Stephen A. Douglas and Herschel V. Johnson as President and Vice President


Brigadier General
Forum Host
Apr 11, 2016
South Carolina
I figured I would write another thread to look at these two gentleman we pretty much all know the background of Stephen A. Douglas who would have been a former senator from Illinois and then President had he won. If he still dies like he did on June 3rd of 1861. Herschel V. Johnson would have been President now Johnson is from Georgia. He's a former Governor of Georgia and United States Senator how does Herschel V. Johnson perform in the first years of the war as President. Will the Union accept him as President if Georgia still leaves the Union? Will he try to appoint a Vice President in order to ease some of the stress as President?


Aug 4, 2011
I think the first question is whether secession would have occurred as it did historically. Douglas was not the first choice of southerners, but would his election have made southerners feel like the crisis was upon them the way Lincoln's did? Especially since he had chosen a southerner as VP. Even those who thought separation might become necessary might be willing to wait and see if the administration actually did anything they considered threatening.

It would be an interesting situation if one or more states seceded but Georgia was unwilling to with one of its own as vice president.

But getting back on topic, assuming Georgia secedes and Douglas dies on schedule, the Unionist position was that secession never actually legally happened, regardless of proclamations made or acts of insurrection. There would therefore be no constitutional basis to say that a Georgian couldn't be president.

President Johnson could be impeached for treason or high crimes or misdemeanors if he was not considered to be prosecuting the war effectively. Conviction requires the concurrence of 2/3 of senators present, not 2/3 of all senators, so the absence of southern senators would not be an issue.

Prior to the 25th Amendment, there was no process for appointing a new Vice President; the office remained vacant until the next election. For example, the last President Johnson (Lyndon) had no VP until he and Humphrey were inaugurated January 20, 1965.

The Constitution provides that "the Congress may by law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation or inability both of the President and Vice President" but apparently this was not done prior to the 25th.

Dave DuBrucq

Oct 28, 2020
Interesting question. I am not sure there would have been a headlong rush to war if Douglas and Johnson had been elected. Southerners may have been content, at least temporarily, to take a wait and see approach. On the other hand, the South favored Breckinridge and the Southern faction of democrats. Douglas was the "popular sovereignty" candidate, while Breckenridge was the candidate who proposed federal legislation to protect slavery. Douglas carried only one state, Missouri. Even the Constitutional Union Candidate, John Bell, carried more than Douglas at three. Breckenridge carried 10 if memory serves and Lincoln the rest.
If Douglas dies a mere two months into his presidency, what would Johnson have done? That is the real question. I do not know enough about Johnson, other than his strong ties to the South, to say with any degree of certainty. My guess/opinion is that he would have come down on the side of his fellow Southerner's and acquiesced to the Breckenridge faction.

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Aug 25, 2012
There is no way to know how the South would have reacted if Douglas had been elected president. I do not believe Southerners supported "popular sovereignty". The issue being that many of the future states were not likely to join the union as slave states.