The Civil War in North Carolina

Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians

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of society, reared in ignorance and indigence, who by integrity, energy and perseverance attained the highest positions of honor and distinction. His father, Jacob Johnson, lived and died in Raleigh; his death was hastened by exertions in saving the life of a friend from drowning.

        In the Raleigh Star of January 12, 1812, the following obituary notice appeared:

        "Died, in this city on Saturday last, Jacob Johnson, who for many years occupied an humble but useful station. He was the city constable, sexton and porter to the State Bank. In his last illness he was visited by the principal inhabitants of the city, by all of whom he was esteemed for his honesty, sobriety, industry, and his humane, friendly disposition. Among all by whom he was known and esteemed, none lament him, except perhaps his own relatives, more than the publisher of this paper, for he owes his life on a particular occasion to the kindness and humanity of Johnson."

        His son Andrew was left an orphan at a tender age. He was apprenticed to a tailor, and worked at the trade until he was seventeen years old. He never had the advantages of school. It is said that he was taught to read by his wife, but this is doubtful. He told me that he was when a boy delighted to hear Dr. William G. Hill read, as he often did, to the boys at work from the speeches of Burke, Pitt and others from the Columbian Orator, but he did not know a letter of the alphabet. Dr. Hill, seeing the interest he took in the book, gave the book to him. This was the first book he ever owned, and from this book, by application and industry, he, unaided by any one, learned to read. He felt the importance of knowledge and resolved--

                         "With such jewels
                         As the aspiring mind brings from the caves of knowledge
                         To win his ransom from those twin jailers of the daring heart.
                         Low birth and iron fortune."

        And in this fearful and unequal contest his efforts were successful. He moved to Greenville, Tennessee, and married; here his conduct was so exemplary that in 1830 he was chosen mayor of the place; in 1835 he was elected to the State Legislature, and from 1843 to 1853 was a Representative in the Congress of the United States. "Here," says Forney of the Press, in his flowing, expressive style, "we knew him well, a calm, quiet man, usually, who bore the reputation among the members of being too radical and fond of impracticable reforms. But when roused he was impetuous, rash and dogmatic. He took no advice from any one, neither from the precepts of history nor the examples before him. He never yielded his opinions or condescended to explain them, or ask other persons for their opinion. He seemed to delight in alarming the timid or irresolute by the rapid advance of his theories and ultraisms." His land system and judiciary reforms were so ultra to them that it was predicted that he would be shipwrecked in the storm he had himself evoked, and swallowed up by the waves of radicalism. But he knew the workings of the popular tide intimately and thoroughly. The storm came upon him and his opponents. It elevated him and crushed them forever. The people had confidence in him, for he sprung from the people--they "loved him because he first loved them." In 1853 they nominated him for Governor (when the State had first been carried by the Whigs against General Pierce) in opposition to Gustavus A. Henry, an able, active and practiced statesman, whose eloquence won for him the title of "The Eagle Orator," yet, with these odds, Johnson fearlessly entered the field, and by argument and truth overcame the elegant and ornate Henry. But the campaign of 1855 was most critical in the political wars of Governor Johnson, as it was the most important. The canvass commenced with the meteoric advent of the American party which was visible in the political horizon. It had just begun its career of unparalleled and brilliant success, and had swept within its orbit men of all parties and of all principles. This new organization, called "the Know Nothing party," a most appropriate name, was so called from the secrecy and mystery of its rites, binding its votaries by oath to oppose the election of all foreigners and Catholics, and to so amend the Constitution that all foreigners should remain for twenty-one years, after reaching this country, before they should be permitted to vote. Never did a task appear more hopeless than any opposition to this powerful and progressive party. Yet Johnson buckled on his armor for the fray--the more formidable the advance the heavier was his resistance and the heavier were his blows. The election of Mr. Gentry, his opponent, seemed so certain that Johnson's friends invited him to withdraw, or at least begged him to be more moderate in his declamation and less hostile and aggressive in his attacks. But he spurned their timid counsel, and opened his campaign by heavy and stalwart blows, which fell heavier as the contest thickened; victory perched on Johnson's
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