperman, US Senator and US Consul in Hong Kong. He graduated from the medical department of the University of Virginia in 1841 and practiced in Campbell County and, after 1858, in Danville. He entered the Confederate Army in early 1861 as Major of the 18th Virginia Infantry, subsequently promoted to Colonel of the regiment, which he commanded until he retired because of numerous disabling wounds. He was appointed to command the Confederate military post at Danville, an administrative position he held until the close of the war. Withers moved back to Lynchburg in 1866 and established the Lynchburg News, a daily paper devoted to the interests of the Conservative Party. He was an 1872 Democratic presidential elector and was elected the 11th Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in 1873. He was elected as a Democrat to the US Senate and served 1875-81. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1881, losing to former Civil War general William Mahone of the Readjuster Party. He was appointed by President Cleveland as consul at Hong Kong (succeeding John S. Mosby) 1885–89, when he resigned. He retired to Wytheville, Virginia.

4 ¾ x 7 ¼ autograph album page signed by Virginia’s 2 Democratic US Senators, John W. Johnston and Robert E. Withers, both adding “Virginia” under their signatures. Undated but ca. 1875-81.”
Type: Signed Album Page

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