Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 989
This is the grave of Waldo Johnson.
Born in 1817 in Bridgeport, Virginia (today, West Virginia), Johnson grew up fairly well (especially given this is a pretty poor part of WV) and graduated from Rector College in Virginia in 1839. In fact, his uncle was Virginia governor Joseph Johnson, who governed the state in the 1850s. By 1841, Johnson was practicing law in Harrison County, Virginia. As did many young easterners, he moved to the west to make his fortune. In 1842, he headed out to Missouri to practice the law in the town of Osceola, which is southeast of Kansas City. He was a slaver all the way. He had written his brother early in life that owning land was necessary because “it gives a man an importance in the community that he would not otherwise have.” What that meant–and what he did not need to state–is that it wasn’t the land ownership that mattered. It was what you did with the land. And for a southerner in a slave state, that meant owning people to work said land.
Johnson was the type of southerner who was very aggressive in wanting to expand the slave power. So he immediately volunteered for the Mexican War, that unjust conflict where the U.S. stole half of Mexico in order to expand slavery. By this time, he was already in the Missouri legislature, of course as a Democrat (as if that had to be stated). When he came back to Missouri, he was elected as a circuit attorney in 1848 and then as a judge in 1851. But the next year, he resigned and went back to his private practice. A good bit of his legal work was in estates. In Missouri, that meant settling a lot of debts. What that actually meant was breaking up slave families and selling them off. We know from the records that Johnson was heavily involved in the splitting up of families, which does not make him particularly exceptional for a southern lawyer of the time. He also hoped to be the Democratic candidate for governor in 1860, but did not have the support of the majority of delegates, which were split not unlike the Democratic Party as a whole, between Douglas and Breckenridge supporters.
All this makes Johnson relatively uninteresting. But that changed in 1861, when the South committed treason in defense of slavery. Now, even if you want to make the bogus argument that traitors made their choices based on state over nation (which is wildly overstated) all you have to do is look at someone like George Thomas to realize that lots of southerners could and did make different choices. But it’s a whole other thing to go all-in to embrace treason when your state has not left the Union. But that was Waldo Johnson. Although Missouri never committed treason in defense of slavery, Johnson did, joining people such as John C. Breckinridge and Clement Vallandigham as the worst traitors of them all.
Moreover, Johnson did not immediately do so. Initially, he was seen as something of a moderate. He was part of the larger peace attempt by so-called moderates in 1860 and 1861, when these people basically told Republicans that if you give the South everything it wants then it won’t commit treason right now but it might later. Abraham Lincoln of course rejected this out of hand. Then Missouri sent Johnson to the Senate. But he was so openly pro-Confederate that the Senate ejected him from this seat in 1862. This happened due to his open support of secessionists. The person behind it was Vermont senator Solomon Foot, who said Johnson should be expelled. Charles Sumner was happy to follow up on this idea and also called for Johnson’s traitorous colleague Trusten Polk to be kicked out. They both were evicted. Not a single senator, Republican or Democratic, voted against the expulsions. That’s how egregious they were in their support for treason.
Johnson then volunteered for the Confederate army and became a lieutenant colonel in the Missouri 4th Infantry, treason version. He wasn’t particularly popular. See, while the elites wanted to commit treason in defense of slavery, everyday white southerners were a lot more ambivalent, especially when the Confederate draft began. Even if they supported leaving the U.S., they had bought into the small government excuses that they found the draft an unacceptable violation of states’ rights. Hilarious. Anyway, Johnson was particularly aggressive when he was a conscription officer, finding draft dodgers and forcing them into them into the military.
Then, at the end of 1863, Johnson was called upon to replace Robert Peyton in the Confederate Senate. Peyton had been part of the force defending Vicksburg as well as a treasonous slaver and he died of malaria while there. Sad. Anyway, Johnson replaced him and stayed in the Treason Senate until the end of the war. Johnson was also caught up in the Civil War at home, with his house targeted by pro-Union forces led by James Henry Lane and most of its valuables ransacked before it was burned in 1861. Sometimes in life, you get what you ask for.
Rightfully fearful of what would happen to him after the Northern victory, Johnson fled to Canada shortly after the war ended. He was in Hamilton, Ontario until April 1866. At that point, he knew that Andrew Johnson would do absolutely nothing to traitors. What a sad point in American history that someone like Johnson could just return to Missouri and live his life. But that’s what happened. He moved back to Osceola and restarted his law practice, in a nation in which he did not believe in. But did that even make him someone looked down upon by polite society or even non-treasonous Missouri Democrats. No, absolutely not. Instead, he chaired the 1875 Missouri Constitutional Convention!
Johnson died in 1885 in Osceola. He was 67 years old.
I also have to say that nearby the grave of this traitor, there is a more general monument to the traitor movement generally. It’s gross and it needs to come down. It’s not a grave. It’s a monument to the Confederacy. Now, I will say nothing against those who see these monuments and decide to make a statement on them……unless you can’t spell and make the cause look like it is full of idiots.
I was in a lefty training once, like 20 years ago. And the person leading it simply could not spell anything correctly. Not because she was stupid. But because she was raised on a commune where she was not educated because hippies are horrible parents. The problem was that this training was for college activists. So not being able to spell but using the board all the time?????? That’s going to bother the people in that room a lot. And this wasn’t some poor person–this was a college graduate who simply never bothered to learn to spell. So, like, do what you want but learn to spell. Anyway, that’s my moral tale for the day.
Waldo Johnson is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, Kansas City, Missouri.
If you would like this series to visit other people expelled from the Senate for treason during the Civil War, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. James Chestnut, Jr., is in Camden, South Carolina and Trusten Polk is in St. Louis. Previous posts in this series are archived here.