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17th President of the United States
under the Constitution of 1787
April 15, 1865 – March 4, 1869
Andrew Johnson became the 17th President of the United States under the US Constitution after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865. Johnson would not resign as a United States Senator when his home state of Tennessee seceded from the Union and he worked hard to preserve the Union. For his efforts he was chosen to run for and won the Vice Presidency under Abraham Lincoln. Although he was an honest and honorable man, Andrew Johnson was one of the most hapless of Presidents. Against him were the Radical Republicans in Congress, brilliantly led and ruthless in their tactics. Johnson was no match for them. His presidency made him the focal point in the struggle over how to restore the Union after the Civil War. This struggle became so embittered that the House of Representatives impeached him and he was tried before the United States Senate. He was ultimately found not guilty of the charges. The one great accomplishment of his administration was in foreign affairs, the purchase of Alaska from Russia.
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Johnson was born on December 29, 1808, in Raleigh, North Carolina, the son of Jacob and Mary (Polly) McDonough Johnson. His father died three years after Andrew was born. The family was destitute and remained poor even after the remarriage of Andrew's mother. Apprenticed by his mother to a tailor at the age of 14, Johnson was unable to attend school and never was afforded a formal education. He learned the basic knowledge of reading and writing from a Raleigh gentleman who read to the employees and apprentices at the tailor shop where young Andrew worked. Unhappy at his job, Johnson refused to serve out his apprenticeship. His family moved to eastern Tennessee, settling in Greenville and there he opened his own tailor shop. On May 5, 1827, Andrew married Eliza McCardle, the daughter of a Scottish shoemaker. Eliza helped him further his education, teaching him arithmetic and improving his reading and writing skills. Andrew and Eliza had five children.
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Resentful of those in upper society and determined to rise from humble origins, Johnson strove to become an important figure in Tennessee politics. He was popular with the craftsman of the town and was thus able to replace Greenville's traditional leaders with a political organization that he and his friends founded. Representing small farmers of eastern Tennessee hill country, he challenged the western cotton planters who usually controlled the party. In 1829 he was elected councilman and served three terms. Later, in 1834 he was elected mayor of Greenville and in 1835 he was elected to the state legislature. Defeated in 1837, he was re-elected in 1839. In 1843 Johnson was elected to the United States House of Representatives in which he served until 1853. As a Member of the House of Representatives he advocated a homestead bill to provide a free farm for the poor man. Twice he was elected Governor of Tennessee (1853 and 1855). In this position he secured the passage of the first tax in Tennessee to be levied in support of education. He also directed the creation of a state board of agriculture. Finally in 1857, he rose to the office of the United States Senate and once again took up the fight for a homestead bill. The bill finally passed in 1860 but was vetoed by President James Buchanan.
It was Johnson's belief that government should interfere as little as possible in people's lives. Moreover, he was convinced that the U.S. Constitution imposed such limitations on the national government. As a Southerner Johnson defended slavery in the conflicts of 1840-50's, taking the strong state rights position that Congress could not prevent its spread to territories of the United States. Accordingly, in 1860 he supported the pro-slavery Democratic presidential candidate, John C. Breckinridge. When the Southern states began to secede after the victory of the antislavery Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, however, Johnson denied that secession could be undertaken legally. He fought unsuccessfully to keep Tennessee in the Union and refused to resign his place in Congress, the only Southern senator to remain loyal to the United States. This made him a hero in the North and a traitor in the eyes of most Southerners. Barely escaping a lynch mob when returning to his home in 1861, he eventually had to flee, but he never abandoned the effort to liberate eastern Tennessee. In March 1862, when Union forces occupied part of Tennessee, Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor there. Johnson set out in 1863 to restore civil government and revive the Union cause in his home state after the defeat of the last remaining Confederate forces. In 1864, assured that Lincoln would be re-nominated, the Republicans looked for someone who would appeal to Democrats and Republicans alike. Johnson was chosen because of his work for the Union and his political label as a "war Democrat". Under the new Union Party, the ticket won easily. After his victory as Lincoln's running mate, he convened a convention that set up a new state government and abolished slavery in Tennessee.
Following the assassination of Lincoln on April 14, 1865, Johnson assumed the presidency and faced a series of difficult problems. The Civil War was over, damages were still to be repaired and the Union restored. Bitterness in the North had increased with the death of Lincoln. They held the South accountable for the tragedy. Congressional leaders liked Johnson as president. Johnson denounced Confederates as traitors. This goodwill, however, disappeared as he set out his Reconstruction plans. Like most white Southerners of his time, Johnson was a racist who believed whites should have firm control over society and government. He was opposed to Republican legislation protecting the rights of ex-slaves in the South and tried unsuccessfully to prevent Congress from replacing the Southern State governments he had authorized with new ones. Offended by the enactment of racially discriminatory regulations (The Black Codes) and the election of prominent ex-Confederates, the Republicans majority refused to seat any Senator or Representative from the old Confederacy when Congress met in December 1865. Johnson vetoed the Freedmen's Bureau and Civil Rights Bills, but Congress overrode both vetoes. It framed its own Reconstruction plan and proposed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, establishing Negroes as American citizens and forbade discrimination against them. All former Confederates States except Tennessee refused to ratify the amendment.
Johnson was totally opposed to the congressional Reconstruction. Hampered by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Johnson tried to remove him. Stanton refused to resign, but in August 1867, the president removed him and appointed Ulysses S. Grant in his place. This action violated the Tenure of Office Act passed by Congress in 1867, limiting the powers of the presidency. Stanton refused to give up the office and the Senate supported him. Stanton was reinstated in January 1868. When Johnson again dismissed Stanton in February, Congress brought 11 charges of impeachment against him for "high crimes and misdemeanors". In the ensuing trial lasting from March until May 1868, the Senate found Johnson not guilty. Johnson was acquitted, the tally being one vote shy of the two-thirds needed for conviction. Seven Republicans voted with the Democrats for acquittal. The failure of impeachment was a severe blow to the radical Republicans. However, Johnson's power had been broken. The greatest achievement of the Johnson administration was in foreign affairs, the purchase of Alaska by Secretary of State William H. Seward in 1867. This, however, was overshadowed by his administration's domestic troubles.
The Republicans nominated Grant in 1868 and at the Democratic convention, Johnson was defeated by Horatio Seymour of New York. Johnson left office in 1869. He retired to his home in Tennessee. Following several failures to stage a political comeback, he campaigned for the Senate in 1874 and won. In 1875 he took his seat, becoming the only ex-president ever elected to the Senate. He suffered a paralytic attack and died at Carter Station, Tennessee on July 31, 1875.
JOHNSON, Andrew, seventeenth president of the United States under the US Constitution, born in Raleigh, North Carolina, 29 December, 1808; died near Carter's Station, Tennessee, 31 July, 1875. His parents were very poor, and when he was four years old his father died of injuries received in saving another from drowning. At the age of ten Andrew was apprenticed to a tailor. A natural craving to learn was fostered by hearing a gentleman read from "The American Speaker." The boy was taught the alphabet by fellow workmen, borrowed the book and learned to read. In 1824 he removed to Laurens Court House, South Carolina, where he worked as a journeyman tailor. The illustration on page 437 represents the small shop in which he pursued the calling that is announced on the sign over the door.
In May, 1826, he returned to Raleigh, and in September, with his mother and step-father, he set out in a two-wheeled cart, drawn by a blind pony, for Greenville, Tennessee. Here he married Eliza McCardle, a woman of refinement, who taught him to write, and read to him while he was at work during the day. It was not until he had been in congress that he learned to write with ease. From Greenville he went to the west, but returned after the lapse of a year. In those days Tennessee was controlled by landholders, whose interests were fostered by the state constitution, and Greenville was ruled by what was called an "aristocratic coterie of the quality." Johnson resisted their supremacy, and made himself a leader of the opposition. In 1828 he was elected alderman, in 1829 and 1830 was re-elected, and in 1830 was advanced to the mayoralty, which office he held for three years. In 1831 the county court appointed him a trustee of Rhea academy, and about this time he took part in the debates of a society at Greenville college.
In 1834 he advocated the adoption of the new state constitution, by which the influence of the large landholders was abridged. In 1835 he represented Greene and Washington counties in the legislature. He resisted the popular mania for internal improvements, which caused his defeat in 1837, but the reaction justified his foresight, strengthened his influence, and restored his popularity. In 1839 he was returned. In 1836 he supported Hugh L. White for the presidency, and was a Bell man in the warm personal and political altercations between John Bell and James K. Polk, which distracted Tennessee at this time. Johnson was the only ardent follower of Bell that failed to go over to the Whig party. In 1840 he was an elector for the state-at-large on Van Buren's ticket, and made a state reputation by the force of his oratory. In 1841 he was elected to the stale senate from Greene and Hawkins counties, and while in that body he was one of the "immortal 13"Democrats who, having it in their power to prevent the election of a Whig senator, did so by refusing to meet the house in joint convention. He also proposed that the basis of representation should rest upon the white votes, without regard to the ownership of slaves In 1848 he was elected to congress over John A. Asken, a United States bank Democrat, who was supported by the Whigs. His first speech was in support of the resolution to restore to General Jackson the fine imposed upon him at New Orleans. He supported the annexation of Texas.
In 1845 he was re-elected, and sustained Polk's administration. He opposed all expenditures for internal improvements that were not general, and resisted and defeated the proposed contingent tax of ten per cent. on tea and coffee, he was regularly re-elected until 1858. During this period he made his celebrated defense of the veto power, and urged the adoption of the homestead law, which was obnoxious to the slave-holding power of the south. He supported the compromise measures of 1850 as a matter of expediency, but opposed compromises in general as a sacrifice of principle. In 1853, the district lines were so "gerrymandered" " as to throw him into a district in which the Whigs had an overwhelming majority. Johnson at once announced himself a candidate for the governorship, and was elected by a fair majority. In his message to the legislature he dwelt upon the homestead law and other measures for the benefit of the working-classes, and earned the title of the"mechanic governor."
He opposed the Know-nothing Movement with characteristic vehemence. In 1855 he was opposed by Meredith P. Gentry, the Whig candidate, and defeated him after a canvass remarkable for the feeling displayed. Mr. Johnson earnestly supported the Kansas-Nebraska bill In 1857 he was elected to the United States senate, where he urged the passage of the homestead bill, and on 20 May, 1858, made his greatest speech on this subject. Finally, in 1860, he had the momentary gratification of seeing his favorite bill pass both houses of congress, but President Buchanan vetoed it, and the veto was sustained. Johnson revived it at the next session, and also introduced a resolution looking to a retrenchment in the expenditures of the government, and on constitutional grounds opposed the grant of aid for the construction of a Pacific railroad. He was prominent in debate, and frequently clashed with southern supporters of the administration. His pronounced Unionism estranged him from the slave-holders on the one side, while his acceptance of slavery as an institution guaranteed by the constitution caused him to hold aloof from the Republicans on the other. This intermediate position suggested his availability as a popular candidate for the presidency; but in the Democratic convention he received only the vote of Tennessee and when the convention reassembled in Baltimore he withdrew his name.
In the canvass that followed, he supported the extreme pro-slavery candidate, Breckinridge. Johnson had never believed it possible that any organized attempt to dissolve the Union could be made; but the events preceding the session of congress beginning in December, 1860, convinced him of his error. When congress met, he took decided and unequivocal grounds in opposition to secession, and on 13 December introduced a joint resolution, proposing to amend the constitution so as to elect the president and vice president by district votes, to elect senators by a direct popular vote, and to limit the terms of Federal judges to twelve years, half of them to be from slave-holding and half from non-slave-holding states. In his speech on this resolution, 18 and 19 December, he declared his unyielding opposition to secession, and announced his intention to stand by and act in and under the constitution. The southern states were then in the act of seceding, and every word uttered in congress was read and discussed with eagerness by thirty millions of people. Johnson's speech, coming from a southern man, thrilled the popular heart; but his popularity in the north was offset by the virulence with which he was assailed in the south. In a speech delivered 2 March, 1861, he said, referring to the secessionists: "I would have them arrested and tried for treason, and, if convicted, by the eternal God, they should suffer the penalty of the law at the hands of the executioner."
Returning to Tennessee from Washington, he was attacked at Liberty, Virginia, by a mob, but drove them back with his pistol. At Lynchburg he was hooted and hissed, and at various places burned in effigy. He attended the East Tennessee union convention, in Cincinnati, 30 May, and again on 19 June he visited the same place and was received with enthusiasm. Here he declared for a vigorous prosecution of the war he retained his seat in the senate until appointed by President Lincoln military governor of Tennessee, 4 March, 1862.
On 12 March he reached Nashville, and organized a provisional government for the state. On 18 March he issued a proclamation, in which he appealed to the people to return to their allegiance, to uphold the law, and to accept "a full and competent amnesty for all past acts and declarations." He required the city council to take the oath of allegiance to the United States. They refused, and he removed them and appointed others. He urged the holding of Union meetings throughout the state, and frequently attended them in person. It was chiefly due to his courage that Nashville was held against a Confederate force. He completed the railroad from Nashville to Tennessee river, and raised 25 regiments for service in the state.
On 8 December, 1862, he issued a proclamation ordering congressional elections, and on the 15th levied an assessment upon the richer southern sympathizers, "in behalf of the many helpless widows, wives, and children in the city of Nashville who have been reduced to poverty and wretchedness in consequence of their husbands, sons, and fathers having been forced into the armies of this unholy and nefarious rebellion." On 20 February, 1863, Governor Johnson issued a proclamation warning the agents of all "traitors" to retain their collections until some person should be appointed to receive them for the United States. During the term of his service, Governor Johnson exercised absolute and autocratic powers, but with singular moderation and discretion, and his course strengthened the Union cause in Tennessee.
The Republican convention assembled in Baltimore, 6 June, 1864, and re-nominated Mr. Lincoln for the presidency by acclamation. There was a strong sentiment in favor of recognizing the political sacrifices made for the cause of the Union by the war Democrats, and it was generally conceded that New York should decide who was to be the individual. Daniel S. Dickinson, of that state, was most, prominent in this connection; but internal factional divisions made it impossible for him to obtain the solid vote of that state, and Sec. Seward's friends feared this nomination would force him from the cabinet. Henry J. Raymond urged the name of Andrew Johnson, and he was accordingly selected. Johnson, in his letter of acceptance, virtually disclaimed any departure from his principles as a Democrat, but placed his acceptance upon the ground of "the higher duty of first preserving the government." He accepted the emancipation proclamation as a war measure, to be subsequently ratified by constitutional amendment. In his inaugural address as vice president, 4 March, 1865, a lack of dignity in his bearing and an incoherency in his speech were attributed to the influence of strong drink. As a matter of fact, he was much worn by disease, and had taken a little stimulant to aid him in the ordeal of inauguration, and in his weakened condition the effect was more decided than he anticipated. This explanation was generally accepted by the country On 14 April, 1865, President Lincoln was assassinated, and Mr. Johnson was at once sworn in as president, at, his rooms in the Kirkwood house, by Chief-Justice Chase. In his remarks to those present Mr. Johnson said:
"As to an indication of any policy which may be pursued by me in the administration of the government, I have to say that that must be left for development as the administration progresses. The message or declaration must be made by the acts as they transpire. The only assurance I can now give of the future is reference to the past."In his addresses to various delegations that called upon him, he emphasized the fact that he advocated a course of forbearance toward the mass of the southern people, but demanded punishment for those who had been leaders. "Treason is a crime," he said to the Illinois delegation, "and must be punished." At the time it was generally supposed that Johnson, who was known to be personally embittered against the dominant classes in the south, would inaugurate a reign of terror and decimate those who had taken up arms against the national authority. His protest against the terms of surrender granted to General Lee by General Grant, and utterances in private conversation, strengthened the fear that he would be too bloody and vindictive. He was supposed not to have been in accord with the humane policy that Lincoln had foreshadowed, and his silence in reference to Lincoln's policy, which amounted to ignoring it, was accepted as a proof that he did not intend to follow this course. On one occasion he said: "In regard to my future course, I will now make no professions, no pledges." And again:
" My past life, especially my course during the present unholy rebellion, is before you. I have no principles to retract. I defy any one to point to any of my public acts at variance with the fixed principles which have guided me through life."
It was evident that the difference in views of public policy, which were kept in abeyance during the war, would now come to the surface. The surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston's army, 26 April, 1865, was practically the end of the war (although 20 August, 1866, was officially fixed as the close of the civil war by the second section of the act of 2 March, 1867), and on 29 April President Johnson issued a proclamation for the removal of trade restrictions in most of the insurrectionary states, which, being in contravention of an act of congress, was subsequently modified. On 9 Nay, 1865, he issued a proclamation restoring Virginia to the Union, and on 29 May all ports except four in Texas were opened to foreign commerce. On 29 May a general amnesty was declared to all except fourteen specified classes of citizens. Among the number excepted were "all participants in the rebellion the estimated value of whose taxable property is over twenty thousand dollars."
This exception was undoubtedly the result of personal feeling on the part of the president, it began to be perceived that a change was taking place in his sentiments, and this was attributed to the influence of Sec. Seward, who was popularly supposed to perpetuate the humane spirit of the dead president. Those who had fears of too great, severity now anticipated too great leniency. After the amnesty proclamation, the fundamental and irreconcilable difference between President Johnson and the party that had elevated him to power became more apparent. The constitution made no provision for the re-admission of a state that had withdrawn from the Union, and Mr. Johnson, as a state-rights Democrat, held that the southern states had never been out of the Union; that the leaders were solely responsible; that as soon as the seceded states applied for readmission under such a form of government as complied with the requirements of the constitution, the Federal government had no power to refuse them admission, or to make any conditions upon subjects over which the constitution had not expressly given congress jurisdiction. The Republican leaders held that the action of the seceded states had deprived them of their rights as members of the Union; that in any event they were conquered, and as such at the mercy of the conqueror; and that, at best, they stood in the category of territories seeking admission to the Union, in which case congress could admit or reject them at will. The particular question that brought on a clash between these principles was the civil status of the Negro.
The 13th amendment became a law, 18 December, 1865, with Johnson's concurrence. The Republicans held that slavery had been the cause of the war; that only by giving the freedman the right to vote could he be protected, and the results of the war secured; and that no state should be admitted until it had granted the right of suffrage to the Negroes within its borders. Johnson held this to be a matter of internal regulation, beyond the control of congress. From 9 Nay till 13 July he appointed provisional governors for seven states, whose duties were to reorganize the governments. The state governments were organized, but passed such stringent laws in reference to the Negroes that the Republicans declared it was a worse form of slavery than the old. When congress met in December, 1865, it was overwhelmingly Republican and firmly determined to protect the Negro against outrage and oppression. The first breach between the president and the party in power was the veto of the freedman's bureau bill in February, 1866, which was designed to protect the Negroes. One of the grounds of the veto was, that it had been passed by a congress in which the southern states had no representatives.
On 27 March the president vetoed the civil rights bill, which made freedmen citizens without the right of suffrage. The chief ground of objection was the interference with the rights of the states. This bill was passed over the veto. On 16 June the 14th amendment to the constitution, which contained the principle of the civil rights bill, was proposed, disapproved by the president, but ratified and declared in force, 28 July, 1868. Both houses of congress passed a joint resolution that the delegation from a state lately in rebellion should not be received by either the senate or the house until both united in declaring said state a member of the Union. In July the second freedman's bureau bill was passed, vetoed, and passed over the veto. In June, 1866, the Republicans in congress brought forward their plan of reconstruction, which was called the "congressional plan," in contra-distinction to the president's plan, of which he spoke as "my policy." The chief features of the congressional plan were, to give the Negroes the right to vote, to protect them in this right, and to prevent the Confederate leaders from voting. Congress met on 3 December, 1866. The bill giving Negroes the right of suffrage in the District of Columbia was passed over a veto. An attempt was made to impeach the president, but it failed.
Andrew Johnson (1808-1875). Partly printed document signed ("Andrew Johnson"), as President, pardoning Confederate General Alexander P. Stewart (1821-1908), Washington, 19 February 1868.
In January, 1867, a bill was passed to deprive the president of the power to proclaim general amnesty, which he disregarded. Measures were adopted looking to the meeting of the 40th and all subsequent congresses immediately upon the adjournment of the predecessor. The president was deprived of the command of the army by a "rider" to the army appropriation bill, which provided that his orders should only be given through the general, who was not to be removed without the previous consent of the senate. The bill admitting Nebraska provided that no law should ever be passed in that state denying the right of suffrage to any person because of his color or race. This was vetoed, and passed over the veto. On 2 March, 1867, the "bill to provide efficient governments for the insurrectionary states," which embodied the congressional plan of reconstruction, was passed, vetoed, and passed over the veto. This divided the southern states into military districts, each under a brigadier-general, who was to preserve order and exercise all the functions of government until the citizens had formed a state government, ratified the amendments, and been admitted to the Union.
On 2 March, 1867, the tenure-of-office bill was passed over the veto. This provided that civil officers should remain in office until the confirmation of their successors; that the members of the cabinet should be removed only with the consent of the senate; and that when congress was not in session, the president could suspend, but not remove, any official, and in case the senate at the next session should not ratify the suspension, the suspended official should be re-inducted into his office. The elections of 1866 were uniformly favorable to the Republicans, and gave them a two-third majority in both house and senate. On 5 August, 1867, the president, requested Edwin M. Stanton to resign his office as secretary of war. Mr. Stanton refused, was suspended, and General Grant was appointed in his place. When congress met, it refused to ratify the suspension. General Grant then resigned, and Mr. Stanton again entered upon the duties of his office. The president removed him, and appointed Lorenzo Thomas, adjutant-general, United States army. The senate declared this act illegal, and Mr. Stanton refused to comply, and notified the speaker of the house.
On 24 February, 1868, the house passed a resolution for the impeachment of the president. The trial began on 5 March. The main articles of impeachment were for violating the provisions of the tenure-of-office act, which it was claimed he had done in order to test its constitutionality. After the trial began, the president made a tour through the northwest, which was called "swinging round the circle," because in his speeches he declared that he had swung around the entire circle of offices, from alderman to president. He made many violent and intemperate speeches to the crowds that assembled to meet him, and denounced the congress then sitting as"no congress," because of its refusal to admit the representatives and senators from the south, and on these speeches were based additional articles of impeachment. On 16 May the test vote was had. Thirty-five senators were for conviction and nineteen for acquittal. A change of one vote would have carried conviction. The senate adjourned sine die, and a verdict of acquittal was entered.
After the expiration of his term the president returned to Tennessee. He was a candidate for the United States senate, but was defeated. In 1872 he was a candidate for congressman from the state-at-large, and, though defeated, he regained his hold upon the people of the state, and in January, 1875, was elected to the senate, taking his seat at the extra session of 1875. Two weeks after the session began he made a speech which was a skilful but bitter attack upon General Grant. He returned home at the end of the session, and in July visited his daughter, who lived near Carter's station in east Tennessee. There he was stricken with paralysis, 29 July, and died the next day. He was buried at Greenville. His "Speeches" were published with a biographical introduction by Frank Moore (Boston, 1865), and his "Life and Times" were written by an anonymous author (New York, 1866). See also " The Tailor Boy" (Boston, 1865), and "The Trial of Andrew Johnson on Impeachment" (3 vols., Washington, 1868).
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202-239-1774 | Office
Dr. Naomi and Stanley Yavneh Klos, Principals
Primary Source exhibits are available for display in your community. The costs range from $1,000 to $35,000 depending on length of time on loan and the rarity of artifacts chosen.
Middle and High School Curriculum Supplement
For More Information Click Here
July 2nd, 2015
New Orleans, Louisiana
After 102 Years, The Federal Government Finally Agrees: Samuel Huntington And Not John Hanson Was The First USCA President to Serve Under The Articles of Confederation.
Historian Stanley Yavneh Klos Pleads With Maryland To Stop Funding Efforts That Purport John & Jane Hanson As The First President & First Lady Of The United States.
View Andrew Johnson's signed Presidential Pardon dated July 8, 1867
By: Stanley Yavneh Klos
|U.S. Dollar Presidential Coin Mr. Klos vs Secretary Paulson - Click Here|