Johnson, Andrew

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Andrew Johnson

Albert Castel

NO president ever became president under more dramatic and tragic circumstances than did Andrew Johnson. On the night of 14 April 1865, Johnson, recently inaugurated as vice president, went to bed in his hotel room in Washington, D.C. Scarcely had he gone to sleep when he was awakened by a friend who informed him that President Lincoln had just been shot by an assassin at Ford's Theater. Johnson promptly dressed and hastened to the boardinghouse where Lincoln lay dying. He remained awhile and then left when it became apparent that the distraught Mrs. Lincoln resented his presence. At 7:30 on the morning of 15 April church bells tolled, signaling Lincoln's death. Shortly after 10 a.m. Johnson took the oath of office as the seventeenth president of the United States.

Personal and Political Background

No president, not even Lincoln, rose from lower depths of poverty and deprivation to reach the height of that office than did Johnson. He was born on 29 December 1808 in a two-room shack in Raleigh, North Carolina; his parents were illiterate tavern servants; and he never attended school. In 1822 he became a tailor's apprentice, learned that trade, and managed to acquire a rudimentary knowledge of reading. At the age of seventeen he moved to east Tennessee, where in 1827 he opened a tailor shop in Greeneville and married Eliza McCardle, a shoe-maker's daughter who taught him to write and cipher.

His business prospered, but as soon as he was old enough to vote, he became active in politics, first as an alderman and mayor in Greeneville, then as a state legislator, and next as a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from 1843 to 1853. In 1853 and again in 1855 he won election as governor of Tennessee, and in 1857 he went to the United States Senate. By then he was a well-todo man, owned a few household slaves, and entertained presidential aspirations.

A tireless campaigner, an unsurpassed stump speaker, and a man both shrewd and courageous, Johnson was a staunch advocate of Jacksonian democracy and the champion of the "plebeians" (the small farmers and tradesmen of Tennessee) against the "stuck-up aristocrats" (the wealthy, slaveholding planter class). He also possessed, in the words of a fellow Tennessean who knew him well, a "deep-seated, burning hatred of all men who stood in his way." For him political combat was personal combat, and he engaged in it with uncompromising ferocity.

During the winter of 18601861, Johnson strongly opposed secession, both by the South as a whole and by Tennessee. Although he believed in states' rights and defended the right of slavery, he placed preservation of the Union above all else, argued that slavery could be best protected within the Union, and denounced the Confederacy as a conspiracy by the planter aristocracy. For a while he succeeded in keeping Tennessee in the Union, but following the outbreak of war in April 1861, the state seceded and Johnson had to flee for his life to the North. His valiant struggle against secession made him the leading Unionist of the South, won him the acclaim of the North, and caused the South to condemn him as a renegade.

In March 1862, after federal forces captured Nashville, Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of Tennessee. During the next three years he strove against great obstacles to establish a pro-Union civil government, a goal that was finally achieved early in 1865, when a new state constitution abolishing slavery went into effect. Realizing that the war doomed slavery, Johnson supported Lincoln's emancipation policy and told the blacks of Tennessee that he would be the Moses who led them into the promised land of freedom.

Meanwhile, Lincoln, hoping to attract support from northern prowar Democrats and border-state Unionists, arranged for Johnson to be his running mate in the 1864 presidential election. Hence, Johnson returned to Washington, where on 4 March 1865 he was inaugurated as vice president. Unhappily, prior to the ceremony Johnson, who recently had been ill and was feeling faint, drank some whiskey and then delivered a rambling, maudlin, almost incoherent inaugural address. Later on, enemies would seize upon this incident to denounce Johnson as "the drunken tailor," but there is no evidence that he habitually overindulged. As it was, he realized that he had disgraced himself and that there was little chance he would ever again play an important role in national affairs. Then came Lincoln's assassination, and suddenly he was the most important man in the nation.

Johnson's Task

With Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox on 9 April 1865, the Civil War to all intents and purposes ended, leaving in its wake over six hundred thousand dead Union and Confederate soldiers, a devastated and demoralized South, and an exultant and dominant North. The great issue now was Reconstruction. The Union was preserved and slavery was destroyed. But by what process and under what terms would the seceded states come back into the Union? And what would be the future legal, political, and social status of blacks? Johnson faced the task of dealing with these questions; on his success or failure in doing so depended the success or failure of his presidency.

During the war both Lincoln and Congress had wrestled with Reconstruction. In 1863, Lincoln instituted in Louisiana and Arkansas a program whereby 10 percent of the voters, on taking an oath of allegiance, could form state governments and elect congressmen; once the latter were seated, these states again would be in the Union. The Republican majority in Congress, feeling that the Ten Percent Plan was inadequate and overly lenient, refused to seat the congressmen elected under it and declared that Reconstruction should be carried out by the legislative, rather than the executive, branch.

In July 1864, Congress passed the Wade-Davis bill, which disfranchised all high-ranking Confederates, required 50 percent of the voters in a rebel state to take a loyalty oath before elections could be held, and made abolition of slavery a condition for read-mission to the Union. Lincoln in turn pocket vetoed this measure on the grounds that Reconstruction policy should be flexiblethat is, carried out by the president. Finally, to confuse matters even more, just before his death Lincoln hinted that with the coming of peace he might take a different approach to Reconstruction, one in which voting rights would be given to blacks who had served in the Union army or who were "very intelligent."

Thus, April 1865 found the government without an established Reconstruction policy and with the Republicans divided over what the policy should be. One faction, the Radical Republicans, of whom Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania were the outstanding spokesmen, contended that the Confederate leaders should be punished severely, that the rebel states should not be restored to the Union until their future loyalty was assured, and that blacks should receive full civil and political rights both as an act of justice and as a means of securing Unionist (that is, Republican) domination of the South.

Another faction, the Moderate Republicans, was primarily concerned about preventing secessionist leaders from returning to power in the South and about keeping the Democrats from regaining their pre-1861 control of the government. They favored securing for blacks their basic personal and civil rights but were hesitant about granting them political rights. They were more numerous and powerful than the Radicals, particularly in Congress.

Finally, there were the Conservative Republicans, who saw no need to go beyond what the war had already achievedsalvation of the Union and emancipation of the slavesand who therefore believed that the southern states should be readmitted quickly and that the fate of the blacks should be left to the indefinite future. Although weak in Congress, the Conservatives were strong in the cabinet that Johnson inherited from Lincolnnotably in the secretary of state, the highly experienced and astute William H. Seward. In contrast, only one influential member of the cabinet, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, was sympathetic to the Radicals.

The differences between the Radicals and Moderates were essentially ones of timing and degree, but the Conservatives had more in common with the Democrats. Bitter over their loss of national power in 1860, the Democrats wanted to bring the southern states back into the Union as soon as possible, confi-dent that this would bring their party back to power. Moreover, having opposed emancipation, they likewise opposed "Negro equality"; as far as they were concerned, the status of the former slave should be determined by the former master.

Reconstruction Program

Paradoxically, both the Radicals and the Democrats welcomed Johnson's unexpected accession to the presidency. The latter hoped that Johnson, as a lifelong Democrat, would sympathize or even ally himself with their party. For their part the Radicals, who had considered Lincoln too conservative, believed that Johnson inclined to their viewpoint because of his frequent and vehement denunciations of secessionists as traitors who should be treated as such. Their confidence that the new president was "thoroughly radical" increased as he continued to advocate punishing the rebel leaders and when he repudiated an agreement made by Major General William T. Sherman with Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston that had the effect of leaving Confederates in control of southern state governments.

On 29 May 1865, Johnson announced his Reconstruction program in the form of two proclamations. The Amnesty Proclamation pardoned all participants in the rebellion, restored their property except slaves, and required them to take a loyalty oath. It excluded from amnesty the upper-echelon leaders of the Confederacy and all persons possessing over $20,000 in taxable property. Such people would have to apply to the president for a restoration of their right to vote and hold office.

The other proclamation dealt with North Carolina, but its provisions set the pattern for all of the seceded states except Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana, where pro-Union governments already existed. It stated that the president would appoint a provisional governor who would summon a convention to draw up a new constitution, whereupon the state would resume its normal relationship to the Union. Only those men who had been eligible to vote in 1861 and who had taken the loyalty oath could vote for delegates to the constitutional convention; in other words, unpardoned rebels and all blacks were barred from the polls, although the convention or a subsequent state legislature could enfranchise the latter if it so desired.

Johnson's cabinet unanimously approved the proclamations, although the North Carolina one, as drafted by Secretary of War Stanton, originally left the way open for black suffrage. Taken together, they were in accordance with Lincoln's approach to Reconstruction in that they gave top priority to reconciling the North and South and looked to the speedy return of the seceded states to the Union. On the other hand, the disfranchisement clauses of the Amnesty Proclamation had more in common with the Wade-Davis bill than with the Ten Percent Plan, and the North Carolina Proclamation showed no trace of Lincoln's proposal to give the vote to at least some blacks.

Three interlocking motives prompted Johnson's Reconstruction program. First, like Lincoln, Johnson wanted to restore the southern states as functioning members of the Union as soon as possible. To him this was the supreme purpose of the Civil War, whereas the future status of blacks was a secondary matter that, for both constitutional and practical reasons, should be left to the states. Second, he wished to transfer political power in the South from the planter aristocracy to the "plebeian" democracy through the disfranchisement clauses of the Amnesty Proclamation. Black suffrage, as he saw it, would thwart the achievement of this objective, because the majority of blacks, even though free, would remain economically bound to the big planters and so would be controlled politically by that class. Third, he hoped to be elected president in 1868 in his own right by promoting what he was confident most Americans desiredsectional reconciliationand opposing what he was sure few of them favoredblack equality. This approach, he believed, would lead to the formation of a new political party that would combine the moderate majority in both sections; unify and dominate the nation; and, of course, look to him as its leader.

Johnson's proclamations delighted the northern Democrats, pleased Conservative Republicans, and relieved southerners, who had expected the worst from the Tennessee turncoat. The Radicals were disappointed by Johnson's failure to give at least some blacks the vote and began to suspect that they were mistaken about his sentiments. As for the Moderate Republicans, they considered the proclamations satisfactory as far as they went, but worried about unrepentant rebels taking control of the new southern state governments and electing congressmen who would join with the northern Democrats to challenge Republican power nationally. Many of them also had misgivings about leaving the fate of the blacks entirely in the hands of their former masters. For the time being, both Radicals and Moderates withheld overt criticism of Johnson's program and waited to see how it worked in practice.

Implementation of Johnson's Program

Johnson followed the North Carolina Proclamation with identical declarations for Mississippi, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Texas. During the summer and fall of 1865, all of these states held constitutional conventions. Through the provisional governors he appointed, Johnson directed each state to nullify its secession ordinance, ratify the Thirteenth Amendment by formally abolishing slavery, and repudiate its Confederate debt. South Carolina refused to carry out nullification, Mississippi balked at ratification, and neither of those states repudiated its debt.

Aware of Republican concern about blacks, Johnson also advisedbut did not requirethese states to "extend the electoral franchise to all persons of color" who could read, who could write their names, or who owned real estate worth at least $250, and to enact laws "for the protection of freedmen in person and property." By doing this, Johnson pointed out, they would "completely disarm the adversary"by which he meant the Radicalsand greatly enhance their chances of quick readmission to the Union. It was excellent advice, but the southerners failed to heed it. The very idea of former slaves voting was repugnant to them, and they were resolved to restore by other means the "white supremacy" formerly guaranteed by slavery. Hence, none of the southern states so much as considered limited black suffrage; instead, they began enacting "black codes"laws that provided some basic rights for blacks but had the effect, as well as the intent, of placing them in a position of legal, economic, and social subordination approaching peonage.

Nor was this all. During the fall of 1865 the South held state and congressional elections in which most of the successful candidates were men who had supported the Confederacy. Furthermore, many of the winners were ineligible to hold office under the terms of the Amnesty Proclamation, but by then, that made little practical difference. At first sparing in conferring pardons, Johnson was granting them almost automatically by the latter part of 1865. By doing so, he undermined his plan of transferring political power in the South to the "plebeian" class, but he advanced his presidential ambitions by gaining the goodwill of the former Confederate leaders, who obviously remained dominant in the South. In keeping with this alteration in his strategy, Johnson directed that lands confiscated from rebels during the war be returned to them, thereby dispossessing several thousand blacks who had been settled on them by the Union army.

Aside from Democrats and Conservative Republicans, northerners became increasingly disturbed by Johnson's program and its consequences. They resented the election of Confederate leaders to office, they considered the black codes an attempt to restore slavery, and they were angered by newspaper reports, sometimes exaggerated but sometimes quite accurate, of violent acts committed against blacks, Unionists, and northerners in the South. To them it seemed that the southerners were not displaying proper repentance for the sins of secession and slavery, that they remained disloyal at heart, and that they were attempting to undo the results of the war.

Most Republican politicians felt the same way. Furthermore, they feared that the newly elected southern senators and representatives would, by uniting with the northern Democratic members, threaten their control of Congress. Hence, when Congress, which had not been in session since March, reassembled early in December 1865, the Republican majority barred the southern congressmen from their seats and set up the Joint Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction, headed by Senator William Pitt Fessenden of Maine, to investigate conditions in the South and recommend appropriate legislation. In taking these actions, the Republicans signaled that they believed further Reconstruction measures were needed and that they intended to formulate them.

Congress' rejection of the southern delegates did not surprise Johnson, as newspapers had been predicting it for sometime, but he was angered by the establishment of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, deeming it a direct challenge not only to his Reconstruction policy but also to his authority as president. In his annual message to Congress, delivered on 5 December and ghostwritten by the historian George Bancroft, Johnson sought to rally public opinion behind his program by arguing that to continue military occupation of the South or to try to impose black suffrage on it was contrary to the Constitution and to the very concept of democracy, that the sole legitimate purpose of Reconstruction was the restoration and reconciliation of the southern people to the Union, that this now had been substantially accomplished, and that all that remained to be done to complete Reconstruction was to seat the congressmen from the former rebel states.

Public reaction to the message was, on the whole, favorable, and Johnson felt confident that eventually the Republicans would be compelled to admit the southern delegates or else place themselves in the ruinous position of keeping America divided. The only significant group that openly denounced Johnson for his handling of Reconstruction was the Radicals. Johnson endeavored to counteract them by releasing a report written by General Grant on conditions in the South in which Grant asserted that "the mass of thinking men in the South accept the present situation of affairs in good faith" and by stating in published interviews that giving blacks the vote against the will of the whites would produce a race war in the South.

For a while it seemed that Johnson's strategy would succeed. Then, early in February 1866, Congress, by unanimous vote of the Republicans, passed the Freedmen's Bureau bill. This measure extended indefinitely the life of the Freedmen's Bureau, an agency created near the end of the war to provide aid, education, and legal protection for former slaves. Republican leaders not only hoped but expected Johnson to sign it. Anxious to avoid a split with the president that would play into the hands of the Democrats, they had gone to him prior to its passage and offered to change anything to which he had strong objections; he voiced none and they assumed he had none.

Hence, they and Republicans throughout the nation were stunned when, on 19 February, Johnson vetoed the bill. It was, he declared, unnecessary and unconstitutional; furthermore, it had been passed by a Congress that unjustly excluded the duly elected representatives of eleven states. In totally rejecting the bill, Johnson ignored the advice of some of his advisers, notably Secretary of State Seward, that he propose a compromise. Doing this, he feared, would cost him his recently acquired popularity in the South, where the Freedmen's Bureau was hated as the main obstacle to the restoration of white supremacy, and cause the Democrats to turn against him, thereby ruining his plan to form a new party. He realized that the Republicans would resent the veto, but he calculated that popular sentiment would oblige most of them to accept both it and his leadership.

On 20 February the Senate, by a vote of 30 to 18, failed to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto; three Moderate Republicans, hoping to forestall an open break with the president, joined eight Democrats and seven Conservatives to sustain it. Johnson exulted in the victory. Ignoring the thin margin by which it had been obtained, he believed that he had successfully defied the "Radicals," as he indiscriminately labeled all Republicans who were not Conservatives. On the evening of Washington's Birthday, he delivered from a White House balcony to a crowd of supporters a speech in which he excoriated his opponents in general, and Sumner and Stevens in particular, as traitors bent on subverting the Constitution and consolidating all power in the central government. So intemperate were his remarks that even friends were embarrassed, and most Northerners felt that he disgraced the presidency.

Less than three weeks later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Designed to protect blacks against the black codes and southern white terrorism, the bill declared them citizens of the United States entitled to equal protection of the laws and conferred broad enforcement powers on the federal government. As with the Freedmen's Bureau bill, Republican congressional leaders solicited Johnson's views on this measure and again got the impression that he found it acceptable. In spite of the Freedmen's Bureau bill veto and the Washington's Birthday tirade, Moderates still hoped to achieve harmony with the president and within the Republican party.

As before, their hope proved unfounded. On 27 March, Johnson delivered another stern veto. The civil rights bill, he declared, was an unconstitutional intrusion on states' rights and discriminated against whites in favor of blacks. No doubt he was sincere in making these assertions, but as in the case of the Freedmen's Bureau veto, he also was motivated by his desire to retain Democratic and southern support.

The veto outraged most northerners and turned all of the Moderate Republicans against Johnson. They concluded that he had gone over to the Democrats and that in alliance with them and the southerners he was endeavoring to destroy the Republican party. Hence, on 6 April the Senate overrode the veto by 33 to 15, and three days later the House did the same by 122 to 41. For the first time, a Congress had defeated a presidential veto.

Johnson's rejection of the civil rights bill was the greatest blunder of a presidency filled with blunders. Had he signed the bill or, as most of his advisers urged him to do, returned it to Congress with a request that its enforcement provisions be modified, he could have kept the Moderates and Radicals divided. Instead, he united them in opposition to him, thereby ruining any realistic chance of securing the early readmission of the southern states while setting in motion forces that would render him nearly impotent as president.

Meanwhile, the Joint Committee on Reconstruction had been conducting hearings and considering legislation. On 30 Aprilthe same day a white mob began a three-day rampage against blacks in Memphis, Tennesseethe committee reported a constitutional amendment designed to make permanent the protections given by the Civil Rights Act. Two months of debate ensued, at the end of which Congress adopted the Fourteenth Amendment, which provided that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are to be citizens and that no state may "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person . . . the equal protection of the laws." In addition, the amendment provided for reducing the House representation of any state denying adult male citizens the vote, disfranchised former federal and state officials who engaged in rebellion, guaranteed the Union war debt, declared the Confederate debt void, and stated that "Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."

Like the Freedmen's Bureau bill (which, incidentally, Congress repassed in July, overriding another veto) and the Civil Rights Act, the Fourteenth Amendment was a product of the Moderates, who beat back an effort by Sumner and Stevens to incorporate black suffrage per se. By adopting it, the Republicans in effect set forth the peace terms of the North and of Congress. Should the southern states ratify it, thereby indicating acceptance of equal civil rights for blacks, they would be readmitted forthwith to the Union. Should they reject it, then (the Republicans clearly implied) they could expect much more drastic treatment.

Johnson promptly denounced the amendment and called for its defeat. All of the former Confederate states, with one exception, either rejected it or took no action. The exception was Johnson's own Tennessee, which, under the almost dictatorial sway of Governor William ("Parson") Brownlow, ratified it against the will of its largely disfranchised citizens. The vast majority of southerners found the prospect of black legal and civil equality intolerable. Moreover, they believed, as did Johnson himself, that northerners would not impose on their fellow whites of the South something they themselves denied blacks in most of their states.

The Referendum of 1866

On 28 July, Congress adjourned and its members headed home to engage in the upcoming congressional elections. These elections, as everyone knew, would be a de facto referendum on Reconstruction. If the Republicans could maintain or increase their majority in Congress, it would mean the North supported their policy of protecting black rights in the South; if they lost their majority or had it substantially reduced, then they would stand repudiated and Johnson would be vindicated.

Johnson sought to secure Republican defeat and victory for himself in two main ways. The first was to try to form a working coalition of Conservative Republicans and northern Democrats that would back candidates favorable to his Reconstruction policy and serve as a step toward the establishment of a new political party. To this end he arranged for the organization of "Johnson Clubs" throughout the North and the border states, and for the meeting of delegates from all of the northern and southern states in the National Union Convention in Philadelphia on 1416 August. The Johnson Clubs tended to be dominated by Democrats, and many of the participants in the National Union Convention were prominent Copperheads and Confederates. Consequently, most Republicans regarded both moves as merely devices to trick them into voting for Democrats, and instead of gaining support, Johnson lost it.

Johnson's other major effort to overthrow the Republicans took the form of doing something no previous president had donemaking a personal campaign tour. Using as the occasion an invitation to dedicate a monument to Stephen A. Douglas in Chicago, Johnson left Washington on 28 August in a special train that carried him north to upstate New York, west to Chicago, south to St. Louis, and then back east to Washington via the Ohio Valley. Proud of his prowess as a stump orator, Johnson believed that if he could speak directly to the people, he would rally them behind his Reconstruction policy. Instead, this "swing around the circle" proved to be a political and personal fiasco. Everywhere he went, Johnson delivered virtually the same speech; before long, his audiences knew what he was going to say before he said it, and pro-Republican humorists had a field day parodying his repetitious remarks. On several occasions, notably in Cleveland and St. Louis, hecklers caused him to lose his temper, to engage in unseemly debates, and to make indiscreet statements. At Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and several other cities hostile crowds shouted him down, and Republican newspapers denounced him as a vulgar, drunken demagogue who was disgracing the presidency, accusations with which many northerners agreed. Far from persuading the northern people, he ended up disgusting them.

During September, October, and November the voters of the North went to the polls. When all ballots were counted, the Republicans had retained control of every state in the North and increased their already huge majority in Congress. Quite obviously the course of Reconstruction henceforth would be determined by Congress with little or no reference to the wishes of the president. Any chance that Johnson would be able to form a new party and succeed himself in the White House had been destroyed, although in spite of everything he would continue to harbor the latter ambition.

Congressional Reconstruction

On 3 December 1866, Congress reassembled, with the Republicans resolved to scrap Johnson's Reconstruction program and replace it with a new one. Reinforcing their resolve was the refusal of the ten southern states still outside the Union to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment and the New Orleans riot of 30 July, in which a mob of whites massacred thirty-eight Republicans, thirty-four of whom were blacks.

All through the winter Congress debated and labored. As before, the Radicals pushed for black suffrage, whereas the Moderates held back, fearing that imposing this on the South would indeed outrage the North, where only a handful of states, all with minuscule black populations, permitted blacks to vote. Ultimately, faced with political humiliation if they did not come up with something, the Republicans united to pass the Military Reconstruction Act late in February 1867.

The act divided the ten unreconstructed states into five military districts, each under a general empowered
to employ military courts and troops to maintain order and enforce federal laws; directed that conventions elected by black voters and eligible whites be held in each of the ten states for the purpose of framing new constitutions that would provide for black suffrage; stipulated that after a state had adopted its new constitution and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment it would be entitled to congressional representation; and, finally, barred from voting for, and serving in, the state constitutional conventions any person guilty of violating an oath to uphold the United States Constitution by voluntarily engaging in rebellion. In sum this was, and remains, the most drastic law ever enacted by Congress, for it placed millions of citizens under military rule in peacetime, deprived hundreds of thousands of them of political rights, and enfranchised a group that the majority of Americans at that time considered unqualified to participate in government. Nevertheless, like the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, it was largely a Moderate measure; Sumner, Stevens, and other Radicals criticized it because it allowed the readmission of southern states upon ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment and did not confiscate "rebel" lands for distribution to blacks.

Congress also passed two bills aimed at Johnson himself. One, which took the form of an amendment to the annual Army Appropriation Act, required the president to transmit all orders to military commanders through General of the Army Grant, whom the Republicans counted on to block or at least report any attempt by Johnson to sabotage the administration of the Military Reconstruction Act. The other measure was the Tenure of Office Act. This prohibited the president from dismissing any official appointed with the Senate's consent without that body's approval. Its purpose was to prevent Johnson from removing Republican officeholders and replacing them with his own supporters.

Needless to say, Johnson vetoed the Military Reconstruction Act, which he accurately described as revolutionary, and the Tenure of Office Act, which he rightly labeled an unconstitutional encroachment by the legislative on the executive branch; as for the Army Appropriation Act, he signed it only because he feared that to do otherwise would demoralize the army, but he protested against the provision requiring him to issue orders via the general of the army. And needless to say, Congress overrode his vetoes and ignored his protest. In addition, before recessing at the end of March, the House instructed the Judiciary Committee to prepare a report on the advisability of impeaching the presidenta warning to Johnson to behave while Congress was away from Washington. Thus, by the spring of 1867, Johnson's Reconstruction program had been demolished and he, so it seemed, was reduced to virtual impotence.

Johnson Counterattacks

In spite of his defeats and humiliations, Johnson remained determined to fight on until he achieved victory and vindication, just as he had done in his struggle against secession. He believed that although most northerners, duped by Republican propaganda, might agree to civil rights for blacks, they would not support the imposition of black suffrage on their fellow whites of the South or the indefinite prolongation of bayonet rule in the southern states. Sooner or later, he calculated, the Republicans would "hang themselves" with their extreme measures as public opinion in the North turned against them. Meanwhile, until that happened, and in order to help make it happen, he would do everything he could to oppose, cripple, and discredit Military Reconstruction. He also hoped, indeed expected, that the Supreme Court would declare the congressional program unconstitutional. Already, on 17 December 1866, the Court had held in the case of Ex parte Milligan that military tribunals had no right to try civilians in areas where the civil courts were functioninga decision that obviously had negative implications for the Military Reconstruction Act.

On 1 April 1867 an election in Connecticut resulted in the Democrats capturing the governorship and three of that state's four congressional seatsthe first Democratic victory in the North since 1864. Johnson saw this as a "turn of the current" of northern public opinion. It also encouraged him to launch an indirect but potentially devastating assault on Military Reconstruction. At Johnson's behest, Attorney General Henry B. Stanbery prepared an interpretation of the legal powers of the district commanders in the South that, in the words of Michael Les Benedict, "virtually emasculated the Reconstruction law." The Republicans, who had anticipated such a move, quickly reconvened Congress, which on 13 July passed a supplementary Reconstruction bill that overruled Stanbery's interpretation on every important point. Automatically Johnson vetoed the bill, and just as automatically, Congress repassed it over his veto and then again went home, hoping that Johnson finally realized the futility of resisting its willa vain hope.

Playing a key role in carrying out Military Reconstruction was Secretary of War Stanton. For a long time Johnson had been aware of the fact that Stanton constantly obstructed his policies, that he habitually lied to him, and that he was actively aiding the congressional Republicans. Yet he had held back from dismissing him from the cabinet out of fear of the political and personal repercussions, for Stanton enjoyed great prestige in the North because of his wartime services and possessed strong backing among the Republicans. By the summer of 1867, Johnson had decided that he no longer would tolerate Stanton's disloyalty to his administration. Therefore, on 11 August, after failing to obtain Stanton's resignation, he suspended Stanton from office under the terms of the Tenure of Office Act and named Grant acting secretary of war, a post Grant accepted with great reluctance, as he, too, opposed the president's Reconstruction program and had been secretly collaborating with Congress. In addition, on 17 August, Johnson relieved Major General Philip H. Sheridan as commander of the Military District of Louisiana and Texas, where he had been pursuing a course that Johnson deemed both tyrannical and insubordinate.

As was to be expected, the Republicans reacted to Stanton's suspension and Sheridan's removal with anger and demands for impeachment. Johnson was unmoved, and the outcome of the autumn state elections reinforced his feeling that northern public opinion was shifting in his favor. The Democrats won in New York, New Jersey, and California; gained control of the Ohio legislature; and sharply reduced Republican majorities in several other states. In addition, the voters of Ohio, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Kansas overwhelmingly rejected black suffrage in their states. Unlike in 1866, when most Republican candidates carefully avoided the issue, in 1867 they came out in favor of granting blacks the vote in the North as well as the South. The result was that, in the blunt words of Radical Senator Benjamin Wade, "The nigger whipped us."

When Congress convened in December 1867, Johnson announced to his cabinet, "The time for mere defense is now past and I can stand on the offensive

in behalf of the Constitution and the country." Accordingly, in his annual message of 3 December he declared that the effect of Military Reconstruction was to make blacks the rulers of whites, that this could only cause the South to sink into barbarism, and that he intended to resist the unconstitutional usurpations of Congress, "regardless of all consequences," confident that he would be sustained by the people, as demonstrated in the recent elections.

Infuriated, the Radicals called for the House to impeach Johnson. But the Moderates, although likewise angry, stated that unfortunately there was no legal basis for such action, and after an acrimonious debate the House on 7 December defeated an impeachment resolution by 108 to 57, with 66 Republicans joining 42 Democrats in opposition. Radical leaders thereupon began deploring the "surrender of Congress" to the president, whereas one of John-son's confidants asserted that "the President has Congress on the hip." Further encouraging Johnson while at the same time alarming all Republicans, the case of Ex parte McCardle, involving the constitutionality of the Military Reconstruction Act, was now before the Supreme Court; on the basis of the Milligan precedent, the Court would almost surely strike down the act.

But if Radicals and Moderates differed as to the feasibility of impeaching Johnson, they did agree that he must not be allowed to displace Stanton permanently as secretary of war. If that happened, the Tenure of Office Act would become a dead letter and Johnson would be free to name a secretary of war who would cooperate with him in sabotaging Military Reconstruction, thereby threatening Republican domination in the South. Hence, on 13 January 1868 the Senate, applying the Tenure Act, rejected a request from Johnson that it concur in Stanton's dismissal and declared that Stanton was still secretary of war.

Johnson had anticipated this action. Accordingly he had asked Grant not to surrender the secretary of war's office without giving prior notice; in this way Johnson would have an opportunity to appoint someone else to the post so as to bring about a Supreme Court test of the Tenure Act. Grant promised, or at least permitted Johnson to understand that he promised, to do what the president requested. But on 14 January, after the Senate refused to sanction Stanton's removal, Grant went directly to the War Department building, locked the secretary of war's office, and turned over the key to a military aide; an hour later Stanton arrived, obtained the key, and entered his old office.

Johnson accused Grant of "duplicity" both before the cabinet and in the press. Grant heatedly denied the charge and thus the two became open, bitter enemies. Probably Grant did betray Johnson, for although he had warned Johnson that he would quit as acting secretary of war if the Senate rejected Stanton's dismissal, he knew that the president did not expect him to do it so abruptly and in a manner that would make it so easy for Stanton to regain physical possession of the office. On the other hand, Johnson was seeking to exploit for his own purposes Grant's prestige and popularity; and had Grant allowed him to do this, Grant would have been caught in the middle of the struggle between the president and Congress. Realizing this, Grant decided to extricate himself, even though it meant acting in a fashion that at best can be described as slippery.

Foiled in his plan to prevent Stanton from taking possession of the war office, Johnson next tried to force him out of it, his intention still being to bring about a legal test of the Tenure Act. To this end, on 21 February he appointed the adjutant general of the army, Lorenzo P. Thomas, secretary of war and instructed him to go to the War Department and demand that Stanton vacate the office. Thomas, an elderly, ineffectual type, did so twice; each time Stanton adamantly refused and Thomas went away.

The Republicans exploded with anger and joyanger because Johnson was so brazenly defying the will of Congress and joy because he had at last given them a plausible reason to impeach and remove him from office. On 24 February the House of Representatives, by a vote of 126 to 47, passed a resolution declaring "that Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanors." For the first time in American history a president had been impeached.

Johnson's Impeachment Trial

A special House committee drafted articles of impeachment against Johnsonthat is, specific accusations of "high crimes and misdemeanors." Adopted by the House on 2 and 3 March, the articles totaled eleven. The first eight were variations on the charge that Johnson had violated the Tenure Act by attempting to supplant Stanton with Thomas; the ninth and tenth contained petty and patently absurd allegations; and the eleventh, primarily the handiwork of Stevens, combined all of the previous charges. On 4 March seven Republicans, acting as the "impeachment managers," formally presented the articles to the Senate, which sat as a "High Court of Impeachment" presided over by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase. Two days later, the Senate summoned Johnson to stand trial beginning 13 March.

Johnson reacted to impeachment calmly. "If I cannot be President in fact," he told his personal secretary, "I will not be President in name alone." To defend him, he retained the services of several of the nation's leading lawyers. Pleading the need for more time to prepare their case, they succeeded in getting postponement of the trial. In the meantime, the Republicans passed a bill that deprived the Supreme Court of jurisdiction over cases such as Ex parte Milligan. Thus, Johnson was frustrated not only in his effort to challenge the Tenure Act in the courts but also in his hope of having Military Reconstruction declared unconstitutional.

On 30 March the impeachment trial, which the president was not required to attend in person, got under way. Johnson's attorneys argued that the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional; that even if it were constitutional, it did not protect Stanton because he had been appointed by Lincoln, not Johnson; that the president had not actually violated it, since Stanton obviously still remained in office; that Johnson's attempt to replace Stanton was motivated by a legitimate desire to test the act's constitutionality and not by criminal intent; and, finally, that since impeachment was a judicial and not a political process and since Johnson had not committed any indictable offense, the president was innocent of "high crimes and misdemeanors." The House managers, with Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts being the main spokesman, rebutted the defense's allegations about the Tenure Act and maintained that impeachment was political in nature; otherwise, Butler sarcastically asked, how could an unfit president be removed unless he was caught "robbing a chicken house" or committing some other statutory crime?

The managers believed that the catchall eleventh impeachment article offered the best prospect for convicting Johnson. Therefore, on 16 May the Senate voted on it first. Thirty-five senators declared Johnson guilty, and nineteen declared him innocent. Since under the Constitution at least two-thirds of the senators present and voting are needed to convict a president, Johnson escaped by the narrowest possible margin. Ten days later, votes on two other articles provided the same outcome, whereupon the impeachment trial ended.

Johnson owed his escape to the fact that seven Republicans joined with the Senate's ten Democrats and two Conservatives to vote for acquittal. A combination of factors explains why these seven "recusants" deserted their party's ranks: they doubted the legal justification of impeachment, feared that deposing the president would ultimately injure the party, and disliked the prospect of the ultra-Radical Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio replacing Johnson, which under the presidential succession law of that time he would have done by virtue of being president pro tern of the Senate. Johnson also helped his own cause by letting it be known that if he remained in office, he would cease obstructing the implementation of Military Reconstruction and that he would appoint the politically neutral Major General John M. Schofield to be the new secretary of warpromises he kept. (Stanton resigned as soon as the impeachment trial ended.)

Today practically all historians and legal experts agree that Johnson was innocent of the charges brought against him, and in 1926 the Supreme Court did what Johnson had hoped for in 1868it declared the Tenure of Office Act unconstitutional. On the other hand, the oft-expressed view that Johnson's removal from office would have permanently weakened the presidency probably is erroneous. The circumstances that led to Johnson's impeachment were both extreme and unique, whereas the forces that brought about the emergence of the "imperial presidency" in the twentieth century would have operated regardless of the outcome of Johnson's trial. Finally, although the impeachment as such failed, it did cause Johnson to abandon his struggle against Congress' Reconstruction program. Despite having declared that he did not want to be president in name alone, in effect he settled for exactly that.

Other Events of Johnson's Presidency

Reconstruction was the dominant issue of Johnson's presidency to which, both out of choice and necessity, he devoted most, sometimes all, of his attention and energy. Yet he also had to concern himself with a number of other matters that were highly important in their own rightindeed, would have held center stage under normal circumstances.

When Johnson became president, a war with France over Mexico was a distinct possibility. During the Civil War the French, then ruled by Napoleon III, flagrantly violated the Monroe Doctrine by establishing in Mexico a puppet regime headed by the Emperor Maximilian, an Austrian archduke. Initially Johnson seemed disposed to adopt the approach advocated by General Grantnamely, to tell Napoleon that unless he pulled his troops out of Mexico immediately, the United States Army would drive them out. Fortunately, Secretary of State Seward successfully asserted his control over foreign policy, something in which Johnson had no experience and scant interest. By means of skillful diplomatic prodding, Seward induced Napoleon, who was finding the Mexican intervention costly in money and men, to withdraw his forces beginning late in 1866. Once they all left, the Mexicans, led by Benito Juárez, had little difficulty overthrowing Maximilian. Thus, the greatest challenge to United States interest in the Caribbean prior to the Castro Communist takeover of Cuba was repelled. Ironically, an aggressive policy leading to war with France would have been enormously popular in the United States and would probably have assured the success of Johnson's Reconstruction program.

Seward, who long had been an advocate of Manifest Destiny, tried to pursue an expansionist policy, hoping thereby to gain public support for the Johnson administration and to advance his own presidential aspirations. In large part because of the bitter conflict over Reconstruction, his only solid achievement along this line was the acquisition of Alaska in 1867. Early that year the Russian government, having decided that Alaska was a financial and strategic liability, instructed its minister in Washington, Baron Edouard de Stoeckl, to sell it to the United States. Seward proved more than willing to buy it, and he and Stoeckl quickly negotiated a treaty whereby the United States agreed to pay $7.2 million in gold for the territory. The treaty easily passed the Senate, 37 to 2, on 9 April 1867, but the necessary appropriation bill encountered strong opposition in the House, where many Republicans opposed it simply because they hated Johnson. Finally, on 14 July 1868, after Stoeckl discreetly bribed several key representatives, the House approved it, 114 to 43. Thus, the expansion of the United States across the North American continent, which began in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, came to an end.

During the Civil War, Confederate warships, of which the Alabama was the most prominent, inflicted tremendous damage on northern merchant shipping. Since these raiders had been built in Britain, the United States government held the British government responsible for their depredations and demanded monetary reparation. In 1868, in an effort to settle these so-called Alabama Claims before he left office, Johnson sent a former senator named Reverdy Johnson to London, where he negotiated a treaty whereby the claims of both British and American citizens arising from the Civil War would be settled on an equal basis. It was a poor treaty, but thinking it the best that could be had, Johnson submitted it to the Senate early in 1869, only to see it rejected, 54 to 1. Two years later the United States obtained a much better settlement of the Alabama Claims.

On the domestic front the two main problems other than Reconstruction had to do with fiscal policy and the Indians of the western plains. Concerning the first, the Civil War had resulted in a federal debt of nearly $3 billion (an enormous sum by the standards of the day), the issuance of over $600 million in "greenbacks" (paper money unsupported by gold or silver), and unprecedentedly high taxes, especially the tariff. Johnson for the most part left financial policy to Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch, a holdover from Lincoln's cabinet. McCulloch generally cooperated with the Republican Congress in gradually reducing the number of greenbacks in circulation with a view to restoring a bullion-based currency.

Meanwhile, during the latter part of his presidency, when he was desperately casting about for political allies, Johnson toyed with the thought of embracing the "Ohio Idea," a scheme popular in the Midwest that called for increasing, rather than decreasing, the supply of greenbacks in order to pay off the national debt and stimulate the economy. But Johnson held fast to his fiscal conservatism; furthermore, the Ohio Idea had more opponents than proponents, and so he would have hurt, rather than helped, himself politically by advocating it. For similar reasons he made no serious effort to counter the Republican high-tariff policy, although verbally criticizing it.

As regards the Indians, Johnson's administration adopted a two-pronged approach: the army waged campaigns designed to pacify the hostile tribes and safeguard western settlers, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs responded to the demands of eastern reformers by endeavoring to place the Indians on reservations, where supposedly they would be protected from evil white influences and given an opportunity to acquire white civilization. Although the reservation policy fell far short of the expectations of its idealistic proponents, it was probably the most practical one the government could have adopted at that time, for the Indians' way of life was doomed by the westward push of the American people as incarnated in the construction of the transcontinental railroad, a project nearly completed by the time Johnson left office.

Conclusion of Johnson's Presidency

In May 1868 the Republicans, as everyone expected, nominated Grant for president on a platform that called for black suffrage in the South but discreetly avoided proposing it nationwide. Johnson hoped for and sought the Democratic nomination, believing that his fight against congressional Reconstruction entitled him to it. Most Democrats now considered him, rightly enough, a political liability, and at their convention in July nominated Horatio Seymour, a former New York governor. Although disappointed, Johnsonout of hatred for Grant, if nothing elsedid what he could during the campaign to help Seymour. Grant won by 214 electoral votes to Seymour's 80, but his popular majority was only 300,000, and even that was the result of the enfranchisement of blacks and the disfranchisement of whites in the South. Hence, early in 1869, the Republicans placed black suffrage on a permanent foundation by ramming through the Fifteenth Amendment, which stated that no citizen could be deprived of the vote for reasons of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." This turned out to be the final major measure of congressional Reconstruction, and like the first, it became law over Johnson's futile protests.

Johnson finished his few remaining months as president in relative peace. At noon on 4 March 1869 he left the White House without, as is customary, attending the inauguration of his successor. He returned to Tennessee and soon plunged into politics, making several unsuccessful attempts to secure a seat in Congress. Finally, in January 1875, the Tennessee legislature, now controlled by Democrats, elected him to the United States Senate. On 5 March he took his seat in the Senate, thereby becoming the only former president to serve in that body. He did not serve long. On 28 July, while visiting one of his daughters in Tennessee, he suffered a stroke and three days later died. He was buried near his Greeneville home, his body wrapped in the United States flag and his well-thumbed copy of the Constitution beneath his head.

Johnson Evaluated

Johnson's presidency corresponded with the first and most crucial phase of Reconstruction. Since Reconstruction was intimately linked to the highly controversial issue of the status of blacks in American life, both it and Johnson have been highly controversial also. Accordingly, historians who believe that congressional Reconstruction in general was bad and that in particular it was a mistake to grant blacks equal civil and political rights so soon after being freed from slavery portray Johnson as a heroic champion of the Constitution and true reconciliation between North and South. Historians who feel that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were necessary acts of justice and that the only thing wrong with Reconstruction was that it did not go far enough condemn Johnson as a racist villain who deserved to be removed from office. Between these extremes stand yet more historians and their judgments of Johnson; historians never have agreed about him, nor will they ever.

Even so, it seems that this can be said with certainty about the tenacious tailor from Tennessee: Few presidents faced a greater challenge than he did, and none failed more completely than he to meet that challenge successfully. There are several reasons why this was so.

First, Johnson was a southerner and a Democrat heading the government of a nation controlled by northerners and Republicans. Consequently, he miscalculated the attitudes of the North and had no sympathy for, or understanding of, the Republicans. Lincoln, had he lived, would not have suffered from such handicaps and the course of Reconstruction would have been substantially different.

Johnson lacked the moral and political authority of an elected president, yet he acted as if he possessed it. As a result, his refusal to compromise with Congress quickly dissipated the strength he initially enjoyed.

Johnson's dedication to the Union, the Constitution, and democracy as he understood them was as sincere as it was strong; but he did not realize that the Civil War was a revolution that would not end with the defeat of the rebels and the freeing of the slaves, and he failed to see that the pre-1861 power relationship between the federal and state governments had been permanently altered in favor of the former.

Johnson, like the vast majority of American whites of his time, considered blacks inferior. Had his racial attitudes been those of Charles Sumner or of a twentieth-century liberal, possibly the story of his presidency and the outcome of Reconstruction would have been happier. But there is no evidence that racism was the sole or even the main determinant of his policies. Like Lincoln, he perceived the enormous obstacles that lay in the way of equality for blacks; he also believed, given the realities of the situation, that the status of blacks in the South would sooner or later be dictated by the whites. This belief, obviously, was not altogether wrong. By 1875, the year Johnson died, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were virtually dead. Eighty years would pass before they came to life again.

Finally, Johnson suffered from serious defects of mind and character. Although he possessed "great natural capacity," he held "few ideas," was "narrow-minded," and lacked flexibility and adroitness. He also was extremely distrustful of others, tended to regard advice as tantamount to dictation, and was overly pugnacious and insufficiently discreet. At the same time, he was often indecisive and hesitant, yet when he did act, he did so hastily and without foresight. Quite likely these traits, more than anything else, caused him to commit the blunders that turned his policies and presidency into a shambles.

To sum up, Johnson quested for power all of his adult life; but when, through tragic circumstance, he gained the highest power, he proved incapable of using it in an effective and beneficial manner.


George Fort Milton, The Age of Hate: Andrew Johnson and the Radicals (New York, 1930), is, from a human-interest and literary standpoint, the best biography of Johnson, although excessively favorable to Johnson and overly critical of the Republicans. Hans L. Trefousse, Andrew Johnson: A Biography (New York, 1989), is the latest biography of Johnson and although it provides some useful information and insights not to be found in Milton's biography, it tends to go to the opposite extreme of that work, portraying Johnson not as a champion of democracy and the Constitution but rather as a person who "failed to grow" with his time and so "left a legacy of racism." James E. Sefton, Andrew Johnson and the Uses of Constitutional Power (Boston, 1980), is a good, up-to-date short biography. Albert Castel, The Presidency of Andrew Johnson (Lawrence, Kans., 1979), endeavors to synthesize modern scholarship on Johnson and Reconstruction. Martin E. Mantell, Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction (New York, 1973), sheds fresh light on relations between Johnson and Grant. David Miller Dewitt, The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson, Seventeenth President of the United States (New York, 1903; repr. 1967), is, despite its age, the best account of Johnson's impeachment as such.

Eric L. McKitrick, Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (Chicago, 1960), achieved a revolution in Reconstruction historiography and is still the best work on its subject. Michael Les Benedict, A Compromise of Principle: Congressional Republicans and Reconstruction, 18631869 (New York, 1974), is highly detailed and based on impressive research but is extremely anti-Johnson and pro-Radical. Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 18631877 (New York, 1988), the most recent full-length history of Reconstruction, takes what might be termed a neo-Radical view of its subject and hence is very critical of Johnson, whom it blames in large part for the "failure of Reconstruction." Claude G. Bowers, The Tragic Era: The Revolution After Lincoln (Cambridge, Mass., 1929), portrays the Radicals as fiends and Johnson as a great hero. LaWanda Cox and John H. Cox, Politics, Principle, and Prejudice, 18651866 (New York, 1963), is of particular value on Johnson's relations with the Democrats and his attempt to form a new party. William R. Brock, An American Crisis: Congress and Reconstruction, 18651867 (New York, 1963), is balanced and perceptive in its treatment of both Johnson and Congress.

See also Richard B. McCaslin, comp., Andrew Johnson: A Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1992).

Johnson, Andrew

views updated May 09 2018

Andrew Johnson

Born December 29, 1808
Raleigh, North Carolina

Died July 31, 1875
Carter's Station, Tennessee

President, politician, and tailor

"[Most,] if not all, of our domestic troubles are directly traceable to violations of the organic law and excessive legislation. The most striking illustrations of this fact are furnished by the enact ments of the past three years upon the question of reconstruction."

Andrew Johnson succeeded to the presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65) in April 1865, just a month into Lincoln's second term as president. Johnson was chosen by Lincoln to be his vice president as a symbolic gesture of uniting the nation during the Civil War (1861–65): Lincoln was a Republican from the North, Johnson a Democrat from the South. Johnson faced great challenges as president; the Civil War was over and the nation needed to be reunified and to respect the freedom of emancipated slaves. But Congress and Johnson held different views on Reconstruction (1865–77), the rebuilding of the United States after the Civil War. Those differences would frustrate Johnson, whose presidential power was overshadowed by Congress and who faced impeachment and removal from office for defying Congress. Johnson survived removal by one vote.

From poverty to shop owner at eighteen

Andrew Johnson was born on December 29, 1808, in a cottage in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was the youngest of two sons of Jacob and Mary Johnson. Johnson's father worked many odd jobs to provide for his family, including porter (one who carries suitcases for guests) and waiter at an inn and janitor at a bank. He served in the local militia (a citizen military force) and as a sexton (a minor church official) of the community's Presbyterian Church. Shortly after Johnson turned three, his father died from complications that began after he dove into a pond to save two men from drowning. Already poor, the family scraped along on the money Mary Johnson earned by sewing, weaving, and washing.

Johnson never attended school and no one in the family could read. By age ten, he began working for a tailor, responsible for cleaning shop and learning the skills of a tailor. By his early teens, Johnson had acquired tailoring skills and had learned the basics of reading and writing. It was common for shop owners to keep their workers entertained by having someone read to them while they worked. A local minister read to the tailors in the shop where Johnson worked, and he spent some extra time teaching Johnson how to read and write.

Johnson and his brother left Raleigh in 1824, when Johnson was fifteen, after being involved in some mischief. They wandered over the state border into Tennessee and found work as tailors in the town of Greeneville. Johnson returned to Raleigh in 1826 to convince his mother and his step-father to join him in Greeneville. Johnson seized an opportunity the following year, at the age of eighteen: The best tailor left town, and Johnson opened up a small shop of his own, called A. Johnson, Tailor.

When Johnson first entered Greeneville, he caught the eye of Eliza McCardle, then fourteen years old. They married three years later, on May 17, 1827. Eliza Johnson helped her husband improve his skills in reading, writing, and math. They would have five children: Martha, Charles, Mary, Robert, and Andrew Jr.

Hangout for political discussions

Johnson worked hard and took pride in his labors. Outspoken for the rights and values of common people, he joined a debating society, and his tailor shop became a lively place for political discussions. With a strong speaking voice and strong opinions on issues of importance to working-class people, Johnson was elected as an alderman (town council position) in 1828. Two years later, he became mayor of Greeneville and served in this capacity until 1833, managing his growing tailor business at the same time.

During the period from 1828 to 1838, political power in the United States shifted from large landowners to people of more humble means. Their national hero was President Andrew Jackson (1767–1845; served 1829–1837), who was also a former U.S. senator and representative from Tennessee. Jackson's Democratic Party came to prominence, and Johnson became a member of the party. He was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives and served from 1835 to 1837.

Johnson failed to win reelection in 1837 and learned an important lesson. He had voted against a road improvement bill, based on his belief that government should be limited and should resist raising taxes to fund projects. The people of eastern Tennessee whom Johnson represented wanted improved roads. Johnson dropped his ideological opposition (a position based on one's ideals) in order to fight for what was best for the people. He was elected again to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1839. Johnson fought vigorously for laborers of eastern Tennessee against more wealthy slave owners in the state. He was elected to the state senate in 1841. Johnson failed in efforts to repeal a state law that favored slaveholders over other landowners.

Johnson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843 at the age of thirty-four and served for ten years. His most notable action as a congressman came in 1846 when he proposed the nation's first homestead legislation. His homestead bill, which failed to pass in the U.S. Senate, would have set aside inexpensive plots of land on the western frontier where small farmers could establish homes and livelihoods. Though the bill failed at the time, the Homestead Act of 1862 that became law was modeled closely on Johnson's original proposal. Johnson's original proposal failed during the 1840s when there was fear in the U.S. Senate that opening up the West would feed the expansion of slavery to new territories and states. In 1862, the Civil War was being fought and Congress and President Lincoln were anxious to push the legislation under the assumption that expansion of slavery was no longer an issue.

In 1853, Johnson was elected for the first of two terms as governor of Tennessee. He supported and signed into law bills that created the state's first public school system, a state library, and a system of agricultural and mechanical fairs to share information on developments in industry and agriculture. In 1857, Johnson was elected to the U.S. Senate; soon thereafter, he renewed his efforts for a homestead bill. In an argumentative legislature, Southern Democrats opposed the bill as they voted in a bloc against any bill that might undermine their protection of slavery. But Johnson was not a crusader against slavery; he wanted to provide more opportunities for people who could not afford to have slaves.

Johnson supported the Democratic Party in the elections of 1860. When Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected on an antislavery platform, many Southern states seceded (separated) from the Union and formed their own government, called the Confederacy. Tennessee did not secede until the Confederacy fired on the federal government's Fort Sumter in South Carolina, which started the Civil War. As Tennesseans debated whether or not to join the Confederacy, Johnson campaigned against leaving the Union. He was committed to the United States and the Constitution. When citizens voted to join the Confederacy, Johnson had to leave the state, and then Confederate authorities forced his wife and children to leave as well. Johnson was the only Southern senator not to resign his seat in Congress.

Johnson becomes president

In 1862, Johnson was appointed brigadier general by Lincoln to serve as military governor of Tennessee. (A military governor is the head government official of an area that has been taken over in a military action.) Johnson restored order in the state: His administration collected taxes, dismissed officials unwilling to take the federal oath of allegiance, shut down Confederate newspapers, and arrested pro-Confederate ministers and fighters.

When Lincoln ran for reelection in 1864, he wanted to appeal to Northern Democrats and Southern Unionists (those that remained in the Union) as well as Republicans. For the election, the Republican Party's name was changed to the National Union Party, and Johnson, a Southern Unionist Democrat, ran as vice president with Lincoln, a Republican. When the Lincoln-Johnson ticket won, it marked only the second time that the nation's president and vice president came from different parties. (President John Adams [1735–1826] and Vice President Thomas Jefferson [1743–1826] were the first.)

Johnson had a brief, but very difficult, time as vice president. On inauguration day (the day he was sworn in as vice president), he was suffering from a fever and drank some alcohol to fight his fever. When called on to make a speech, his words were slurred and his speech was disorganized. The incident damaged his reputation and led to persistent rumors that Johnson had a drinking problem. However, no historical evidence suggests that Johnson was an alcoholic or that his performance at the inaugural was more than an isolated incident.

As vice president, Johnson only discussed issues with Lincoln on one occasion—briefly, on the day Lincoln was later shot by an assassin. Lincoln died the next morning, only a month into his second term. Johnson was sworn into the office of president on April 15, 1865, by Salmon P. Chase (1808–1873), Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Johnson faced formidable issues: The Civil War was over and the nation needed to be reunified; Congress was led by a group known as the Radical Republicans, with key U.S. senators Thaddeus Stevens (1792–1868; see entry) and Charles Sumner (1811–1874), who were intent on punishing the former Confederacy and aggressively pursuing civil rights for freed slaves; and Congress believed it had the authority to set the terms of Reconstruction. Believing the president, not Congress, should lead the Reconstruction effort, Johnson prepared to forge ahead before the next session of Congress began in December.

Believing in a limited federal government, Johnson wanted to reestablish state governments in the South as quickly as possible. After assuming the presidency, Johnson announced his Reconstruction plan: Former Confederate states had to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (which included the abolishment, or destruction, of slavery), renounce Confederate debts, and nullify (invalidate) secession ordinances. When states met those conditions, Johnson, as the temporary wartime authority, would recognize their restoration to the Union. Several states quickly met the obligations proposed by Johnson. When Congress returned in December 1865, the battle between the executive and legislative branches over Reconstruction became one of the worst struggles between the executive and legislative branches in the nation's history.

Congress versus Johnson

Congress immediately halted Johnson's Reconstruction plan and refused to seat congressmen who had been elected from former Confederate states. Many in Congress were concerned about protecting the civil rights of freedmen (former slaves now emancipated). Johnson believed that Congress was overstepping its bounds. He vetoed civil rights legislation—citing such legislation as a matter for states, not the federal government—and refused to endorse a new constitutional amendment granting African Americans rights of citizenship. The remainder of Johnson's term was a bitter and losing struggle. Congress succeeded in controlling Reconstruction and passed laws that limited presidential authority, including the Tenure of Office Act (see box).

Congress in Charge

Passed in 1867 by Congress over President Johnson's veto, the Tenure of Office Act concerned federal officials appointed by the president that required confirmation by the Senate. Under the Tenure of Office Act, such officials could not be removed from their position by the president without the consent of the Senate. If the Senate was not in session, the president could suspend an official, but once the Senate reconvened it had to approve the removal or the official would have to be reinstated by the president.

The Tenure of Office Act was one of several actions by Congress during Johnson's administration that enhanced the authority of Congress at the expense of the presidency. Historians generally regard the period from 1865 to 1885 as an era when Congress was more powerful than the president. The powers of the two branches of government became more balanced in 1885, during the presidency of Grover Cleveland (1837–1908; served 1885–89, 1893–97), when the Tenure of Office Act was repealed. Cleveland won back some of the prestige of the presidency, and two of his successors, William McKinley (1843–1901; served 1897–1901) and Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9) were powerful presidents.

As Congress continued to lead the Reconstruction policy, Johnson made angry public speeches about the federal legislature and actively campaigned for congressional candidates who supported his view in 1866. However, Republicans made even more congressional gains in 1866. Congress passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867 that placed military governments in former Confederate states and required those states to pass the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution to begin the process of returning to the Union (see box).

Johnson, meanwhile, decided to test the Tenure of Office Act during the summer of 1867, when Congress was not in session. Johnson's secretary of war, Edwin Stanton (1814–1869; see entry), supported the Reconstruction policies of Republicans in Congress. Johnson wanted to remove Stanton from office. Since Stanton had been appointed by Abraham Lincoln, had been confirmed by the Senate as a Lincoln appointee, and remained in his position when Johnson succeeded Lincoln, Johnson believed the Tenure of Office Act did not apply since he had not appointed Stanton. In August 1867, Johnson asked for Stanton's resignation. When Stanton refused, Johnson suspended him from office, ordering Stanton to cease all exercise of authority, and transferred his power to Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885; see entry), the Civil War hero whom Johnson wanted as his new secretary of war.

After Congress reconvened in January 1868, the Senate voted 35-16 to overrule Johnson on Stanton's removal. Johnson, in turn, refused to accept the Senate's decision and called the Tenure of Office Act an unconstitutional infringement on the power of the president. The House of Representatives immediately began impeachment hearings against Johnson (see box for a description of the impeachment process).

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution set the terms for former Confederate states being readmitted into the Union. The states had to approve the Fourteenth Amendment as part of the process for reentering the Union. Reprinted below are three sections meant to apply specifically to states that had formerly allowed slavery.

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.…

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Hearings on grounds for impeaching Johnson began in a few days. The House of Representatives approved eleven articles of impeachment against Johnson for actions related to his attempt to remove Secretary of War Stanton from office and for remarks he made in speeches in Cleveland, Ohio, and St. Louis, Missouri, where he defamed Congress. Article X of the Articles of Impeachment describes Johnson's public speeches against Congress: "utterances, declarations, threats and harangues [highly emotional speeches], highly censurable in any, are peculiarly indecent and unbecoming in the Chief Magistrate of the United States, by means whereof the said Andrew Johnson has brought the high office of the President of the United States into contempt, ridicule and disgrace, to the great scandal of all good citizens, whereby said Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, did commit, and was then and there guilty of a high misdemeanor in office."

The Impeachment Process

Framers of the Constitution wanted to address actions that warranted removal of a federal official from office. Those actions fall under the category of treason, bribery, and "high crimes and misdemeanors."

Impeachment proceedings against a president begin when the House of Representatives votes to begin an investigation into actions that are considered impeachable as defined by the Constitution. The investigation committee reports its findings and recommendations to the House Judiciary Committee. The Committee drafts and approves Articles of Impeachment: Each article discusses a specific impeachable offense. The entire House of Representatives then votes on whether or not to approve each article. Two-thirds majority is needed to approve impeachment. If the House approves any of the articles, the president is considered impeached and must face trial in the U.S. Senate. Presidents are defended by their lawyers, while cases against presidents are argued by Managers—a group of Representatives that are selected to represent Congress. The Senate trial is presided over in the Senate by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

After House Managers and the president's defense lawyers have argued their cases, the U.S. Senate votes on the guilt or innocence of the president based on the Articles of Impeachment and the definition of impeachable offenses in the Constitution. If two-thirds of the Senate vote guilty, the president is removed from office. If less than two-thirds vote guilty, the president remains in office.

During Johnson's impeachment trial in the Senate, the president's lawyers argued that Johnson's attempt to remove Stanton was a test of the constitutionality of the Tenure of Office Act. They focused on the key issue that since Stanton had been appointed by President Lincoln, the Tenure of Office Act did not apply to Stanton's position under President Johnson.

When arguments were completed in Johnson's impeachment trial, the Senate voted first to determine whether each of the eleven articles were grounds for impeachment. The Senate voted against all but three of the articles. Concerned that they might not have the two-thirds majority to find Johnson guilty (needing 36 of 54 votes), Republican Senate leaders delayed the impeachment vote. When the Senate finally voted on the first of the articles, thirty-five senators voted guilty, one short of the majority needed to convict Johnson and remove him from office. After ten days and intense pressuring of Republicans who voted Johnson not guilty, the final two votes were taken, and they also ended 35-19, one short of the necessary two-thirds majority.

Johnson's legacy

Johnson's battles with Congress over Reconstruction and Congress's impeachment of Johnson are the most frequently reviewed events of Johnson's presidency. Those circumstances lead historians to rank Johnson among the least effective presidents though there were positive events during Johnson's presidency. Johnson's secretary of state, William Seward (1801–1872), negotiated the Alaska Purchase, where the United States bought the territory known then as Russian-America from Russia for just over $7 million. While some Americans ridiculed the purchase as "Seward's Folly" and viewed the area as a vast, icy wasteland, the purchase proved extremely valuable. Johnson was successful in challenging France over that nation's increasing involvement in Mexico. France had helped arm factions (small groups) loyal to a prince whom France wanted to become emperor of Mexico. Johnson sent a warning to France not to interfere with Mexican affairs, and France withdrew a military force.

Johnson's presidency did not end on a positive note. He was passed over for the Democratic nomination for president in the 1868 election and left office after making an often bitter Annual Address to Congress in December 1868. In the address, he called Reconstruction a failure: "[Most,] if not all, of our domestic troubles are directly traceable to violations of the organic law [laws that are changeable] and excessive legislation. The most striking illustrations of this fact are furnished by the enactments of the past three years upon the question of reconstruction."

After he left office in March 1869, Johnson returned to Tennessee. He remained politically active and won enough support to run for and win election to the U.S. Senate in 1874. He is the only president ever to have been elected senator after his presidency. (Former president John Quincy Adams [1767–1848; served 1825–29] served in the House of Representatives from 1831 to 1848; former president John Tyler [1790–1862; served 1841–45] was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives in 1861, but died before his term began.) Johnson received a standing ovation on his first day as senator but did not serve for long. He suffered a stroke and died on July 31, 1875. He was buried in Greeneville, the town where he had worked himself up from poverty and launched a political career that brought him to the nation's highest office.

For More Information


Dubkowski, Cathy East. Andrew Johnson: Rebuilding the Union. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Silver Burdett Press, 1991.

Hearn, Chester G. The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2000.

Mantell, Martin E. Johnson, Grant and the Politics of Reconstruction. New York: Columbia University Press, 1973.

McKittrick, Eric L. Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960. Reprint, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Simpson, Brooks D. The Reconstruction Presidents. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Trefousse, Hans L. Andrew Johnson: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.

Trefousse, Hans Louis. Impeachment of a President: Andrew Johnson, the Blacks, and Reconstruction. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1975. Reprint, New York: Fordham University Press, 1999.

Web Sites

"Andrew Johnson National Historic Site." National Parks Service. (accessed on June 28, 2004).

"Famous American Trials: The Andrew Johnson Impeachment Trial." University of Missouri–Kansas City. (accessed on July 26, 2004).

"North Carolina Encyclopedia: The Biography of Andrew Johnson." The State Library of North Carolina. (accessed on June 28, 2004).

Johnson, Andrew

views updated May 18 2018

8 Andrew Johnson

Excerpt from his veto of the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 Carried forth on March 27, 1866

The president angers many by vetoing a bill designed to assist African Americans

"The distinction of race and color is by the bill made to operate in favor of the colored and against the white race."

Seven months after the slaves were freed by the North's victory in the American Civil War (1861–65), the state of Mississippi passed new laws affecting African American residents. For the first time, African Americans were given rights to buy land, sue and be sued, even marry in state-recognized ceremonies. But the laws did not stop there. Every African American person had to provide written proof of having a "lawful home or employment." Any African Americans caught wandering the streets at night, neglecting their jobs, or even "misspend[ing] what they earn" could be arrested as vagrants (jobless or homeless people) and jailed for up to ten days. African American children whose parents could not provide for them, at least in a judge's determination, could be sent to white families to serve as apprentices (or assistants).

Mississippi was the first state to pass such discriminatory "Black Codes," but other Southern communities would quickly follow suit. The Louisiana towns of Opelousas and Saint Landry Parish required African Americans to get permission from town leaders before preaching to congregations, and barred African Americans from carrying guns or other weapons unless they belonged to the military. In South Carolina, African Americans working as anything other than farmers or servants had to pay an annual tax ranging from $10 to $100, as noted in Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution. In Florida, disobedience or "disrespect" to an employer was a crime. Local militias, often filled with former Confederate soldiers still in uniform, "frequently terrorized the African American population, ransacking their homes to seize shotguns and other property and abusing those who refused to sign plantation labor contracts."

Civil Rights Act of 1866

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 provided equal rights for African Americans:

An Act to protect all Persons in the United States in their Civil Rights, and furnish the Means [methods] of their Vindication [defense].

Be it enacted … That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary [forced] servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall have the same right in every State and Territory in the United States, to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, to the contrary notwithstanding.

Section 2. And be it further enacted, That any person who, under color [appearance] or any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, shall subject, or cause to be subjected, any inhabitant [resident] of any State or Territory to the deprivation [withholding] of any right secured or protected by this act, or to different punishment, pains, or penalties on account of such person having at any time been held in a condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, or by reason of his color or race, than is prescribed for the punishment of white persons, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction, shall be punished by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both, in the discretion of the court.…

This was not the outcome the North envisioned at the end of the Civil War. Slavery may have ended, but a new series of Black Codes kept the South's four million African Americans as second-class citizens. Making matters worse, blacks found little justice in the local courts. They could only testify as witnesses in cases involving an African American person, and they were barred from sitting on juries. Leading abolitionist (slavery opponent) James Miller McKim (1810–1874) asked Congress to create a separate military court system for African Americans through the Freedmen's Bureau, the federal agency created to help former slaves start their new lives (see Chapter 4). U.S. senator Lyman Trumbull (1813–1896) of Illinois responded with a bill expanding the Freedmen's Bureau to provide such courts. He also offered a bill outlining equal rights for African Americans.

The latter bill became known as the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The bill declared that everyone born in the United States, with the exception of Native Americans, was a citizen. This would extend citizenship to the African Americans—a response to the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court said African Americans could not file lawsuits because they were not U.S. citizens. The bill also gave citizens "of every race and color" the right to enter into contracts, buy and sell property, and enjoy "full and equal benefit of all laws … enjoyed by white citizens" (see box). Any person depriving an ex-slave of these rights could be tried in the federal courts (separate from the local court system), and sentenced to up to a year in prison and fined up to $1,000.

Congress passed the bill March 13, 1866, but no one was sure President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875; served 1865–69), a former slave owner with Southern sympathies, would sign it. A month earlier, Johnson vetoed the expanded Freedmen's Bureau bill, which he thought trampled on local communities' rights by establishing a military court system for African Americans during peacetime. He argued that African Americans already had the ability to take care of themselves and use the existing local courts. He also objected that the bill was passed without input from the newly elected Southern congressmen, whom the Northerners refused to seat until a new Reconstruction policy was created for the South (see Chapter 7). As noted in The Struggle for Equality, Johnson's veto surprised many, including Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax (1823–1885), who bet a friend a box of Cuban cigars that the president would sign the bill.

Johnson started getting criticism from the supporters and opponents of the Civil Rights Bill. Longtime political figure Francis P. Blair Sr. (1791–1876) wrote Johnson a four-page letter complaining that the bill would leave the states unable to "discriminate between Whites & Black," a result he considered "disastrous," according to Politics, Principle, and Prejudice, 1865–1866. Ohio governor Jacob Cox (1828–1900) urged Johnson to sign the bill because the public supported granting the freedmen "the same rights of property and persons, the same remedies for injuries received and the same penalties for wrongs committed, as other men.…"

But Johnson's advisors knew he was leaning against the bill, which he viewed as another federal intrusion on issues belonging to the states. His advisors also knew another unpopular veto could undermine his efforts to bring the Southern states back into the Union as quickly as possible, by allowing his opponents to paint him as unsympathetic to the problems facing African Americans. According to Politics, Principle, and Prejudice, Secretary of State William Seward (1801–1872) sent a note to Johnson the night before the veto was announced: "If you can find a way to intimate [imply] that you are not opposed to the policy of the bill, but only to its detailed provisions, it will be a great improvement and make the support of the veto easier for our friends in Congress." Instead, Johnson sent a strongly worded veto message that even his most loyal supporters would struggle to defend.

Things to remember while reading an excerpt from Johnson's veto of the Civil Rights Bill of 1866:

  • The end of the Civil War had freed the slaves, but Southern states responded by passing Black Codes that required African Americans to have jobs, prevented them from being out at night, and allowed their children to be apprenticed to white families.
  • Johnson was a strong supporter of states' rights, and believed local governments should decide for themselves what rights to grant their citizens. After seeing the discriminatory Black Codes adopted in most Southern states after the war, however, Northerners believed the federal government should pass laws to protect African Americans from being mistreated.
  • Johnson objected to a previous bill that had been passed without input from the Southern congressmen, whom the Northerners refused to seat until a new Reconstruction plan was approved for the South. The president thought it was unfair for Congress to pass laws affecting the South without hearing from those states.
  • A Southerner and former slave owner himself, Johnson did not believe African Americans were entitled to the same rights as whites. Johnson made his case in this passage with an example about interracial marriage, a socially forbidden subject that struck at the heart of whites' worst fears about racial equality.

Excerpt from Johnson's veto of the Civil Rights Bill of 1866

By the first section of the bill all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excludingIndians not taxed, are declared to be citizens of the United States. This provisioncomprehends the Chinese of the Pacific States, Indians subject to taxation, the people calledgypsies, as well as the entire race designated as blacks.… Every individual of these races born in the United States is by the bill made a citizen.…

Thegrave question presents itself whether, when eleven of the thirty-six States are unrepresented in Congress at the present time, it issound policy to make our entire colored population and all other excepted classes citizens of the United States. Four millions of them have just emerged from slavery into freedom. Can it be reasonablysupposed that they possess therequisite qualifications to entitle them to all the privileges andimmunities of citizens of the United States? Have the people of the several States expressed such aconviction .…? The policy of the Government from its origin to the present time seems to have been that persons who are strangers to and unfamiliar with ourinstitutions and our laws should pass through a certainprobation, at the end of which, beforeattaining thecoveted prize, they must give evidence of their fitness to receive and to exercise the rights of citizens as contemplated by the Constitution of the United States. The bill in effect proposes a discrimination against large numbers of intelligent, worthy, and patriotic foreigners [who must wait five years for citizenship], and in favor of the negro [who would automatically get it].…

A perfect equality of the white and colored races is attempted to befixed by Federal law in every State of the Union over thevast field of Statejurisdiction covered by theseenumerated rights. In no one of these can any State ever exercise any power of discrimination between the different races. In the exercise of State policy over mattersexclusively affecting the people of each State it has frequently been thoughtexpedient to discriminate between the two races. By thestatutes of some of the States, Northern as well as Southern, it isenacted, for instance, that no white person shallintermarry with a negro ormulatto .…

I do not say that this billrepeals State laws on the subject of marriage between the two races.… I cite this discrimination, however, as an instance of the State policy as to discrimination, and to inquire whether if Congress canabrogate all State laws of discrimination between the two races in the matter of real estate, of suits, and of contracts generally Congress may not also repeal the State laws as to the contract of marriage between the two races. Hitherto every subjectembraced in theenumeration of rights contained in this billhas been considered as exclusively belonging to the States. They all relate to the internalpolice and economy of therespective States. They are matters which in each State concern thedomestic condition of its people, varying in each according to its ownpeculiar circumstances and the safety and well-being of its own citizens.…

If, in any State which denies to a colored person any one of all those rights, that person should commit a crime against the laws of a State—murder,arson, rape, or any other crime—all protection and punishment through the courts of the State are taken away, and he can only be tried and punished in the Federal courts.… So that over this vast domain of criminaljurisprudence provided by each State for the protection of its own citizens and for the punishment of all persons who violate its criminal laws, Federal law, whenever it can be made to apply, displaces State law.… This section of the bill undoubtedly comprehends cases andauthorizes the exercise of powers that are not, by the Constitution, within the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States.…

I do not propose to consider the policy of this bill. To me the details of the bill seemfraught with evil. The white race and the black race of the South havehitherto lived together under the relation of master and slave—capital owning labor. Now, suddenly, that relation is changed, and as to ownership capital and labor aredivorced. They stand now each master of itself. In this new relation, one being necessary to the other, there will be a new adjustment, which both are deeply interested in makingharmonious .…

This billfrustrates this adjustment. It intervenes between capital and labor and attempts to settle questions of political economy through theagency of numerous officials whose interest it will be tofoment discord between the two races, for as thebreach widens their employment will continue, and when it is closed their occupation willterminate.

In all our history, in all our experience as a people living under Federal and State law, no such system as that contemplated by the details of this bill has ever before been proposed or adopted. They establish for the security of the colored racesafeguards which goinfinitely beyond any that the General Government has ever provided for the white race. In fact, the distinction of race and color is by the bill made to operate in favor of the colored and against the white race. They interfere with themunicipal legislation of the States, with the relations existing exclusively between a State and its citizens, or betweeninhabitants of the same State—an absorption and assumptionof power by the General Government which, ifacquiesced in, mustsap and destroy ourfederative system of limited powers and break down the barriers which preserve the rights of the States. It is another step, or rather stride, toward centralization and the concentration of all legislative powers in the National Government. Thetendency of the bill must be toresuscitate the spirit of rebellion and toarrest the progress of those influences which are more closely drawing around the States the bonds of union and peace.

What happened next …

Johnson's veto angered most members of Congress. Moderate Republicans who had tried to compromise with the president decided he was a lost cause. U.S. representative Henry L. Dawes (1816–1903) of Massachusetts wrote that Johnson's veto message deprived "every friend he has of the least ground upon which to stand and defend him," according to Politics, Principle, and Prejudice, 1865–1866. Dawes and the other moderates teamed up with the Radical Republicans—the members of Congress who opposed slavery and supported equal rights for African Americans—to create the two-thirds majority needed to overturn Johnson's veto. They succeeded, and the bill became law April 6, 1866.

This newly formed super-majority would remain a powerful force for the rest of Johnson's embattled term. Congress revived Trumbull's expanded Freedmen's Bureau Bill and passed it over Johnson's veto. Congress also pushed the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 (see Chapter 10) over the president's veto, carving the South into five military-controlled districts where whites and African Americans would have to work together to build their new state governments. Ultimately a frustrated Congress would impeach (charge with wrongdoing) Johnson for interfering with those Reconstruction plans, although the Senate would come one vote short of removing him from office (see Chapter 11).

In the meantime, Congress would look to make permanent the new safeguards for African Americans. The same protections outlined in the Civil Rights Bill would become part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (see Chapter 9) in 1868. Both measures would lay the groundwork for the Fifteenth Amendment (see Chapter 16) in 1870 granting African American men the right to vote.

Did you know …

  • Under many Black Codes, the sheriff could "hire out" arrested African Americans who were unable to pay their fines. The African Americans would have to work for whoever paid off their fines until the debt was repaid. This measure ensured whites would still have a source of cheap labor in the postslavery era.
  • Some Northern states during this era excluded African Americans from juries, banned marriages between African Americans and whites, or required separate school facilities for the races—not unlike their neighbors to the South. But Northerners grew concerned over the Southern Black Codes that forced African Americans to work and place their children in apprenticeships. They feared those rules were a step toward recreating the institution of slavery, which the North had fought to end through the Civil War.
  • The Civil Rights Bill of 1866 outlawed government-based discrimination, such as different laws or stricter penalties for African Americans. Another Civil Rights Bill in 1875 (see Chapter 18) would go a step further: It banned discrimination in the private sector, requiring hotels, restaurants, theaters, and public transportation systems to treat African Americans the same as whites. The U.S. Supreme Court would later overturn that bill.

Consider the following …

  • Why did the Southern states and local governments pass Black Codes after the Civil War?
  • Why did Johnson include an example about interracial marriage in his veto message? What was his point?
  • Johnson argued that the states should be allowed to decide which rights to grant their residents. Can you think of other rights or privileges today that vary from state to state?

For More Information

Cox, LaWanda, and John H. Cox. Politics, Principle, and Prejudice, 1865–1866: Dilemma of Reconstruction America. New York: Atheneum, 1969.

Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

McPherson, James M. Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982.

McPherson, James M. The Struggle for Equality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964.

Indians not taxed: Native Americans were not taxed and regulated as U.S. citizens.

Comprehends: Includes.

Gypsies: Wandering people.

Grave: Serious.

Sound: Wise.

Supposed: Assumed.

Requisite: Necessary.

Immunities: Legal exemptions.

Conviction: Strong belief.

Institutions: Customs.

Probation: Test period.

Attaining: Getting.

Coveted: Greatly desired.

Fixed: Firmly placed.

Vast: Large.

Jurisdiction: Authority.

Enumerated: Listed.

Exclusively: Only.

Expedient: Useful.

Statutes: Laws.

Enacted: Passed as law.

Intermarry: Wed across racial lines.

Mulatto: Person who is half–African American, half-white.

Repeals: Overrides.

Abrogate: Nullify.

Embraced: Included.

Enumeration: Listing.

Police: Control of order.

Respective: Individual.

Domestic: Of one's home.

Peculiar: Special.

Arson: Crime of setting fires.

Jurisprudence: Division of law.

Authorizes: Allows.

Fraught: Filled.

Hitherto: Up until now.

Capital: Wealth.

Divorced: Separated.

Harmonious: In agreement.

Frustrates: Prevents.

Agency: Action.

Foment: Stir up.

Discord: Disagreement.

Breach: Gap (between the races).

Terminate: End.

Safeguards: Protections.

Infinitely: Endlessly.

Municipal: Local.

Inhabitants: Residents.

Acquiesced: Accepted.

Sap: Weaken.

Federative: Central government.

Tendency: Course.

Resuscitate: Revive.

Arrest: Stop.

Andrew Johnson

views updated May 29 2018

Andrew Johnson

Born December 29, 1808
Raleigh, North Carolina
Died July 31, 1875
Greeneville, Tennessee

Seventeenth president of the United States
Became the first president to face
impeachment when Congress disagreed with his
Reconstruction policies

Andrew Johnson became president of the United States in April 1865, when Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; see entry) was assassinated. He took charge of the country just as the Civil War ended and presided over the difficult period in American history known as Reconstruction (1865–1877). A Southerner by birth, Johnson soon pardoned (officially forgave) Confederate officials and established lenient (easy) conditions for the Southern states to return to the Union. Many Northerners, and especially Republican leaders in the U.S. Congress, worried that Johnson's Reconstruction policies would allow Confederate leaders to return to power and continue to discriminate against blacks. Congress ended up putting its own policies into effect, while Johnson fought them every step of the way. In 1868, Congressional leaders impeached the president (brought him up on legal charges in an attempt to remove him from office), but Johnson kept his job by a single vote.

A poor Southern boy

Andrew Johnson was born on December 29, 1808, in a log cabin in the small town of Raleigh, North Carolina. He was the third child born to Jacob Johnson, who worked at various odd jobs, and Mary McDonough ("Polly") Johnson, who worked as a seamstress and laundress. His family was very poor, and the situation only got worse after Jacob Johnson died when Andrew was three years old.

Johnson resented the fact that the wealthy residents of Raleigh looked down upon him. But that did not prevent him from looking down upon black people. "As a poor white boy in a small Southern town, he could not help but realize his lowly position," Hans L. Trefousse wrote in Andrew Johnson: A Biography. "Yet, poor though he was, Andrew must also have realized that he was not at the very bottom of the social scale. After all, he was white, a fact that gave him a standing immeasurably higher than that of Raleigh's numerous blacks. . . . Exposed to these attitudes at an early age, Johnson was never able to shake them off."

Johnson's mother could not afford to send him to school, so instead she arranged for him to become an apprentice to the town's tailor. The tailor would provide Johnson with food, clothing, and a place to live, and would teach him the trade of tailoring. In exchange, Johnson would work without pay until he was twenty-one years old. The only thing Johnson liked about this arrangement was that wealthy and educated people often came into the tailor shop. He listened carefully when they argued about politics or read aloud to the tailors as they worked. He was very eager to learn to read and write. But for the most part his apprenticeship was a negative experience. The tailor was very strict with him and made the restless young boy work twelve hours per day. In 1824, Johnson ran away.

On his own at the age of sixteen, Johnson made it as far as Laurens, South Carolina. He lived there for two years and worked in a local tailor shop. In his free time, he read constantly in order to educate himself. He returned to Raleigh briefly and tried to pay his old boss to release him from the apprenticeship contract, but the tailor refused. Then Johnson decided to leave North Carolina for good. With his family in tow, he moved to Greeneville, Tennessee. He soon fell in love with Eliza McCardle, daughter of the local shoemaker, and the two were married on May 17, 1827. They eventually had five children together, three sons and two daughters.

A self-made man

Johnson continued working as a tailor in Greeneville and soon earned a good reputation. Before long, he was able to open his own tailor shop and hire other tailors to work for him. Over time, he earned enough money to buy some property and make other investments. Johnson also continued his education during this time with the help of his wife, who had attended school. He gradually grew more confident about voicing his opinion on issues. One day, a customer in the tailor shop who disagreed with Johnson's opinions challenged him to a public debate. Johnson discovered that he excelled at public speaking and won the debate. He soon joined a debating society to improve his skills further.

In 1834, Johnson launched his political career as mayor of Greeneville. He was proud of the fact that he had raised himself from poverty to claim a position of importance in society. Like many other wealthy Southerners, he bought slaves to act as servants in his home. The following year, he went to Nashville, Tennessee, to represent Greeneville in the state legislature. Over the next few years, Johnson gained a reputation as a defender of the interests of the poor whites against wealthy landowners.

In 1843, the popular and ambitious young Democrat was elected to the U.S. Congress. He ended up serving five terms in the House of Representatives. He was best known for his support of the Homestead Act, which would grant 160 acres of public land in the West to any family that wanted to settle it. Many wealthy Southerners and fellow Democrats opposed this idea. Some of them wanted the Western lands for themselves, while others wanted the government to sell the land rather than giving it away. But Johnson felt it was important for poor people to have access to land of their own so that they would be able to improve their lives, as he had done. He continued pushing the bill until it finally passed many years later.

In 1853, Johnson ran for the office of governor of Tennessee. He promoted himself as a self-made man and a model for poor youths to follow. During his election campaign, he declared his belief that "Democracy is a ladder . . . one up which all, in proportion to their merit, may ascend." Johnson won the election that year and was reelected to a second term two years later. One of his main acts as governor was to pass tax legislation that advanced public education in the state.

An unlikely Union supporter

In 1857, Johnson returned to Washington, D.C., to represent Tennessee in the U.S. Senate. This was a time of great political tension in the United States. For years, the Northern and Southern sections of the country had been arguing over several issues, including slavery. Growing numbers of Northerners believed that slavery was wrong. Some people wanted to outlaw it, while others wanted to prevent it from spreading beyond the Southern states where it was already allowed. But slavery played a big role in the Southern economy and culture. As a result, many Southerners felt threatened by Northern efforts to contain slavery. They believed that each state should decide for itself whether to allow slavery. They did not want the national government to pass laws that would interfere with their traditional way of life.

Johnson did not support the efforts of Northerners to abolish (put an end to) slavery. Like many Southerners, he believed that black people were inferior to white people. He thought that individual states should decide the issue for themselves. But Johnson also resented the power held by wealthy landowners in the South, and he knew that these landowners used slave labor to maintain their power. By 1861, the ongoing dispute over slavery had convinced several Southern states to secede from (leave) the United States and form a new country that allowed slavery, called the Confederate States of America. Tennessee was one of the Southern states that joined the Confederacy. Johnson opposed his state's decision to secede. In fact, he became the only Southern senator to retain his seat in Congress following the secession of his state.

"I am unwilling, of my own volition [will], to walk outside of the Union which has been the result of a Constitution made by the patriots of the Revolution," he stated. "I entreat [urgently request] every man throughout the nation who is a patriot . . . to come forward . . . and rally around the altar of our common country, and swear by our God, and all that is sacred and holy, that the Constitution shall be saved, and the Union preserved."

Northern politicians refused to let the Southern states leave the Union without a fight. As a result, the two sides went to war in April 1861. Within a year, the Union forces had taken control of large sections of territory in Tennessee. President Abraham Lincoln rewarded Johnson's loyalty to the Union by making him a brigadier general and appointing him military governor of Tennessee. His job involved setting up a pro-Union government and rewriting the state's constitution so that Tennessee could be restored to the Union.

Johnson's views on slavery began to change during this time. Although he still believed that whites were superior to blacks, his desire to preserve the United States as a democratic country became more important to him than his desire to preserve slavery. "I am for my Government with or without slavery," he stated in 1863, "but if either the Government or slavery must perish [die], I say give me the Government and let the negroes go." People in the South reacted to Johnson's change of heart by calling him a traitor. But it only increased his popularity in the North.

President of the United States during Reconstruction

In 1864, President Lincoln faced a difficult race for reelection. He and his advisors decided that he could improve his chances by choosing a vice presidential candidate who would balance the ticket. They decided that Johnson, as a Southerner and a Democrat, would appeal to many voters who did not support Lincoln, a Northerner and a Republican. Johnson eagerly accepted the nomination. After Lincoln won the election that November, Johnson was sworn in as vice president on March 4, 1865. Unfortunately, he had been ill for several weeks before this time, and he drank several glasses of whiskey to steady his nerves before he appeared at the inauguration (swearing-in) ceremony. He then proceeded to give a rambling speech that many observers found disgraceful and offensive. But Lincoln defended his vice president, saying "I have known Andy Johnson for many years; he made a bad slip the other day, but you need not be scared; Andy ain't a drunkard."

The Civil War ended a few weeks later, when the Confederate Army surrendered to Union forces. For a brief time, people across the North celebrated their victory and looked forward to beginning the process of healing the nation. But on April 14, a deranged (insane) Confederate supporter shot Lincoln as he attended a play in Washington. The president died the next day, and the mood in the North quickly changed from relief and happiness to grief and anger. Johnson took charge of the country as it entered the difficult period of American history called Reconstruction.

The United States continued to struggle with important and complicated issues after the Civil War ended. For example, government officials had to decide whether to punish the Confederate leaders, what process to use to readmit the Southern states to the Union, and how much assistance to provide in securing equal rights for the freed slaves. From the beginning of his term of office, Johnson made it clear that he intended to control the process of Reconstruction. He believed that restoring the Union was his job rather than the U.S. Congress's. He began implementing his own Reconstruction programs during the summer of 1865, while Congress was in recess (Congress often adjourns to let its members take time off between legislative sessions).

Johnson started out by following the course he believed Lincoln had planned to take. He pardoned many Confederate leaders and set lenient conditions for the Southern states to return to the Union. The former Confederate states had to prepare new state constitutions that abolished slavery and met a number of other conditions. Then they could elect representatives to the federal government and be readmitted to the Union. But black people were not allowed to vote or to serve as representatives under the president's plan. Johnson was reluctant to impose the power of the federal government on the South in order to guarantee equality for blacks.

By the time Congress came back in session, Johnson's Reconstruction policies had been in effect for nearly six months. Many Republican members of Congress felt that the president was too lenient toward the South. They worried that his policies would allow Confederate leaders to return to power and continue to discriminate against black people. Congress set up a Committee on Reconstruction to study the effects of Johnson's policies. The committee heard numerous stories of discrimination and violence against blacks in the South. As a result, the U.S. Congress took control of the Reconstruction process in 1866 and sent federal troops into the Southern states to enforce their policies.

Faces impeachment over disputes with Congress

As Congress began implementing its Reconstruction program, some members were willing to compromise with President Johnson. But Johnson refused to accept any changes to his lenient policies toward the South. He believed that some of his Republican opponents were engaged in a conspiracy to overthrow him, and he grew more and more determined to resist. Johnson vetoed (rejected) many bills passed by Congress, although Congress was usually able to gather enough votes (two-thirds of its members) to pass the bills over the president's veto. As the struggle for power continued, even the more moderate members of Congress began to believe that the president would do anything to destroy their plans. In 1868, Republican leaders started a movement to remove Johnson from office.

The Constitution says that all federal officials can be impeached (brought up on legal charges) and removed from elected office if they are found guilty of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." All of the branches of the federal government have roles in an impeachment trial. The House of Representatives brings the charges and acts as prosecutors. The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial as a judge. The Senate hears the case and votes as a jury. Two-thirds of the senators present must vote to convict in order to remove the impeached official from office.

Congress began the process of impeachment on February 22, 1868. It marked the first time in history that an American president had been impeached. Even though the charges against him did not really meet the conditions for impeachment, Johnson was so unpopular by this time that the outcome of the trial was uncertain. The trial before the Senate continued for more than two months and captured the attention of the entire country. Finally, the senators voted on the charges on May 16. Johnson was found not guilty by one vote and remained in office.

The remainder of Johnson's term in office was uneventful. Famed Union general Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885; see entry) was elected to replace him as president later in 1868. Grant took charge of Reconstruction during his two terms in office. In 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893) became president and removed federal troops from the South to end Reconstruction. Meanwhile, Johnson returned to Tennessee but soon grew restless. He became determined to continue his career in politics. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress in 1871 and 1873. He finally won his old Senate seat back in 1875, but he suffered a stroke shortly after taking office and died on July 31, 1875. Across the country, the reaction to his death was mixed. Northern newspapers praised his loyalty to the Union during the Civil War, while Southern newspapers praised his service to the South during Reconstruction. "For generations after his death, his reputation has alternately suffered and flourished," Trefousse explained. "After all is said and done, however, it is clear that although the seventeenth president unquestionably undermined the Reconstruction process and left a legacy of racism, he was an able politician."

Where to Learn More

HarpWeek. The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson. [Online] (accessed on October 10, 1999).

Malone, Mary. Andrew Johnson. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 1999.

McKitrick, Eric L. Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960. Reprint, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

National Park Foundation. Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. [Online] (accessed on October 10, 1999).

President Andrew Johnson Museum and Library. [Online] (accessed on October 10, 1999).

Simpson, Brooks D. The Reconstruction Presidents. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Trefousse, Hans L. Andrew Johnson: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton, 1989. Reprint, Newtown, CT: American Political Biography Press, 1998.

Trefousse, Hans L. Impeachment of a President: Andrew Johnson, the Blacks, and Reconstruction. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1975. Reprint, New York: Fordham University Press, 1999.

Rutherford B. Hayes, the President Who Ended Reconstruction

When Rutherford B. Hayes became president in 1877, it marked the end of the difficult period in American history known as Reconstruction. The United States continued to deal with complicated issues after the Civil War ended. For example, Northern officials had to decide whether to punish Confederate leaders, how much assistance to provide in securing equal rights for freed slaves, and what process to use to readmit the Southern states to the Union.

Beginning in 1866, Republican members of the U.S. Congress put harsh policies in place to reduce the power of Southern landowners and give black men an opportunity to vote and hold public office. They sent federal troops into the South to enforce their policies. But white Southerners reacted strongly against these Reconstruction measures. In many cases, they used violence to intimidate blacks and prevent them from exercising their rights. This was the political climate when Hayes became president in a hotly contested election.

Rutherford Birchard Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio, in 1822. His career began as an attorney in 1845. By the mid-1850s, Hayes became caught up in the national debate over slavery, adopting a moderate antislavery position. He hoped that the North and South could reach a compromise on the issue, but this soon proved impossible. When the Civil War began in 1861, Hayes joined the Union Army. As an officer in the Twenty-Third Ohio Volunteer and was wounded in combat several times. Toward the end of the war, members of Ohio's Republican Party nominated him to represent Cincinnati in the U.S. Congress. Hayes accepted the nomination, but refused to leave the army to come home and campaign. "An officer fit for duty who at this crisis would abandon his post to electioneer for a seat in Congress ought to be scalped," he stated. He won anyway.

When the war ended in 1865, Hayes resigned from the army with the rank of major general. He took his seat in Congress that December, just as radical members of the Republican Party began fighting to take control of the Reconstruction process from Democratic president Andrew Johnson. Immediately after taking office, Johnson had pardoned (officially forgiven) many former Confederates and established lenient (easy) conditions for the Southern states to return to the Union. But Hayes and the Republicans worried that the president's policies would allow Confederates to return to power in the South and continue to discriminate against black people. As a result, Congress took charge of Reconstruction and sent federal troops into the South to enforce its policies.

In 1868, Hayes was elected governor of Ohio. In an age of widespread political corruption, his administration was known for its freedom from scandal. During his two terms in office, he reformed the state's prison system and helped found Ohio State University. In 1871, he declined to run for a third term and instead attempted to regain his seat in Congress. He lost, but in 1875, he ran for governor again. Upon winning the election, he immediately became one of the leading candidates for his party's presidential nomination.

Hayes won the Republican nomination for president in the election of 1876. His opponent in the general election was the Democratic governor of New York, Samuel J. Tilden (1814–1886). Most Northerners voted for Hayes, and most Southerners voted for Tilden. The election ended up being the closest in history. Tilden won the popular vote—4,284,020 people voted for him, compared to 4,036,572 for Hayes. But the actual winner of presidential elections is determined by an institution known as the electoral college. Each state receives a certain number of electoral votes depending on its population. When the electoral votes were counted, Tilden had 184 and Hayes had 165, and 20 votes were in dispute. A candidate needed 185 electoral votes to win the presidency, so neither man could be declared the winner.

The controversy came down to three Southern states that still had mixed-race Reconstruction governments intact—South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. Hayes needed the electoral votes of all three states in order to become president. Congress set up a special committee to examine the election results in these states. But it was difficult to tell for certain which candidate had won because of widespread violence during the elections.

Eventually, the parties arranged a compromise. The Democrats would allow Hayes to become president if he agreed to remove federal troops from the South. This meant that Republicans would lose control of the last three Southern states to white supremacists (people who believe that whites are superior to blacks). The arrangement became known as the Compromise of 1877. When Hayes removed federal troops from the South, this marked the end of Reconstruction.

Hayes served only one term as president. He died in 1893 after suffering a heart attack.

Johnson, Andrew

views updated Jun 27 2018

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson became the seventeenth president of the United States on April 15, 1865, the morning that President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65) died. Johnson inherited the responsibility of helping the nation to reunite and redefine itself after the end of the American Civil War (1861–65). This period following the war, called Reconstruction , was challenging for the Democratic Johnson as tensions with the Republican Congress evolved. His stubbornness and aggressive tactics created battles with Congress that eventually led to the first impeachment of a U.S. president.

Early life

Andrew Johnson's rise to the presidency was remarkable for two reasons: He was the first person to attain the office without either legal or military training, and he managed to overcome the terrible poverty and deprivation of his upbringing. No other president rose from lower depths of poverty, not even Lincoln.

Johnson was born December 29, 1808, in a two-room shack in Raleigh, North Carolina . Both of his parents were illiterate, and his father worked a variety of jobs to support the family. Service to the local militia as captain and to the Presbyterian Church made Johnson's father a respected member of his community. His death in December 1811 left Johnson's mother to struggle to support their two children on her own. She did so by sewing, weaving, and washing for a few years, and then she remarried. Her new husband proved to be a poor provider.

In 1822, Johnson and his brother were apprenticed to a local tailor. Johnson learned the trade well, and throughout his life remained proud of his skills. The tailor and local minister taught Johnson the basics of reading and writing. But the apprenticeship came to an abrupt end in 1824 when Johnson and his brother were involved in an incident of rowdiness. Fearing punishment, the boys fled to Tennessee , where Johnson eventually opened a tailor shop.

Soon after arriving in Greeneville, Tennessee, Johnson met Eliza McCardle. They were married May 17, 1827, and had five children. His tailor shop thrived, but Johnson's passion for political debate drew him into public service. In time, he became a full-time politician representing the working people. He was a tireless campaigner with excellent speaking skills, and he was both courageous and outspoken. His devotion to the common farmers and tradesmen of Tennessee and his work against the wealthy slaveholders moved him to support the U.S. Constitution and the union of states. Johnson, however, was also a man of the South who had firm proslavery beliefs.

Between 1829 and 1842, Johnson served as alderman and then mayor of Greeneville, and then as a state legislator. He next served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1843 to 1853. He was elected both in 1853 and 1855 to serve as the governor of Tennessee. In 1857, he won a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Ascending to the presidency

Johnson was a U.S. senator during the election of 1860, when the debates marked growing divisions in the nation. The expansion of slavery and state power to dictate federal government policy were two important issues. Johnson supported the proslavery candidate of the Democratic Party , Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861), who lost the election to the Republican, Abraham Lincoln. Though Lincoln denounced the expansion of slavery, his party intended to allow it to remain in the areas where it had already been established.

Southern fears of losing the right to own slaves and to have powerful state governments led many states to consider secession , or leaving the union of the United States. Johnson's own state of Tennessee was one of them. As senator, Johnson spent the winter after the election trying to discourage secession, taking a much firmer pro-Union stand than most Southern congressmen. At first, Johnson was successful.

A month before Lincoln's inauguration in March 1861, six states seceded to form the Confederate States of America . In April, the Confederates fired upon the Union forces at Fort Sumter in South Carolina , provoking Lincoln to call for troops from the states. Tennessee joined the next wave of seceding states.

Johnson and his family were driven from Tennessee, but Johnson maintained his position within the U.S. Senate. Although he believed in states’ rights and slavery, he placed preservation of the Union above all else. He denounced the Confederacy as a conspiracy by wealthy plantation owners, and he took an active role in devising war measures in the Senate. Johnson was the only Southern senator not to resign his seat and follow his state into the Confederacy.

In 1862, the Union army pushed Confederate forces out of western and central Tennessee. Noting Johnson's Union loyalty, Lincoln invited him to become the military governor of Tennessee. Johnson received full power to restore order in Tennessee and to build a new pro-Union government for the state. It was a challenging task, but Johnson was aggressive in making it happen.

Johnson became the ideal running mate for President Lincoln's reelection campaign in 1864. Though Johnson was a Democrat, he was firmly committed to the Union. Having him as the vice presidential candidate helped to attract support from both the northern prowar Democrats and the border state Unionists. Lincoln and Johnson were elected and then inaugurated March 4, 1865.

The Civil War came to an end just days before President Lincoln was shot by an assassin on April 14, 1865. Johnson was sworn in as president only hours after Lincoln's death on April 15. Reintegration of the rebellious states had yet to be arranged, so the difficult tasks of restoring the Union fell to Johnson's administration. Both his aggressively stubborn actions and his Southern and Democratic roots caused tensions with the Republican Congress.

Johnson as president

Johnson's presidency was dominated by the issues surrounding Reconstruction. What would the rebellious states be required to do before being brought back into the Union? How would they prove their loyalty? What changes to their political systems would they have to make? Since slavery had been abolished, what would be the status of blacks legally, politically, and socially?

President Johnson introduced his Reconstruction program on May 29, 1865, with the unanimous approval of his cabinet. The program had two proclamations. The Amnesty Proclamation pardoned (forgave) all participants in the rebellion except for the highest-level leaders of the Confederacy and the very wealthy. Those not pardoned would have to apply to the president for restoration of their rights to vote and hold office. Those pardoned would have to take a loyalty oath. All property, except slaves, would be restored.

The second proclamation, which dealt specifically with North Carolina, set the pattern for the reintegration of all seceded states where pro-Union governments were not yet set up. Acting governors were to appoint temporary state officials and to recommend people for federal appointments. There would be conventions to write new state constitutions that had to support the abolition of slavery and nullify (cancel) the states’ ordinances (declarations) of secession. Only those who had been eligible to vote in 1861 and had taken the new loyalty oath could vote. Unpardoned rebels and all blacks were barred from voting. Similar proclamations were made for Mississippi , South Carolina, Florida , Georgia , Alabama , and Texas .

During the summer of 1865, all of these states held constitutional conventions. South Carolina, however, refused to nullify its ordinance of secession, and Mississippi rejected the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which had abolished slavery. By the fall of 1865, the Southern states held state and congressional elections. Many of the winning candidates were actually ineligible to hold office under the Amnesty Proclamation. Johnson himself contributed to the ineffectiveness of this proclamation. At first, he granted pardons only sparingly, but by the end of 1865 he was granting them almost automatically in hopes of gaining goodwill in the South. He wanted to run for president in the election of 1868 and was already seeking political support.

When the mostly Republican U.S. Congress reconvened in 1866, they would not let the newly elected Southern congressmen take their seats. Congress created the Joint Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction to investigate conditions in the South and to recommend appropriate laws. These actions were a signal to Johnson that Congress believed that further Reconstruction measures were needed. It was a direct challenge not only to Johnson's Reconstruction policy but also to his authority as president.

Johnson reacted to Congress by asking the public to pressure Congress to accept the Southern congressmen. For a time, it seemed that this strategy might work. In February 1866, however, Congress passed the Freedmen's Bureau Bill to extend indefinitely the Freedmen's Bureau , which had been established at the end of the Civil War to provide aid, education, and legal protection to former slaves. Before passing it, Republicans in Congress had offered to change anything that Johnson did not like about the bill, and since he had voiced no objections, they expected that he would sign it. However, when it came time for the president to sign the bill into law, Johnson stunned Congress by declaring it unnecessary and unconstitutional. The congressional vote on the bill had excluded the duly elected representatives of the eleven Southern states, and on that basis Johnson vetoed it. Congress failed to override the veto, and Johnson reveled publicly in the victory.

Three weeks later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 , which declared that blacks were citizens of the United States entitled to equal protection of the laws. It gave the federal government broad enforcement powers. Johnson vetoed this bill as well, calling it an unconstitutional intrusion on states’ rights that discriminated against whites in favor of blacks. Although his opinion may have been sincere, Johnson's veto was motivated also by his desire to retain Democratic and Southern support. Outrage in Congress led it to override Johnson's veto, making the bill a law. This was the first time in American history that Congress had overridden a presidential veto.


Johnson's vetoes and unwillingness to compromise united his political opponents in Congress. This weakened Johnson's power during the remainder of his term. In total, Johnson used the veto twenty-nine times, and Congress overrode it fifteen times. The veto overrides enacted many Reconstruction acts and the Tenure of Office Act. This act prohibited the president from dismissing, without Senate approval, any federal official previously appointed with the Senate's consent. Johnson called it an unconstitutional violation of the powers of the presidency.

Johnson had inherited his entire cabinet from Lincoln. From the start, he had been working with the cabinet members’ guidance, but he did not work well with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814–1869). Though Johnson had tolerated Stanton's lack of respect for his policies, by the summer of 1867, the president moved to suspend him. As Congress was out of session, Johnson replaced Stanton temporarily with former Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885). Upon reconvening, Congress rejected Johnson's appointment. In February 1868, Johnson again removed Stanton from office and replaced him with General Lorenzo Thomas (1804–1875). Ignoring the need for Senate approval, Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act.

Johnson's disregard for the law gave a dissatisfied Congress the excuse it wanted to pursue impeachment. Impeachment is the first of a two-step process to remove a government official without his or her consent. The process begins with an accusation of misconduct from the House of Representatives (impeachment), and continues with a trial in the Senate (resulting in possible conviction). The proceedings took all of April and May 1868, and though the House voted to impeach Johnson, the president narrowly escaped conviction in the Senate. Seven Republican senators repeatedly cast “not-guilty” votes, consistently leaving the opposition one vote short of removing Johnson from the White House. Though Johnson remained in office, he stopped aggressively frustrating the efforts of the Republican Congress.

Post-presidential years

Johnson pursued the Democratic nomination for president in 1868. However, his battles with Congress, his poor presidential record, and the impeachment all worked against him. The Republicans had nominated a popular war hero, General Grant, and the Democrats needed a stronger candidate to face the opposition. They chose New York governor Horatio Seymour (1810–1886), but Grant won easily.

Johnson left the White House on the morning of Grant's inauguration, March 4, 1869. He returned to Greeneville, Tennessee, where he again threw himself into local and state Democratic affairs. He failed in his efforts to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 1869 and to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1872. In 1875, the Tennessee legislature finally elected Johnson to the U.S. Senate by one vote. Johnson entered office in March 1875, but his service proved to be short. On July 28, he suffered a stroke, then he suffered another a few days later and died on July 31, 1875.

Johnson, Andrew

views updated May 18 2018


Andrew Johnson ascended to the U.S. presidency after the assassination of abraham lincoln. He was the seventeenth president and the first to undergo an impeachment trial.

Johnson was born December 29, 1808, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Little is known of his early life. His ancestry is usually traced only to the family of his father, Jacob Johnson, who raised his family in Raleigh and served as the city's constable and sexton, was a porter to the state bank, and was a respected captain in the militia of North Carolina. He was viewed as a hero after saving two men from drowning in a pond outside Raleigh. He died of health

complications only a year later, leaving the Johnson family in poverty.

From the age of ten to the age of 17, Johnson worked as an apprentice to a Raleigh tailor, J. J. Selby. Shortly after, he settled in Greeneville, Tennessee, where he opened his own tailor shop. Before he reached the age of 19, he had met Eliza McCardle, a respected teacher in Greeneville, whom he married on May 17, 1827.

Johnson's wife encouraged his aspirations to become politically active, and Johnson turned his tailor shop into a center for men throughout Greeneville to debate and practice their oratory. In 1828 Johnson was overwhelmingly elected city alderman. Two years later his supporters elected him mayor. From 1835 to 1843, he served in the Tennessee legislature. For the next ten years, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives. He returned to Tennessee in 1853 and was elected governor of the state. When his term expired in 1857, he became a member of the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1862. He was the only southern senator who refused to resign during the Civil War.

Johnson attracted the attention of President Lincoln. In 1862 Lincoln appointed the Tennessee congressman to serve as military governor of the state. After Johnson effectively managed the state throughout the Civil War, Lincoln selected him to run for vice president in the 1864 election. The pro-Union ticket of Lincoln and Johnson was victorious.

Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, and Johnson assumed the duties of president on April 15. He had been left with the daunting task of assimilating the former confederacy of southern states into the United States. Johnson sought to overlook the secession of the South. He granted many pardons and allowed southern politicians to restore oppressive practices toward former slaves, such as forcing them to give land back to their old masters and depriving them of the right to vote. A group of congressional Republicans, led by Thaddeus Stevens, a representative from Pennsylvania, opposed Johnson's practices. Against Johnson's wishes, the South was put under military rule. The civil rights act of 1866, passed in spite of Johnson's veto, granted blacks the right to vote.

In 1867 Congress passed the tenure of office act (14 Stat. 430), also over Johnson's veto. This act declared that the president could not, without the Senate's permission, remove from federal office any official whose appointment had been approved by the Senate. In August 1867, Johnson refused to follow the Tenure Act when he requested the removal of Secretary of War edwin m. stanton. He did so

on the ground that Stanton had conspired with radical Republicans against the president.

In removing Stanton from his position, Johnson aroused the wrath of even moderate Republicans in Congress. On February 24, 1868, the House passed resolutions to impeach Johnson for high crimes and misdemeanors. By early March, the House had drawn up 12 articles of impeachment against Johnson. Eight of these concerned his alleged violations of the Tenure of Office Act. The ninth alleged a lesser charge, that he had overstepped his boundaries in suborning a U.S. general. The tenth and eleventh articles accused Johnson of defaming Congress in public speeches. A twelfth and final article, dubbed the omnibus article, was intended to induce senators who might have qualms about specific charges against Johnson to find him guilty on general grounds.

Under the Constitution at least two-thirds of the Senate must vote to impeach the president. In Johnson's case this meant that 36 senators would have to vote for impeachment. The defense knew that vote would have to come from the Senate's 42 Republican members—the Senate's 10 Democrats and 2 Johnsonites were bound to support his acquittal. Johnson's lawyers were confident that if they could appeal to the senses of moderate Republicans—whom the defense presumed were loyal to the restoration of the Union—the impeachment effort would fail.

On May 16 and May 26, 1868, the Senate voted 35–19 against Johnson on three of the articles of impeachment. By only one vote less than the two-thirds majority necessary to remove him, Johnson was acquitted of the most serious charges. The Senate subsequently adjourned its court, and Johnson was allowed to finish his term. His presidency ended in 1869, and he returned to Tennessee.

The people of Tennessee welcomed Johnson home and elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1875. However, he died soon after the election, on July 31, 1875, near Carter Station, Tennessee. In 1887 the Tenure of Office Act was repealed. In 1926 the Supreme Court rendered an ex post facto (retroactive) judgment declaring the act unconstitutional (272 U.S. 52, 47 S. Ct. 21, 71 L. Ed. 160 1926).

Most scholars and historians have concluded that the impeachment charges against Andrew Johnson were motivated by partisan politics and that removing Johnson on any one of the charges would have set a dangerous precedent. In effect Congressional Republicans were trying to use impeachment as a political tool to overcome Johnson's repeated attempts to impede their legislative efforts. However, the Founding Fathers, by devising a constitutional system of checks and balances in which the three co-equal branches of government are each delegated certain specific, enumerated authority, tried to prevent any one branch from acquiring too much power and wielding it in a despotic fashion. Had Congress been successful in removing Johnson, impeachment might have become a favored political weapon against future U.S. presidents, thereby severely weakening the presidency and removing any incentive for the House and Senate to cooperate and compromise with the executive branch.

"Amendments to the Constitution ought not be too frequently made; … [if] continually tinkered with it would lose all its prestige and dignity, and the old instrument would be lost sight of altogether in a short time."
—Andrew Johnson

Many scholars and historians have also concluded that the Johnson impeachment proceedings helped narrow the class of impeachable offenses. The U.S. Constitution provides that the "President … of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for … high Crimes and Misdemeanors," but fails to define what those terms mean. U.S. Const. art. II § 4. The Johnson impeachment proceedings, in the minds of many observers, have come to stand for the proposition that before an offense may be deemed an impeachable offense it must not only constitute a crime but the crime itself must be of a serious or grave nature. However, this precedent only advanced the discussion so far, as it failed to determine how serious or grave the criminal activity must be for it to be considered an impeachable offense, a question that recurred throughout the impeachment proceedings against william jefferson clinton, who was acquitted by the Senate on charges that he committed the crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice to conceal his relationship with former White-House intern Monica Lewinsky.

further readings

Castel, Albert. 1979. The Presidency of Andrew Johnson. Lawrence, Kans.: Regents Press of Kansas.

Field, P. F. 2000. "The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson." Choice Magazine (December 1).

Foner, Eric, and Olivia Mahoney. 1995. America's Reconstruction: People and Politics after the Civil War. New York: Harper Perennial.

Horowitz, Robert F. 1979. The Great Impeacher: A Political Biography of James M. Ashley. New York: Brooklyn College Press.

Jones, James S. 1901. Life of Andrew Johnson, Seventeenth President of the United States. Greeneville, Tenn.: East Tennessee.

Lomask, Milton. 1960. Andrew Johnson: President on Trial. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Cudahy.

Rehnquist, William H. 1992. Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson. New York: Morrow.

Simpson, Brooks D. 1987. Advice after Appomattox: Letters to Andrew Johnson, 1865–1866. Edited by Leroy P. Graf and John Muldowney. Knoxville, Tenn.: Univ. of Tennessee Press.

Stalcup, Brenda, ed. 1995. Reconstruction: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press.


Assassination; Civil Rights Acts; Ex Post Facto Laws; Lincoln, Abraham; Stanton, Edwin McMasters; Tenure of Office Act; Veto.

Johnson, Andrew

views updated May 14 2018


(b. December 29, 1808; d. July 31, 1875) Seventeenth president of the United States (1865–1869); first chief executive to be impeached.

Andrew Johnson, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, grew up in impoverished circumstances. In 1826, he and his family moved to Greeneville, Tennessee, where he opened a tailor shop. It was his wife, Eliza McCardle, whom he married the following year, who taught him to read and write. He took an interest in politics and proved an effective stump speaker. Beginning in 1828, he held public offices, including alderman, mayor, state representative, state senator, and U.S. congressman. He was elected governor of Tennessee in 1853 and four years later was elected to the U.S. Senate. Although he defended slavery, he supported the Union and refused to leave the Senate when the Civil War broke out in 1861.

Lincoln initially rewarded Johnson's loyalty by appointing him military governor of Tennessee after federal forces occupied Nashville in February 1862. During the next two years, Johnson actively supported most of Lincoln's wartime policies, including emancipation, and made at least one well-received speaking tour of the North. Lincoln chose him as his running mate for the 1864 campaign as an affirmation of the sectional unity promoted by the Republican Party's National Union platform.

Lincoln's assassination thrust Johnson into a role he was ill-prepared to play, despite his previous experience. Johnson was a stump speaker with a quick temper and strong prejudices, including a clear bias against any expansion of federal power. As president, he began well, putting aside his own initial demands for postwar vengeance against the South to issue plans for amnesty and political reconstruction that mirrored those developed by Lincoln. Controversy ignited because he did not consult with Congress but relied instead on white Southern leaders to establish loyal governments and comply with federal initiatives such as the Thirteenth Amendment. When some of the Southern conventions, and the provisional governors he had appointed, ignored his requests concerning the endorsement of emancipation and the repudiation of secession and the Confederate debt, Johnson angered congressional leaders, especially the Republicans, by not quashing their defiance. Instead, he issued pardons liberally, insisted that federal reconstruction was not needed because the South had never left the Union, and declared Reconstruction officially over in April 1866.

Congress counterattacked, beginning in December 1865 with a refusal to seat the new members from the South. In early 1866, Congress overrode Johnson's vetoes of bills to protect civil rights and continue the Freedmen's Bureau, both of which he opposed as unwarranted assertions of federal power. Congress also passed the Fourteenth Amendment, prompting Johnson to undertake a speaking tour to persuade Northern voters to replace the radical Republicans who opposed him. Instead of being defeated, radical Republicans won two-thirds of the seats in Congress. They passed the Reconstruction Acts in 1867, placing ten of the eleven former Confederate states under military rule (Tennessee was excluded because it had already ratified the Fourteenth Amendment). Many Southern leaders were subsequently removed, and new state conventions adopted constitutions and reforms that were more amenable to Republican leaders.

Johnson attempted to use his authority as commander in chief to limit Reconstruction. When Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton refused his orders, Johnson dismissed him in deliberate defiance of the Tenure of Office Act, which, like the Reconstruction Acts, Congress had passed over his veto in 1867. The House of Representatives impeached Johnson on eleven counts, the most damaging of which focused on the Tenure of Office Act. Tried by the Senate, he was acquitted by a margin of one when seven Republicans voted against a conviction. His victory proved hollow, however, because he retained almost no control over Reconstruction other than the power to issue pardons. This he continued to do through December 25, 1868, when he extended executive clemency to all former Confederates.

No faction seriously considered nominating Johnson for the presidential race in 1868, despite accomplishments that included the acquisition of Alaska, and he retired to his home in Greeneville, Tennessee. He campaigned unsuccessfully for the United States Senate and the House of Representatives in 1869 and 1872 respectively, and served one term as senator, starting in 1875. Not fully recovered from an attack of Asiatic cholera two years earlier, he suffered a stroke and died at his daughter's home in Elizabethton, Tennessee, on July 31, 1875.


Bergeron, Paul H.; Graf, LeRoy P.; and Haskins, Ralph W., eds. The Papers of Andrew Johnson. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1967–2000.

McCaslin, Richard B., comp. Andrew Johnson: A Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1992.

McKitrick, Eric L. Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Trefousse, Hans L. Andrew Johnson: A Biography. New York: Norton, 1989.

Winston, Robert W. Andrew Johnson, Plebeian and Patriot. New York: Henry Holt, 1928.

Richard B. McCaslin

See also:Constitutional Amendments and Changes; Lincoln, Abraham; Reconstruction.

Andrew Johnson

views updated May 21 2018

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), seventeenth president of the United States, was the only president ever to be impeached.

Andrew Johnson was born on Dec. 29, 1808, in Raleigh, N.C. After serving an apprenticeship with a tailor, he moved to Greeneville, Tenn., where he opened a tailor shop in 1826. Johnson laboriously taught himself to read and write with the help of Eliza McCardle, whom he married in 1827. His business prospered, and Johnson entered the rough-and-tumble world of politics, becoming a formidable stump speaker.

A Jacksonian Democrat, Johnson moved up through local elective offices to U.S. senator in 1857. In the Senate he crusaded for a homestead law and was bitter when the South blocked its passage. Yet he supported Jefferson Davis's demand for a congressional guarantee of slave property in the territories and in 1860 backed the proslavery presidential candidate.

When the Southern states began seceding, however, Johnson was the only senator from the Confederate states to remain in Congress. In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln appointed him military governor of partly reconquered Tennessee with instructions to begin restoring the state to the Union. Johnson did a good job under trying circumstances. Converted by the Civil War to an antislavery position, he set in motion the machinery for a constitutional convention that abolished slavery in Tennessee (January 1865).

Accident President

In 1864 the Republicans, hoping to attract support from Unionist Democrats, nominated Johnson for vice president. When Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, heavy responsibilities fell upon Johnson. The new president indicated that he would impose severe punishment on "traitors," but his actual policy during 1865 was surprisingly lenient. He extended amnesty to all but the most prominent and wealthy Confederates and provided for the election (by white voters only) of delegates to the conventions to draw up new Southern state constitutions. Subsequently, Johnson granted thousands of pardons to Southerners exempted from the general amnesty.

Under their new constitutions the Southern states elected several prominent Confederates to high office. Some of the states passed "black codes" restricting the rights of freed slaves to a level little better than slavery. Republicans in Congress grew alarmed and feared that the South would regain by Johnson's leniency much of what it had lost in war; they sought a settlement that would provide Federal protection for freedmen and restrict the power of former Confederates. Congress passed a civil rights bill and a Freedmen's Bureau bill in 1866, but Johnson vetoed both. Congress sent the 14th Amendment to the states for ratification, but Johnson influenced Southern states to reject it.

Impeachment Proceedings

Johnson's belief that "the people" supported his policies should have been shaken by the 1866 congressional elections, which gave the Republicans an overwhelming mandate. Nevertheless, he continued to force Congress to pass every Reconstruction measure over his veto. He tried to weaken enforcement of Reconstruction laws by appointing conservative commanders for some Southern military districts.

An exasperated and vengeful House of Representatives finally impeached Johnson on Feb. 25, 1868. The ostensible grounds were technical transgressions; in reality he was impeached for resisting Congress's will on vital national issues. At Johnson's trial before the Senate, his lawyers proved that he had committed no constitutional crimes or misdemeanors; the verdict for conviction fell one vote short of the necessary two-thirds majority. Johnson served out his term as a powerless president.

Six years later, in 1875, Johnson was elected to the U.S. Senate by Tennessee. However, he suffered a paralytic attack and died on July 31.

Further Reading

Pro-Johnson biographies include Robert W. Winston, Andrew Johnson (1928); Lloyd Paul Stryker, Andrew Johnson (1929); George F. Milton, The Age of Hate: Andrew Johnson and the Radicals (1930); and Howard K. Beale, The Critical Year: A Study of Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (1930). Recent scholarship is critical of Johnson; see Eric L. McKitrick, Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (1960); LaWanda Cox and John H. Cox, Politics, Principle, and Prejudice, 1865-66 (1963); and William R. Brock, An American Crisis: Congress and Reconstruction, 1865-1867 (1963). A collection of essays that attempts balanced appraisal is Eric L. McKitrick, ed., Andrew Johnson: A Profile (1969). □

Johnson, Andrew

views updated May 29 2018

Johnson, Andrew (1808–1875), vice president, seventeenth president of the United States.As a Tennessee congressman in 1843–53 and senator in 1857–62, Johnson provided mixed signals on military issues. In 1850, he remarked that he might like to have one of his sons in the navy, and he worked to get Tennessee boys into West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy. Yet Johnson was at heart a small government Democrat, with special concerns about money and class privilege. Thus in a speech on appropriations in August 1852 he derided the “imbecile” congressional sons who got preference; proposed to close both academies; attacked the wasteful War and Navy Department bureaucracies; and called the army and navy expensive and oppressive in the European style.

Johnson was a strong nationalist, who favored expansion and strongly supported the administration during the Mexican War, even though he and PresidentJames K. Polk openly despised each other. During the secession crisis, Johnson remained firmly loyal to the Union. Abraham Lincoln, needing a strong‐willed figure to begin Reconstruction in Tennessee, appointed Johnson military governor in 1862. This was an anomalous position in American law, and one that the fortunes of war and necessities of politics made frustrating. Johnson's relations with Union generals were often strained.

Upon Lincoln's death (1865), Johnson succeeded to the assassination presidency. In implementing Reconstruction policy the army played a central role in the institutional struggle between Congress and the president in 1866–67. Johnson's efforts to bring Ulysses S. Grant into his political circle led to a public breach with the popular general. Johnson did have friendly relations with William Tecumseh Sherman, who nonetheless refused a political role. Impeachment proceedings in 1868 were on an asserted violation of the Tenure of Office Act, arising out of the removal of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton—a step Johnson justified both on his general executive authority under the Constitution and his specific function as commander in chief.
[See also Civil War: Postwar Impact; Commander in Chief, President as; Expansionism.]


James E. Sefton , Andrew Johnson and the Uses of Constitutional Power, 1980.
Hans L. Trefousse , Andrew Johnson: A Biography, 1989.

James E. Sefton

Johnson, Andrew

views updated May 11 2018

Johnson, Andrew

17th president, 1865–1869

Born: December 29, 1808

Died: July 31, 1875

Vice President: none

First Lady: Eliza McCardle Johnson

Children: Martha, Charles, Mary, Robert, Andrew

Andrew Johnson became the 17th president of the United States when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Johnson had been named Lincoln's vice president in 1864. Because he took office upon Lincoln's death, he did not give an Inaugural Address.

Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1808. His family was poor, and he worked as an apprentice in a tailor's shop at a young age. He moved to Greeneville, Tennessee, as a teenager and opened his own shop. By age 21, he was well-off and able to devote time to public service. He became mayor of his town, and later a congressman. At age 49, he became a U.S. senator, and was the military governor of Tennessee in the Civil War.

Johnson was married to Eliza McCardle and the couple had five children: Martha, Charles, Mary, Robert, and Andrew.

  • Johnson was the first president to be impeached.
  • Johnson was sworn in as president on the day Lincoln died.
  • Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, conspired to have Johnson killed as well. The plot failed when Johnson's intended assassin spent the night drinking instead.
  • Many in Congress thought Johnson was too easy on the South after the Civil War.

During his presidency, Johnson tried to follow the beliefs set down by Lincoln and worked to bring Southern states back into the Union without undue punishment. During this era, known as Reconstruction, Johnson faced numerous disagreements with Congress over his policies. An unrepentant racist, he opposed suffrage for blacks and supported the Southern black codes designed to oppress African Americans as much as slavery had. In 1868, the House of Representatives voted to impeach him. He was tried in the Senate, the first impeachment in U.S. history. Johnson was cleared of the charges by only one vote. Johnson tried unsuccessfully for his party's nomination in 1868. In 1874, he regained his position as a Tennessee senator. He died on July 31, 1875.

When Johnson Was in Office

The 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, was ratified.
Lewis Carroll published Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Congress approved a new coin, nicknamed the "nickel."
The first successful transatlantic telegraph cable linked the United States and Britain.
The United State purchased Alaska from Russia.
Nebraska became a state.
The first practical typewriter was invented.
Jesse Chisholm mapped the Chisholm cattle trail from Texas to destinations in Kansas.
The 14th Amendment, guaranteeing citizenship to former slaves, was ratified.
Congress mandated an 8-hour workday for federal employees.

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