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Johnson, Robert W.

Born: 1814-07-22 Scott County, Kentucky

Died: 1879-07-26 Little Rock, Arkansas

Robert W. Johnson was an attorney, U.S. representative and senator, and Confederate senator from Arkansas. He moved with his father to Arkansas in 1821. He received his education at the Choctaw Academy and St. Joseph's College, Bardstown, Kentucky, graduating from the latter institution in 1833. In 1835, he received a law degree from Yale College. He earned admission to the bar and started a practice in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1836, Johnson married Sarah S. Smith of Louisville, with whom he would have six children. From 1840 to 1842, he was prosecuting attorney for Pulaski County, and in 1844, he became state attorney general. In 1846, Johnson won election as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from March 1847 to March 1853. He served alongside Abraham Lincoln during the Thirtieth Congress. He was not a candidate for re-election in 1852, but in 1853, Arkansas Governor Elias N. Conway appointed Johnson to the U.S. Senate when a seat came open with the resignation of Solon Borland. Johnson won election to a full term the following year, serving in the Senate to March 1861. Conway and Johnson dominated the Democratic Party and state government in Arkansas in the 1850s, and Johnson became one of the wealthiest lawyers/planters in the state. In 1860, Arkansas officials accessed his estate in Jefferson County, some fifty miles southeast of Little Rock, to be valued at more than $800,000, and he owned 193 slaves. By 1860, however, Johnson's political fortunes were on the wane, as he left the Senate and his political faction lost control of the state government and the Democratic Party. Secession breathed new life into Johnson's career. He succeeded in maneuvering Arkansas into the Confederacy, and he received appointment to serve in the Provisional Confederate Congress in May 1861. In 1862, the Arkansas General Assembly elected him to the Confederate Senate, where he served until 1865. Sarah Johnson died in 1862, and Robert married her younger sister Laura. The Confederacy's defeat cost Johnson his political career and wealth, and at the Civil War's end, he fled to Galveston, Texas, hoping to flee the country. Changing his mind, he ventured instead to Washington, DC, where he received a pardon from President Andrew Johnson. He returned to Little Rock and resumed the practice of law.

Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1996 (Alexandria, VA: CQ Staff Directories, 1997), 1295; Gravestone, Mount Holly Cemetery, Little Rock, AK; James M. Woods, "Johnson, Robert Ward," American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 12:124-25.