Reverdy Johnson Was Born
May 21, 1796
The state of Maryland was caught in the
middle of the Civil War. It was a slave-holding state, but some
of its leaders, such as attorney and statesman Reverdy Johnson,
wanted to remain with the Union and not join the rest of the
slave states in forming the Confederacy.
Born on May 21,
1796, in Annapolis, Maryland, Johnson represented Maryland in
the Senate and served as attorney general under President
Zachary Taylor. That's him in the picture on the far right.
Johnson took on several controversial roles because of his
Although he personally opposed
slavery, Johnson represented the slave-owning defendant in the
1857 Dred Scot case. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in this case
that slaves were property and thus could not be citizens of the
United States. The court's decision increased antislavery
sentiment in the North and fed the fire that sparked the Civil
War. Despite the state's support of slavery, Reverdy Johnson
helped to keep Maryland in the Union during the war. This was of
great strategic importance. If you look at the map on the next
page, you might guess why.
Maryland's position kept the
District of Columbia, the capital of the Union, from being
surrounded by Confederate states. However, because of strong
Southern sentiments within the state, Marylanders lived under
martial law during the war; that is, the Union military ruled
the state. Several major Civil War battles took place within
Maryland's borders, including the Battle of Antietam, the single
bloodiest day in American history. After the war, Reverdy
Johnson argued for a less harsh treatment of the South by the
North, again representing the split attitudes of his state. Do
you know which states were slave states and which were not?