President Andrew Johnson

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President Andrew Johnson
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President Andrew Johnson Homepage
President Andrew Johnson.jpg
President Andrew Johnson

President Andrew Johnson Homepage
Eliza McCardle Johnson.jpg
Eliza McCardle Johnson

President Andrew Johnson Homepage

Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808 – July 31, 1875) was the 17th President of the United States (1865–1869). As Vice President of the United States in 1865, he succeeded Abraham Lincoln following his assassination. Johnson then presided over the initial and contentious Reconstruction era of the United States following the American Civil War. Johnson's reconstruction policies failed to promote the rights of the Freedmen (newly freed slaves), and he came under vigorous political attack from Republicans, ending in his impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives; he was acquitted by the U.S. Senate.

(Right) For nearly 50 years, Eliza McCardle Johnson, First Lady, was married to Andrew Johnson. The couple had married in 1827 and she was his companion when he died in 1875.

Johnson, born in poverty, became a master tailor. He was self-educated; he married and had five children. He was elected as an alderman and as Mayor of Greeneville, Tennessee before being elected to the state assembly. Later he was elected to the state senate. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served a total of five terms. He was elected as Governor of Tennessee for two terms; all these offices were gained as a member of the Democratic Party. His signature legislative endeavor in the state and federal arenas was passage of the Homestead Act.

When Tennessee seceded from the Union in 1861, Johnson was a Democratic U.S. Senator from Tennessee and was dedicated to Jacksonian Democracy, nationalism and limited government. A Unionist, he was a slaveholder and was pro-slavery. Johnson was the only Southern senator who did not resign his seat during the Civil War; he became the most prominent War Democrat from the South and supported Lincoln's military policies. In 1862, Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of occupied Tennessee, where he was effective in fighting and ending the rebellion; he implemented Reconstruction policies in the state and transitioned for a time to a pro-emancipation policy.

Johnson was nominated as the vice presidential candidate in 1864 on the National Union Party ticket. He and Lincoln were elected in 1864, inaugurated in early 1865 and a month later Johnson assumed the presidency upon Lincoln's assassination.

As president, he implemented his own form of Presidential Reconstruction – a series of proclamations directing the seceded states to hold conventions and elections to re-form their civil governments. These proclamations embodied Johnson's conciliatory policies towards the South, as well as his rush to reincorporate the former Confederate states into the union without due regard for freedmen's rights; these positions and his vetoes of civil rights bills embroiled him in a bitter dispute with Radical Republicans who demanded harsher measures. The Radicals were infuriated with Johnson's lenient policies. The Radicals in the House of Representatives impeached him in 1868 (a first for a U.S. president), charging him with violating the Tenure of Office Act, when he sought to remove his Secretary of War without Senate approval; his trial in the Senate ended in an acquittal by a single vote. U.S. Senator David Patterson, representing Tennessee, also Johnson's son-in-law, cast the deciding vote of not guilty. Patterson had believed that the charges against his father-in-law were "contrived."

Andrew Johnson
President Andrew Johnson.jpg
President Andrew Johnson

As a Jeffersonian and Jacksonian, Johnson refused to toe any party line throughout his political career – though he primarily ran as a Democrat, with the exception of his vice-presidency. While president, he attempted to build a party of loyalists under the National Union label. His failure to make the National Union brand a genuine party made Johnson an independent during his presidency, though he was supported by Democrats and later rejoined the party briefly as a Democratic Senator from Tennessee in 1875 until his death that year. Johnson's administration has received very poor historical rankings amongst scholars, typically amongst the bottom three.

Recommended Reading: Andrew Johnson: The American Presidents Series: The 17th President, 1865-1869 (Hardcover). Description: The unwanted president who ran afoul of Congress over Reconstruction and was nearly removed from office. Andrew Johnson never expected to be president, but just six weeks after becoming Abraham Lincoln’s vice president, the events at Ford’s Theatre thrust him into the nation’s highest office. Continued below…

Johnson faced a nearly impossible task—to succeed America’s greatest chief executive, to bind the nation’s wounds after the Civil War, and to work with a Congress controlled by the so-called Radical Republicans. Annette Gordon-Reed, one of America’s leading historians of slavery, shows how ill-suited Johnson was for this daunting task. His vision of reconciliation abandoned the millions of former slaves (for whom he felt undisguised contempt) and antagonized congressional leaders, who tried to limit his powers and eventually impeached him. The climax of Johnson’s presidency was his trial in the Senate and his acquittal by a single vote, which Gordon-Reed recounts with drama and palpable tension. Despite his victory, Johnson’s term in office was a crucial missed opportunity; he failed the country at a pivotal moment, leaving America with problems that we are still trying to solve. About the Author: Annette Gordon-Reed is a professor of law at New York Law School, where she has taught since 1992. She is the author of the celebrated Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, co-author with Vernon Jordan of Vernon Can Read!, and editor of Race on Trial: Law and Justice in American History. She lives in New York City.

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Recommended Reading: Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy. Description: From School Library Journal: One of our more controversial political figures, Andrew Johnson came closer than any other U.S. President to being removed from office through impeachment. This study by Stewart (Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution), a Washington lawyer who has argued against impeachment in Senate proceedings, examines Johnson's rocky relationship with the post-Civil War radical Republicans. Continued below…

He breaks with those historians who have suggested that Johnson followed what would have been Lincoln's path to reconstruct the South, as he discusses the complex impeachment proceedings against Johnson and the effectiveness of the impeachment process in calming political tensions, if not in removing Presidents from office. Readers who wish to broaden their understanding of Lincoln in this anniversary year will do well to select this well-researched work even if their collection already includes such examinations as Howard Mean's narrower The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days That Changed the Nation.—Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania Library. From Publishers Weekly: Fresh from his masterful The Summer of 1787, Stewart takes on one of the seamiest events in American history: the vengeful impeachment of Lincoln's successor as president; the Senate failed to convict Andrew Johnson by a single vote. At issue was the continuation of Lincoln's plans to reintegrate the South into the union after the Civil War. But also at stake, as always, was party politics. Stewart takes readers through a tangled web of motives and maneuverings in lively, unadorned prose. He's skilled at characterizing his large cast of characters and, as a lawyer, has a practiced nose for skullduggery, of which there was much. Corruption deeply marred the entire impeachment effort. Justifiably, Stewart holds his nose about most of the people involved and admires few of them. As he sums it up, in 1868 none of the country's leaders was great, a few were good, all were angry, and far too many were despicable. Stewart offers little analysis and advances no new ideas about what he relates, but he tells the story as well as it's ever been told. Black and white photos.

 

Recommended Reading: Andrew Johnson : A Biography (Signature Series) (Hardcover). Description: On April 14, 1865, just as the American Civil War came to an end, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by a Confederate actor. The next morning Andrew Johnson was suddenly elevated to the position of president of the United States at a time when the nation was still suffering from the effects of war. This biography explores the enigma of the homeless and uneducated tailor whose spectacular rise to power ended in disgrace. It relates how his term in office undermined the process of reconstruction and left a legacy of racism. Over a century later, Johnson remains the only president of the United States to have been impeached. The author explores Johnson's undeniable skills as a political leader and his stubborn attachment to a mythical view of the America of his youth, which proved to be his undoing. Continued below…

From Library Journal: Known for his Carl Schurz: A Biography (LJ 2/15/82), Trefousse delivers the first Johnson study in years, a definitive assessment of his career and presidency. Johnson's papers and other sources reveal his fatal idealization of the agrarian utopia, his fierce advocacy of strict Constitutional constructionism, and his imprudent insistence upon the Republican Party's adoption of his views on race. Trefousse demonstrates that Johnson, because of his upbringing, was out of step with the great changes emerging at the end of the Civil War. His stubborn attachment to his increasingly archaic views was responsible for his political and military success, but also for his impeachment. A brilliant, compassionate portrait of a dynamic era of social change and national healing, and of the tragic failure of an American leader. Not to be missed. --Susan E. Parker, Harvard Law Sch. Library. About the Author: Hans L. Trefousse is professor of history at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His other books include The Radical Republicans, a path breaking history of Reconstruction.

 

Recommended Reading: The Presidency of Andrew Johnson (American Presidency Series) (Hardcover). Description: Andrew Johnson, who became president after the assassination of Lincoln, oversaw the most crucial and dramatic phase of Reconstruction. Historians have therefore tended to concentrate, to the exclusion of practically everything else, upon Johnson's key role in that titanic event. Although his volume focuses closely on Johnson's handling of Reconstruction, it also examines other important aspects of his administration, notably his foreign, economic, and Indian policies. As one of the few historians to do this, the author provides a broader and more balanced picture of Johnson's presidency than has been previously available. Continued below…

Johnson has always been an enigma: much is known about what he did, little about why he did it. He wrote few letters, kept no diary, and rarely confided in anyone. Most historians either admire or despise him, depending on whether they consider his Reconstruction policies right or wrong. Castel achieves an objective reassessment of Johnson and his presidential actions by examining him primarily in terms of his effectiveness in using power and by not judging him--as most other scholars have--on moralistic or ideological grounds. The book begins with an overview of America at the end of the Civil War and a description of Johnson's political career prior to 1865. Castel recounts the drama of Johnson's sudden inheritance of the presidency upon Lincoln's death and then examines how Johnson organized and operated his administration. Johnson's formulation of a Reconstruction policy for the defeated South comes under special scrutiny; Castel evaluates Johnson's motives for that policy, its implementation, and its reception in both North and South. He descries and analyzes Johnson's quarrel with the Republican dominated Congress over Reconstruction, the triumph of the Republicans in the election of 1866, the president's frustrated attempt to remove Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton from office, his bitter dispute with General Ulysses S. Grant, and his impeachment by Congress. Johnson's impeachment trial is covered in detail; Castel explains how it was that Johnson escaped conviction and removal from office by the narrowest possible margin. The book concludes with a discussion of Johnson's place in history as judged by scholars during the past one hundred years. This study sheds light on the nation's problems during the chaotic period between 1865 and 1869 and contributes a great deal to a much improved understanding of the seventeenth president. This book is part of the American Presidency Series.

 

Recommended Reading: Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Description: From Publishers Weekly: Almost all the dominant views of the Civil War and its aftermath, including Reconstruction and "reunion," prevalent in this country until the coming of the civil rights movement, were the direct result of an extensive Southern propaganda war, argues Blight (Amherst College professor of history and black studies), remnants of which are still flourishing in various racist subcultures. As W.E.B. Du Bois noted a century ago, shortly after the war, the North was tacitly willing to accept the South's representation of the conflict in exchange for an opening of new economic frontiers. Continued below…

Blight sets out to prove this thesis, surveying a mass of information (the end notes run to almost 100 pages) clearly and synthetically, detailing the mechanics of mythmaking: how the rebels were recast as not actually rebelling, how the South had been unjustly invaded, and how, most fabulously of all, the South had fought to end slavery which had been imposed upon it by the North. His argument that this "memory war" was conducted on a conscious level is supported by the Reconstruction-era evidence of protest, by blacks and whites alike, that he unearths. Yet these voices failed to dissuade the vast majority of Americans both North and South who internalized some version of the story. This book effectively traces both the growth and development of what became, by the turn of the 20th century and the debut of The Birth of a Nation, the dominant racist representation of the Civil War. A major work of American history, this volume's documentation of the active and exceedingly articulate voices of protest against this inaccurate and unjust imagining of history is just one of its accomplishments. (Feb. 19) Forecast: This book will be the standard for how public perceptions of the Civil War were formed and propagated in a manner directly analogous to today's doublespeak and spin control. It will be a regular on course syllabi, and will be glowingly reviewed, but the wealth and diversity of sources may keep some general readers away. From Booklist: The year 1913 saw two separate ceremonies commemorating great events 50 years previously: elderly Union and Confederate veterans shook hands at the Gettysburg battlefield, and W.E.B DuBois staged an elaborate "National Emancipation Exposition." Together they struck discordant chords of memory about the Civil War, which Blight examines in this incisive discussion of how the conflict was popularly remembered in the half-century following Appomattox. He closely examines the types of memorializations of the war, such as the creation and observance of Memorial Day, the erection of statues to Robert E. Lee and Robert Gould Shaw, soldiers' reunions, soldiers' memoirs, popular literature, and anniversary orations by such figures as Frederick Douglass. Within these modes of expression Blight recounts the strong tide in the post-war years for "reunion on Southern terms," politically by the overthrow of the Republican Reconstruction governments in the South, and ideologically in "Lost Cause" writings justifying secession and slavery. Freed blacks suffered the consequence of the ascendance of a sentimental view of the war and amnesia about its central issue.

 

Recommended Reading: Abraham Lincoln (The American Presidents Series: The 16th President, 1861-1865) (Hardcover). Description: America’s greatest president, who rose to power in the country’s greatest hour of need and whose vision saw the United States through the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln towers above the others who have held the office of president—the icon of greatness, the pillar of strength whose words bound up the nation’s wounds. His presidency is the hinge on which American history pivots, the time when the young republic collapsed of its own contradictions and a new birth of freedom, sanctified by blood, created the United States we know today. His story has been told many times, but never by a man who himself sought the office of president and contemplated the awesome responsibilities that come with it. Continued below…

George S. McGovern—a Midwesterner, former U.S. senator, presidential candidate, veteran, and historian by training—offers his unique insight into our sixteenth president. He shows how Lincoln sometimes went astray, particularly in his restrictions on civil liberties, but also how he adjusted his sights and transformed the Civil War from a political dispute to a moral crusade. McGovern’s account reminds us why we hold Lincoln in such esteem and why he remains the standard by which all of his successors are measured. George S. McGovern represented South Dakota in the United States Senate from 1963 to 1981 and was the Democratic nominee for president in 1972. He was a decorated bomber pilot in World War II, after which he earned his Ph.D. in American history and government at Northwestern University. A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he lives in Mitchell, South Dakota. Abraham Lincoln, who came into the presidency in the country’s greatest hour of need, towers above the others who have held the office of president—the icon of greatness, the pillar of strength whose words bound up the nation’s wounds. His vision saw the United States through the Civil War. His presidency is the hinge on which American history pivots, the time when the young republic collapsed of its own contradictions and a new birth of freedom, sanctified by blood, created the United States we know today. His story has been told many times, but never by a man who himself sought the office of president and contemplated the awesome responsibilities that come with it. George S. McGovern—a Midwesterner, former U.S. senator, presidential candidate, veteran, and historian by training—offers his unique insight into our sixteenth president. He shows how Lincoln sometimes went astray, particularly in his restrictions on civil liberties, but also how he adjusted his sights and transformed the Civil War from a political dispute to a moral crusade. McGovern’s account reminds us why we hold Lincoln in such esteem and why he remains the standard by which all of his successors are measured. "The greatness and imperfections of America's 16th president, captured by a former Democratic nominee for the White House. With considerable skill and insight, McGovern crafts a biography snappy, clear and comprehensive enough to please general readers, students and scholars alike. In eight short chapters, six of which deal with Lincoln's presidency, he nails the essential strengths, flaws, failures and achievements of America's most revered leader."—Kirkus Reviews. "McGovern’s Lincoln is a finely wrought gem. In this small volume McGovern captures Lincoln’s character and leadership strengths better than many weighty tomes. It is a worthy addition to the brilliant American Presidents Series."—Doris Kearns Goodwin. "If you like your biographies very short and sweet with a dash of corrective moralism, you might try George McGovern's Abraham Lincoln, a well-timed entry in Times Books' presidents series, written by the former White House candidate."—David Waldstreicher, The Boston Globe. "Lincoln is one of the few presidents to be claimed by both liberals and conservatives. This volume by the former Democratic presidential candidate (in the American President Series from Times Books, edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Sean Willentz) examines Lincoln's record from a liberal point of view, particularly his early and apparent contradictory views on slavery—his platform made clear that his purpose was to contain slavery in the Southern states, not to abolish it. An example: In our 16th president, writes McGovern, 'We see the decency of popular government. Its role, then as now, was, as Lincoln wrote "to elevate the condition of men . . . to afford all an unfettered start in the race of life" . . . To him, democracy was an experiment that the world had not seen before.' Simply put, McGovern makes a convincing case that America's first Republican president was really our first democratic president."—Allen Barra, The Star-Ledger (Newark). "The greatness and imperfections of America's 16th president, captured by a former Democratic nominee for the White House. With considerable skill and insight, McGovern crafts a biography snappy, clear and comprehensive enough to please general readers, students and scholars alike. In eight short chapters, six of which deal with Lincoln's presidency, he nails the essential strengths, flaws, failures and achievements of America's most revered leader. Born in a Kentucky log cabin, Lincoln was a melancholic who suffered more than his fair share of misfortune. According to McGovern, he nevertheless earned success through his ceaseless hard work, powerful intellect and incomparable abilities as a speechwriter. Lincoln began his political career as a member of the Whig Party. After serving in the Illinois state legislature, he won election to the U.S. Congress in 1846, but lost support by challenging President James Polk on the origins of the Mexican War and lasted only one term. The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, sponsored by Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas, reinvigorated Lincoln's political ambitions. While he believed the Constitution did not allow for abolition in the South, he staunchly opposed the westward expansion of slavery. With the Whig Party split, he joined the new Republican Party in 1856 and ran against Douglas for a Senate seat in 1858. Although he lost this race, Lincoln gained national prominence as a result of his famous debates with Douglas. Two years later, he won the 1860 presidential election, a victory that angered the South and brought about secession and war. What was he like as a wartime president? In three core chapters, McGovern astutely assesses Lincoln's emergence as a commander in chief committed to 'total war.' The author does not shy away from criticizing his subject, particularly for suspending habeas corpus and censoring the press. Still McGovern's overall depiction is one of a complex, tolerant and extraordinary man who simultaneously preserved the Union and transformed the nation. Compact and commanding."—Kirkus Reviews. "Former U.S. senator McGovern—who is also a Ph.D. historian—knows something about presidential leadership and the potential and actual abuses of power that come especially during wartime. In this compact but convincing portrait, he assesses Lincoln's greatness in terms of his ability to use his humble origins, empathy, keen sense of justice, uncommon skill in seeing the essence of an issue, faith in American democracy, gifts of language, and personal self-confidence—all to become a masterly lawyer, a party leader, commander in chief, and a heroic figure with both the vision and the practicality to realize his purposes . . . Given his own politics. About the Author: George S. McGovern represented South Dakota in the United States Senate from 1963 to 1981 and was the Democratic nominee for president in 1972. He was a decorated bomber pilot in World War II, after which he earned his Ph.D. in American history and government at Northwestern University. A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he lives in Mitchell, South Dakota.

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