William Samuel Johnson

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Founding Fathers
William Samuel Johnson.jpg
William Samuel Johnson
State Connecticut
Religion Episcopalian
Founding Documents United States Constitution

William Samuel Johnson (October 7, 1727 – November 14, 1819) was a lawyer and politician from Connecticut. He attended the Federal Constitutional Convention and signed the United States Constitution.

Early life

Johnson was born in Stratford, Connecticut, to Samuel and Charity Floyd Nicholl on October 7, 1727.[1] As a child, he was homeschooled, receiving private tutoring from his father, Samuel Johnson. He attended both Yale and Harvard, graduating from the former in 1744 and the latter in 1747. Following graduation, he pursued a course of study in law, and entered practice in Stratford.[2] In 1749, he married Anne Beach.[3]


Johnson spent over 20 years commissioned as a member of the Connecticut colonial militia.[4]

Sympathetic to the patriot cause, Johnson was elected to the Stamp Act Congress, representing Connecticut.[5] However, he rejected his election to the First Continental Congress due to a desire to avoid extreme measures and reach a compromise with Britain. This decision provoked strong Patriot criticism and resulted in the loss of his militia command. Later, however, Johnson wholeheartedly embraced the cause of independence, recognizing that compromise was not a viable option. He served in the Continental Congress from 1785-1787, and enjoyed great popularity and influence with the other delegates.[6]

Constitutional Convention

Johnson represented Connecticut at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He played a major role there, arguing powerfully and eloquently for a strong federal government and for equal representation for all states. Towards this end, he was a strong supporter of the New Jersey Plan, and later the Connecticut Compromise.[7] This Great Compromise established a bicameral legislature with a House of Representatives derived from the population, and the Senate equally representing the states. During the Convention he also argued that Ex post facto laws were improper.[8]

Other members of the Connecticut delegation to the Convention were Oliver Ellsworth and Roger Sherman.

Later Political Service

Fittingly, Johnson became one of Connecticut's first Senators in 1789, taking up service in the chamber he had done so much to help create. He served in this position until 1791. During this time, he also served as the third president of King's College, now known as Columbia University, a position to which he had ascended in 1787. As president, he worked to improve the school's prestige and academic standing while retaining its strongly religious character. When the federal government moved from New York to Philadelphia, Johnson chose private service over public office, remaining in his capacity as president of Columbia until 1800.[6]

Later life and death

His wife Anne passed away in 1796. A few years later in 1800 he remarried, to Mary Brewster Beach, the widow of his wife's brother Abel.[9]

William Samuel Johnson died in Stratford, Connecticut on November 14, 1819. He was buried in the Episcopal Cemetery.[2]