17. ANDREW JOHNSON 1865-1869
With the Assassination of Lincoln, the Presidency fell upon an
old-fashioned southern Jacksonian Democrat of pronounced states'
rights views. Although an honest and honorable man, Andrew
Johnson was one of the most unfortunate of Presidents. Arrayed
against him were the Radical Republicans in Congress,
brilliantly led and ruthless in their tactics. Johnson was no
match for them.
Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1808, Johnson grew up in
poverty. He was apprenticed to a tailor as a boy, but ran away.
He opened a tailor shop in Greeneville, Tennessee, married Eliza
McCardle, and participated in debates at the local academy.
Entering politics, he became an adept stump speaker,
championing the common man and vilifying the plantation
aristocracy. As a Member of the House of Representatives and the
Senate in the 1840's and '50's, he advocated a homestead bill to
provide a free farm for the poor man.
During the secession crisis, Johnson remained in the Senate
even when Tennessee seceded, which made him a hero in the North
and a traitor in the eyes of most Southerners. In 1862 President
Lincoln appointed him Military Governor of Tennessee, and
Johnson used the state as a laboratory for reconstruction. In
1864 the Republicans, contending that their National Union Party
was for all loyal men, nominated Johnson, a Southerner and a
Democrat, for Vice President.
After Lincoln's death, President Johnson proceeded to
reconstruct the former Confederate States while Congress was not
in session in 1865. He pardoned all who would take an oath of
allegiance, but required leaders and men of wealth to obtain
special Presidential pardons.
By the time Congress met in December 1865, most southern
states were reconstructed, slavery was being abolished, but
"black codes" to regulate the freedmen were beginning to appear.
Radical Republicans in Congress moved vigorously to change
Johnson's program. They gained the support of northerners who
were dismayed to see Southerners keeping many prewar leaders and
imposing many prewar restrictions upon Negroes.
The Radicals' first step was to refuse to seat any Senator or
Representative from the old Confederacy. Next they passed
measures dealing with the former slaves. Johnson vetoed the
legislation. The Radicals mustered enough votes in Congress to
pass legislation over his veto--the first time that Congress had
overridden a President on an important bill. They passed the
Civil Rights Act of 1866, which established Negroes as American
citizens and forbade discrimination against them.
A few months later Congress submitted to the states the
Fourteenth Amendment, which specified that no state should
"deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due
process of law."
All the former Confederate States except Tennessee refused to
ratify the amendment; further, there were two bloody race riots
in the South. Speaking in the Middle West, Johnson faced hostile
audiences. The Radical Republicans won an overwhelming victory
in Congressional elections that fall.
In March 1867, the Radicals effected their own plan of
Reconstruction, again placing southern states under military
rule. They passed laws placing restrictions upon the President.
When Johnson allegedly violated one of these, the Tenure of
Office Act, by dismissing Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, the
House voted eleven articles of impeachment against him. He was
tried by the Senate in the spring of 1868 and acquitted by one
In 1875, Tennessee returned Johnson to the Senate. He died a
few months later.