1862: Elisha Johnson to Robert Peck

This letter was written by Elisha Johnson (1818-1891), a prominent attorney, judge, State Senator, and a Democratic party leader in Hartford, Connecticut. The letter was written to Robert Peck (1825-1884), a former Woodbury, Connecticut town clerk and one time justice of the peace. Robert was the son of Ephraim Birdseye Peck (1790-1867) and Betsey Porter (1794-1867).

From 1854 to 1867, the Democrats were shut out of the Governor’s office in Connecticut. This is because the party was badly splintered, its leaders holding opposing views on the war of the rebellion. Former Governor Thomas Seymour led one faction sympathetic to the south and in favor of restoring peace as separate nations, if need be. Others were “war democrats” led by General James Timothy Pratt, a long-time state politician who favored slavery but wished to preserve the union.

Charles Chapman (1799-1869) is mentioned as a delegate from Hartford to the Democratic Convention in Middletown; he would win a seat in the State House of Representatives in 1862 as a Democrat. Charles F. Pond is mentioned as a delegate; he was the President of the Hartford and New Haven Railroad. William Wallace Eaton, another delegate sent from Hartford, was a former merchant, attorney, and politician who eventually served as a Representative in the U.S. House.

Those championed by Elisha Johnson for Democratic Governor in 1862 included: Samuel Ingham (1793-1881), a former Democratic U.S. Congressman; Lorin Pickney Waldo (1802-1881), also a former Democratic U.S. Congressman; and Charles Chapman, mentioned earlier, who served as a U.S. Congressman under the Whig banner.

The incumbent Republican Governor of Connecticut, William Alfred Buckingham, was a strong Lincoln supporter and won re-election eight times, serving from 1858-1866. In the election of 1862, held on 7 April, he soundly defeated the Democratic candidate, James C. Loomis, gathering 56.5% of the vote.


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Hartford [Connecticut]
February 4th 1862

Friend Peck.

Dear Sir,

Yours of the 31st Jany was duly received. The case (vs) the town of Farmington resulted in a verdict against the town for the sum of $290.00.

In regard to politics, I can assure you the democrats here are alive. We held a large primary meeting here last night and although the weather was quite stormy, still we had a large enthusiastic meeting. Our delegates to Middletown are Charles Chapman, Charles H. Pond, William W. Eaton, & John Lainton. I cannot tell who will be nominated for Governor, but I hope some such man as Hon. Samuel Ingham, Hon. Lorin  P. Waldo, or Hon. Charles Chapman. Either one of the above named men would be good enough for me.

The Union movement, so called, will hurt us here but very little. The fact that General Pratt is the head & front of it is enough to kill it with us. I hope Litchfield County will be well represented in the convention.

There will be a very large convention.

Truly yours, — Elisha Johnson


Obituary of Elisha Johnson:

Elisha Johnson, a prominent member of the Hartford County Bar, died at his residence in Hartford, February 18th, 1891, after a brief illness resulting from an attack of bronchial pneumonia. He was born in Barkhamsted in this state, May 1st, 1818, and after the customary experience of the young men of his day in the district school, on the farm, and as a teacher, he entered the law school at Yale, and after completing his course he qualified for practice in the office of Gideon Hall at Winsted. He located at Plymouth, where he built up an excellent practice, and was for many years elected judge of probate, and was sent to the state Senate from the sixteenth district, in 1849, 1850, and 1852. In 1855 he removed to Hartford, where he continued in the active practice of his profession until his death. He was for two years recorder of the Hartford City Court and judge of the Police Court for three years, and was a member of the original board of police commissioners, which organized the police force in 1860. He was elected to the state Senate from the first district in 1860, 1861, 1870 and 1871, and to the House of Representatives in 1869, 1875 and 1876. He was for many years chairman of the school committee in the West Middle District of Hartford, and served for eleven years as chairman of the high school committee. He was appointed a member of the state board of health in 1886, and continued in that office until his death. He was one of the original members of Trinity Church Parish, and was an active officer and liberal supporter of his church during his whole life. For nearly twenty-five years, and until a short time before his death, he was the superintendent of its Sabbath school.

While residing in Plymouth he married Miss Catharine Tallmadge. Her death in August, 1889, was a shock from which he never rallied, and his rapid decline in health from that time was painfully evident to his friends. Three children – two daughters and one son, survive them.

Mr. Johnson’s life – private, public and professional – was eminently of the useful type. He was an affectionate husband, a model parent, a good neighbor, a public spirited citizen. He was honest, capable, and industrious. He was well equipped mentally and physically for success as a legislator. His frame was large, erect, and well proportioned. His voice was distinct and his temper and feelings were always under control. In debate he never lost his head or rashly ventured into the discussion of subjects that he did not thoroughly understand, and so the leadership came to him by the cheerful consent of his colleagues. Outside of purely partisan questions (in which numbers, not reason, prevail) the majority was almost invariably with him. His associates had the fullest confidence in his integrity and never feared a hidden trick behind his advocacy.

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