These vitriolic responses came as a shock to the Merriam staff, who were accustomed to thinking of themselves as essentially harmless, like Johnson had. Many American readers, though, didn’t want a nonhierarchical assessment of their language. They wanted to know which usages were “correct,” because being able to rely on a dictionary to tell you how to sound educated and upper class made becoming upper class seem as if it might be possible. That’s why the public responded badly to Webster’s latest: They craved guidance and rules.
"… like Johnson had"?