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John Mercer Johnson

Photograph of John M. Johnson, Attorney General of New Brunswick


John M. Johnson, Attorney General of New Brunswick

(October 1818 - November 8, 1868)

At times a controversial figure in New Brunswick politics, John Mercer Johnson remained a persistent force in local affairs throughout the 1850s and 1860s, finally representing Northumberland County in the Canadian Parliament before his untimely death in 1868.

John Mercer Johnson was born in Liverpool, England, the same year that his father settled in Chatham, New Brunswick. In this new community, Johnson's father pursued opportunities as a merchant, and his success enabled the family to reunite in Chatham in 1821, when Johnson was just a few years old. As a young man, Johnson was an active member of a number of local clubs, societies and institutions. His legal studies led to his admission to the New Brunswick bar in 1838, and before long he established important business partnerships with individuals such as Peter Mitchell, another future Father of Confederation. Johnson married Henrietta Shirreff in 1845; six of their twelve children died during childhood.

In 1850, Johnson entered politics as a member of the New Brunswick House of Assembly. A vocal supporter of causes such as responsible government and reciprocity with the United States, Johnson gained wide respect as a public speaker, in time becoming leader of the Opposition. By the mid-1850s, New Brunswick was experiencing the instability that characterized British North American politics during this decade. Johnson was appointed solicitor general when the government of Edward Barron Chandler was replaced by the government of Charles Fisher in 1854. Two years later he lost the position as successive governments came and went under John Hamilton Gray and Robert Duncan Wilmot.

Johnson returned to the Executive Council in 1857, when he was appointed postmaster general. He endured a dramatic change again the following year, this time as a result of a public outcry that led to his resignation. At issue was Johnson's administrative ability, for in spite of his articulate presence in the House of Assembly, Johnson was notorious for his indifferent approach to management. Johnson still retained the confidence of many of his influential peers, however, and in time he resumed key political positions, as speaker in 1859 and as attorney general in 1862. In 1865 he and many other supporters of Confederation lost their seats in a general election.

Johnson represented New Brunswick at the Confederation Conferences held at Charlottetown, Québec City and London, England. Unlike some of his fellow New Brunswick delegates, Johnson supported the concept of a political union in which legislative power would be concentrated in the central government. Following Confederation in 1867, Johnson gained a seat in the Canadian House of Commons. By that time, however, he was growing more and more ill, and he died just over a year after taking office.


Fraser, James A. and C. M. Wallace. -- "Johnson, John Mercer". -- Dictionary of Canadian biography online [online]. -- [Cited December 13, 2004]. -- Access: