Andrew Johnson

Summary

Andrew Johnson, born December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina, and died July 31, 1875 in Elizabethton, Tennessee, was an American statesman, the 17th president of the United States in office from 1865 to 1869. A member of the Democratic Party and 16th vice president of the United States elected in 1864 as Abraham Lincoln’s running mate, Johnson succeeded Lincoln after his assassination the following year. During the Reconstruction after the Civil War, he defended a rapid reintegration of the Southern states without guaranteeing the civil rights of freed slaves. The Congress dominated by the Radical Republicans strongly opposed this policy and an impeachment procedure launched against the president narrowly failed.

Born into a poor background, Johnson became a tailor and then a city councilman and mayor of Greeneville before being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1835. After a brief term in the Tennessee Senate, Johnson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843, where he served for ten years. He then became governor for four years and was elected by the state legislature to the United States Senate in 1857. During his years in Congress, he championed the Homestead Bill, which was passed shortly after he left the Senate in 1862.

When the Southern states, including Tennessee, seceded to form the Confederate States of America, Johnson remained a staunch supporter of the Union. In 1862, Lincoln appointed him military governor of Tennessee, much of which was retaken. As a pro-war Democrat and an anti-secession Southerner, Johnson was the logical candidate to become Lincoln’s running mate. He was chosen and his side won the 1864 presidential election by a wide margin. Johnson was sworn in as vice president on March 4, 1865, and six weeks later, Lincoln’s assassination propelled him to the presidency.

As part of Reconstruction, Johnson wanted to bring the Southern states back into the Union quickly and allowed them to hold conventions and elections to reform civilian governments. Southern voters, however, re-elected many former Confederate leaders and voted for the Black Codes, which denied African Americans many of their civil rights. Congress refused to accommodate the Southern representatives and passed legislation to overturn their decisions. In what became the rule until the end of his term, Johnson vetoed the legislation but Congress overrode it. In particular, Johnson opposed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution granting citizenship to blacks. As relations between the executive and legislative branches became strained, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, which limited Johnson’s ability to dismiss members of his Cabinet. When he insisted on firing Secretary of the Navy Edwin M. Stanton, the House of Representatives initiated impeachment proceedings that failed by one vote in the Senate. He lost the Democratic nomination, won by Horatio Seymour, for the 1868 presidential election.

After his term ended, he returned to Tennessee before becoming the only former president to be elected to the Senate in 1875, where he served a few months before his death. Although assessments of his presidency vary over time, he is currently considered one of the worst American presidents due to his opposition to federally guaranteed rights for African Americans.

Childhood

Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on December 29, 1808. His parents were Jacob Johnson (he had a brother, William (1804-1865), and an older sister, Elizabeth (1806-?), who died in infancy. Being born in a cabin was a political asset in the 19th century, and Johnson did not hesitate to remind people of his humble origins during elections. Jacob Johnson was a poor man, as was his father William, but he became an officer in the Raleigh City Police Department before marrying and starting a family. He died in 1812, probably of a heart attack, while ringing the city bell after saving three men from drowning when Andrew was 3 years old. Polly Johnson worked as a washerwoman and continued to do so because it was the family’s only income. At the time, this work was considered unseemly because it involved going into other people’s homes alone; the Johnson family was referred to as white trash, and there were rumors that Andrew, who did not look like his brother, had a different father. Polly Johnson remarried a few months later to Turner Doughtry who was also poor.

Polly Doughtry gave her son William to a tailor, James Selby, to learn the trade. Andrew also became an apprentice in the same shop at the age of ten and by law was required to remain there until his 21st birthday. Selby does not seem to have had much influence on the future president. One of his employees was assigned to teach the boy to read and write, and in return he was given a place to stay with his mother. Andrew Johnson discovered a love of learning in Selby’s store because townspeople came to read books to entertain the tailors while they worked, and the boy frequently visited the shop to listen to them even before he was apprenticed there. His biographer, Annette Gordon-Reed, suggests that Johnson, known for his oratorical skills, learned the basics of the art while threading needles and cutting cloth.

Andrew Johnson, however, did not enjoy his work with James Selby and at the age of 15, he ran away with his brother. His employer placed an advertisement in a newspaper, as was the custom for masters whose apprentices disappeared: “Ten dollars reward. Ran away from the underwriter, two apprentice boys, legally bound, named William and Andrew Johnson…to any person who will bring the said apprentices to me in Raleigh, or I will offer the above reward for Andrew Johnson alone.” The boys went to Carthage and Andrew worked as a tailor there for several months. Fearing capture and return to Raleigh, he then moved to Laurens, South Carolina. There he continued his business and met his first love, Mary Wood, for whom he had made a quilt. After her proposal of marriage was rejected, he returned to Raleigh hoping to redeem his apprenticeship but was unable to reach an agreement with Selby. Like many others in the late 1820s, he then headed west.

Moving to Tennessee

Johnson left North Carolina for Tennessee and made most of the journey on foot. After a brief stay in Knoxville, he settled in Mooresville, Alabama. He then worked as a tailor in Columbia, Tennessee, but was called back to Raleigh by his mother and stepfather who wanted to emigrate west. Johnson and his party crossed the Blue Mountains to Greeneville, Tennessee. He immediately fell in love with the town and when he became wealthy, bought the land where he had first camped and planted a tree as a memorial.

In Greeneville, Johnson established a successful tailor shop in the front of his house. In 1827 when he was 18, he married Eliza McCardle, two years his junior and the daughter of a local shoemaker. The couple was married by Justice of the Peace Mordecai Lincoln, a cousin of Thomas Lincoln whose son became president. They remained together for nearly 50 years and had five children, Martha (1828), Charles (1830), Mary (1832), Robert (1834) and Andrew Jr. Although she suffered from tuberculosis, Eliza supported her husband in his endeavors. She taught him mathematics and helped him improve his handwriting. Shy and reserved, Eliza Johnson remained in Greeneville during her husband’s political rise. She made few public appearances during Johnson’s presidency, and their daughter Martha served as a White House hostess.

Johnson’s shop flourished during the early years of the marriage and he was able to hire assistants and successfully invest in land. He later boasted of his tailoring skills: “My work never ripped or gave way. He was an insatiable reader. Books on famous orators fueled his interest in politics and he would debate the issues of the day with his clients in private. He also participated in debates at Greeneville University.

Career in Tennessee

Johnson helped organize a group for the 1829 Greenville mayoral election and was elected alderman with his friends Blackston McDannel and Mordecai Lincoln. Following the slave revolt led by Nat Turner in 1831, a convention was held to draft a new constitution that removed the right to vote for free blacks. The convention also called for property tax reform and new sources of funding for Tennessee’s infrastructure. The constitution was put to a popular vote and Johnson campaigned for its passage; its success ensured him greater exposure at the state level. On January 4, 1834, his fellow councilors elected him mayor of Greeneville.

In 1835, Johnson ran for the “floating” seat that Greene County shared with neighboring Washington County in the Tennessee House of Representatives. According to his biographer Hans Trefousse, Johnson “demolished” the opposition in the debates and won the election with nearly two-thirds of the vote. Shortly after becoming a representative, Johnson bought his first slave, 14-year-old Dolly, who went on to have three children. Johnson was known for treating his slaves well, but the fact that Dolly was dark-skinned and her children much lighter in color has led some to suggest that Johnson was the father. While in Greeneville, Johnson joined the Tennessee militia in which he attained the rank of colonel.

During his first term in the Tennessee legislature in Nashville, Johnson allied himself with either the Democratic or the new Whig party, depending on the circumstances, but he admired President Andrew Jackson, a Tennessee Democrat. The major parties were still wavering on their core values and proposals as the political system evolved. Johnson often voted with the Whigs who had banded together to oppose Jackson because he feared too much concentration of power in the executive branch of government. Conversely, he sometimes opposed them because he rejected government spending above the bare minimum and spoke out against railroad subsidies when his constituents hoped for improvements in transportation infrastructure. As a result, he was defeated in the next election. Defeated by Brookins Campbell, Johnson did not lose another election for thirty years. In 1839, Johnson sought to regain his seat, initially as a Whig, but when another candidate sought the party’s nomination, he ran as a Democrat and was elected. From that point on, he supported the Democratic Party and built a powerful political machine in Greene County. Johnson was noted for his oratorical skills and at a time when speeches informed and entertained the public, people flocked to hear him.

In 1840, Johnson was elected as a delegate from Tennessee to the Democratic presidential convention and this gave him greater national exposure. Democratic President Martin Van Buren was defeated by former Ohio Senator William Henry Harrison, but Johnson was elected to the Tennessee Senate for a two-year term. He sold his successful tailor shop to concentrate on politics and bought new property, including a larger house and a farm where his mother and stepfather settled; he owned eight or nine slaves.

Congressman

Having served in both houses of the Tennessee legislature, Johnson saw election to Congress as the next step in his political career. In 1843, he was the first Democrat elected to represent Tennessee’s 1st District and joined the new Democratic majority in the House. Johnson championed the interests of the poor, took an anti-abolitionist stance, pushed for reduced government spending, and opposed protectionist tariffs. As Eliza remained in Greeneville, Johnson was alone in Washington; he avoided public appearances and preferred to study at the Library of Congress. Although Tennessee Democrat James K. Polk was elected president in 1844 and Johnson had campaigned for him, the two men had a difficult relationship. As Johnson took more independent positions in Congress, Polk refused some of his nominations for government office.

Johnson believed, as did many Southern Democrats, that the Constitution protected private property, including slaves, and that neither the federal nor the state governments could abolish slavery. He was elected to a second term in 1845 against William Gannaway Brownlow, presenting himself as the defender of the poor against the rich. During this second term, Johnson defended Polk’s decision to declare war on Mexico, which some Northerners saw as an attempt to gain territory to expand slavery westward. Johnson opposed the Wilmot Amendment, which proposed to ban slavery in territories conquered during the war. He first introduced his Homestead Bill, which granted 160 acres to settlers who wished to live there and who could obtain ownership after several years. This issue was particularly important to Johnson because of his humble background.

In the 1848 presidential election, the Democrats split over the issue of slavery and the abolitionists formed the Free Soil Party and chose former President Martin Van Buren as their candidate. Johnson campaigned for the Democratic candidate, former Michigan senator Lewis Cass. Because of the split in the Democratic Party, Whig General Zachary Taylor easily won the election and came out ahead in Tennessee. Johnson’s relationship with Polk remained poor, and during his last New Year’s reception in 1849, the president said:

“Among the visitors I observed in the crowd today was the Honorable Andrew Johnson of the House of Representatives. Although he represents a Democratic district in Tennessee (my own state), this is the first time I have seen him during the current session of Congress. Declaring himself a Democrat, he has been politically, if not personally, hostile to me throughout my tenure. He is very vindictive and obstinate in his manner and conduct. If he had the manhood and independence to declare his opposition openly, he knows he would never be chosen by his constituents. I am not aware of having given him any reason for his hostility.”

Because the new railroads were in the national interest and his own district needed better transportation, Johnson changed his position on the matter. He later advocated government assistance for the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad.

During the campaign for his fourth term, Johnson focused on three issues: slavery, land and the election of judges. He defeated his opponent, Nathaniel Green Taylor, in August 1849 by a larger margin than in his previous campaigns. When the House convened in December 1849, divisions in the Democratic Party prevented the formation of the majority necessary to elect a president. Johnson proposed a rule that the president be chosen by a plurality; he was joined in this idea and the Democrat Howell Cobb was elected.

The difficulties in electing a president marked the beginning of a stormy legislature in which slavery was the central issue. The issue revolved around the proposed admission of California into the Union as an abolitionist state. Through the Compromise of 1850 introduced by Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, California was allowed to enter the Union as a free state and in exchange the northern states agreed to return fugitive slaves to the southern states. Johnson voted for all the provisions of the compromise except the abolition of slavery in the capital. He introduced resolutions for constitutional amendments to allow the people to directly choose senators (then elected by state legislatures) and the president (chosen by electors) and to limit the terms of federal judges to 12 years instead of life; all were defeated.

A group of Democrats opposed to Johnson chose Landon Carter Haynes to prevent him from running for a fifth term; the Whigs were so enraptured by the internecine fighting in the Democratic Party that they did not even field a candidate from their party. In bitter debates, Johnson defended the Homestead Bill and Haynes countered that it would facilitate the abolition of slavery. Johnson won the election by 1,600 votes. Although he was disliked by the Democratic candidate for president, former New Hampshire Senator Franklin Pierce, Johnson campaigned for him. Pierce was elected but did not win Tennessee. In 1852, Johnson succeeded in getting his Homestead Bill passed in the House, but it failed in the Senate. The Whigs took control of the Tennessee legislature and, under the leadership of Gustavus Henry, redistricted Johnson’s 1st district to their own. Johnson lamented, “I have no political future.

Governor of Tennessee

Although Johnson considered leaving politics after deciding not to run for re-election, he quickly changed his mind. His political allies sought to offer him the gubernatorial nomination, and the Democratic convention chose him unanimously despite the animosity of some delegates. The Whigs had won the last two elections and still controlled the legislature. They nominated Gustavus Adolphus Henry, Sr. and the Henry-mandering of the 1st district (a play on the word gerrymandering) became the central issue of the campaign. The two men faced off in numerous debates in county seats before these meetings were cancelled two weeks before the August 1853 election due to the illness of one of Henry’s family members. Johnson won the election by 63,413 votes to 61,163.

The governor of Tennessee had little political clout because Johnson could introduce legislation but had no veto power and most appointments were made by the Whig-controlled legislature. Nevertheless, the office gave him a political platform to express his ideas. Johnson was able to secure the appointments he wanted in exchange for his support of Whig John Bell, who was running for one of the state’s Senate seats. In his speech for his second year in office, he emphasized the need to simplify the state’s judicial system, abolish the Bank of Tennessee and establish an agency to standardize weights and measures; only the latter idea was adopted. Johnson was critical of the state’s education system and suggested that its budget be increased through new taxes at either the state or county level; a combination of funding was adopted.

Although the Whig Party was in decline nationally, it was still strong in Tennessee and the Democratic prospects there were poor. Seeing that re-election to the governorship was necessary to secure the higher office to which he aspired, Johnson agreed to run again. Meredith P. Gentry was chosen by the Whigs, and the two men faced off in a dozen fierce debates. The campaign centered on the issues of slavery, alcohol prohibition and the Know Nothing Party, a nativist group that advocated discrimination against Catholics. Johnson favored the first and opposed the other two. Gentry was more ambiguous on the issue of alcohol and had gained the support of the Know Nothing, which Johnson called a secret society. Johnson won the election but by a smaller margin than in 1853.

As the presidential election of 1856 approached, Johnson hoped to secure his party’s nomination. His position that the interests of the Union would be better served if slavery were allowed in certain areas made him a compromise candidate for president. Johnson was never able to win, however, and the nomination went to former Pennsylvania Senator James Buchanan. Although he was not convinced by this choice, Johnson campaigned for Buchanan and his running mate, former Kentucky Representative John Cabell Breckinridge, who won the election.

Johnson decided not to run for a third term as governor because he was aiming for a Senate seat. In 1857, while returning from Washington, D.C., his train derailed and he was seriously injured in his right arm. This injury incapacitated him in the years that followed.

Senator

Prior to the adoption of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution in 1913, Senators were elected by the state legislatures. Former Whig governor William B. Campbell wrote to his uncle, “The great anxiety of the Whigs is to get a majority in the legislature to prevent Andrew Johnson from becoming a senator. If the Democrats have a majority, he will certainly be their choice and there is no man more unsympathetic to the Whigs and Americans. Still governor, Johnson made many speeches during the campaign and the Democrats won the election to the legislature and the governorship. His last speech as governor gave him a chance to influence his constituents and he made some popular proposals among the Democrats. Two days later, the legislature chose him to serve in the Senate. The opposition was appalled and the Richmond Whig newspaper called him “the vilest radical and most dishonest demagogue in the Union.

Johnson rose to higher office because of his popularity with the modest farmers and independent businessmen who made up a large part of the Tennessee electorate. He was less popular with the planters and lawyers who ran the state’s Democratic party, but no one matched his political skills. After his death, one constituent wrote of him, “Johnson was always the same with everyone…the honors he accumulated did not make him forget to be kind to the humblest of citizens.” Always appearing in impeccably tailored suits, Johnson presented an impressive image and had the stamina to carry out extended campaigns with daily trips down bad roads to another speech or debate. Generally refusing the help of his party’s political machine, he relied on a network of friends, advisors and connections. One such friend, Hugh Douglas, wrote of him, “You have been in the way of our potential great men for a long time. Basically, many of us never wanted you for governor but none of us could have been elected at that time and we just wanted to use you. Then we didn’t want you to go to the Senate but the people would send you there.

The new senator took office when Congress convened in December 1857. Again, he moved to Washington, D.C. without his wife and children; Eliza visited him only once in 1860 during his first term as senator. Johnson immediately set about introducing the Homestead Bill in the Senate, but since most of the senators who supported it were Northerners (many had joined the new Republican party), the issue was overtaken by the slavery question. Southern senators felt that those who would benefit most from the act were unlikely to be Southern slave owners. The slavery issue was complicated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Scott v. Sandford by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier in the year, which indicated that slavery could not be prohibited in the territories. Johnson, a southern state senator and slave owner, gave a major speech on the Senate floor in May 1858 to try to convince his colleagues that the Homestead Bill and slavery were not incompatible. However, the bill was defeated by a vote of 30 to 22, with Southern senators forming a large part of the opposition. In 1859 it failed again, and in 1860 a watered-down version passed both houses, but President Buchanan vetoed it under Southern pressure.

Johnson continued his opposition to government spending and chaired a committee to control it. He campaigned against a Washington, D.C., infrastructure funding bill, saying it was unfair for Tennessee citizens to have to fund the streets of an out-of-state city even though it was the seat of government. He opposed giving money to fund the suppression of the Mormon revolt in Utah Territory by calling for temporary volunteers because he believed the United States should not have a standing army.

In October 1859, abolitionist John Brown and his supporters stormed the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in preparation for a slave insurrection. The incident further heightened tensions between pro- and anti-slavery advocates in Washington, D.C. Johnson gave a speech on the Senate floor in December in which he criticized Northerners for endangering the Union by seeking to outlaw slavery. The Tennessee senator said that the phrase “all men are created equal” in the U.S. Declaration of Independence did not apply to African Americans because the Illinois constitution contained the phrase and they did not have the right to vote.

Johnson hoped that he would make a compromise candidate for the 1860 presidential election as the Democratic party was tearing itself apart over the issue of slavery. Busy with the passage of the Homestead Bill during the Democratic convention in Charleston, South Carolina, he assigned his two sons and his chief political advisor to represent him in the backroom negotiations. The convention was deadlocked because neither candidate could muster the necessary two-thirds vote, but the camps were too divided to consider Johnson a compromise. After five days, 57 rounds, and the rescheduling of the convention in Baltimore, Maryland, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois was chosen as the Democratic candidate for president. The Southern delegates, including Johnson, rejected the nomination and chose Vice President John C. Breckinridge to run for president. In addition to this split in the Democratic Party, Senator John Bell of Tennessee ran on behalf of the Constitutional Union Party. In the face of these divisions, the Republican candidate, former Illinois Representative Abraham Lincoln, was easily elected, but won almost no votes in the southern states. The election of Lincoln, known for his abolitionist views, was unacceptable to many southerners. Although secession had not been an issue during the campaign, discussions of secession began immediately in the southern states.

Johnson took to the Senate floor after the election to give a speech that was well received in the North, “I will not abandon this government…No; I intend to stand by it…and I call upon every man who is a patriot to…unite us around the altar of our common nation…and I swear before God and all that is sacred and holy that the Constitution must be saved and the Union preserved.” As Southern senators announced that they would resign if their states seceded, Johnson reminded Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis that if Southerners retained their seats, Democrats would control the Senate and could defend Southern interests against Lincoln’s attacks. Gordon-Reed indicates that while Johnson’s belief in an indivisible Union was sincere, he had alienated Southern leaders, including Davis, who became president of the Confederate States of America formed by the seceded states. Had Johnson joined the Confederacy, he would have had little influence on its government.

Johnson returned to Tennessee as his state debated the question of secession. Johnson’s successor as governor, Isham G. Harris, and the legislature held a referendum on whether a convention should be held to authorize secession; after the referendum rejected this proposal, they put the question of secession directly to a popular vote. Despite death threats and assaults, Johnson campaigned against both proposals, sometimes making speeches with a pistol on the lectern in front of him. Although Johnson’s region in East Tennessee was opposed to secession, the second referendum was won by the secessionists and in June 1861 Tennessee joined the Confederacy. Believing he would be assassinated if he stayed, the senator left the state through the Cumberland Gap where his party was shot at by gunmen; he left his wife and family in Greeneville.

As the only member of a seceded state to remain in the Senate, he was the most influential of the Southern Union supporters and had Lincoln’s attention during the early months of the war. With most of Tennessee controlled by Confederate troops, Johnson remained in Kentucky and Ohio and tried unsuccessfully to convince Northern commanders to lead an offensive into East Tennessee.

Military Governor of Tennessee

Johnson’s first term in the Senate ended in March 1862 when Lincoln appointed him military governor of Tennessee. Most of the central and western regions that had seceded had been recaptured, and while some argued that a civilian government should simply replace the Confederate authorities in the conquered territories, Lincoln chose to use his power as commander in chief to appoint military governors in those areas. The Senate quickly confirmed Johnson’s choice and he was given the rank of brigadier-general. In retaliation, the Confederates confiscated most of Johnson’s possessions, took his slaves and turned his home into a military hospital. In 1862, after Johnson left the Senate and in the absence of most Southern legislators, the Homestead Act was finally passed; this act, along with the Morrill Land-Grant Acts and the granting of land for the transcontinental railroad, is considered to have opened the American West to settlement.

As military governor, Johnson sought to eliminate Confederate influences, required public officials to take an oath of loyalty, and closed newspapers controlled by Confederate sympathizers. Much of East Tennessee remained under Confederate control, and during 1862 Southern troops approached Nashville several times. The Confederates allowed Eliza Johnson and her family to cross their lines to join Andrew Johnson. Nashville was continually threatened by cavalry raids led by General Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Johnson did everything he could to defend the city. The threat was finally lifted after Northern General William Starke Rosecrans won the Battle of Stones River in January 1863 and much of East Tennessee was recaptured during the year.

When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, which freed slaves in Confederate-controlled territories, Tennessee was not affected because it had been largely reclaimed. The Proclamation heightened the debate over the fate of slaves after the war, as not all Unionists supported abolition. Johnson decided that slavery had to end and declared “if the institution of slavery … seeks to overthrow it, then the Government has a legitimate right to destroy it. He reluctantly supported efforts to enlist former slaves in the Union Army because he felt it would be more appropriate for African Americans to perform menial tasks, freeing up whites to fight. Nevertheless, he managed to enlist 20,000 black soldiers in the Union troops.

In 1860, Lincoln’s running mate had been Maine Senator Hannibal Hamlin. Hamlin had been a capable vice president, was in good health, and seemed likely to seek a second term, but Johnson emerged as a potential running mate for Lincoln in the 1864 election. Lincoln considered choosing a pro-war Democrat and sent an agent to sound out General Benjamin Butler. In May 1864, the president sent General Daniel Sickles to Nashville to investigate. Although Sickles denied that he was there to meet with the governor, Johnson biographer Hans L. Trefousse considers Sickles’ trip to be related to Johnson’s later choice. According to historian Albert Castel in his assessment of Johnson’s presidency, Lincoln was impressed with Johnson’s administration in Tennessee. Gordon-Reed indicates that while the Lincoln-Hamlin ticket was considered geographically balanced in 1860, “having Johnson, the pro-war Southern Democrat on the ticket sent the right message about the folly of secession and the continued ability of the country to unite.” Another factor was Secretary of State William Seward’s desire to prevent the choice of his New York colleague, former senator and pro-war Democrat Daniel S. Dickinson, for the vice presidency because Seward would probably have to give up his seat if he won. After reporters informed him of the probable purpose of Sickles’ visit, Johnson took a more active role in giving speeches and his friends pushed his candidacy behind the scenes.

To campaign on unity, Lincoln ran under the banner of the National Union Party (en) rather than the Republican Party. At the convention held in June 1864 in Baltimore, Lincoln was easily chosen even though some had talked about replacing him with a cabinet member or one of the more popular generals. After the selection, former Secretary of War Simon Cameron introduced a resolution to associate Hamlin with Lincoln, but it was defeated. In the first round of voting for vice president, Johnson came out ahead with 200 votes to Hamlin’s 150 and Dickinson’s 108. In the second round, the Kentucky delegates voted for Johnson and were quickly followed by representatives from other states. Johnson won by 491 votes to Hamlin’s 17 and Dickinson’s eight. Lincoln expressed satisfaction with the result, “Andy Johnson, in my opinion, is a good man. When the news reached Nashville, a crowd gathered and Johnson gave a speech saying that the choice of a Southerner meant that the Confederate states had not really left the Union.

Although it was unusual for a candidate to campaign actively at that time, Johnson gave many speeches in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. He also sought to boost his chances in Tennessee by restoring civilian government and making the loyalty oath even more restrictive, as voters had to swear to oppose any negotiations with the Confederacy. The Democratic candidate for president, General George McClellan, hoped to avoid further casualties by negotiating, and the oath had the effect of disenfranchising his voters. Lincoln refused to overturn Johnson’s decision, and their ticket came out ahead in the state by 25,000 votes. Congress refused to consider the Tennessee results because of fraud, but Lincoln and Johnson easily won the election, leading in most states.

Now vice president-elect, Johnson was eager to complete the restoration of civilian government even though the election calendar prevented its implementation before Inauguration Day on March 4. Johnson hoped to remain in Nashville to accomplish this task, but Lincoln’s advisors informed him that he would be sworn in at the same time as Lincoln. During the winter of 1864-65, Union troops completed the recapture of East Tennessee, including Greeneville. Just before his departure, Tennessee voters adopted a new constitution on February 22 that abolished slavery. One of Johnson’s last acts as military governor was to confirm the results.

Johnson then went to Washington to take the oath of office, although according to Gordon-Reed, “in light of what happened on March 4, 1865, it would have been better if Johnson had stayed in Nashville. He may have been ill; Castel suggested typhoid fever, but Gordon-Reed notes that there is no evidence to support this diagnosis. On the evening of March 3, Johnson attended a reception in his honor and became very drunk. Suffering from a hangover the next day at the Capitol, he asked his predecessor Hamlin for alcohol. Hamlin gave him a bottle of whiskey and Johnson took two large swigs, saying, “I need all my strength for this occasion. In the Senate, he gave a rambling speech to Lincoln, Congress and the dignitaries present. In the midst of this often incoherent address, Johnson paused and Hamlin took the opportunity to quickly administer the vice presidential oath. Lincoln, who had sadly witnessed the debacle, took the oath and delivered his second inaugural address to great acclaim.

In the weeks following his inauguration, Johnson briefly presided over the Senate and avoided ridicule by moving away to the Maryland home of his friend Francis Preston Blair. When he returned to Washington, D.C., he intended to return to Tennessee to resettle in Greeneville with his family. He finally stayed in Washington when he learned that General Ulysses S. Grant had captured the Southern capital, Richmond, signaling the end of the war. Lincoln said, in response to criticism of Johnson’s behavior, that “I’ve known Andy Johnson for years; he made a mistake the other day, but you needn’t worry; Andy is not a drunk.

Accession

On the afternoon of April 14, 1865, Lincoln and Johnson met for the first time since the inauguration. Trefousse and Gordon-Reed suggest that Johnson wanted to “urge Lincoln not to be too lenient with traitors. Castel, however, indicates that the subject of their conversation is unknown. That evening, President Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer. The shooting of the president was part of a conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln, Johnson and Seward. Seward was seriously wounded but survived, while George Atzerodt failed in his attempt against Johnson. Leonard J. Farwell awoke Johnson in his room at Kirkwood House to inform him that Lincoln had been shot at Ford’s Theater. He rushed to the president’s bedside where he stayed for a short time and promised when he returned, “They will suffer for this. They will suffer for this. Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. and Johnson was sworn in between 10 and 11 a.m. in the presence of Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase and most of the Cabinet. His demeanor was described as “solemn and dignified” by the newspapers; some members of the Cabinet had not seen him since his inauguration in March. At noon, Johnson presided over the first meeting of his administration in the office of the Secretary of the Treasury and reappointed the entire cabinet.

The circumstances of the assassination led to speculation about Johnson and the future the conspirators attributed to him. Johnson’s would-be assassin, Atzerodt, had gotten drunk instead of assassinating the vice president. In the vain hope of saving his life after his capture, he gave many details about the conspiracy but said nothing to corroborate the idea that the planned attempt against Johnson was a ruse. Conspiracy theorists indicate that on the day of the assassination, Booth went to Kirkwood House and left a note for Johnson that read “I do not wish to disturb you. Are you at home? It is possible that Booth, fearing that Atzerodt would not succeed in killing Johnson, or worried that he simply did not have the courage to assassinate him, wanted to use this message to try to implicate the vice president in the conspiracy.

Johnson presided over Lincoln’s funeral in Washington before the president’s remains were sent to Springfield for burial. Shortly after Lincoln’s death, Northern General William Tecumseh Sherman reported that he had, without consulting Washington, signed an armistice with Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston in which Southern forces in North Carolina surrendered in exchange for continued state administration and protection of private property. The agreement made no mention of emancipation of the slaves, and this was unacceptable to Johnson and members of the Cabinet. The president sent a message to Sherman asking him to obtain the surrender of the Confederate troops without making political concessions. This, coupled with his decision to offer a $100,000 ( 1670217 current dollars) for the arrest of the then-fugitive Confederate president Jefferson Davis, gave Johnson a reputation as a man who would be tough on the South. More controversially, he authorized the execution of Mary Surratt for her role in the Lincoln assassination. She was hanged with three others, including Atzerodt, on July 7, 1865.

Reconstruction

Upon assuming the presidency, Johnson was faced with the question of what to do with the Southern states. Lincoln had authorized the establishment of Loyalist governments in Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee as these territories were retaken by Northern troops. He had also promoted a plan whereby elections would be held in a state if 10 per cent of the voters pledged allegiance to the Union. Congress considered this too lenient, and a bill requiring half the electors to swear allegiance for the state to be reinstated was approved by both houses but vetoed by Lincoln.

Johnson had three goals for Reconstruction. He argued for early reinstatement of the states on the basis that they had never really left the Union and should be recognized as soon as loyal citizens formed a government. For Johnson, the issue of voting rights for African Americans was not a priority because it had always been the responsibility of the states to decide who could vote. He then wanted political power in the southern states to shift from the planters to what he called the “plebeians. Since many African Americans were still economically tied to their former masters and were likely to vote with them, their votes were a hindrance to Johnson’s goals. Johnson’s third priority was the presidential election of 1868 because he wanted to become president in his own right.

The Republican Party had split into two factions during the Civil War. The Radical Republicans wanted to punish the key leaders of the Confederacy and advocated equal rights for African Americans. They believed that freed slaves could be induced to vote Republican in recognition of their emancipation; black votes would allow Republicans to maintain power and weaken Southern Democrats. Moderate Republicans also wanted to drive the Democrats out of power nationally and prevent the return of the former Confederates, but they were less enthusiastic about black voting rights because of local politics or because they felt they would not vote “correctly. Northern Democrats advocated immediate reinstatement of the Southern states and did not support African American voting rights because it would weaken Democratic control of the South.

Johnson initially had to implement a Reconstruction policy without legislative intervention because Congress was not scheduled to meet until December 1865. Radical Republicans told the president that the Southern states were economically devastated and urged him to use his power to demand that the granting of rights to freed slaves be a prerequisite for the reinstatement of Southern states. Johnson, with the support of other officials including Seward, saw this as a matter for the states and not the federal government. The Cabinet was divided on the issue.

Johnson made his first two decisions on Reconstruction on May 29 with the unanimous support of the Cabinet. The first was a proclamation recognizing the legitimacy of the Virginia government led by provisional governor Francis Harrison Pierpont. The second was an amnesty for all former rebels except those whose property values exceeded $20,000 (he also appointed a temporary governor for North Carolina and authorized elections. None of these proclamations included provisions for African American voting rights or the rights of freed slaves. The president authorized conventions in the other states to draft their constitutions.

As the Southern states began the process of recreating their governments, Johnson enjoyed significant popular support for his policies and thus saw himself as having unconditional support for the rapid reintegration of the South. While he had broad support in the South, he underestimated the determination of Northerners who feared that the war had been fought for nothing and called for particularly harsh policies. It was important to Northern public opinion that the South recognize its defeat, that slavery be abolished and that the lives of African Americans be improved. The issue of suffrage was less important because only a handful of northern states (and by the end of 1865, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Minnesota had rejected black suffrage resolutions with large majorities). Public opinion tolerated Johnson’s leniency on the condition that he bring the South to recognize its defeat. Instead, white Southerners were encouraged and many Southern states passed Black Codes that severely restricted the basic and civil rights of African Americans. Most Southerners elected former Confederates to Congress, and the delegations were led by Georgia Senator and former Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens. Congress met in early December 1865 and Johnson’s conciliatory speech was well received. Congress, however, refused to allow Southern legislators to be seated and created a committee to propose appropriate legislation for Reconstruction.

He had the Blacks expelled from the plots of land that certain Northern generals had distributed to them. In general, the economic structure of the South, built on racist characteristics, was completely preserved. Nor did Northern society undergo any particular change. The demobilized soldiers did not benefit from any program to help them find work or housing.

Northerners were angered by the idea that former members of the Confederate government like Stephens were federal legislators at a time when the wounds of the war were still wide open. They saw the Black Codes as putting African Americans in a position little better than slavery. Republicans also feared that the restoration of the Southern states would allow the Democrats to return to power. Moreover, according to David O. Stewart in his book on the Johnson impeachment process, “the violence and poverty that oppressed the South galvanized opposition to Johnson.”

Congress was reluctant to confront the president and began by only refining Johnson’s policies toward the South. According to Trefousse, “If there was ever a time when Johnson could have reached an agreement with the moderates of the Republican party, it was in the period after Congress returned. Johnson was unhappy with the provocations of the Southern states and the continuation of the pre-war elite in those areas, but he did not speak out publicly on the subject, believing that Southerners had the right to act as they wished even if it was unwise. By the end of January 1866, he became convinced that winning a confrontation with the Radical Republicans was necessary for his political plans, both for Reconstruction and for his re-election in 1868. He would have preferred the conflict to focus on legislative efforts to enfranchise African Americans in the District of Columbia, a proposal that had been overwhelmingly defeated in a referendum. A bill on the subject was passed by the House of Representatives but, to Johnson’s disappointment, was rejected by the Senate before he could veto it.

Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, the leader of the moderate Republicans and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was eager to reach a compromise with the president. He introduced legislation in Congress to extend the mandate of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands beyond 1867 and another to grant citizenship to freed slaves. Trumbull met several times with Johnson and was convinced that the president would not oppose these measures. Johnson rarely contradicted his visitors and often gave the impression to his interlocutors that he agreed with them, even though this was not the case. The president opposed both pieces of legislation on the grounds that they did not respect state sovereignty. Moreover, both of Trumbull’s laws were unpopular with white Southerners, whom Johnson hoped to integrate into his new party. The president vetoed the Bureau of Refugees Act on February 14, 1866, to the delight of Southerners and the indignant dismay of Republican legislators. Johnson considered that he had been right, for an attempt to override his veto failed in the Senate the next day. He also believed that the Radicals were now isolated and defeated and that moderate Republicans would rally to his side; he did not understand that the moderates also wanted African Americans to be treated fairly.

On February 22, Washington’s Birthday, Johnson gave an impromptu speech to supporters who had gathered outside the White House and asked for a statement in honor of the first president. In his hour-long address, he referred to himself more than 200 times. More seriously, he spoke of “men … still opposed to the Union” to whom he could not offer the hand of friendship he had extended to the South. When asked by the crowd who it was, Johnson named Pennsylvania Representative Thaddeus Stevens, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, and abolitionist Wendell Phillips, whom he accused of planning his assassination. Republicans considered it a declaration of war, while a Democratic ally of Johnson’s estimated that his speech cost his party 200,000 votes in the 1866 midterm elections.

Despite the urgings of the moderates, Johnson broke with them for good by vetoing the Civil Rights Act on March 27, which was designed to protect the civil rights of African Americans. In the message accompanying the veto, he said he opposed the measure because it granted citizenship to freed slaves at a time when 11 of the 36 states were underrepresented in Congress and because it discriminated in favour of blacks and against whites. Congress overrode the veto three weeks later, a first in American history. The veto of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 is generally regarded as the major mistake of Johnson’s presidency because it convinced moderates that negotiation was impossible. In his book on Reconstruction, historian Eric Foner calls it “the most devastating error of judgment of his political career. According to Stewart, the veto was “for many the fundamental mistake and it heralded the permanent confrontation with Congress that dominated the rest of his presidency.

Congress also proposed a 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Drafted by Trumbull, it was sent to the states for ratification; Johnson was opposed but played no part in the process. The amendment added the most important provisions of the Civil Rights Act to the Constitution but also went further. It extended citizenship to anyone born in the United States (except Native Americans on Indian reservations), penalized states that did not give the right to vote to freed slaves, and created new civil rights that would be protected by the federal courts. It also guaranteed that the federal public debt would be repaid but prohibited payment of any debts incurred by the Confederacy during the conflict. Finally, it excluded former confederates from holding public office, although this could be overturned by Congress. Both houses passed a new bill to extend the mandate of the Bureau of Refugees and the president vetoed it again; this time the veto was overridden. By the summer of 1866, when Congress recessed in preparation for the November election, Johnson’s method of reinstating states by presidential decree without safeguards for African Americans was seriously threatened. The state of Tennessee ratified the 14th Amendment over the president’s opposition, and Congress immediately admitted its representatives, which embarrassed Johnson.

Attempts to reach a compromise failed and the political landscape became divided between the United Republicans on the one hand and Johnson and his Democratic allies, North and South, on the other. He called for a National Union Party convention, but it failed to quell the political warfare on the eve of the 1866 mid-term elections. Southern states were not allowed to vote, and Johnson toured the northern states, making many speeches in support of the Democratic candidates. It was a political disaster because of his controversial comparisons of Christ to himself and his violent exchanges with troublemakers that were deemed unworthy of the presidency. The Republicans won a triumphant victory and now had overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate. Johnson accused the Democrats of giving only half-hearted support to the National Union movement.

Even after the Republican victory in November 1866, Johnson considered that he was in a strong position. The 14th Amendment had not been ratified by any of the southern or border states except Tennessee and had been rejected by Kentucky, Delaware and Maryland. Since the amendment had to be ratified by three-fourths of the states to become part of the Constitution, Johnson saw the impasse as working in his favour. When it reconvened in December 1866, Congress began to pass legislation, often overriding Johnson’s veto. Nebraska was brought into the Union; the Republicans won two senators and the state immediately ratified the amendment. Johnson’s veto of a bill granting the same status to the territory of Colorado was not overridden because too many senators felt it was not justified to create a state with only 30,000 inhabitants.

In January 1867, Thaddeus Stevens introduced legislation to dissolve the Southern state governments and create five military districts under martial law. The states would have to hold constitutional conventions again and African Americans could vote or become delegates unlike the former confederates who did not have these rights. Congress added to the bill that reinstatement to the Union would only occur after the state had ratified the 14th Amendment. Johnson and the Southerners tried to find a compromise whereby the South would accept a modified version of the amendment that gave only limited rights to African Americans and did not exclude former Confederates. The Republicans insisted on keeping the amendment in its entirety and no agreement was reached. Johnson vetoed the first of these Reconstruction Acts on March 2, 1867, but Congress repealed it the same day. Also on March 2, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act over the President’s veto in response to Johnson’s statements that he would fire members of his Cabinet who disagreed with him. The act, which required Senate approval to remove a cabinet member, was controversial because some senators questioned its constitutionality and whether it applied to Johnson, whose key ministers had been appointed by Lincoln.

Impeachment

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton was an able and hard-working man but with a difficult personality. Johnson admired him but was also exasperated by his actions, supported by General Grant, to undermine the president’s Southern policy. Johnson considered firing him but respected his role in the war. For his part, Stanton was concerned about his possible successor and refused to resign even though his poor relationship with the president was well known.

The new Congress met for a few weeks in March 1867 before adjourning, and the House Judiciary Committee was asked to consider whether to initiate impeachment proceedings against Johnson. The committee met, examined the president’s bank accounts and summoned members of his Cabinet. When a federal court released former Confederate President Jefferson Davis on bail on May 13, the committee investigated whether Johnson had obstructed the legal proceedings. It learned that Johnson was anxious to have Davis tried, and the majority of the committee dropped the charges against Johnson; the committee was dissolved on June 3.

In June, Johnson and Stanton clashed over whether military officers running the Southern military districts could override the decisions of the civilian authorities. Johnson asked Attorney General Henry Stanbery to issue a statement that they could not. He sought to force Stanton to take a position either for, and thus support, or against, showing his opposition to the president and the rest of the Cabinet. Stanton avoided the subject in meetings and exchanges. When Congress reconvened in July, it passed a Reconstruction Act that clarified the powers of the generals and stripped Johnson of his control of the army in the South. With Congress adjourned until November, the president decided to fire Stanton and one of the district commanders, General Philip Sheridan, who had removed the governor of Texas and replaced him with someone unpopular. He was initially strongly dissuaded by Grant. On August 5, the president nevertheless asked for Stanton’s resignation, but the secretary refused to give it. Johnson suspended him pending the next meeting of Congress as permitted by the Tenure of Office Act; Grant agreed to replace him temporarily while continuing to lead the army.

Despite his protests, Grant carried out the transfer of Sheridan and another district commander, General Daniel Sickles, who had angered Johnson by firmly implementing the congressional plan. Johnson also issued a proclamation pardoning most former Confederates except those who had held official positions in the Confederacy or worked in the federal government before the war and thus had broken their loyalty oaths. Although the Republicans expressed anger, the 1867 election was generally favorable to the Democrats. No congressional seats were renewed, but the Democrats regained control of the Ohio legislature and voters in Ohio, Connecticut and Minnesota rejected proposals to give African Americans the vote. These unfavourable results temporarily halted Republican calls for Johnson’s impeachment, and he was thrilled with the election. Nevertheless, when Congress reconvened in November, the Judiciary Committee was re-formed and passed an impeachment resolution against Johnson. After much debate over whether the president’s actions qualified as “high crimes or misdemeanors” and thus triggered impeachment proceedings under Article II of the Constitution, the resolution was rejected by the House of Representatives on December 7, 1867 by a vote of 108 to 57.

Johnson informed Congress of Stanton’s suspension and Grant’s temporary appointment. In January 1868, the Senate reversed this action and reinstalled Stanton, claiming that the president had violated the Tenure of Office Act. Grant resigned over Johnson’s opposition, and relations between the two men were irreparably damaged. Johnson dismissed Stanton and appointed Lorenzo Thomas in his place. Stanton refused to step down, and on February 24, 1868, the House charged the president with intentionally violating the Tenure of Office Act by a vote of 128 to 47, and he wrote eleven articles of impeachment.

The impeachment trial began in the Senate on March 5, 1868, and lasted nearly three months; the prosecution was led by George S. Boutwell, Benjamin Butler, and Thaddeus Stevens, while William M. Evarts, Benjamin R. Curtis (the presiding judge was Chief Justice Salmon Chase), Benjamin R. Curtis, and George S. Boutwell were the prosecutors. Boutwell, Benjamin Butler and Thaddeus Stevens while William M. Evarts, Benjamin R. Curtis (the presiding judge was Chief Justice Salmon Chase. Johnson’s defense was based on a clause in the Tenure of Office Act that made it applicable only to cabinet members appointed by the current administration. Since Lincoln had appointed Stanton, the defense argued that Johnson had not violated the law and that the president had the right to challenge the constitutionality of an act of Congress in court. Johnson’s advisers insisted that he not attend his trial or comment publicly on its progress; except for two interviews in April, he complied.

Johnson maneuvered politically to secure an acquittal. He promised Iowa Senator James W. Grimes, for example, that he would not interfere with Congressional Reconstruction efforts. Grimes reported to a group of moderates, many of whom voted for his acquittal, that he believed Johnson would keep his word. Johnson also promised to appoint the respected General John McAllister Schofield as Secretary of War. Kansas Senator Edmund G. Ross was assured that the new radical-influenced constitutions ratified in South Carolina and Arkansas would pass through Congress unopposed by the president, giving those senators an alibi to vote for his acquittal. In addition, the railroad stockholders paid off many members of Congress in order to prevent Johnson’s impeachment, since he was in their interest.

Senators were also reluctant to impeach Johnson because his successor would have been Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, then president pro tempore of the Senate. Wade, a lame duck who stepped down as senator in early 1869, was a radical who championed measures such as women’s suffrage and was therefore considered particularly extreme for the time. Moreover, a Wade presidency was seen as an obstacle to Grant’s ambitions.

Through negotiations, Johnson was confident of the outcome of the trial, and in the days leading up to the verdict, newspapers reported that Stevens and the radicals had dropped out. On May 16, the Senate voted on the eleventh article, which summarized the previous ten articles and charged Johnson with firing Stanton in violation of the Tenure of Office Act after the Senate had already reversed its decision. Thirty-five senators voted “guilty” and 19 “not guilty,” one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed for conviction. The Senate adjourned for the Republican convention that selected Grant to run for president. It reconvened on May 26 and voted on the second and third articles with the same result of 35 votes to 19; opponents then dropped the impeachment proceedings. Stanton left office on May 26, and the Senate subsequently confirmed Schofield’s nomination. When Johnson asked Stanbery to resume his duties as attorney general after his role as defender in the trial, the Senate refused to confirm his nomination.

Some argued at the time and later that corruption played a role in the outcome. Even as the trial was underway, Representative Butler began an investigation, conducted contentious hearings and issued a report that was not supported by any other congressman. Butler focused on the Astor House Group of New York, allegedly led by political boss and publisher Thurlow Weed. This organization allegedly raised large sums of money to bribe senators and secure Johnson’s acquittal, but nothing was ever proven.

Foreign Policy

Shortly after becoming president, Johnson agreed with Secretary of State William Henry Seward that there would be no change from Lincoln’s foreign policy. Seward and Lincoln had been rivals for the presidential nomination in 1860, and the former president hoped he would succeed him in 1868. When Johnson became president in 1865, the French had intervened in Mexico to install a government favorable to their interests. While many politicians called for outright intervention on behalf of Mexico, Seward favored diplomacy and warned the French that their presence in Mexico was unacceptable. Although the president took a more aggressive approach, he agreed with his secretary of state. In April 1866, the French government informed Seward that its troops would withdraw in stages, and the withdrawal was completed in November 1867.

Seward was an expansionist and sought opportunities to increase the territory of the United States. In 1867, the Russian government decided that its colony in North America (now Alaska) was an economic liability and feared that it would lose control of it as American settlements expanded there. He asked his ambassador in Washington, Baron Edouard de Stoeckl, to negotiate the sale of the territory. De Stoeckl skillfully negotiated and pushed Seward to increase his offer from $5 million to $7.2 million, or approximately $13.3 billion in 2011 dollars. De Stoeckl and Seward hurried to sign the treaty on March 30, 1867, as the Senate was about to adjourn. Johnson and Seward presented the signed document to Congress but were informed that it could not be passed before the House resumed. The president forced the Senate to sit on April 1, and the agreement was approved by a vote of 37 to 2. Encouraged by his success in Alaska despite criticism of the cost of acquiring that remote area, Seward sought new territories to acquire, but his only other success was to claim American sovereignty over the uninhabited Wake Atoll in the Pacific. He negotiated the purchase of the Danish West Indies and the people approved the transfer in a plebiscite, but the Senate never voted on the treaty and it expired. The islands were finally purchased in 1917 and are now the United States Virgin Islands.

Seward also failed to sign the Johnson-Clarendon Agreement in settlement of Alabama’s claims for damage to U.S. maritime commerce caused by Confederate privateers such as the CSS Alabama built in Britain. Negotiated by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, former Maryland Senator Reverdy Johnson in late 1868, the treaty was ignored by the Senate during Johnson’s presidency. The agreement was rejected after he left office, and the Grant administration obtained much more favourable terms in the Treaty of Washington in 1871.

Administration and judicial appointments

Johnson appointed nine federal judges during his presidency, all to federal district courts. He did not appoint any justices to the Supreme Court. In April 1866, he chose Henry Stanbery to replace Associate Justice John Catron, who had died the previous year, but Congress sought to reduce the size of the Court. The Court had ten justices, and the Judicial Circuits Act of 1866 prevented the replacement of vacancies until the Court was down to seven. Thus James M. Wayne (en) was not replaced after his death in 1867. In 1869, the Judiciary Act reduced the number of justices to nine and remains in effect today. Johnson appointed his friend from Greeneville, Samuel Milligan, to the federal court of appeals where he served from 1868 until his death in 1874.

End of term

Johnson hoped to secure the Democratic nomination for the 1868 presidential election held in New York in July 1868. He remained very popular among white Southerners and he bolstered his popularity by issuing a proclamation just before the convention that prevented any further prosecution of former Confederates who were not already indicted, so that only Davis and a few others would be tried. On the first ballot, Johnson came in second to former Representative George H. Pendleton of Ohio, who had been his opponent for the vice presidential nomination in 1864. Johnson gradually lost support in the following rounds, and on the 22nd vote, New York Governor Horatio Seymour was chosen and the president received only four votes, all from Tennessee delegates.

Opposition to Congress did not cease after the failure of the impeachment process. Johnson proposed amendments to limit the president to a single six-year term, direct elections for president and senator, and term limits for judges; Congress did not even debate these proposals. Copies of the 14th Amendment ratified by the Southern states were sent to the State Department, but Johnson took his time in sending them to Congress. Congress then passed a law overriding the presidential veto to require it to send them within ten days of receipt. Johnson continued to delay his obligations as long as possible but was forced to declare in July 1868 that the amendment was officially incorporated into the Constitution.

Seymour’s advisers tried to enlist Johnson’s support, but he remained silent during the election campaign. He did not mention Seymour, but did not endorse him, until October, when voting had already taken place in some states. Johnson nevertheless regretted Grant’s victory, partly because of the animosity caused by the Stanton case. In his annual address to Congress in December, he called for the repeal of the Tenure of Office Act and told legislators that all would have been well if they had accepted their Southern colleagues in 1865. He celebrated his 60th birthday at the end of December with a party attended by hundreds of children; President-elect Grant, however, refused to let his children attend.

On Christmas Day 1868, Johnson issued a general amnesty that applied to all former Confederates including Davis. He also pardoned Samuel Mudd, whose conviction for complicity in the Lincoln assassination (he had repaired Booth’s broken leg) was controversial.

On March 3, Johnson held a large public reception at the White House on the occasion of his last day as president. Grant made it known that he did not wish to ride in the same carriage as the former president, as was the custom, and Johnson refused to attend the inauguration ceremony. Despite Seward’s attempts to change his mind, Johnson spent the morning of March 4 taking care of last-minute business before leaving the White House shortly after noon to go to the home of a friend.

After leaving the presidency, Johnson stayed in Washington for a few weeks before returning to Greeneville for the first time in eight years. Many celebrations were held along the way home, especially in Tennessee and even in towns that had been hostile to him during the war. He planned to buy a large farm near Greeneville where he would reside after his term as president ended.

Some expected Johnson to run for governor of Tennessee again or try to return to the Senate, while others thought he would become a railroad executive. He was bored in Greeneville and his personal life was marked by the suicide of his son Robert in 1869. Seeking to justify his actions and to get back at his political enemies, he ran for a Senate seat soon after his return. Tennessee had elected Republican representatives, but legal rulings that restored voting rights to some whites and Ku Klux Klan violence that discouraged African Americans from voting led to a Democratic victory in the August 1869 congressional elections. Although considered the likely future senator, he was hated by radical Republicans and some Democrats for his role in the war. He was eventually defeated by Republican Henry Cooper by 54 votes to 51. In 1872 there was a special election for an at-large congressional district in Tennessee; Johnson sought the Democratic nomination but when he saw that he would be opposed by former Confederate general Benjamin F. Cheatham, he decided to run as an independent. He came in third, but the split in the Democratic Party prevented Cheatham from winning in favor of a former Johnson ally in the National Union Party, Horace Maynard.

In 1873 Johnson contracted cholera during an epidemic but recovered; that same year he lost $73,000 ($1.4 million in 2011 dollars) in the bankruptcy of the First National Bank of Washington, although much of that money was repaid to him. He began to think about the upcoming Senate election to the Tennessee legislature in early 1875. Johnson campaigned among the farm organizations and easily won their support. Few African Americans outside the major cities were able to vote because of the weakening of Reconstruction efforts, and this pattern was repeated in other southern states; the period of white domination lasted nearly a century. In the state legislative elections in August, 92 Democrats were elected to eight Republicans and Johnson went to Nashville for the legislative session. In the first round of the Senate election on January 20, 1875, Johnson led by 30 votes but lacked a majority because he was opposed by three former Confederate generals, a former colonel and a former Democratic congressman. His opponents tried to agree on a single candidate but failed; Johnson was finally elected on January 26 on the 54th ballot by a single vote and his election was celebrated throughout Nashville. He became the first former U.S. president elected to the Senate.

Johnson’s return attracted national attention and the St. Louis Republican newspaper called it “the most magnificent personal triumph that American political history can show.” On his return to the Senate on March 5, 1875, he was greeted with flowers and sworn in with a former vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, by the occupant of the office, Henry Wilson, who as a senator had voted guilty at his trial. Many Republicans ignored the newcomer, although some, like John Sherman of Ohio (who had voted for his conviction), shook his hand. Johnson still remains the only former president to become a senator. He made only one speech on March 22 in which he strongly criticized President Grant’s deployment of federal troops to support the Louisiana Reconstruction government. The former president asked if it was still far from a military dictatorship and concluded his speech with “May God bless this people and save the Constitution.

Johnson returned to Greeneville after the session. In late July, convinced that some of his opponents were slandering him in the Ohio gubernatorial campaign, he decided to visit. He left on July 28 and stopped at his daughter Mary’s farm near Elizabethton, where his daughter Martha also lived. He suffered a stroke that evening but refused to seek medical attention until the next day. He did not recover and doctors from Elizabethon were called in; he seemed to respond well to their treatment but suffered another stroke on the evening of July 30 and died the next morning at age 66. President Grant had the “painful duty” of announcing the death of the only surviving former president; in their obituaries, Northern newspapers focused primarily on his wartime loyalty while Southern newspapers emphasized his actions as president. Johnson’s funeral was held on August 3 in Greeneville. According to his wishes, his body was wrapped in an American flag and a copy of the U.S. Constitution was placed under his head. The cemetery was renamed the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in 1906 and his home and tailor shop are now the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.

Until the late nineteenth century, there was relatively little historical work on Johnson and his presidency. The memoirs of Northerners who worked with Johnson, such as former Vice President Henry Wilson and Maine Senator James Blaine, portrayed him as a stubborn cad whose attempts to favor the South during Reconstruction were obstructed by Congress. According to historian Howard K. Beale in his study of Reconstruction historiography, “the men of the postwar decades were more interested in justifying their own actions than in the painstaking search for the truth.

The early 20th century saw the first significant historical studies of Johnson. Leading this movement was Pulitzer Prize winner James Ford Rhodes, who wrote of the former president:

“Johnson acted in accordance with his personality. He had intellectual strength, but she often worked on her achievements. Obstinate rather than firm, it seemed to him without doubt that following advice and making concessions was evidence of weakness. In any case, from his December message to the veto of the civil rights bill, he did not give an inch in Congress. Moderate senators and representatives (their actions were only a request that he ally himself with them to protect Congress and the country from the policies of the radicals… His quarrel with Congress prevented the readmission to the Union on generous terms of the members of the old Confederacy… His pride and desire to win made him blind to the true welfare of the South and the country as a whole.”

Rhodes blamed Johnson’s mistakes on his personal weaknesses and accused him of being responsible for the South’s postwar problems. Other early twentieth-century historians such as John Burgess, Woodrow Wilson (later president) and William Dunning, all Southerners, agreed with Rhodes that Johnson was flawed and politically inept but concluded that he had tried to implement Lincoln’s plans for the South as best he could. Author and historian Jay Tolson suggests that Wilson portrayed Reconstruction “as a vengeful program that made even repentant Southerners suffer while benefiting Northern opportunists, the so-called carpetbaggers, and cynical white Southerners or scalawags who took advantage of alliances with blacks for political gain.

At the same time, another group of historians set out to fully rehabilitate Johnson by using for the first time primary sources such as his writings, provided by his daughter Martha before his death in 1901, and the journals of his Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles first published in 1911. Subsequent works, such as David Miller DeWitt’s The Impeachment and Trial of President Andrew Johnson (1903), presented Johnson in a much more favorable light. In History of the Reconstruction Period, published in 1913, James Schouler accused Rhodes of being “quite unfair to Johnson,” although he acknowledged that many of the former president’s problems were related to his poor policy choices. After the publication of these studies, historians continued to view Johnson’s deep flaws as sabotaging his presidency but judged his Reconstruction policies to be fundamentally sound. A series of glowing biographies in the late 1920s and early 1930s that “glorified Johnson and condemned his enemies” accelerated this shift.

In 1940, Howard K. Beale wrote: “Is it not time we studied the history of Reconstruction without first assuming, at least unconsciously, that the carpetbaggers and white Democrats of the South were evil, that the Negroes were incompetent and illiterate, and that the whole South owes a debt to the restorers of ‘white supremacy’?” Despite these doubts, Johnson’s favorable view survived for a time. In 1942, Van Heflin played the former president as a defender of democracy in the film Tennessee Johnson. In 1948, a survey of his colleagues by historian Arthur M. Schlesinger placed Johnson in the middle of the pack of presidents, and in another conducted in 1956 by Clinton Rossiter, he was almost among the greatest. Foner notes that at the time of these studies, “the Reconstruction period following the Civil War was seen as an era of corruption and mismanagement caused by the granting of voting rights to blacks.

Earlier historians, including Beale, saw money as the central factor in the race of history and saw Reconstruction as an economic struggle between northern industrialists, southern planters and midwestern farmers; they also believed that reconciliation between the North and South should have been Reconstruction’s main priority. In the 1950s, historians began to focus on the decisive role played by African Americans and completely rejected the ideas of black inferiority that had marked earlier work and saw the African American Civil Rights Movement as a second Reconstruction; some authors stated that they hoped their work would advance the civil rights cause. These historians sympathized with radical Republicans in their desire to help African Americans and felt that Johnson had been ruthless toward freed slaves. In many studies written since 1956 such as Fawn McKay Brodie’s, Johnson is portrayed as the saboteur of efforts to improve the lot of freed slaves while Reconstruction is increasingly seen as a noble attempt to integrate African-Americans into society.

In the early 21st century, Johnson is commonly cited as one of the worst presidents in American history. According to historian Glenn W. Lafantasie, who considers Buchanan the worst president, “Johnson is a favorite for the bottom of the pile because of his impeachment…his utterly mismanagement of Reconstruction policy…his forceful personality and enormous self-importance.” Tolson suggests that “Johnson is despised today for resisting the policies of Radical Republicans to secure the rights and welfare of recently enfranchised African Americans.” Gordon-Reed notes that Johnson, like his contemporaries Pierce and Buchanan, are generally listed among the five worst presidents but says “there were never more difficult times in the life of this nation. The problems these men faced were enormous. It would have taken a succession of Lincolns to solve them.

Trefousse sees Johnson’s legacy as “the maintenance of white supremacy. His support of Southern conservatives in undermining Reconstruction was his contribution to the nation and it shook the country for generations to come.” Gordon-Reed concludes his study of Johnson’s life with:

“We know the results of Johnson’s failures; his extraordinary obstinacy, his crude and malicious racism, and his primitive understanding of the Constitution weakened his capacity for enlightened and progressive management when these qualities were so desperately needed. At the same time, Johnson’s story has a miraculous feature: the poor boy who consistently rose to the top, fell from grace and fought to regain his honor. For better or for worse, there is, as they say, “only in America” that Johnson’s story could have unfolded in this way.”

That reputation as America’s worst president is being challenged by Donald Trump, according to historian Tim Naftali.

Sources

  1. Andrew Johnson
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  3. La-Croix.com, « Andrew Johnson, à une voix près, en 1868 Avant Bill Clinton, un seul président américain avait été jugé par le Congrès », sur La Croix (consulté le 16 décembre 2017).
  4. « Andrew Johnson », sur The White House (consulté le 17 décembre 2017).
  5. (en) George Fort Milton, The Age of Hate : Andrew Johnson And The Radicals, New York, Coward-McCann, 1930, 804 p. (ISBN 1-4179-1658-3, OCLC 739916, lire en ligne), p. 80 ; « En ce qui concerne ma religion, elle est la doctrine de la Bible telle qu’enseignée et pratiquée par Jésus Christ. ».
  6. ^ (FR) “Les présidents des Etats-Unis francs-maçons”, in: Giacometti-Ravenne, Le symbole retrouvé, Parigi, 2011, p. 301.
  7. a b c d L. Pastusiak: Prezydenci Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki Północnej. s. 341.
  8. a b c d e f L. Pastusiak: Prezydenci Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki Północnej. s. 342.
  9. a b c d L. Pastusiak: Prezydenci Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki Północnej. s. 343.
  10. a b L. Pastusiak: Prezydenci Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki Północnej. s. 344.
  11. a b c d e L. Pastusiak: Prezydenci Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki Północnej. s. 345.
  12. Historical rankings of presidents of the United States – Wikipedia (неопр.). Дата обращения: 8 апреля 2020. Архивировано 30 марта 2022 года.
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