The War for Independence lasted for eight years. Johnson, although a colonel of militia, refused to lead them to battle. He also turned down election to the Continental Congress, and was arrested twice by Patriots for trying to negotiate peace with Loyalist factions. He abandoned the Connecticut legislature, believing their course of action was treasonous! He was disbarred from practicing law and forced to live off his savings until he swore allegiance to Connecticut and was reinstated.
William Samuel Johnson present at the Signing of the Constitution
When the war ended, Sam Johnson embraced independence and was, in turn, approved by his fellow citizens. After all, he was one of the best lawyers in the state. Incredibly, Johnson was elected to attend the Constitutional Convention where he worked hard with his fellow delegates from Connecticut to effect compromises. The soft-spoken lawyer argued the case of the “Connecticut Plan,” defending the idea of equal representation. As one of the foremost classicists in the colonies, he chaired the Committee of Style and Arrangement to achieve the final wording of the document. What likely surprised people the most was Johnson’s unrestrained support for ratification of the Constitution, citing what he considered the disastrous consequences of the Confederation. He rarely took strong positions, was always a conciliator; as the finest lawyer in the land, the people of his state must have thought, “Johnson must really be serious about the new document of the Republic, to speak so forcefully in its favor.”
Johnson’s signature seen on the endorsements section of the Constitution
On April 2, 1791, William Samuel Johnson took his seat as Connecticut’s first new Senator in the nation he helped create; he was the oldest member at sixty-one. He resigned a few years later to throw himself into nurturing what became Columbia University. He remarried at seventy-four, and went on to become the longest-lived signer of the Constitution, dying at the age of ninety-two in 1819. The man of 1774 held far different views in 1787 when he argued for and signed the Constitution. A man of Johnson’s introspection and intelligence probably remembered at the end of a long life, that what a man believes in his youth, usually does not remain static over a lifetime.