The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
ĽName: John Wein Forney

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Of German extraction, John Forney was born in Lancaster, the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. At the age of thirteen, he left school to begin working, first in a store, then as an apprentice to the printer of the Lancaster Journal. In 1837, he purchased an interest in the financially troubled Lancaster Intelligencer, for which he became editor. In two years, he was able to make the newspaper profitable enough to allow him to merge it with the Journal. Forney used the newspaper to promote the political career of James Buchanan, a fellow Democrat from Lancaster. In 1845, Forney was named by President Polk as surveyor of the port of Philadelphia. Moving to that city, he became co-owner and editor of another newspaper, the Pennsylvanian.

Forney was elected as clerk of the U. S. House of Representatives in 1851, serving in that position until 1855. In 1852, he became editorial writer for a Democratic organ, the Washington Daily Union. In 1854, he became a partner and helped the newspaper secure printing contracts with the House of Representatives, thereby providing it with a handsome, steady income. He left the clerkship of the House to work on Buchanan’s presidential election campaign. After his election in 1856, Buchanan was unable to secure a political position for Forney, so the journalist returned to Philadelphia in 1857 to start an independent Democratic newspaper called the Press. He soon began to support Stephen Douglas in his fight against the Buchanan administration over the Kansas question. Forney was reelected clerk of the House in 1859, and, as a Republican, served as secretary of the Senate from 1861 to 1868.

In 1861, Forney established the Washington Sunday Morning Chronicle, adding a daily edition (the Daily Morning Chronicle) in 1862. The newspaper’ s expansion was allegedly at the urging of President Lincoln, who wanted the journal to counter criticism of the administration by the New York Tribune. In the Press and the Chronicle, Forney supported Lincoln and, in the beginning of his term, Andrew Johnson. The editor soon joined the Radical Republicans, though, to become one of the Johnson’s most strident critics. Uncharacteristically, the President refused the temptation to counterattack, explaining "I do not waste my ammunition on dead ducks." But Johnson’s disparaging dismissal of Forney itself became ammunition in the arsenal of Thomas Nast and other political cartoonists who used "dead duck" to symbolize Johnson’s lack of political clout.

In 1870, Forney sold the Chronicle and again returned to Philadelphia, where in 1871 he became collector of the port. In 1878, he established and edited Progress, a weekly magazine. Switching back to the Democratic party, he authored the campaign biography of Democratic Presidential nominee Winfield Scott in 1880. He also published Anecdotes of Public Men (2 vols., 1873-1881), The New Nobility (1881), and other works. He died in Philadelphia.

Robert C. Kennedy, HarpWeek

Sources consulted:  Dictionary of American Biography; Mark Summers, The Press Gang


John Wein Forney
(30 September 1817 - 9 December 1881)
Source:  Harper's Weekly

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