Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808 - July 31 , 1875) was the sixteenth
Vice President (1865) and the seventeenth (1865 - 1869) President of the
United States, succeeding to the presidency upon the assassination of Abraham
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
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. He made a scene on the day of his inauguration
as Vice-President by appearing to be drunk.
Andrew Johnson was targeted for death by the same conspiracy that resuled
in Lincoln's death. However, he escaped unharmed when his assigned
killer lost his nerve and fled.
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
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
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 vote.
In 1875, Tennessee returned Johnson to the Senate. He died a few months