Reverdy Johnson is Born

On May 21, 1796, attorney and statesman Reverdy Johnson was born in Annapolis, Maryland.

Johnson represented Maryland, a slaveholding state south of the Mason-Dixon line, as a Whig, in the U.S. Senate from 1845-49 and again following the Civil War as a Democrat from 1863-68. Under President Zachary Taylor, he served as attorney general from 1849 until Taylor's death in 1850. Johnson was considered a brilliant constitutional lawyer and won an 1854 Supreme Court decision in favor of a patent for the McCormick reaper.

Although he personally opposed slavery and emancipated slaves inherited from his father, Johnson represented the slave-owning defendant in the 1857 Dred Scott case in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that slaves could not be citizens of the United States. The court's decision intensified antislavery sentiment in the North and fed the antagonism that sparked the Civil War. In 1865, the ruling was made obsolete with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery.

…it was Resolved, That the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Dred Scott, the evident design of which is, to degrade and rob the free people of color of civil and political rights, to perpetuate Slavery, and dishearten true philanthropy in the United States: is alike a sin against God, and a crime against humanity; and that Judges Curtis and McLean, who dissented from the infamous decision, are worthy of all praise. ”

— Motion of Rev. E. P. Rogers

Reverdy Johnson (May 21, 1796 – February 10, 1876) was a statesman and jurist from Maryland.

Born in Annapolis, Johnson was the son of a distinguished Maryland lawyer and politician, John Johnson (1770 - 1824). He graduated from St. John's College in 1812 and then studied law. He was admitted to the bar in 1815, and then moved to Baltimore, where he became a legal colleague of Luther Martin, William Pinkney and Roger B. Taney. From 1821 until 1825 he served in the Maryland State Senate and then returned to practice law for two decades.