Samuel Johnston – Continental Congressman – North Carolina


Samuel Johnston (December 15, 1733{spaced ndash}August 17, 1816) was an American planter, lawyer, and statesman from Chowan County, North Carolina. He represented North Carolina in both the Continental Congress and the United States Senate, and was the sixth Governor of North Carolina.

==Early Life and Revolutionary Politics==

Johnston was born in Dundee, Scotland, but came to America when his father (Samuel, Sr.) moved to Onslow County, North Carolina in 1736. Samuel Sr. became surveyor-general of the colony where his brother, Gabriel Johnston, was Royal Governor. Young Samuel was educated in New England, then read law in Carolina. He moved to Chowan County and started his own plantation, known as Hayes near Edenton.

Johnston was admitted to the bar and began the practice of law in Edenton. In 1759 he was elected to the colony’s general assembly and would serve in that body until it was displaced in 1775 as a part of the Revolution. As a strong supporter of independence, he was also elected as a delegate to the first four provincial congresses and presided over the Third and Fourth congresses in 1775 and 1776. In the time after the Royal Governor Josiah Martin abdicated in 1775, he was the highest ranking official in the state, until Richard Caswell was elected president of the Fifth Provincial Congress.

Johnston is frequently cited as having served in the North Carolina Senate in 1779, but this is not confirmed by a careful perusal of the Senate Journals. He may have been elected but he certainly did not attend. In Johnston’s own words, after 1777 he “had nothing to do with public business” during the Revolution except for his later service in the Continental Congress. Under the new state Government, Johnston was elected to the North Carolina Senate in 1783 and 1784.

==Election as President==

North Carolina sent Johnston as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1780 and 1781. Johnston was elected the first President of the United States in Congress Assembled under the Articles of Confederation, but he declined the office, as reported{by whom |date=July 2012} July 10, 1781:

Thomas Rodney’s letter to Caesar Rodney of Delaware, dated the same day, reported Johnston’s decision to decline the U.S. Presidency:

The reasons for Johnston’s refusal to serve are unclear, but some historians claim the letter of July 30, 1781 clearly indicated he was in no position to accept an office which offered no salary:

Johnston’s letter to James Iredell only one month earlier gives support to that conclusion with him writing:

The uncertainty of a letter’s getting safe to you, lays me under great restraints. I can only mention in general that the King of France has given us under his own hand very lately, the most unequivocal assurances of his friendship and support, and is at this time exerting his interest and influence at the different courts in Europe to bring our affairs to a happy and speedy conclusion; and I have in my own mind the most perfect confidence in these assurances. We shall suffer much in this campaign; it will be very bloody, but I hope it will be the last. I may be disappointed, but was I at liberty to commit my reasons to writing, you would not hesitate to subscribe to my opinion.{br}

Our prospects are very fair in Europe, but it is necessary we should exert ourselves here, for every advantage we gain this summer will count as so much solid coin. We are in daily expectation of hearing from the General, who has been lately at Connecticut to consult the officers of the French army and navy. My hopes and expectations of a favorable issue to our troubles are very sanguine; but human affairs are governed by such a variety of whimsical circumstances, that we should always be prepared to stand the shock of that disappointment which the best concerted measures are constantly subject to. Present my love to my sisters, the children, and all friends. Let my brother see this and the newspapers, when you have an opportunity. I present my best wishes to him, and his family. I wish much to hear from you and him, and am, with the most sincere affection and esteem, …|{citation needed |date=July 2012}}}

On June 27, just 13 days before his election to the Presidency, Johnston wrote:

==Later Career and Death==

Johnston served as Governor of North Carolina from 1787 to 1789. He presided over both conventions called to ratify the U.S. Constitution. The first in 1788 rejected the Constitution in spite of Johnston’s strong support. He called another convention in 1789 which did complete ratification. After statehood Johnston resigned as governor to become one of the state’s first two United States Senators, serving from 1789 until 1793. In 1800 he was made a Judge in the Superior Court of North Carolina, an office he held until his retirement in 1803.

Samuel Johnston died at his home, Hayes Plantation, near Edenton in Chowan County, in 1816 and is buried in the Johnston Burial Ground there. The plantation house is privately owned, but was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973. It is now within Edenton. However the current house was completed by his son, James Cathcart Johnston, a year after Samuel’s death.

Samuel Johnston’s personal collection of books, which he bequeathed to his son James, is preserved in a full-scale replication of Hayes Plantation’s library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That octagonally shaped historic room is on permanent exhibit in the North Carolina Collection Gallery in Wilson Library.