Few words of introduction are needed in presenting the name of the subject of this sketch -a name familiarly known, not only throughout the State of Illinois, but most of the Northern States east of the Mississippi. He has not only made himself illustrious among the members of the legal fraternity of the Northwest, but during the late Civil War underwent an experience illustrating to what extent malice and jealousy will proceed to gain its ends. His broad experience of life in its various phases has contributed grandly to the development of a character naturally strong, and has been a school from which he has learned deep lessons - those lessons by which men have been enabled to give to the world its finest examples of strength and courage. The personal appearance of Madison Y. Johnson strikes the beholder at once as that of a man of no common abilities. From the glance of his eye - deep-set, dark, and penetrating - the coward invariably slinks away. The other features of his countenance are strongly marked, and firm almost to sternness - the reflection of an indomitable will and unswerving adherence to his convictions. He involuntarily reminds one of those sturdy spirits of Revolutionary days, who placed life lightly in the balance against injustice, and who embraced death in preference to subjecting themselves to tyranny. In his political life Mr. Johnson has from early manhood been a stanch supporter of Jeffersonian Democracy, and later on in this record will be noted the manner in which he suffered for his principles, and his final vindication from the charges of his calumniators.

In noting the events of a long and varied career we go back to the birth of our subject, which occurred in Xenia, Greene Co., Ohio, Jan. 7, 1817. When a child he removed with his parents to Kentucky, where he developed into manhood, entered upon the study of law, and in due time was admitted to practice in the courts of the Blue Grass State, making his headquarters in the city of Louisville. Naturally studious, and an extensive reader, he, while a young man, gave promise of a future career of more than ordinary success. He had been, as a student, associated with the renowned Chief Justice Dewey, of Indiana, and at the same time met with many other eminent men, whose friendship and the intercourse attendant thereupon proved to be to him of great assistance.

About 1841 Mr. Johnson resolved to change the scene of his operations to the newer State of Illinois, and established an office at Shawneetown, where he carried on a practice until his removal to Galena, in 1844. It may be proper here to note that he is the scion of an excellent family, being the son of Joseph Johnson, M. D., a native of Lynchburg, Va., and whose family had been widely known throughout the Old Dominion for several generations. They were originally of Quaker stock, possessing all the strict and correct principles of that peculiar sect. They were collaterly (sic) related to the families of those men, who, at a later day, made themselves famous - Joseph E. and Sidney Johnson - whose names are intimately associated with the history of Kentucky and the late war. The father of our subject was carefully reared and well educated, and chose for his profession the practice of medicine, which he entered upon early in life, and was for some time a student of Prof. Jennings, of the city of Baltimore. Later he became a practioner (sic) and professor in Louisville, of the Medical College there. Upon leaving Kentucky he removed to Illinois, and died in Galena of apoplexy, about 1847. He was a man of high principles and great courage, and transmitted these qualities in a marked degree to his son.

Joseph Johnson was married in Rockbridge County, Va., to Miss Hannah Adair, a daughter of one of the leading families, and whose father had done good service as a patriot during the Revolutionary War. The mother of our subject was highly educated, a lady of fine accomplishments, a faithful wife, and a devoted mother. She accompanied her husband to Galena, and remained, after his decease, in this county, where her death took place, about 1855.

The people of Jo Daviess County, after the settlement of Mr. Johnson in Galena, soon began to recognize in him a man calculated to be an important addition to the ranks of its intelligent and capable men. So faithful was he to the interests of his clients, and so successful in securing to them their inalienable rights, that he at once entered upon a very lucrative practice, and it was not long until he had acquired a competency. At the same time he signalized himself as a liberal and public-spirited citizen - one wholly devoted to the interests of his adopted county. He made himself master of the various questions arising in the development of the new section; the introduction of new laws, and the various subjects constantly coming under discussion by the legal fraternity. He interested himself in railroad matters, and upon the organization of the Galena & Southern Wisconsin Railroad Company was made President of the road, and was instrumental in building forty miles of this from Galena north. This project was begun in 1872, and Mr. Johnson was connected with the road until its absorption with the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Company.

There have been few enterprises connected with the local history of Galena in which Mr. Johnson has not borne an active part. Always on the side of the people, he gave his uniform support to those projects calculated to insure their welfare and happiness. In politics, he, for a time, bore an important part, and was frequently sent as a delegate to the Congressional and various other conventions. He interested himself in the improvement of the Mississippi River along the western border of the State, and for three winters was the delegate to Washington of the River and Harbor Conventions, when, in 1881, Commissioners were appointed to take charge of further work in this direction. He became considerably interested in the lead mines of Galena, and other business enterprises in this direction, but has given his best thoughts and efforts to perfecting himself as a law practitioner. His career has been unmarked by the desire for official preferment, he having devoted himself closely to the practice of his profession, aiming to excel as an attorney and jurist. There has been no time in his career when he could not have been the incumbent of a lucrative office, as the gift of his party, but he preferred to give his attention to his legitimate calling.

Since the summer of 1868, when attending the National Democratic Convention in New York City; which nominated Horatio Seymour for the Presidency, Mr. Johnson has taken little part in politics, but he has retained through all the changes in National affairs his strong adherence to the sentiments of Henry Clay, and during the troubles following the outbreak of the Rebellion, after canvassing all sides of each question, he availed himself of the privileges of a free American citizen, to express his honest convictions in regard to various matters, and this act was destined to bring about the circumstances in connection with his career which have become matters of history.

On the 28th day of August, 1862, Mr. Johnson, while engaged in the defense of a murder trial, was seized in the court-house in the city of Galena and conveyed to the passenger depot, and thence transported to Chicago, where he was confined two days, then taken to New York City, and imprisoned in what is known as the "Inner Temple," on Elm street, where he was confined twenty-four hours, and then taken to Ft. Hamilton. From there he was conveyed on a boat to Ft. La Fayette in New York Harbor, where he was detained as a "political prisoner" two months, when he was removed to the House of Detention, among pirates and thieves, and later he was placed in Ft. Delaware, a military fortification in the Delaware Bay, and there confined for a space of three months. At length he was set at liberty without any trial or examination whatever, or any charge of any offense ever having been preferred against him, and when turned out he was as vindictive as Coriolanus at the head of his Volscians before the walls of Rome.

For this outrage of mind and body, the seperation (sic) from his family, and being prevented from attending to important private affairs, being also at the same time subjected to great expense, and the danger attendant upon bad treatment and unhealthy surroundings, Mr. Johnson brought suit against the instigators of this persecution, which resulted in the following judgment:

Judgment Entered.


Jo Daviess County

In the Circuit Court of Jo Daviess County, to the May Term, A. D. 1869:

Trespass for False Imprisonment -

Madison Y. Johnson,

J. Russell Jones,

John C. Hawkins,

Oliver P. Hopkins,

Elihu B. Washburne,
Bradner Smith.

And now comes the said defendants, Jones, Hawkins, and Hopkins. and admit that the said pleas, heretofore filed by them in said case, and the matters and things therein set forth against said plaintiff, are untrue in substance and in fact, and the defendants ask leave of the court to withdraw the same, which is granted by the Court, and the said defendants further confess the wrongful trespass and imprisonment set forth in said declaration, and that the said defendants are guilty in manner and form as therein stated and set forth, and that said plaintiff has sustained great damage thereby, as is alleged in said declaration, and said defendants further confess that the said seizure and imprisonment of said plaintiff was wrongful, unjustifiable and without cause, and that said plaintiff was innocent of the violation of any law, or of doing any act inimical to the Government of the United States, and that said plaintiff did not act, used no expression, or exercised any influence, to the knowledge of said defendants, that was not in support of the Government of the United States, its constitution and its laws. And, inasmuch as said suit was brought by said plaintiff for a personal vindication of his character and conduct as a citizen, he releases the said damages, except as to the sum of one thousand dollars, for costs and expenses incurred by said plaintiff, on account of said wrongful seizure and imprisonment.

It is thereupon considered by the court that the said plaintiff have and recover of and from the said defendants, Jones, Hawkins and Hopkins, the said sum of one thousand dollars and costs of court, and that execution issue therefor.

Filed and entered on record on the 24th of May, 1869.

Such is the finale of one of the most important cases that occurred during the war. After the entry of the confession above, nothing personal to ourself need be said, our interests are canceled, but the principles involved, and the questious (sic) judicially settled, are the common property of all, and will stand as a landmark limiting the powers of the Executive, and congress, in their mad crusade against personal liberty. Had we consulted our personal security, in less fearlessly expressing our opinions, when so many were disposed to falter, we might have avoided the outrage, but we believed then that the fanatical war against slavery would change our form of government, by centralizing power in the federal, to the detriment of the State governments, and unless resisted, and confined within constitutional limits, anarchy and a military despotism would blot out free institutions.

We had no disposition to invite outrage, or to place ourself (sic) in advance of others, as the guardian of public liberty, but being selected as one of the victims, with which to terrify the masses into a compliance with their unlawful acts, we could not, in justice to those that were to come after us, do less than breast the storm of popular fanaticism at the time, looking to the future for a justification of our motives.

It cannot be urged, as an apology or excuse, for the actors in this criminal outrage, that I was either lost sight of or forgotten, but they acted with a full knowledge of all the facts, as set out in the confession of judgment.

It was not only a matter of public notoriety, but a knowledge of the facts were spread before the President, Secretary of War, and Congress, neither of which had the manliness to discharge their duty, protect the innocent, or defend personal liberty.

We herewith copy a memorial addressed to Congress at the time, and spread on the records of the Senate. See Congressional Globe 37th congress, 3d session, 1st part of proceedings of 1862-63, on pages 664 and 665, as follows:

To the Honorable Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled:

The petition and memorial of Madison Y. Johnson, a citizen of the State of Illinois, would respectfully represent, unto your honorable body, that about nine o'clock at night on the 28th of August last, your petitioner was arrested in court while engaged in the defense of a murder case, in the city of Galena, his place of residence. That said arrest was made by authority of a telegraphic dispatch purporting to be by order of the Secretary of War, and signed L. C. Turner, Judge Advocate, in which said dispatch your petitioner was charged with "disloyal practices," and ordered to be conveyed to Ft. La Fayette, in the State of New York, and delivered to the commandant thereof.

Your petitioner was arrested as aforesaid, and remained in custody during the remaining progress of said trial and after the same was completed he was conveyed to the city of New York, to the police headquarters of John A. Kennedy, Provost Marshal, where he was detained a few hours, in what is known as the "Inner Temple," from there conveyed and lodged in Ft. La Fayette, on the 2nd of September last, without any warrant, process or charge of an offense against the law of the country, except said telegram. Your petitioner here states the fact, that he has never at any time, in word, act or deed, been guilty of any "disloyal practice," or of any disloyal act, at any time, or under any circumstances.

That on the 9th of September the Judge Advocate appeared at Ft. La Fayette and had an interview with your petitioner, when he asked if I knew what I was charged with. I answered I did not know either the charge on which I was held, or who was my accuser, but I stood ready to answer for every act of my life against my country. He asked me if I was not Yankee enough to guess what I was arrested for. I replied I had not a drop of Yankee blood in me, and no disposition to guess, but I desired to know with what I was charged, and who were my accusers. He avoided answering. After a good deal of conversation he asked me if I was willing to take the oath as a loyal man. I answered I had not the slightest objection to take any oath the laws of my country imposed, but I would take no oath prescribed by arbitrary power, that might by implication impeach my integrity as a man, or that cast a suspicion on me, as being guilty of any offense, as a condition of my release.

On the 17th of September I was removed to the city of New York, by order of the Secretary of War, and placed in the House of Detention (among negroes, pirates, and thieves), and shortly after removed to Ft. Delaware, where I have.remained ever since, held as a political prisoner, restrained of my liberty.

Your petitioner would further represent, that during the last three months he has presented his grievances to the Judge Advocate, the Secretary of War, Maj.-Gen. Wool, who had command of the post, and to the President as follows:

(Copy of Letter to the President.)

"Ft. Delaware, Oct. 28, 1862.

" To His Excellency, President Lincoln:

"Sir: - I addressed a letter to you on the 7th of September, from Ft. La Fayette, informing you of my arrest in Galena on a telegraph dispatch of the Secretary of War. I was at once transported beyond the jurisdiction of my State and after being detained in Ft. La Fayette I was removed to this place, where I have been detained ever since, and, strange to say, up to this day I have no knowledge of what offense I am charged, or who is my accuser. That the Government has been imposed upon by the machinations of private malice through the representations of a dishonorable member of congress (I am induced to believe from the facts within my knowledge). I have patiently endured all these things, hoping my Government would enquire (sic) into and vindicate me. I have addressed Maj.-Gen. Wool and the Secretary of War respectively, as I was advised at the time I was under their jurisdiction, none of whom have answered. I now appeal to you, as the head of the Nation, whose duty it is to see that personal liberty is protected, to interpose in my behalf. If I am charged with an offense, let me be informed of it, that I can defend myself; if I am not, then, in the name of common justice, do not punish me. It cannot be the object of the Government to punish those who are not guilty of an offense, and from your acquaintance with me, and Washburne, for the last eighteen years, you should be able to determine, with some accuracy, whether I am guilty of an offense against my country; or, under the peculiar times, he has availed himself of his position, to carry out his:i petty malice. In either event it is due to me, to the Government, and yourself, that I either be tried or discharged.

"You, as well as myself, know that the personal liberty of the citizen is of more importance to the country than all other rights, and without which all others are valueless. Believing you should have no other object in view than to see the law duIy administered, and individual liberty protected, I am induced, as a matter of justice to myself, to answer for every act of my life.

"Under these circumstances, with a knowledge that the Government has been imposed upon, and it being both your duty, as it should be your pleasure, to protect her citizens, I will not doubt, when your attention is called to my case, you will take action in the premises. My detention can effect no good to the Government, and does me an absolute injury. In no view can a further detention be justified. Hoping soon to be discharged,

"I am, respectfully yours,

M.Y. Johnson.

"Your petitioner would further represent that his arrest was without warrant, or any of the form of law; was an illegal and arbitrary usurpation of power on the part of the Secretary of War, destructive of all liberty to the citizen. His transportation beyond the State, where the courts are open and uninterrupted for the punishment of crime, is not only an invasion of State sovereignty, but a violation of constitutional guarantees. His incarceration and detention in a military prison, without informing him of the offense charged against him, or his accusers' names, and making it an aggravation of the offense, to employ counsel, and attempt to get a hearing, is an intolerable despotism, only equaled by the dark and mysterious actings of a Spanish inquisition, and last, the entire neglect to hear his grievances, or make any examination as to his guilt or innocence, when he is hopelessly buried in a bastile, and could have no communication with his friends, except by permission of those who have already outraged him, is a degree of tyranny unparalleled in the history of any free government.

"Your memoralist (sic) would further state, lie was t;urned out on the 13th of December last, by order of the Secretary of War, without any oath, entirely ignorant of the offense charged, or who was his accuser, or why he was detained and removed from fort to fort. Neither has he been able to obtain any information from the President, Secretary of War, or the Judge Advocate, although he has demanded to know what the accusation was, and by whom made.

"Your petitioner therefore prays your honorable body to inquire into the facts, by a resolution of the Senate, as the only means that is left to him to find out who accused him, and of what he was accused, believing an American Senate will grant him the only means of vindicating himself.

"All of which is respectfully submitted.

Madison Y. Johnson."

The Senate, by a party vote, denied all investigation or examination in the case.

With this memorial, protest, and letter to the President, spread on the record of the Senate, Congress passes the acts legalizing the arrest and imprisonment made by order of the President, and indemnifying the guilty parties. Thus shielded, they hoped to escape punishment, if not public condemnation; but, failing in all, they make the humiliating confession.

What a sad commentary on personal liberty and executive justice in a free country! It is with a feeling of holy horror, inspired by the memory of acts of lawlessness, that we recur to such brutal treatment of an American citizen. The charity of silence would screen them from the indignation of posterity, were it not that the truth of history will present the facts of the arbitrary arrests, imprisonments (sic), banishments (sic), and military murders of the Republican administration during the war.

In the mad frenzy of the hour, by the usurpations (sic) of the President and Congress, the judiciary was rendered powerless. An unbridled military power, responsible alone to the Executive, became the arbiter, not only of the liberties, but the lives of her citizens, all rights were disregarded, and the wonder is, in the convulsion of the times, that anything like constitutional government was preserved.

We know that in times of great public excitement there is a disposition on the part of the timid to side with power, as it offers security to them; and it is not until a reaction takes place that they are willing to examine the facts. Were it not so, arbitrary power had not asserted itself so easily. Our own opposition to executive encroachments was honest, as we did not entertain an opinion, nor utter an expression that we did not candidly believe then, and, the same circumstances occurring, would reiterate as firmly now. And, in closing this vindication, we take occasion to urge upon our fellow countrymen the necessity of ceaseless vigilance, and solemnly warn them to rebuke and resist the first abuses of executive power and congressional usuprations, if they wish to maintain for themselves and secure to their children the priceless boon of liberty.

Certainly a vindication both from courts and people which, notwithstanding the sufferings he had endured both mentally and bodily, amply compensated him. The case was decided in the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois, wherein Mr. Johnson conducted his own defense, and in connection therewith displayed that acuteness of judgment and knowledge of the laws and Constitution of the United States that his enemies retired abashed from the field, as may be seen from the syllabus of the opinion of the Supreme Court in this case:



A Synopsis of the Decision of the Court.

It has limited the powers of the Executive within legal bounds.

As President he has no power to order the arrest and transportation of any one, and confine them in a military bastile (sic).

As Commander-in-Chief, he has no more power than a general at the head of an army, and that is confined within the lines of the army.

That neither the President, as Commander-in Chief, or Congress, or both together, have any power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, or declare martial law in a district or State not in rebellion.

That the military power can have no control over the citizen, outside of the lines of the army. The civil courts alone have jurisdiction.

Where the courts are open and unobstructed, in a State or district, martial law cannot exist.

Congress can pass no law legalizing the orders of the President or releasing tile damages sustained by reason of an arbitrary arrest. Such acts are unconstitutional and void.

An arrest and transportation of a person by order of the President, without a judicial investigation, is a usurpation by the Executive, of the functions of the other departments, and destroys the whole theory of our Government, so far as relates to the protection of liberty or property.

To call a citizen of a State, not in rebellion (he remaining in the State), a "belligerent," is a contradiction of terms. To be a belligerent he must be subject to a hostile power. His character depends on the community to which he belongs.

To justify the arrest, by assuming he was a prisoner of war, is untenable. If he cannot enjoy the protection of a prisoner of war, he cannot be arrested and made to bear its penalties.

Military law applies only to persons in the military service of tile Government, but martial law is a very different thing. When martial law is once established, it applies alike to citizens and soldiers. It is the arbitrary will of the military commander, and can exist, or be permitted to prevail, only on the actual theater of military operations in times of war, as all unavoidable necessity.

If the President could rightfully arrest, and confine the plaintiff, without process or trial, to a fort in the harbor of New York, he could do the same thing to any other person in the State. A fearful power to be entrusted to one man, in a Government claiming to be free.

As no charge is made, no judicial investigation had, it is left entirely to the caprice of the Government to determine what person shall be arrested. Concede the power and every man in the State, from the Governor down, holds his liberty at the mercy of the Executive. All State governments are overthrown. Such a power cannot be entrusted to any Government and freedom be preserved.

This confession of the defendants was spread upon the court records, and may be seen among the legal documents pertaining to the Court of Illinois.

Mr. Johnson addressed a letter to President Lincoln during his incarceration, and also one to the Secretary of War, appealing to them at least to know wherewith he was charged, and requesting to be either punished or vindicated, and by a memorial to the United States Senate, who, by a party vote, denied all examination into the case. During the trial and the correspondence which followed, both before and afterward, there was exhibited on the part of Mr. Johnson the most thorough knowledge of fundamental law; this, augmented by his natural eloquence and incontrovertible logic, illustrated in a marked degree the great powers with which nature has endowed him. It was an instance when "the pen was mightier than the sword." He retired from the contest no less a hero than those who went boldly to the field of battle and fought for those principles which to the honest man are dearer than his life.

Mr. Johnson was one of the State electors on the Bell and Everett ticket, and canvassed the State in the interest of a united government, as an uncompromising advocate of peace, and when the war came, as expressing his views, he introduced at the State Convention, and had passed, the resolution known as the "Peace Resolution," that made a stir throughout the United States, and by many was regarded as treason, which we copy as a part of the history of the country:

Resolved, That the further offensive prosecution the war tends to subvert the Constitution and Government, and entails upon the Nation all the disasterous (sic) consequences of misrule and anarchy. That we are in favor of peace, upon the basis of a restored union, and for the accomplishment of which we propose a National convention to settle terms of peace, which shall have in view the restoration of the Union as it was, and the securing by Constitutional amendment such rights to the States and the people thereof as honor and justice demands.

He has been nominated for many of the important offices of the State, but has always absolutely declined to be a candidate.

The marriage of Mr. Johnson with Miss Ann E. eldest daughter of Col. A. G. S. Wright, occurred on Thanksgiving Day, in 1854. Mrs. Johnson was born in Galena, in 1832, was well reared and educated, and completed her studies in one of the prominent educational institutions of Utica, N. Y., of which Horatio Seymour was President. She is a lady of great refinement and many accomplishments, and an active member of the Baptist Church, is hospitable and benevolent - in all respects the suitable partner of such a man as her husband. They are the parents of three bright children, who have been well educated, and are now self-supporting. M. Leslie is one of the finest scientists of the United States, and possesses inventive genius to a remarkable degree, having secured patents upon some very valuable articles. Neville L. is attending the Military school at Faribault, Minn., where he has won laurels on account of his proficiency in military tactics, on account of which he was presented with a valuable gold medal by his teachers and associates. He is now a commissioned officer of infantry. The only daughter, Henrietta P., is a very accomplished lady, in whom her parents take pardonable pride.

Col. Wright, the father of Mrs. Johnson, was born in the city of Baltimore, Md., and came of an especially fine family of Southern stock. He married a Virginia lady, Miss Lucy N. Calmes, who descended from one of the old Huguenots who had settled in the valley of Virginia, and established a homestead, which is yet in possession of the family, having been transmitted from father to eider son through many generations. The original patent embraced a large tract of land, and is now one of the old landmarks of Bell Air, being taken in 1737, as a part of the Lord Fairfax grant. Col. Wright was sent to Northern Illinois by the Government in 1830, as Superintendent of the Galena lead mines, and here made his home until his death, which occurred in 1847, when he was aged about three-score years. He was a man of fine abilities, cultured and well-educated, and at one time was a State Senator. Since his death his widow has made her home with her daughter, Mrs. Johnson, and although now eighty-seven years of age, is remarkable bright and active.

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album of Jo Daviess Co., IL (1889)