Thomas Nuckolls Dawkins.

Eulogy delivered on the occasion of the death of Hon. David Johnson at Unionville, S.C.: April 28, 1855 online

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Online LibraryThomas Nuckolls DawkinsEulogy delivered on the occasion of the death of Hon. David Johnson at Unionville, S.C.: April 28, 1855 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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UNIONVILLE. S. C., APEIL 28, 1855,






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Unionville, S. C, May 2d, 1855.
Col. T. N. Dawkins.

Dear Sir: At a meeting of the Joint Committee on the part of the citizens of
this District, Johnson Riflemen, and Union Lodge No. 75, A. F. M., the following
resolutions were unimously adopted:

"Resolved, That the sincere thanks of this Committee be returned to Colonel
Dawkins, for the eloquent and appropriate Eulogy pronounced by him on the late
Governor Johnson, at their request on Saturday the 28th ult.

"Resolved, That a Committee of Three be appointed to wait on Colonel Dawkins
and solicit a copy of the same for publication."

In accordance with the above Resolutions, and expressing our individual
wishes, we earnestly request your address for publication.

Very respectfully, your obedient servants,


Union C. H., S. C, May 2d, 1855.

Messrs. D. Goudelock, S. R. Gist, and J. G. McKissick.

Dear Sirs : Your favor of this instant, requesting a copy of the Address which
I had the honor to deliver on the 28th of April, has just been received. The
manuscript is at your disposal.

Very respectfully, yours, &c,


Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2010 with funding from

Lyrasis Members and Sloan Foundation


I approach the discharge of the duty, which has been assigned me
by your partiality, on the present occasion, with a painful anxiety — not
from a reluctance on my part to discharge the duty, but because of a
thorough conviction that I cannot say any thing which may justify your
expectations, or add honor to the memory of our lamented friend. At
a meeting of the citizens of this District, on hearing of the death of
Governor Johnson, a resolution was adopted appointing a committee to
select some person to deliver a eulogy in honor of the memory of the
deceased — corresponding committees were appointed by the Masonic
fraternity of this Village and the Johnson Riflemen — they have been
pleased to select me for that purpose, and, in obedience to their sum-
mons, I appear before you.

The providence of God is inexplicable to man. It would be impious
to raise the question, why a man of great usefulness, of matured and
unimpaired intellect should be cut off, and others of less usefulness,
apparently doing no good for God or man, should be permitted to remain.
Such, however, is the destiny of all humanity sooner or later. God's
providence being established, it is our duty, however great may be the
loss, no matter how deeply we may feel it, to yield a cheerful obedience.
Though we may not question its justice and correctness; yet, when a
great man has fallen in the Commonwealth, when he has been the
benefactor of his race, it is our duty to do justice to his memory, and
hold up his bright example as worthy of imitation, and as far as may
be, to perpetuate his name by all the legitimate means in our power.
This is our purpose on the present occasion.

It is not the lot of all good men to fill high and honorable stations ;
and in all positions in life, the honor lies in properly discharging the
duties incident to them. The loss of an obscure gord man is felt by
his family and friends ; but of him little could be said. It was, how-
ever, the fortune of the Hon. David Johnson, not only to be a good,
but a great man, and to have been identified with the history of his
State; filling all the gradations of office with great honor to himself
and usefulness to his country, and a recapitulation of those without
comment would, perhaps, be the best eulogy which could be pronounced.

He was born in Louisa county, in the State of Virginia, on the 3rd
day of October, in the year 1782 — his father removed to this State in
the year 1789, and settled on the eastern side of Broad river in Chester
District — and Governor Johnson resided ever afterwards in this State,
which he loved with all the devotion of a son. It is a matter of
little moment what spot of earth marks a man's birth-place, he may,
by subsequent achievements, reflect honor on his birth-place, his birth-
place not on him ; but who would object to claim the Old Dominion, the
mother of States, the land of great men and of Washington as his birth-

His education preparatory to the study of the law was defective —
at the period of his arrival in South Carolina, and for years afterwards,
the means of obtaining an education in the upper part of this State
were very limited — he was placed, however, at a grammar school in
York District, under the government and supervision of the Rev
Joseph Alexander, a Presbyterian clergyman, in the year 1706. What
period of time he spent there is not certainly known; but the pecuniary
condition of his father, the Rev. Christopher Johnson, a worthy minis-
ter of the Baptist denomination being limited, it may fairly be pre-
sumed he did not continue until he entered that course of life, which
was the forerunner of his subsequent great usefulness, and constitutes
the most interesting period of his life — the choice of a profession:

The Hon. Abram Xott — afterwards one of the most distinguished

judges that has adorned the bench of a man of great atm-

men, high attainments and undoubted probity, in the year 1700 was a
practising lawyer in this District, iu that year Governor Johnson
entered the office of the late Judge Not + as a student at law, and by
his perseverance and devotion to his studies, was admitted to the bar in
the year 1803, and in December of the same year settled at this place.
Immediately after his admission to the bar, the industry which he had
shown in the prosecution of his studies, and his firm integrity of pur-
pose, induced Judge Xott to tender him a partnership in the practice of
the law, which was accepted and continued until Judge Nott's removal
to Columbia, leaving in the hands of Governor Johnson a heavy busi-
ness, which was conducted in such manner as not only to retain his
clients, but to greatly increase them.

The tendency and desire of a large proportion of the legal profession ,
not only in this State, but in the whole American Confederacy, appear
to be towards political preferment and position. There appears in all
democratic countries, especially on the part of the young, to be a desire
for the applause of the multitude. I am satisfied that Governor John-


son had no wish to pander to the public sentiment (as his subsequent
life will show, which will be adverted to hereafter), but at the solicita-
tion of his numerous friends who were anxious to indorse not only his
professional bearing, but also his conduct of the two offices of Ordinary
and Commissioner in Equity, which had been conferred upon him
without his knowledge, and which he had previously resigned. In the
year 1810, after a very brief canvass, he was returned to the Legisla-
ture as one of the members of this District, by a very handsome ma-
jority; and previous to the end of the term for which he was elected,
in December, 1811, he was chosen by the Legislature Solicitor of the
then Middle, now Northern Circuit. Here ends his political career.
He never after aspired to an office before the people, and entered upon
a course of life, in the legal profession, which was more congenial with
his taste, and for which he was eminently fitted.

He was never distinguished for power or eloquence as a popular
debater. Though a man of large frame and uncommon muscular power,
he had not that intonation or capability of extension of voice which
fitted him for a public disputant. As an advocate he made no preten-
sions to declamation, and never attempted it, but the statements of his
points were always clear, bis arguments forcible, and the manner of
conducting his cases such, as not only to attain success at the bar, but
to demonstrate that he had qualities which more eminently fitted him
for a higher position in his profession — and accordingly he was elected,
in the year 1815, one of the Law Judges of South Carolina, over a
gentleman of great talents and deservedly high reputation.

In the discharge of the duties of the various offices of a Judge in
the different departments which he was called upon to act, until Decem-
ber 1846, when he voluntarily resigned, no man has ever given more
satisfaction. He had high qualities for the duties, not remarkably
quick in the perception of the points of a case, but of mature judg-
ment, waiting to hear the whole case, and then deciding with ability
and clearness.

In the year 1824, in consequence of the great accumulation of busi-
ness on the dockets of the Constitutional Court and the Circuit Courts,
(an appearance in a case of unlitigated debt, amounting to an injunction
for years, and being virtually a denial of justice,) the Legislature, to
remedy the evil, re-organized the Courts, so as to form a separate Court
of Appeals to consist of three members, who were to be selected from
the Judges or Chancellors. At this time Governor Johnson was the
youngest man on either bench, and he believed, that in its organization,
that at least one of the three members should be taken from the Chancery


bench, he so expressed himself ; desired that his name should not be
used as one from which this selection should be made, and indicated a
man of large experience, high reputation and unblemished integrity,
the late Chancellor DeSaussure, as being his preference.

There was, however, at that time a great prejudice against the Chancery
system, and, contrary to his expressed wishes, he was chosen by the
Legislature as one of the members of the Court of Appeals. Their
duties were arduous and laborious in the extreme, and no men in South
Carolina have ever performed more intellectual labor in the same time,
and for less compensation, than the several members of this Court did.
With what ability Governor Johnson performed his part, is no matter
of doubt, and depends on no eulogist; it stands as a matter of record,
and, as long as South Carolina has a judicial history, his opinions, to be
found in Bailey's and Hill's Reports, will remain as enduring monu-
ments to his memory. His style was judicial — he decided the case, the
whole case, and nothing but the case. The veriest novice can under-
stand what is decided, and will not be misled by ambiguity or metaphi-
sical abstractions and speculative opinions, not necessary to the decision
of the case.

The bench of this State has, at all times, been adorned by the highest
talent, and if I was called upon to select from our books a model of
judicial writing, I would prefer the opinions of Governor Johnson.
From the earliest period of regulated civil liberty the subject of testa-
mentary disposition of property has engaged the attention of Legislators
and Jurists. Some of the clearest and ablest opinions on the subject of
wills are to be found in the English Ecclesiastical Reports, and one
would have supposed that the precise technical meaning of a will was
long since ascertained and defined; yet, a late English writer on the
subject of wills,* of great ability, and whose book is recognized as
authority in our Courts, has adopted the definition of a will given by
Governor Johnson in a case to be found in one of our books of Reports.
This is certainly a high compliment, and speaks more loudly in his favor
than any thing I could say.

By the previous death of one of the members of the Court of
Appeals and the resignation, in the year 1832, of another, Governor
Johnson became the President of that Court, and so remained until it
was dissolved in the year 1835. It would be unsuited to the occasion,
to discuss the reasons which led to the abolition of the Court of Appeals,
or the opinions of the respective political parties which existed in this

* 1 Jarman on Wills, p. 1.


State from the year 1830 to 1835. That is of the past, and there let it
remain, and be forever

'' In the deep bosom of the ocean buried."

So much, however, as is matter of history and of record, we may
properly speak. In 1832, a Convention of the people of this State
passed an ordinance to nullify the tariff law adopted by Congress to
collect duties on imports, and the Legislature at its session of the same
year, passed an Act to carry its provisions into effect, and required all
officers, civil and military, under certain circumstances, to take a new
oath of office. The oath was refused to be taken by two military offi-
cers, and the cases carried to the Court of Appeals for adjudication in
the year 1835. For several years previous there had been a most
violent party contest going on in this State, separating in its bitterness
friends, kindred and families; a considerable majority of the people
were in favor of the ordinance of the Convention, and of course of the
Act of the Legislature passed to carry out the same. Governor John-
son belonged, in the political contest, to the weaker party. Such was
the excited state of public feeling, that it was confidently believed that
even if Governor Johnson's opinion was adverse to the law, he could
not go in opposition to it — those who entertained such opinion knew
not the man, he had too much of virtue, of Roman courage to be de-
terred from expressing any opinion which he honestly entertained, and
he and another member of the Court constituting a majority, decided
against the law.

There are no people in the world more devoted to principle than the
people of South Carolina. When questions are presented for popular
consideration and action, parties, if there be difference of opinion, are'
organized, and each man acts with his party irrespective of personal
considerations. But so soon as the cause for difference is removed or
passed by, no matter how violent may have been the contest, or high
the angry feelings excited, all party lines and distinctions are effaced,
and the people -fall back as friendly members of the same common
family. Such was the case here, then, and since — and Governor John-
son's old friends shortly after, though estranged from him for a time,
were restored and continued amongst his warmest and best friends, and
now are among the first to unite "in his ashes honor."

When the Court of Appeals was abolished, it became necessary to
re-organize the Law and Equity Circuits, and transfer the members of
that Court to performance of Circuit duties, in addition to meeting


with other Judges and Chancellors in separate Courts, to hear and
determine appeals from their respective Circuits. Two members of the
same had, by the new organization, to be transferred to the Chancery
bench. Chancellor Harper had long been distinguished as an officer of
that Court, and he was assigned that position by general consent.
Judge O'Neall, before his elevation to the Appeal bench, had been
distinguished as a Law Circuit Judge for his remarkable quickness of
perception, his great and uncommon dispatch of business, for both of
which qualities he never had and has no superior.

Governor Johnson in his professional career, had little practice in
the Court of Chancery — cases in that. Court being of rare occurrence
in this section of the State at that time — Governor Johnson desired, in
the arrangement then to be made, to be placed on the Law bench, and
though Judge O'Neall's personal predilections were in favor of that
position, and the selection had to be made between them, he, with that
liberality and devoted friendship which have always characterized him,
waived all pretentions for the Law bench, and urged his friends to place
his colleague in the position he desired. The Legislature, however, did
not act in accordance with the wish of the one aod the consent and cordial
approval of the other. Governor Johnson was assigned to the Chancery
bench, and Judge O'Neall to the Law bench, and Governor Johnson
from that time, to his resignation in the year 1846, performed the
duties of a Circuit Chancellor, and also presided in the Equity Court
of Appeals. This forms the only instance in a long life of honorable
service in which his generous constituency failed to accord to him any
position he desired, and the sequel will show the universal satisfaction
he gave. Though he entered upon the discharge of the high duties of,
to him, a new station with some distrust, no man ever gave more satis-

I cannot do better hear than to introduce a copy of the Preamble
and Resolutions, unanimously adopted by the General Assembly of this
State, on the reception of his resignation as Chancellor.

"December 5th, 1846.

"The General Assembly of South Carolina receive the resignation of
the Hon. Chancellor David Johnson with deep and unaffected feeling.
His long public services ; his great ability and learning, added to his
high moral dignity and worth, have contributed to advance the pros-
perity and character of the State ; and it is with the highest gratifica-
tion that the General Assembly express the estimate in which he is held.

"Be it therefore Resolved, That upon the retirement of the Hon.


Chancellor David Johnson from the Judiciary of South Carolina, he
carries with him the unfeigned regard, respect and admiration of the
whole State, as well for his distinguished public services, as for his
great ability and learning and elevated dignity and moral worth.

" Resolved, That the General Assembly impressed with these views
and feelings, tender to the Honorable Chancellor their best hope that
the enjoyment of the leisure of his age may be commensurate with the
success which has uniformly crowned the labors of his life."

The compliment was gracefully given, and certainly none ever better
deserved. On retiring from the Bench he was chosen by the General
Assembly without opposition, to discharge the duties of Chief Magis-
trate of the State. The duties of the Executive ai'e few ; and it cer-
tainly is an office from which laurels are not to be won. All its duties
were honestly and constitutionally performed by him. During the
term of his office, a call was made on South Carolina for a regiment of
men to engage in the Mexican war — he lent his aid and influence, not
only in organizing the regiment, but was zealous and attentive in pro-
viding for the wants and comfort of the soldiers, and assumed the
responsibility of defraying their necessary expenses out of the public
treasury, which subsequently received the sanction of the Legislature.
The regiment thus organized under his superintendence and parental
care proceeded to Mexico, and their conduct and chivalry in the war
gained for them imperishable honor, and reflected upon the State they
represented a reputation worthy of the brighest days of the Republic.
They were always found where "the battle was the hottest, and the
blood flowed the freest."

The highest power appertaining to the office of the Executive is that
of pardoning offenders against the law. It is one of great consequence
to the community that it be prudently and discreetly exercised. The
law is required to be executed in mercy ; but it is a great mistake to
suppose, and act upon the supposition that the criminal is the only
individual entitled to mercy ; indiscriminate mercy to the accused is
cruelty to the community. There can be no doubt of the fact that this
power has been very often misapplied in this State ; and it is not sur-
prising that it should have been so, considering the facilities with
which applications for its exercise can be gotten up, and the power to
be exercised placed in the hands of a man, however pure and firm, who
is practically unacquainted with the world. The enlarged experience
of Governor Johnson, his intimate associations with the people and
knowledge of judicial proceedings, made his hands a safe depository of


this power; it was mercifully and firmly exercised by him ; and during
his administration the law had its due course. He knew too well that
the judgment of an enlightened Court and Jury ought not to be virtu-
ally set aside, unless upon palpable reasons, which could not well
operate on them.

There was no man who had a more kind or benevolent heart than
he, and every refusal on his part to interpose the pardoning power,
doubtless occasioned him great pain ; though kind and benevolent, he
had firmness, and never suffered his judgment or sense of duty to be
controlled by his feelings. In his refusal to exercise this power he has
been known to accompany it with a tear, giving evidence of a kind
heart and a firm sense of duty.

Governor Johnson having thus passed through a long life of great
public service and labor, at the close of his term as Governor, avowed
his intention of retiring to private life, never again to mingle in the
busy scenes of the world. No ordinary occasion would have changed
this determination. He, however, loved his State too well to remain
quiet when he considered her vital interests at stake. Accordingly,
when the question of separate secession arose, we find him more than
once addressing the people. The merits of that controversy are not to
be discussed here. "His age, infirmities and inclinations, all conspired
to render retirement desirable }" and the topic is alluded to here to
incorporate a sentiment to be found in his first public address to the
people of Spartanburg, than which none more patriotic ever fell from
the lips of man, which was — "If I had but a day to live, that is due
to South Carolina."

I have endeavored thus briefly, to present the most prominent official
and public events of the life of Governor Johnson, who retired from
public life, the most beloved and honored man of the State. A man
may be firm and inflexible in administering justice — wise in council,
and learned and forcible in composition — but there are qualities of the
heart which may be wanting, and if so, the picture would be incom-
plete ; in one sense of the word, a man may be great, but not good.
It was in Governor Johnson, in addition to the virtues enumerated, to
combine with them as great a share of the qualities of the heart as to
enable him to perform all the social duties of life as possessed by any
man. No better evidence could be given, than the estimation in which
he was always held by the different individuals with whom he was
associated, in the discharge of his judicial duties. A rival he never
had ; without envy or malice he was always ready to accord to his
brethren the full meed of praise to which they were entitled. He never


considered that the success or elevation of one of his colleagues was
any disparagement to him, and was, therefore, always prepared to do
them ample justice. He was eminently characterized by kindness and
urbanity to all young men of the legal profession. There was no young
man who manifested a desire to succeed, to whom he did not lend a
helping hand ; giving them counsel and advice, looking over and cor-
recting their errors and mistakes, and stimulating them to high and
honorable action as the means of giving them success and distinction in
their profession. There are but few members of the bar now in this
State but were admitted to practice during his judicial career, and 1
have no doubt they will all, with one accord, testify to many favors and
many acts of kindness and much benefit they received at his hands ;
by them, his memory will be cherished and respected whilst life lasts.

There never was a kinder neighbor or more hospitable man ; none
ever entered his door without receiving a cordial welcome. His friends
and neighbors of the village of his late residence feel most deeply
their loss, and though they are not clad in the habiliments of mourning,
their language, often accompanied by a tear, clearly indicates the appre-
ciation in which he was held.

I consider that here, it would be most appropriate to say a few words
to the Officers and Brethren of Union Lodge No. 75 of Ancient Free
Masons of South Carolina, who have united with us, as a body, in
manifesting their high appreciation of the virtues of their deceased
brother. It would hardly be expected that I should speak much of the
merits of your order, whose " hieroglyphic light, none but craftsmen
ever saw •" but as far as we can judge of the moral, benevolent and


Online LibraryThomas Nuckolls DawkinsEulogy delivered on the occasion of the death of Hon. David Johnson at Unionville, S.C.: April 28, 1855 → online text (page 1 of 2)