Arthur L. Johnson, 83, a gaunt, bearded, one-time Califronia lawyer who dressed in the costume of Abraham Lincoln and strolled the streets of Washington seeking to promote civic virtue, died of cancer Friday at the Central YMCA where he lived.

One of Mr. Johnson's great projects was to pay off the national debt by encouraging voluntary contributions from citizens.

The other was to establish a center near the Capitol for the "Youth Nation," composed of America's students.

A popular figure who ceaselessly lobbied for his programs despite an apparent lack of Congressional interest, Mr. Johnson also marched in his top hat, beard frock coat and string tie in numerous patriotic parades.

In his beard, stove pipe hat, frock coat and string tie, he also posed for the cameras of hundreds of tourists.

Proclaiming himself the "Spirit (that) Booth's Bullet Did Not Kill," Mr. Johnson also wore the robes he had worn when he received a law degree in 1918 from Stanford University.

Mr. Johnson had been engaged in the private practice of law in San Jose, Calif., before coming here in 1973 to subsist on savings and Social Security payments and crusade for his causes.

He ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives from California in 1944, in the California legislature, and was his state's chief deputy labor commissioner.

Former Chief Justice Earl Warren once called him the "Edison of Government," in recognition of his proposals in the area of law and administration. He was credited with a role in including a disability benefits provision in the Social Security Act.

In addition he was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar and argued cases there.

He adopted his Lincolnesque garb after it was suggested to him in 1968 that a beard would give him a marked resemblance to Lincoln.

Survivors include two sons, Arthur L. and Gordon A., of San Jose.