Johnston, John W.


Signature of the Virginia US Senator 1870-83, 1st ex-Confederate sit in the Senate


Autograph ID: 7021
Condition: Very good, small light spot at lower right
Description: “(1818-1889) Virginia lawyer and Democratic politician, nephew of General Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston attended the law department of the University of Virginia, admitted to the bar 1839 and commenced practice in Tazewell. In 1841, he married the daughter of Gov. John Floyd and sister of Gov. John Buchanan Floyd. In 1859, he moved to Abingdon. During the Civil War, he was Confederate States Receiver, elected a councilman for Abingdon in 1861. After the war he was judge of the Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery of Virginia 1869–70. He served in the US Senate 1870-1883 after Virginia was readmitted to the Union. He had been ineligible to sit in Congress because of the 14th Amendment, which forbade anyone from holding public office who had sworn allegiance to the US and subsequently sided with the Confederacy. His restrictions were removed at the suggestion of the Freedman’s Bureau as he aided a sick and dying former slave after the War. He was the 1st person who had sided with the Confederacy to serve in the US Senate. In 1869, Virginia was essentially a military zone. The new General Assembly ratified the 14th & 15th Amendments and 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 hoping Virginia would be readmitted to the Union. It was, however, not until Jan. 26, 1870, that Virginia was readmitted; Johnston took his seat shortly afterward. The delay was due to Congress’ need to pass an act to allow Virginia representation in the body. When he joined the Senate, the two parties in Virginia were the Conservatives and the Radicals. He was a Conservative, an alliance of pre-War Democrats and Whigs. Johnston declined an 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.” He served Jan. 26, 1870-Mar. 4, 1883. He was caught in the middle during the debate over the Arlington Memorial. On Dec. 13, 1870, Rep. McCreery (D) of Kentucky introduced a resolution regarding 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 home, return any Washington relics discovered, and determine whether a suitable location nearby existed to relocate the dead. In speeches opposing McCreery’s resolution, Johnston felt General Lee’s memory had been attacked and 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 spoke 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 the Readjuster Party and the appointment of William Mahone as its leader, which marked the end of Johnston’s career in the Senate, after which he resumed his law practice.

Signed 2 1/2 x 5 1/2 fragment of an autograph album page, adds “Virginia” under his signature, likely while US Senator ca. 1878. ”
Type: Signature

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