Directory:Andrew Johnson

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Template:Infobox President

Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808July 31 1875) was the seventeenth President of the United States (1865–1869), succeeding to the Presidency upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Johnson was a U.S. Senator from Greeneville, Tennessee, at the time of the secession of the Southern states. He was the only southern Senator not to quit his post upon secession, and became the most prominent War Democrat from the South. In 1862 Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of Tennessee, where he proved energetic and effective in fighting the rebellion.[1]

Johnson was nominated for the Vice President slot in 1864 on the National Union Party ticket. He and Lincoln were elected in November 1864, and Johnson became president upon Lincoln's assassination on April 15, 1865.

As president he took charge of Presidential Reconstruction — the first phase of Reconstruction — which lasted until the Radical Republicans gained control of Congress in the 1866 elections. His conciliatory policies towards the South, his hurry to reincorporate the former Confederates back into the union, and his vetoes of civil rights bills embroiled him in a bitter dispute with the Radical Republicans.[2] The Radicals in the House of Representatives impeached him in 1868, but he was acquitted by a single vote in the Senate. He was the first U.S. President to be impeached.

Early life

Johnson was born on December 29, 1808, in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Jacob Johnson and Mary McDonough. Andrew Johnson's father, Jacob Johnson, a descendant of Sir Arthur Johnston, a Scottish physician and poet,Template:Fact died when Andrew was three years old, leaving his family in poverty. Johnson's mother then took in work spinning and weaving to support her family and later remarried. She bound Andrew as an apprentice tailor when he was 14 (Britannica) or 10 (Karin L Zipf) but at age 16-17 he broke his indenture and he and his brother ran away to Greeneville, Tennessee, where he found work as a tailor.[1][3] Johnson married Eliza McCardle Johnson at the age of 19. He never attended any type of school and taught himself how to read and spell; his wife taught him arithmetic, and how to read and write more fluently.[1]

Early political career

Template:Sectstub Johnson served as an alderman in Greeneville from 1829 to 1833 and was elected mayor of Greeneville in 1833.[4] In 1835 he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives, where after serving a single term he was defeated for re-election.[4] In 1839 he was elected to the Tennessee Senate, where he served two two-year terms.[4]

In 1843 he became the first Democrat to win election as the U.S. Representative from Tennessee's 1st congressional district; he held the office for five terms.[4]

Political ascendancy

Johnson was elected governor of Tennessee, serving from 1853 to 1857, and was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from October 8, 1857, to March 4, 1862. He was chairman of the Committee to Audit and Control the Contingent Expense (Thirty-sixth Congress). Before Tennessee voted on secession, Johnson — who lived in Unionist east Tennessee — toured the state speaking in opposition to the act, which he said was unconstitutional. Johnson was an aggressive stump speaker and often responded to hecklers, even if those hecklers were in the senate. At the time of secession of the Confederacy, Johnson was the only Senator from the seceded states to continue participation in Congress.

In March 1862 Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of Tennessee.[1] During his three years in this office he "moved resolutely to eradicate all pro-Confederate influences in the state." This "unwavering commitment to the Union" was a significant factor in his choice as vice-president by Lincoln.[5] According to tradition and local lore, on Aug. 8, 1863, Johnson freed his personal slaves.[6] He vigorously suppressed the Confederates and later spoke out for black suffrage, arguing, "The better class of them will go to work and sustain themselves, and that class ought to be allowed to vote, on the ground that a loyal negro is more worthy than a disloyal white man."[7]

Vice presidency

As a leading War Democrat and pro-Union southerner, Johnson was an ideal candidate for the Republicans in 1864 as they enlarged their base to include War Democrats and changed the party name to the National Union Party. He was elected Vice President of the United States and was inaugurated March 4, 1865. At the ceremony, Johnson, who had been drinking (he explained later) to offset the pain of typhoid fever, gave a rambling speech and appeared intoxicated to many. In early 1865, Johnson talked harshly of hanging traitors like Jefferson Davis, which endeared him to the Radicals.[8]

Lincoln assassination

Template:Main On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was shot and mortally wounded by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford's Theater. Booth's plan was to decapitate the administration by ordering conspirators to assassinate Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward that same night. Seward narrowly survived his wounds, while Johnson escaped attack, when his would-be assassin, George Atzerodt, failed to go through with the plan.

Presidency 1865–1869

Upon the death of Lincoln the following morning, April 15, 1865, Johnson was sworn in as President of the United States by Lincoln's newly appointed Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase. He was the first Vice President to succeed to the U.S. Presidency upon the assassination of a President and the sixth vice president to become a president.[9][10]

Johnson had a a big growth or wart 2 cm long on his ball sack.Template:Fact He attempted to build up a party of loyalists under the National Union label, but he did not identify with either of the two main parties while President—though he did try for the Democratic nomination in 1868. Asked in 1868 why he did not become a Democrat, he said "It is true I am asked why don't I join the Democratic Party. Why don't they join me...if I have administered the office of president so well?"[11]

Foreign policy

Johnson forced the French out of Mexico by sending a combat army to the border and issuing an ultimatum. The French withdrew in 1867, and their puppet government quickly collapsed. Secretary of State Seward negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia on April 9, 1867, for $7.2 million. Critics sneered at "Seward's Folly" and "Seward's Icebox" and "Icebergia." Seward also negotiated to purchase the Danish West Indies, but the Senate refused to approve the purchase in 1867 (it eventually took place in 1917). The Senate likewise rejected Seward's arrangement with the United Kingdom to arbitrate the Alabama Claims.

The U.S. experienced tense relations with the United Kingdom and its colonial government in Canada in the aftermath of the war. Lingering resentment over a perception of British sympathy towards the Confederacy resulted in Johnson initially turning a blind eye towards a series of armed incursions by Irish-American civil war veterans into British territory in Canada, named the Fenian Raids.Template:Fact Eventually Johnson ordered the Fenians disarmed and barred from crossing the border, but his initially hesitant reaction to the crisis helped motivate the movement toward Canadian Confederation.Template:Fact


At first Johnson talked harshly, telling an Indiana delegation in late April, 1865, "Treason must be made odious... traitors must be punished and impoverished ... their social power must be destroyed." But then he struck another note: "I say, as to the leaders, punishment. I also say leniency, reconciliation and amnesty to the thousands whom they have misled and deceived."[12] His class-based resentment of the rich appeared in a May 1865 statement to W.H. Holden, the man he appointed governor of North Carolina, "I intend to confiscate the lands of these rich men whom I have excluded from pardon by my proclamation, and divide the proceeds thereof among the families of the wool hat boys, the Confederate soldiers, whom these men forced into battle to protect their property in slaves."[13]Johnson in practice was not at all harsh toward the Confederate leaders. He allowed the Southern states to hold elections in 1865 in which prominent ex-Confederates were elected to the U.S. Congress; however, Congress did not seat them. Congress and Johnson argued in an increasingly public way about Reconstruction and the manner in which the Southern secessionist states would be readmitted to the Union. Johnson favored a very quick restoration, similar to the plan of leniency that Lincoln advocated before his death.

Break with the Republicans: 1866

Johnson-appointed governments all passed Black Codes that gave the Freedmen second class status. In response to the Black Codes and worrisome signs of Southern recalcitrance, the Radical Republicans blocked the re-admission of the ex-rebellious states to the Congress in fall 1865. Congress also renewed the Freedman's Bureau, but Johnson vetoed it. Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, leader of the moderate Republicans, took affront at the Black Codes. Trumbull proposed the first Civil Rights bill.

Although strongly urged by moderates in Congress to sign the Civil Rights bill, Johnson broke decisively with them by vetoing it on March 27. His veto message objected to the measure because it conferred citizenship on the Freedmen at a time when eleven out of thirty-six States were unrepresented and attempted to fix by Federal law "a perfect equality of the white and black races in every State of the Union." Johnson said it was an invasion by Federal authority of the rights of the States; it had no warrant in the Constitution and was contrary to all precedents. It was a "stride toward centralization and the concentration of all legislative power in the national government."[14] Johnson, in a letter to Governor Thomas C. Fletcher of Missouri, wrote, "This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men."[15]

The Democratic Party, proclaiming itself the party of white men, north and South, aligned with Johnson.[16] However the Republicans in Congress overrode his veto (the Senate by the vote of 33:15, the House by 182:41) and the Civil Rights bill became law.

The last moderate proposal was the Fourteenth Amendment, also authored by moderate Trumbull. It was designed to put the key provisions of the Civil Rights Act into the Constitution, but it went much further. It extended citizenship to everyone born in the United States (except Indians on reservations), penalized states that did not give the vote to Freedmen, and most importantly, created new Federal civil rights that could be protected by Federal courts. It guaranteed the Federal war debt (and promised the Confederate debt would never be paid). Johnson used his influence to block the amendment in the states, as three-fourths of the states were required for ratification. (The Amendment was later ratified.)

The moderate effort to compromise with Johnson had failed and an all-out political war broke out between the Republicans (both Radical and moderate) on one side, and on the other Johnson and his allies in the Democratic party in the North, and the conservative groupings in the South. The decisive battle was the election of 1866. Johnson campaigned vigorously but was widely ridiculed.[17] The Republicans won by a landslide (the Southern states were not allowed to vote), and took full control of Reconstruction. Johnson was almost powerless.

Historian James Ford Rhodes has explained Johnson's inability to engage in serious negotiations:[18]

As Senator Charles Sumner shrewdly said, "the President himself is his own worst counselor, as he is his own worst defender." Johnson acted in accordance with his nature. He had intellectual force but it worked in a groove. Obstinate rather than firm it undoubtedly seemed to him that following counsel and making concessions were a display of weakness. At all events from his December message to the veto of the Civil Rights Bill he yielded not a jot to Congress. The moderate senators and representatives (who constituted a majority of the Union party) asked him for only a slight compromise; their action was really an entreaty that he would unite with them to preserve Congress and the country from the policy of the radicals.
The two projects which Johnson had most at heart were the speedy admission of the Southern senators and representatives to Congress and the relegation of the question of 'negro suffrage' to the States themselves. Himself shrinking from the imposition on these communities of the franchise for the colored people, his unyielding position in regard to matters involving no vital principle did much to bring it about. His quarrel with Congress prevented the readmission into the Union on generous terms of the members of the late Confederacy; and for the quarrel and its unhappy results Johnson's lack of imagination and his inordinate sensitiveness to political gadflies were largely responsible: it was not a contest in which fundamentals were involved.
He sacrificed two important objects to petty considerations. His pride of opinion, his desire to beat, blinded him to the real welfare of the South and of the whole country.


First attempt

File:Andew Johnson impeachment trial.jpg
Theodore R. Davis' illustration of Johnson's impeachment trial in the United States Senate, published in Harper's Weekly.

There were two attempts to remove President Andrew Johnson from office. The first occurred in the fall of 1867. On November 21, 1867, the House Judiciary committee produced a bill of impeachment that was basically a vast collection of complaints against him. After a furious debate, a formal vote was held in the House of Representatives on December 5, 1867, which failed 108-57.[19]

Second attempt

Template:Main Johnson notified Congress that he had removed Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War and was replacing him in the interim with Adjutant-General Lorenzo Thomas. Johnson had wanted to replace Stanton with former General Ulysses S. Grant, who refused to accept the position. This violated the Tenure of Office Act, a law enacted by Congress in March 1867 over Johnson's veto, specifically designed to protect Stanton.[20] Johnson had vetoed the act, claiming it was unconstitutional. The act said, "...every person holding any civil office, to which he has been appointed by and with the advice and consent of the Senate ... shall be entitled to hold such office until a successor shall have been in like manner appointed and duly qualified," thus removing the President's previous unlimited power to remove any of his Cabinet members at will. Years later in the case Myers v. United States in 1926, the Supreme Court ruled that such laws were indeed unconstitutional.[21]

The 1868 Impeachment Resolution

The Senate and House entered into debate. Thomas attempted to move into the war office, for which Stanton had Thomas arrested. Three days after Stanton's removal, the House impeached Johnson for intentionally violating the Tenure of Office Act.

File:The situation.jpg
The Situation
A Harper's Weekly cartoon gives a humorous breakdown of "the situation". Secretary of War Edwin Stanton aims a cannon labeled "Congress" on the side at President Johnson and Lorenzo Thomas to show how Stanton was using congress to defeat the president and his unsuccessful replacement. He also holds a rammer marked "Tenure of Office Bill" and cannon balls on the floor are marked "Justice". Ulysses S. Grant and an unidentified man stand to Stanton's left.

On March 5, 1868, a court of impeachment was constituted in the Senate to hear charges against the President. William M. Evarts served as his counsel. Eleven articles were set out in the resolution, and the trial before the Senate lasted almost three months. Johnson's defense was based on a clause in the Tenure of Office Act stating that the then-current secretaries would hold their posts throughout the term of the President who appointed them. Since Lincoln had appointed Stanton, it was claimed, the applicability of the act had already run its course.

There were three votes in the Senate: one on May 16 for the 11th article of impeachment, which included many of the charges contained in the other articles, and two on May 26 for the second and third articles, after which the trial adjourned. On all three occasions, thirty-five Senators voted "guilty" and nineteen "not guilty." As the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority for conviction in impeachment trials, Johnson was acquitted. A single changed vote would have sufficed to return a "Guilty" verdict. Seven Republican senators were disturbed by how the proceedings had been manipulated in order to give a one-sided presentation of the evidence. Senators William Pitt Fessenden, Joseph S. Fowler, James W. Grimes, John B. Henderson, Lyman Trumbull, Peter G. Van Winkle,[22] and Edmund G. Ross of Kansas, who provided the decisive vote,[23] defied their party and public opinion and voted against conviction.

Before 1960 most historians held the impeachment of Andrew Johnson as a violation of American values regarding division of powers and fair play.Template:Fact Had Johnson been successfully removed from office, he would have been replaced with Radical Republican Benjamin Wade, making the presidency and Congress somewhat uniform in ideology, although in many ways Wade was more "radical" than the Republicans in Congress. This would have established a precedent that a President could be removed not for "high crimes and misdemeanors," but for purely political differences.Template:Fact

Christmas Day amnesty for Confederates

One of Johnson's last significant actsTemplate:Fact was granting unconditional amnesty to all Confederates on Christmas Day, December 25, 1868. This was after the election of U.S. Grant to succeed him, but before Grant took office in March 1869. Earlier amnesties requiring signed oaths and excluding certain classes of people were issued both by Lincoln and by Johnson.

File:Andrew Johnson.jpg
Engraving of Johnson.

Administration and Cabinet

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States admitted to the Union


Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, the final resting place of Andrew and Eliza Johnson as well as their children in Greeneville, Tennessee.

Johnson was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the United States Senate from Tennessee in 1868 and to the House of Representatives in 1872. However, in 1874 the Tennessee legislature did elect him to the U.S. Senate. Johnson served from March 4, 1875, until his death from a stroke near Elizabethton, Tennessee, on July 31 that same year. In his first speech since returning to the Senate, which was also his last, Johnson denounced the corruptions of the Grant Administration. His passion aroused a standing ovation from many of his fellow senators who had once voted to remove him from the presidency. He is the only former President to serve in the Senate.[24]

Interment was in the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, Greeneville, Tennessee, where he was buried with a copy of the Constitution. Andrew Johnson National Cemetery is now part of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.

Historians' changing view of Andrew Johnson

Historians have gone through cycles on Johnson. The Dunning School of the early 20th century saw him as a heroic bulwark against the corruption of the Radical Republicans who tried to remove the entire leadership class of the white South.Template:Fact Johnson seemed to be the legitimate heir of the sainted Abraham Lincoln.

By the 1930s a series of favorable biographies enhanced his prestige.[25] Johnson's Republican critics of the 1860s appeared as disreputable to liberal historians as did the Republican critics of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Furthermore, a Beardian School (named after Charles Beard and typified by Howard K. Beale) argued that the Republican Party in the 1860s was a tool of corrupt business interests, and that Johnson stood for the people. Historian Eric Foner says that by 1948, historians regarded Reconstruction, "as a time of corruption and misgovernment caused by granting black men the right to vote." They rated Johnson "near great."

By 1960, however, historians such as Erik McKitrick demonstrated that Johnson was a poor politician who could not build coalitions and was doomed to failure.Template:Fact The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s brought a new perspective to the practice of history as well as to civil legislation. Historians noted African American efforts to establish public education and welfare institutions, gave muted praise for Republican efforts to extend suffrage and provide other social institutions, and excoriated Johnson for siding explicitly with the white South.

Johnson's most important foreign policy action was the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire.Template:Fact This would prove vital to national security later during the Cold War. The idea and implementation is credited to Seward as Secretary of State, but Johnson approved the plan. Gold was not discovered in Alaska until 1880, thirteen years after the purchase and five years after Johnson's death, and oil was not discovered until 1968.

See also

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  • Howard K. Beale, The Critical Year. A Study of Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (1930). ISBN 0-8044-1085-2
  • Michael Les Benedict, The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson (1999). ISBN 0-393-31982-2 online edition
  • Albert E. Castel, The Presidency of Andrew Johnson (1979). ISBN 0-7006-0190-2
  • D. M. DeWitt, The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson (1903).
  • W. A. Dunning, Essays on the Civil War and Reconstruction (New York, 1898) online edition
  • W. A. Dunning, Reconstruction, Political and Economic (New York, 1907) online edition
  • Foster, G. Allen, Impeached: The President who almost lost his job (New York, 1964).
  • Eric L. McKitrick, Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (1961). ISBN 0-19-505707-4
  • Martin E. Mantell; Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction (1973) online edition
  • Hatfield, Mark O., with the Senate Historical Office, Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789-1993.(Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997), p.219
  • Howard Means, The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days That Changed the Nation (New York, 2006)
  • Milton; George Fort. The Age of Hate: Andrew Johnson and the Radicals (1930) online edition
  • Patton; James Welch. Unionism and Reconstruction in Tennessee, 1860–1869 (1934) online edition
  • Rhodes; James Ford History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896. Volume: 6. 1920. Pulitzer prize. online edition
  • Schouler, James. History of the United States of America: Under the Constitution vol. 7. 1865–1877. The Reconstruction Period (1917) online edition
  • Sledge, James L. III. "Johnson, Andrew" in Encyclopedia of the American Civil War. editedby David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler. (2000)
  • Lloyd P. Stryker, Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage (1929). ISBN 0-403-01231-7 online edition
  • Trefousse, Hans L. Andrew Johnson: A Biography (1989). ISBN 0-393-31742-0 online edition
  • Winston; Robert W. Andrew Johnson: Plebeian and Patriot (1928) online edition

Primary sources



  1. ^ a b c d 'Andrew Johnson', Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ Template:Citation/core
  3. ^ Karin L Zipf. Labor Of Innocents: Forced Apprenticeship in North Carolina, 1715–1919 (2005) pp 8–9
  4. ^ a b c d Timeline of President Andrew Johnson's Life from the website of the President Andrew Johnson Museum and Library at Tusculum College
  5. ^ Sledge pg. 1071-1072
  6. ^ Tennessee Recalls Emancipation, Segregation
  7. ^ Patton p 126
  8. ^ Trefousse p. 198
  9. ^ Complete list of U.S. presidents
  10. ^ Biography of Andrew Johnson —
  11. ^ Trefousse, Hans Louis. Andrew Johnson: A Biography (1997), p. 338-339.
  12. ^ Milton 183
  13. ^ "Memoirs of W.W. Holden: Electronic Edition".
  14. ^ Rhodes, History 6:68
  15. ^ Trefousse pg. 236. Online reference to the quote available at
  16. ^ Trefousse 1999
  17. ^ Andrew Johnson Cleveland Speech (September 3, 1866)
  18. ^ Rhodes, History 6:74
  19. ^ Trefousse, 1989 pages 302–3
  20. ^ Tenure of office act — Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  21. ^ Tenure of office act — Britannica Concise
  22. ^ "Andrew Johnson Trial: The Consciences of Seven Republicans Save Johnson".
  23. ^ "The Trial of Andrew Johnson, 1868".
  24. ^ United States Senate: Death of Andrew Johnson
  25. ^ Highly favorable were Winston (1928), Stryker (1929), Milton (1930), and Claude Bowers, The Tragic Era (1929).

External links

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