Johnson, Herschel Vespasian

Life Span
    Full name
    Herschel Vespasian Johnson
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Slave State
    No. of Spouses
    No. of Children
    Moses Johnson (father), Nancy Palmer Johnson (mother), Ann F. Polk Walker (wife, 1833)
    Other Education
    University of Georgia
    Attorney or Judge
    Political Parties
    Confederate government (1861-65)
    US Senate
    State judge
    Household Size in 1860
    Children in 1860
    Occupation in 1860
    Residence in 1860
    Wealth in 1860
    Marital status in 1860

    Herschel Vespasian Johnson (American National Biography)

    With Abraham Lincoln's election, Johnson urged his state not to follow South Carolina out of the Union. As he later wrote, "I believed . . . that the State of Georgia had the right to secede, although I deplored the policy of exercising it and anticipated the worst of consequences." At the state convention he put forward a resolution calling for delegates from the southern states to gather in Atlanta in February and compose a list of terms to be presented to the Lincoln administration. It was narrowly defeated by the motion for immediate secession. Johnson pledged to support the course chosen by his state, even though he considered it "the most stupendous blunder ever made by rational men."

    Johnson declined to seek a seat in the Provisional Congress but was pleased with its redesign of the Constitution and with the selection of Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens for the top positions in the new government...Johnson once again answered his state's call in November 1862, when the legislature…selected him to fill the Confederate Senate seat vacated by John W. Lewis. Johnson was elected to a full term the following autumn and served in the Confederate Congress for the remainder of the war. Although he differed with Davis "in several particulars," Johnson continued to support him and chastised Stephens and other Georgians for their open criticisms. As a legislator, Johnson's voting record was consistent with states' rights doctrine, opposing conscription, a supreme court, and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
    Kenneth H. Williams, "Johnson, Herschel Vespasian," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

    Herschel Johnson (Appleton’s)

    JOHNSON, Herschel Vespasian, statesman, b. in Burke county, Ga., 18 Sept., 1812; d. in Jefferson county, Ga., 10 Aug., 1880. He was graduated at the University of Georgia in 1834, studied law, and practised in Augusta, Ga., till 1839, when he removed to Jefferson county. In 1840 he entered politics as a Democrat, and in 1844 he removed to Milledgeville, serving also in that year as a presidential elector. He was subsequently appointed U. S. senator in place of Walter T. Colquitt, resigned, serving from 14 Feb., 1848, till 3 March, 1849. In November of the latter year he was elected, by the legislature of Georgia, judge of the superior court for the Ocmulgee district, which office he occupied until his nomination as governor in 1853, when he resigned. He had in the mean time been a member of the Southern Rights party, but when Georgia resolved to acquiesce m the compromise measures of 1850 he was one of the first to declare that the causes that had led to the organization of that movement had ceased to exist. He was elected governor in 1853, and re-elected in 1855. In 1860 he was nominated for the vice-presidency on the ticket with Stephen A. Douglas. He opposed the secession of Georgia to the last; but when the fact was accomplished he cast his lot with his state, and was chosen to the Confederate senate. In 1864 he began the “peace movement” on the basis of state sovereignty. In September of the same year he held a conference with Andrew Johnson regarding reconstruction, and the following month presided over the Georgia constitutional convention. In January, 1866, on the restoration of his state to the Union, he was chosen as one of the two U. S. senators to which Georgia was entitled, but was unable to serve under the reconstruction acts of congress. He then resumed the practice of the law, and when his disabilities were finally removed he was, in 1873, placed on the circuit bench for the term of eight years, which office he filled until his death. As an orator, a constitutional lawyer, and a jurist, Judge Johnson took high rank.
    James Grant Wilson and John Fiske, eds., “Johnson, Herschel Vespasian,” Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1888), 3: 443.

    Herschel Vespasian Johnson (Congressional Biographical Dictionary)

    JOHNSON, Herschel Vespasian, a Senator from Georgia; born near Farmer’s Bridge, Burke County, Ga., September 18, 1812; attended private schools and Monaghan Academy near Warrenton; graduated from the University of Georgia at Athens in 1834; studied law; admitted to the bar in 1834 and commenced practice; moved to a plantation, “Sandy Grove,” in Jefferson County in 1839 and practiced law in Louisville; unsuccessful Democratic candidate in 1843 for election to fill a vacancy in the Twenty-eighth Congress; presidential elector on the Democratic ticket 1844; moved to Milledgeville, Ga., in 1844 and continued the practice of law; unsuccessful candidate for nomination as Governor in 1847; appointed as a Democrat to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Walter T. Colquitt and served from February 4, 1848, to March 3, 1849; was not a candidate for election to fill this vacancy; chairman, Committee on the District of Columbia (Thirtieth Congress); judge of the superior court of the Ocmulgee circuit 1849-1853; presidential elector on the Democratic ticket 1852; Governor of Georgia 1853-1857; returned to his plantation near Louisville, Jefferson County, in 1857; unsuccessful candidate for Vice President of the United States on the Douglas Democratic ticket in 1860; delegate to the State secession convention at Milledgeville in 1861; a Senator from Georgia in the Second Confederate Congress 1862-1865; president of the State constitutional convention in 1865; presented credentials in 1866 as a Senator-elect to the United States Senate but was not permitted to qualify; resumed the practice of law in Louisville; appointed judge of the middle circuit of Georgia in 1873 and served until his death on his plantation near Louisville, Ga., August 16, 1880; interment in the Old Louisville Cemetery.
    "Johnson, Henry Alexander," Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 to Present,

    Herschel Vespasian Johnson (Dictionary of American Biography)

    He maintained that the North and South should share equally in the benefits to be derived from the territories and that the people of each territory should decide for themselves the question of slavery. The compromise measures of 1850 did not meet with his approval but he was willing to accept them rather than to encourage the spirit of secession, although at this time he insisted that the rights of the South in the Union should be recognized.
    He was elected by the Democrats to the governorship of Georgia and served two terms, 1853-1857. While he deplored the resort to force in the territory of Kansas by both the advocates and opponents of slavery, he supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Writing to a group of influential Northern men in regard to the extension of slavery into the territories, he said: “The South does not desire to increase the slave power in the government for the purpose of aggrandizement. She rather desires to retain her power – preserve an equilibrium – to enable her to counteract aggression under the forms of legislation.”
    Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1961), 5: 102.

    Herschel Vespasian Johnson (New Tork Times)



    The Hon. Herschel V. Johnson died at his home in Jefferson County, Ga., Monday night, at the age of 68 years. He was a native of Georgia, having been born in Burke County, Sept. 18, 1812. After being graduated at the University of Georgia in 1834, he adopted the profession of law, and became prominent in politics. In 1844 he was a Presidential Elector, and in 1848 was appointed United States Senator, to fill a vacancy. On the expiration of his term, in 1849, he was elected Judge of the Superior Court, and in 1853 became Governor of Georgia, an office which he held for four years. He next came prominently before the country in 1860, when he was nominated by the Democrats for Vice-President, on the ticket with Stephen A. Douglas. Being defeated, he became an anti-secession advocate, and, in the Georgia Convention of 1861, vigorously opposed the policy of leaving the Union. In 1863 he was chosen a member of the Confederate Senate, and in 1865 presided over the State Constitutional Convention. The following year he attended the “National Union Convention,” in Philadelphia, and was elected a United States Senator by the Georgia Legislature, but was not permitted to take his seat. In 1873 he became Circuit Judge of the State, a position which he held till his death.

    "Obituary," New York Times, August 18, 1888, p. 2.
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Flippin, Percy Scott. Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia, State Rights Unionist. Richmond: Deitz Printing Co., 1931. view record
    Greeman, Elizabeth Dix. “Stephen A. Douglas and Herschel V. Johnson: Examples of National Men in the Sectional Crisis of 1860.” Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 1974. view record
    Johnson, Herschel Vespasian. "From the Autobiography of Herschel V. Johnson, 1856-1867.” American Historical Review 30, no. 2 (January 1925): 311-336. view record
    Johnson, Michael P. Toward a Patriarchal Republic: The Secession of Georgia. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Johnson, Herschel Vespasian," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,