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Governor of Maryland, Supreme Court Justice
Thomas Johnson was born in Calvert County, Maryland, on November 4, 1732, and grew up in Chesapeake Bay as one of 12 children. He received his primary education at home, after which he moved to Annapolis to work as a clerk and study law under former Maryland Attorney General Stephen Bradley. After his admission to the bar, in 1756, he established a very successful practice in Annapolis.
Johnson's success as a lawyer led to a political career, beginning with election to the Provincial Assembly in 1762. A leader of the resistance to the 1765 Stamp Act, he hosted and led meetings with fellow revolutionaries in his office. As a Maryland delegate to First Continental Congress, he nominated close friend George Washington to be Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Although he supported reconciliation with Great Britain, he ultimately voted for the Declaration of Independence. During the Revolutionary War he served as Senior Brigadier General of the Maryland Militia.
Elected the first Governor Maryland in 1777, Johnson served as such until 1779. Afterwards, he served in the Maryland House of Delegates, in 1780, 1786, and 1787, and as a delegate to the 1788 Maryland convention that ratified the federal constitution. He subsequently worked for George Washington's presidential election campaign, and from 1790 to 1791 served as Chief Justice of the Maryland General Court.
In 1791, President George Washington offered Johnson a position on the Supreme Court, but Johnson was worried that the responsibilities of the Court would prove too much for his health. Washington was finally able to convice Johnson to accept the position, and he was sworn in on August 6, 1792. Johnson's fears about his health proved justified, however, and he retired on January 16, 1793. During his short tenure on the bench, Johnson wrote the Court's first recorded opinion (West v. Barnes). His last work as a public servant was as a member of the Board of Commissioners of Federal City, in which capacity he was largely responsible for the nation's capital being renamed in honor of George Washington.
Thomas Johnson died in his daughter's home near Frederick, Maryland, on October 26, 1819.
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This page was last updated on June 28, 2018.