Born: 1793-01-11 Tennessee
Died: 1866-11-23 Clarksville, Tennessee
Flourished: Clarksville, Tennessee
Born in Robertson County, Johnson received his early schooling at George Martin's Academy near Nashville. In 1807, he attended Mount Pleasant Academy in Sumner County. From 1808 to 1811, he went to Cumberland College in Nashville. During the War of 1812, Johnson served as deputy brigade quartermaster in Andrew Jackson's campaigns against the Creek Indians in 1813 and 1814. Expelled from Cumberland College for refusing to follow its classical curriculum, Johnson began reading law, receiving admission to the bar in 1815. He moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, where he established a successful law practice, which he combined with a lucrative business in tobacco cultivation and production. A staunch support of Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party, Johnson won election as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1829, serving four terms before losing his bid for a fifth term in 1837. In 1830, he married Elizabeth Dortch Brunson, and the couple had three sons before her death in 1851. In 1839, Johnson returned to the House, holding his seat until 1845. While in Congress, Johnson befriended James K. Polk, and together they came to dominate Tennessee politics in the 1830s and 1840s. Johnson promoted Polk for higher office, and he exercised a prominent role in getting Polk nominated for president in 1844. Polk rewarded Johnson by naming him postmaster general. Johnson managed the Post Office Department with efficiency and honesty, and he became one of Polk's chief advisers on domestic politics, particularly patronage. After leaving the Post Office in 1849, Johnson returned to Clarksville and resumed his law practice. In 1850, he owned real estate valued at $20,000. Through the 1850s, he remained active in the national Democratic Party, endorsing and promoting the prospects of James Buchanan for president in 1856. From 1854 to 1860, he served as president of the Bank of Tennessee. He also continued his investment in tobacco and enslaved people; in 1860, he owned sixty-seven enslaved people and $27,500 in real estate and had a personal estate of $86,191. In late 1860, President Buchanan appointed Johnson U.S. commissioner to settle the claims of the Paraguay Navigation Company against the country of Paraguay. During the secession winter of 1860-61, Johnson remained loyal to the Union, winning election to the Tennessee sessional convention as a Unionist. After Fort Sumter, however, he advocated secession and joining the Confederacy. He remained in Clarksville during the Union occupation. In August 1865, President Andrew Johnson pardoned him.
Gravestone, Greenwood Cemetery, Clarksville, TN; U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Montgomery County, TN, 144; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Montgomery County, TN, 118; Jonathan M. Atkins, "Johnson, Cave," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 12:54-55.