Born, June 19, 1819, Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey, the son of Samuel and Rebecca J. (Heiner) Johnson, Henry attended subscription schools, graduated from Princeton in 1837, read law with the Hon. Whitfield S. Johnson, and joined the New Jersey bar in 1841, at which time his mother moved Henry and his brother to Muncy, Pennsylvania, settling on land acquired from her grandfather, General Daniel Brodhead. Henry opened a law office in Muncy and married Margaret Green, sister of future state Supreme Court Justice, Henry Green. A Whig, later Republican, Johnson was elected an 1848 elector for Zachary Taylor, and in October 1861, was elected to the state Senate. During the Civil War he served as a private in Co. K, 14th Pa. Militia, 1862, Antietam Campaign, and although his unit was involved in minimal action with the enemy – it is not what the Hon. Johnson did with “bullets” as much as it was what he did with “ballots.”
In 1864, Lincoln had good cause to fear defeat against presidential candidate George Brinton McClellan of Philadelphia, the often maligned former commander of the Army of the Potomac whom Lincoln fired after the Battle of Antietam. The president feared, should McClellan win, especially in his home state of Pennsylvania with eleven percent of the country’s electoral votes, the war would immediately end, and the nation would be reduced to half its original size. He expressed his worst fears to General Sherman, asking him to furlough his Indiana troops during the upcoming general election. Sherman cooperated, putting off his “march to the sea” for three months. Indiana, and all other states except Ohio, did not permit an active duty soldier to vote in the field. In most cases, the trooper needed a furlough to return home and vote, like Pennsylvania; or as in the case of New York, send a “vote by proxy” (mail) to the hometown county courthouse – a process highly susceptible to election fraud. Ohio was the only state to permit soldier balloting in the field (1863), but Lincoln direly needed more than the Buckeye state in summer 1864: he desperately needed Pennsylvania.
Johnson and the Senate of Pennsylvania were way ahead of the President. In 1862, Judiciary Chair John Penney introduced a resolution proposing an amendment to the constitution. The following year, Judiciary member Johnson added specifics to the (now) joint resolution, to allow suffrage to those “in actual military service,” lowering the voting age to 18. The resolution passed the Senate, 33-0. On its final trip through the Senate in 1864, the opposition attempted to block Johnson’s SR 101, which had passed without incident in March, by pushing the referendum resolution’s effective date to November rather than the desired July. The idea was quashed, and despite an innocuous trip to Finance, all provisions passed by a Republican and War Democrat super-majority. Article III, Sec. 4 became part of the 1838 Pennsylvania Constitution as well as Henry Johnson’s legacy after its approval in July 1864. Pennsylvania’s soldiers in the field could now vote at age 18; they did so, and the Commonwealth re-elected the incumbent President. The act made national headlines. Lincoln carried the state by 19,000 votes, with the soldier vote in just the Army of the Potomac amounting to 14,000 of the margin. The other nine Armies contributed over 7,000 – far in excess of Lincoln’s victorious margin. Overall, 78 percent of Pennsylvania’s soldiers voted for Lincoln in 1864 – Republicans and Democrats. Citizen Henry Johnson saved Pennsylvania for the Union.
Johnson, a skilled, Princeton-educated attorney, returned home to Williamsport at the end of the 1864 Session, practiced law and worked for the betterment of his hometown until the day he died, August 11, 1895. However, for one brief three-year term, his legislative success – just one bill – might have very well changed the course of Commonwealth history.