Justice Thomas Johnson

On this date in 1791, President George Washington nominated Thomas Johnson to serve as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court to the seat left vacant by the resignation of Justice John Rutledge (who would a few years later serve as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court).

Thomas Johnson was born on November 4, 1732 in Calvert County, Maryland. Johnson was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1753 (which was when Maryland was still a colony of Great Britian). In 1761, Johnson was elected to the colonial Lower House of the Maryland Proprietary Assembly where he would serve continually until 1774. The Maryland Assembly sent Thomas Johnson to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1774 and 1775. Upon returning to Maryland, Johnson served briefly as a Brigadier General on the Maryland militia. In 1777, the Maryland state legislature elected Thomas Johnson to serve as the first Governor of the State of Maryland which was an office he held until 1779. During the 1780’s, Johnson worked as a private practice attorney, served in several judicial posts, and served in the Maryland state legislature in 1780, 1786, and 1787. In 1790, Thomas Johnson was named Chief Judge of the Maryland General Court where he would serve until assuming his post on the United States Supreme Court. As Congress was not in session, Justice Thomas Johnson took office immediately as a recess appointment on August 5, 1791. Justice Johnson would serve only fourteen months on the Court and write only one opinion. He resigned on January 16, 1793 citing poor health and the rigors of riding the circuit in the southern states. After leaving office, Justice Johnson turned down an offer by President Washington in 1795 to serve as Secretary of State citing again his poor health. However, Johnson did present a eulogy for President Washington at a service in 1800. Justice Johnson was also appointed by President John Adams and served as Chief Judge of the District of Columbia when that court was organized in 1801. Despite his poor health, Justice Thomas Johnson would have quite a long life by the standards of those days. Justice Johnson died on October 26, 1819 in Frederick, Maryland at age 86.