“Kẻ hèn nhát hỏi: ‘Có an toàn không?’ Kẻ cơ hội hỏi: ‘Có khôn khéo không?’ Kẻ rởm đời hỏi: ‘Có được tiếng tăm gì không?’ Nhưng, người có lương tâm hỏi: ‘Có là lẽ phải không?’ Và có khi ta phải chọn một vị trí không an toàn, không khôn khéo, không để được tiếng tăm gì cả, nhưng ta phải chọn nó, vì lương tâm ta bảo ta rằng đó là lẽ phải.”
Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) là tổng thống Hoa Kỳ thứ 17. Ông vốn là phó tổng thống và lên làm tổng thống khi tổng thống Abraham Lincoln bịám sát năm 1865.Ông được cho là người đã gây ra một sai lầm lớn trong lịch sử nước Mĩ, đó là ngay sau cuộc nội chiến, Andrew Johnson đã quyết định đứng về phía người da trắng tại các bang miền nam và ngăn cản việc mở rộng quyền con người ở các bang miền nam (tại các bang miền nam chỉ bãi bỏ chế độ nô lệ mà thôi). “Nước Mỹ vẫn đang tiếp tục phải trả giá cho sai lầm của Andrew Johnson”, - đó là ý kiến của giáo sư sử học danh dự Michael Le Benedict thuộc trường đại học Ohio.
Johnson, of Irish and Scottish descent and 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.
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.
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 poorhistorical rankings amongst scholars, typically amongst the bottom three.
Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Jacob Johnson (1778–1812) and Mary ("Polly") McDonough (1783–1856), a seamstress and the daughter of Andrew McDonough. He had a brother William four years his elder and an older sister Elizabeth, who died in childhood. Johnson's grandfather William was poverty stricken, and was unable to educate his son Jacob or pass on any land to him. In Raleigh, Jacob Johnson became town constable, married and started a family. He died suddenly after rescuing three drowning men, leaving his family in poverty when Andrew was three. Johnson's mother Mary took in work spinning and weaving to support her family. She later married to Turner Doughtry. She bound Andrew as a boy as an apprentice tailor; Johnson had no formal education but taught himself how to read and write, with some help from his masters, as was their obligation under his apprenticeship.
As a youngster living in poverty, along with his childhood friends, Johnson was an object of ridicule from members of higher social circles; as such, he was commonly referred to as "poor white trash" by the elite in Raleigh. He and his peers were acutely aware that they were one step above the lowest on the socio-economic ladder, i.e. the black community. As a consequence, Johnson assumed an attitude of white supremacy typical of one in his position in his town, and he was unable to shed this perspective during his life.
At age 16 or 17, Johnson left his apprenticeship and ran away with his brother William. They lived in Laurens, South Carolina for two years, where Andrew found work as a tailor. Here he met his first love, Mary Wood, for whom he made a quilt. After his marriage proposal to her was rejected, he returned to Raleigh. As his master J. Selby refused to release him from his apprenticeship obligation, Johnson left and went to Mooresville, Alabama. There Joseph Sloss taught him how to tailorfrock coats.
Johnson returned to Raleigh and moved with his mother, stepfather and brother to Greeneville, Tennessee. There he established a very successful tailoring business in the front of his home; he was joined by a partner, Hentle W. Adkinson. At the age of 18, Johnson married 16-year-old Eliza McCardle in 1827; she was the daughter of a local shoemaker. The couple were married for 50 years and had five children: Martha (1828), Charles (1830), Mary (1832), Robert (1834), and Andrew Jr. (1852). Though she suffered from consumption, Eliza supported Johnson's endeavors. She taught her husband arithmetic up to basic algebra and tutored him to improve his literacy, reading, and writing skills.
Reading about famous oratory aroused Johnson's interest in political dialogue and private debates with customers having opposing views on issues of the day. Johnson initiated public debates by organizing a debating society with Blackston McDannel, a customer. He also took part in debates at Tusculum College in Greeneville.
In 1829 Johnson helped organize a mechanics' party ticket; he was elected as a town alderman, and re-elected until he was elected Mayor in 1834. In 1831 he became a member of the 90th Regiment of the Tennessee militia. Neither the Democratic or the newly formed Whig party was then well organized in that part of Tennessee. Following the 1831 Nat Turner slave rebellion, a state convention was called to pass a new constitution, including provisions to disfranchise free people of color. The convention also wanted to reform real estate tax rates. The constitution was submitted for a public vote and Johnson campaigned for its adoption; his support of the new work provided him with additional positive statewide exposure.
Eliza McCardle Johnson
In 1835, Johnson made a bid for election to the "floater" seat for his district in the Tennessee House of Representatives; he "demolished" the opposition in debate and won the election with almost a two to one margin. In his first term in the state house, Johnson did not ally with either the Democrats or the Whigs consistently, though he revered Jackson, the Democratic President. He opposed non-essential government spending and the railroads, while his constituents looked forward to improvements in their transportation from the railroads. As a result, after serving a single term, he was defeated for re-election.
In 1839, Johnson entered the race for re-election to his House seat, initially as a Whig; when another Whig entry arose, to enhance his position in the campaign, he ran as a Democrat and was elected to his second, non-consecutive term in the Tennessee House. He announced his support of Democrat, and states rights proponent, John C. Calhoun. From that time he supported the Democratic party and built a powerful political machine in Greene County. Johnson supportedMartin Van Buren and early on expressed an interest in the public lands, eventually being considered a father of the Homestead Act of 1862.
In 1840 Johnson was appointed as a presidential elector for his state, giving him more statewide exposure. Despite Van Buren's defeat, Johnson was instrumental in keeping Greene County in the Democratic column. He was elected to the Tennessee Senate in 1841, where he served one two-year term.The 1841–42 legislative session, with Whigs having a majority in the House chamber and the Democrats a smaller majority in the Senate, was marked by an impasse over the election of Tennessee's two United States senators. The Whigs in the House sought, by use of a joint session majority, to dictate the choice of the two U.S. senators. The Tennessee Senate, controlled by Democrats and led by Johnson, boycotted the joint session and blocked the filling of both the US Senate seats, denying Tennessee representation in the U.S. Senate until 1843.
After a promotion in the militia in 1841, Johnson was often locally referred to as "Colonel". He had achieved considerable financial success in his tailoring business, which he sold in order to concentrate on politics. He had also acquired additional real estate, including a larger home and a farm where his mother and stepfather took residence. He as well assumed ownership of as many as eight or nine slaves.
In 1843, Johnson was the first Democrat to run for, and win, election as the U.S. representative from Tennessee's 1st congressional district, and joined a new Democratic majority in the House. In his first term in the House, he soon articulated his own brand of Jeffersonian–Jacksonian principles he would steadfastly promote throughout most of his political career; he advocated for the interests of the poor, while maintaining an anti-abolitionist stance, insisted on limited spending by the government and opposed protective tariffs. While these positions were well suited for most of his local constituency, this was not the case when he stepped outside that region politically. Johnson advocated "a free farm for the poor" bill that would give land to landless farmers. When not on the House floor, Johnson, in Washington without wife Eliza, shunned social functions in favor of increased self study and reading in the Congressional library.
In one of his first speeches on the floor, he commented that neither the federal nor the state government had authority to abolish slavery, asserting this was a form of property guaranteed by the Constitution.
"The black race of Africa are inferior to the white man in point of intellect – better calculated in physical structure to undergo drudgery and hardship – standing, as they do, many degrees lower in the scale of gradation that expresses the relative relation between God and all that he has created than the white man."
Johnson frequently alienated his party through a strict adherence to his positions on slavery, the tariff and limited government spending.
Johnson won a second Congressional term in 1845 against his perennial opponent, Wiliam G. Brownlow; in this second campaign, Johnson particularly took up the mantle as defender of the poor against the aristocracy. He also expressed his outrage at accusations made against his father. In his second term, he supported the administration's decisions to fight the Mexican War. He also promoted a measure requiring the turnover of all government jobs every eight years. In this term, he introduced for the first time his Homestead Bill, which sought to provide 160 acres for every poor family head "without money and without price"; Johnson did not rest until passage some years later.
Johnson's third term in Congress found him stiffening in his opposition to non essential government spending, from expenses of the new Smithsonian Institute to the purchase of portraits for the White House. As well, discussions of slavery were becoming progressively acrimonious, and he remained immovable in his support of the "peculiar institution'. Johnson departed from his southern allies supporting slavery when he maintained that slavery was essential to the very preservation of the Union. In the presidential election in 1848, the Democratic Party split over the slavery issue, with the abolitionists leaving the party and forming the Free Soil Party, and making Martin Van Buren their nominee. Johnson supported the Democratic nominee, Lewis Cass, who thought it up to the people in each state to decide on the issue. With the party split, Whig nominee Zachary Taylor was easily victorious, and carried Tennessee as well. Johnson, in the face of the national mania over new railroad construction, and in response to the need in his own district for additional mode of transportation, found himself moderating in his opposition to them. Thus, he supported funding to the state to assist the expansion of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad. During this term Johnson also made a concerted effort to increase his sphere of interactions; his higher profile was exemplified by a biographical sketch published in the New York Times in May 1849, describing him as an excellent committee worker and investigator. It was also during this time that Johnson purchased a newspaper named the Greeneville Spy.
Final two terms
The Andrew Johnson House, built in 1851, Greeneville, Tennessee
In the campaign for election to his fourth term in 1849, Johnson concentrated on three issues: slavery, homesteads and judicial elections. He defeated his opponent, Nathaniel G. Taylor, with a greater margin of victory than in previous campaigns. When the House reconvened, the party schism caused by the Free Soil Party precluded the formation of a majority needed to elect a Speaker. Johnson proposed adoption of a rule allowing election of a Speaker by a plurality; the rule was passed and Howell Cobb was so elected. This commenced one of the most controversial sessions of Congress, as the issue of slavery took front stage. The proposed admission to the union of California as a state set off a debate as to whether a prohibition of slavery should be made a condition of admission. Henry Clay introduced in the Senate a series of resolutions, the Compromise of 1850, to allow admission while addressing concerns of both sides of the issue; at the same time Johnson introduced a similar more streamlined version of compromise in the House. Johnson supported the Compromise of 1850 with the exception of its abolition of slavery in the nation's capital. Also in this term Johnson renewed in vain his efforts to bring the Homestead Bill to a vote. As Chairman of the Committee on Public Expenditures, he also attempted but failed to reduce by one-fifth all federal salaries over $1,000. He reprised resolutions for constitutional amendments to provide for 1) the direct election of the president, rather than by the electoral college, 2) the direct election of U.S. Senators, rather than by state legislatures and 3) the limiting of judges' terms to twelve years. These were all defeated, by an opposition that included a fellow Tennessean, Isham G. Harris, who later became a bitter enemy.
Democratic adversaries in the campaign for his fifth and final term put up an opponent Landon Carter Haynes. The campaign included fierce debates; Johnson's primary issue was the passage of the Homestead bill, which Haynes contended would facilitate abolition. Johnson won the election by over 1600 votes. At this time Johnson built a larger home in Greeneville (Eliza had given birth to another son and his mother had moved in with them following the death of his stepfather.) In 1850 he also accepted an invitation to join the Masons Lodge in Greeneville. Though he was not enamored of the party's presidential nominee, Franklin Pierce, Johnson campaigned for him, but he failed to carry Tennessee. In December 1852 Johnson realized his dream of passage in the House of his Homestead Act, which even garnered the support of Horace Greeley. A long struggle lay ahead in the Senate. Johnson had been so obsessed with the measure that he was said to be "a little cracked on the subject". Though his final session in Congress was uneventful, he did reintroduce seven resolutions, which failed, providing for rotation of federal appointees. The Whigs had gained control of the Tennessee legislature, and redrew Johnson's First District so as to ensure that House seat for their party, under the leadership of Gustavus Adolphus Henry, Sr.; the Nashville Union termed this "Henry-mandering".
When it became apparent that Johnson would lose his seat, an effort began by ally George W. Jones to put forward Johnson's name for governor. The Democratic convention unanimously nominated him for the spot, although the conservative clique from Nashville had serious reservations. When his district was redrawn by the Whigs, that party had won the past two gubernatorial elections, in addition to gaining control of the legislature. The campaign was sure to be a struggle; the Whigs nominated their "Eagle Orator" Gustavus Henry, and Johnson wasted no time in calling him to task for his "Henry-mandering" of the First District, as their debates made their way across the state from one county seat to the next. Henry attacked Johnson for his voting record in denying pay increases to federal troops. Johnson won the election by 2,250 votes, some of which were Whig votes received in return for his promise to support Nathaniel Taylor for his prior seat in Congress. In his inaugural speech, he reaffirmed his Jeffersonian principles, and added that, "Democracy in the political sphere, and Christianity in the moral sphere, proceed in converging lines."
As he had in the past, Johnson steadfastly objected to unnecessary spending by the government, including the military and internal improvements; he demonstrated he still had no desire to please the conservatives in his party or the opposition. Johnson attempted to make the most of the opportunities the position offered, using it as a springboard to higher honors, as the Governor's powers in the state were limited to offering mere suggestions on legislation (with no veto power), and managing the Bank of Tennessee and the penitentiary. Most government positions also were appointed by the legislature. Johnson succeeded in getting the bank appointments he wanted, in return for his endorsement of John Bell for one of the state's U.S. Senate seats. He nominated his Board of Inspectors for the prisons but to his surprise they refused to appoint his choice for warden, Richard White. He then withdrew the Board nominations with the Senate's approval, replaced them, and White became the warden. In his first biennial speech, he urged simplification of the state judicial system, abolishment of the Bank of Tennessee and establishment of an agency to provide uniformity in weights and measures, the latter of which was passed. Johnson was critical of the Tennessee common school system and suggested funding be increased via taxes, either statewide or county by county – a mixture of the two was passed.
Despite his initial reluctance, Johnson agreed to run for re-election for governor in 1855, and became the nominee at the party convention. His prospects dwindled when Meredith P. Gentry received the Whig nomination. A series of more than a dozen of debates ensued, where the exchanges grew increasingly vitriolic. Johnson was surprisingly victorious, albeit with a narrower margin. Not long thereafter Johnson gave a speech in Nashville, denouncing the Know Nothing Party, and rebuked a prominent Whig lawyer, Thomas T. Smiley, who took issue with him. Smiley later wrote to Johnson, saying he was ready to fight; a potential duel was prevented by the intervention of Washington Burrow and Benjamin F. Cheatham. In his second term, the Whigs remained in control of the legislature, again limiting Johnson's ability to influence the agenda. When the presidential election of 1856 approached, Johnson and supporters harbored a vague hope for the presidency, and he gave a speech to the Tennessee Democratic delegates reiterating his views; some county conventions designated him a favorite son and the Nashville Union and American proposed his nomination. Johnson's position that the best interests of the Union were served by slavery in some areas made him a practical compromise candidate for president. However, he was not nominated in 1856 in part due to a split within his home state's delegation. Though he was not impressed by either, he campaigned for the Democratic ticket of Buchanan and Breckenridge.
Johnson decided not to seek a third term as Governor, with an eye towards election to the United States Senate. In 1857, on a return trip from Washington, his train derailed causing serious damage to his right arm which would plague him in the future.
The Whigs thought Andrew Johnson a dangerous prospect as a United States Senator, and made it a priority to prevent his election by the state legislature. Johnson, aware of the uphill battle, interjected himself into the campaigns for the legislature in the election of 1857. Though his party won the governor's race and control of the legislature, Johnson still had to overcome considerable opposition from the conservatives in both parties. His final biennial speech as Governor was pivotal, and he used it to recapitulate his populist philosophy of government. Two days later the legislature elected the outgoing governor to the U.S. Senate. The opposition was appalled, with the Richmond Whig for example, referring to him as "the vilest radical and most unscrupulous demagogue in the Union."
He immediately set about introducing the Homestead Act in the Senate, just as he had ushered it to passage in the House years before. It became apparent that, as the slavery issue took center stage, the slaveholding states were more reluctant to agree with the bill, with the primary antagonists being the senators in Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and Alabama. In May 1860 a significantly amended version of the Act was passed in both houses but was vetoed by President Buchanan. As chairman of the Committee to Audit and Control the Contingent Expense, Johnson continued his relentless opposition to spending, especially when the capital city was the beneficiary; he argued it was egregious to expect citizens in other states to fund the infrastructure of another locality, regardless of the fact it was the seat of government.
Time was also taken up in a controversy involving his Senate colleague from Tennessee, John Bell, a leading Whig. The state legislature had passed resolutions instructing their representatives in Washington to support pro-slavery and popular sovereignty measures such as the LeCompton Constitution and the Kansas–Nebraska Act. Bell took great exception to these attempts to supersede his voting discretion, and requests issued from Nashville for his resignation. Johnson took advantage of this opportunity to express his strong views in favor of the measures in question, as well as popular instruction. As the slavery debate escalated, Johnson continued to take an independent course. He opposed the antislavery Republican Party while making it clear that his devotion to the Union was consistent with his devotion to his perceived Constitutional right to own slaves.
In 1860, the Tennessee delegation nominated Johnson for president at the Democratic National Convention, and Johnson tentatively offered himself as a Vice-President on the Douglas ticket as a back up plan. But when the convention and the party showed signs of a split, he withdrew from the race entirely. In the general election, Johnson reluctantly supported John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, the candidate of most Southern Democrats. Johnson took to the Senate floor after the election demonstrated the schism in the country, giving a sensational speech headlined by theNew York Times: "...I will not give up this government...No; I intend to stand by it...and I invite every man who is a patriot to... rally around the altar of our common country...and swear by our God...that the Constitution shall be saved, and the Union preserved." As southern Senators began to express their intent to resign their seats, Johnson reminded Sen.Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy's future leader, that if his coalition would only hold to their seats, the Democrats would control the Congress, and thus better defend the South's interests. During this session, Johnson also supported the pro-slavery Crittenden Compromise.
Johnson continued to ingratiate himself with the North, the President-elect and his party, with his Unionist speeches in the Senate in early 1861: "I have an abiding confidence in the intelligence, the patriotism, and the integrity of the people, and I feel in my own heart that, if this subject could be got before them, they would settle the question and the Union of these States would be preserved." In fact, Lincoln ultimately looked to Johnson for considerable help with Tennessee's federal patronage decisions.
Johnson returned home when his state legislature took up the issue of secession. His area of East Tennessee was a Unionist stronghold, but the secessionists dominated the Middle and Western areas. The legislature decided to put the matter to a popular vote. Before the Tennessee electorate voted on secession, Johnson, at his peril, toured the state, speaking in opposition to the measure, contending it was unconstitutional. He was an aggressive stump speaker and responded forthrightly to hecklers and even endured instances of assault, though unharmed. When Tennessee seceded, though the vote did not win a majority in East Tennessee, Johnson was forced to flee from the state with armed security; he was in fact the only Senator from the seceded states to continue participation in Congress. His explanation for this decision was, "Damn the Negroes, I am fighting those traitorous aristocrats, their masters." For their protection as well, his family were forced to leave Greeneville; they would not return home for eight years. Between Congressional sessions he toured Kentucky and Ohio, trying in vain to convince any Union commander who would listen to conduct an operation into East Tennessee. Johnson was named to the Joint Committee on Conduct of the War whose purpose was to goad-on laggard Union generals; Johnson, to no avail, used this platform to voice the urgency of military intervention in East Tennessee.
Johnson's tenure in the Senate came to a conclusion when Lincoln appointed him military governor of occupied Tennessee in March 1862. With the Confederates having confiscated his land, his slaves taken away, and his home made into a military hospital, Johnson made his final comments in the Senate: "I am a Democrat now, I have been one all my life; I expect to live and die one, and the corner-stone of my Democracy rests upon the enduring basis of the Union." The Senate quickly confirmed his nomination along with a rank of brigadier general.
At the time of his appointment, his destination Nashville had been evacuated by the Confederates after the fall of Ft. Donelson, and the government which he was displacing had fled to Memphis. In his first speech in Nashville, Johnson declared he had come back home with an olive branch in one hand and the Constitution in the other. His mantra as military governor was – traitors must be punished and treason crushed. During his three years in this office, he "moved resolutely to eradicate all pro-Confederate influences in the state." As examples, he seized the Bank of Tennessee, shut down secessionist newspapers and levied an assessment against wealthy secessionists, ostensibly to provide funds for wives and children of soldiers "forced" into service by the Confederacy.
Johnson's vintage independent streak put him very much at odds with professional military commanders, including Gen. Don Carlos Buell who left Nashville defenseless when he had to reinforce Grant at the Battle of Shiloh. The city was continually harassed with cavalry raids conducted by Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, while Johnson undertook as best he could the defense of the city. He succeeded in enlisting two ready regiments and four others which were near-ready on an immediate basis, in addition to two additional ones a year later. Another challenge was a serious shortage of horses and equipment. Relief from Union regulars did not come until Gen. William S. Rosecrans replaced Buell and stopped the Confederates at Murfreesboro. Nevertheless, it was 1863 before Eastern Tennessee was liberated. Despite his tough talk concerning traitors, Johnson in many cases authorized early release of prisoners and commutation of sentences to facilitate Reconstruction.
During his military governorship Johnson, seemingly, began to moderate his view of slavery. In the summer of 1862 he said, "If you persist in forcing the issue of slavery against the government, I say in the face of heaven: Give me my government and let the negroes go." Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation applied initially only to states in rebellion; Johnson rationalized that Tennessee in this regard was a part of the Union, and on that basis requested, and received, an exemption from the Proclamation. It would not be long however, before he ostensibly joined the pro-emancipation ranks.
National Union Party presidential ticket, 1864. Currier and Ives
On a trip to Washington, with a final plea for help in East Tennessee in early 1863, he gave a speech in Indianapolis, saying: "If the institution of slavery denies the government the right of agitation, and seeks to overthrow it, then the government has a clear right to destroy it." In Washington, Lincoln planted a seed in his mind, saying he was impressed to hear that Johnson was giving consideration to raising a Negro military force. The political advantage of accepting such an invitation, as well as the policy of emancipation, was quite apparent to Johnson. By that September Johnson declared he was in favor of emancipation, describing slavery as a "cancer on our society", and also succeeded in enlisting 20,000 black troops for the Union. In January 1864 Johnson organized a gathering of his state's Union loyalists, where resolutions were passed to elect county officials throughout the state, including a plan for a convention to dispose of the slavery issue; also adopted was a very controversial and mandatory oath for voters, to protect and preserve the Union in the future. He later spoke out for black suffrage, though not based solely on race, but rather merit oriented, 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."
As a leading War Democrat and pro-Union southerner, Johnson was an ideal candidate for the Republicans in the national election of 1864, as they sought to enlarge their base to include War Democrats; they even changed the party name to the National Union Party to reflect this expansion. Johnson's "unwavering commitment to the Union" was a significant factor in making him Lincoln's choice as vice president on the Union Party's premier ticket that year. He won the nomination at the party's convention in Baltimore on the second ballot, and thereby replaced incumbent Vice-President Hannibal Hamlin as Lincoln's running mate. In his speech accepting the nomination, Johnson said that by taking a nominee from a seceding state, "the Union Party declared its belief that the rebellious states are still in the Union, that their loyal citizens are still citizens of the United States." He and Lincoln were elected in a landslide victory.
After the election Johnson was most anxious to complete the re-establishment of civil government in Tennessee; Union forces brought the war to an end in that state with their victory in the Battle of Nashville in December. Johnson again organized a convention for January 1865 which in turn made provisions for the abolishment of slavery and an election in March for state government offices.
At his and Lincoln's inaugural ceremony on March 4, 1865, Johnson, who had been drinking with John W. Forney that morning, as well as the night before, gave a rambling speech and appeared intoxicated to many. According to Senator Zachariah Chandler, he "disgraced himself and the Senate by making a drunken foolish speech." Biographer Trefousse indicates that Johnson's drinking on the occasion was the result of ill health which began before his arrival in Washington, though the exact nature of the ailment is not specified. The records of many who worked with Johnson throughout his career corroborate that this was an isolated incident. Lincoln commented, in response to Hugh McCullough's criticism of Johnson's behavior, that "I have known Andy Johnson for many years; he made a bad slip the other day, but you need not be scared; Andy ain't a drunkard."
On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was shot and mortally wounded by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer, who conspired to coordinate assassinations of others, including Johnson,Ulysses S. Grant and Secretary of State William H. Seward that same night. Seward narrowly survived his wounds, while Johnson escaped attack as his would-be assassin, George Atzerodt, failed to go through with the plan. Leonard J. Farwell, a fellow boarder at the Kirkwood House, awoke Johnson with news of Lincoln's having been shot at Ford's Theater; Johnson rushed to the President's deathbed for a brief time, commenting, "They shall suffer for this. They shall suffer for this." Lincoln died around 7:00 A.M.; Johnson's swearing in occurred at 11:00 that morning with Chief Justice Salmon Chase presiding in the presence of most of the cabinet. Johnson's demeanor was described as "solemn and dignified" and "his bearing produced a most gratifying impression upon those who participated." At noon, Johnson conducted his first cabinet meeting in the Treasury Secretary's office, asked all members to remain in their positions, and directed the appropriate members to initiate Lincoln's funeral arrangements. William Hunter was appointed acting Secretary of State for the wounded Seward.
Johnson's initial statements and actions in the government transition stressed his proven record and sought to reassure his audience that he could carry on the government as before. He demonstrated his discretion and flexibility in his initial discussions with the Radical Republicans and conservatives alike, in an attempt to assure a smooth transition, at least at the outset. He especially was able to begin a positive relationship with War Secretary Stanton, though it would completely deteriorate later. Shortly after Lincoln's death, Gen. William T. Sherman reported he had, without consulting Washington, reached an armistice agreement with Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, an agreement which was unacceptable to the President and outraged Stanton, since it made no provision for emancipation of slaves or freedmen's rights. Johnson managed to nullify the agreement, initially placating Stanton on the one hand, but without alienating Sherman and his allies.
The President also reassured many by his decisiveness in ordering the establishment of a military commission on May 1, 1865 to try the surviving conspirators involved in Lincoln's assassination. The defendants were tried and convicted within seven weeks. Four of the eight were given the death penalty and were executed by hanging in July.
Lincoln had begun putting Reconstruction policies in place during the war, but Northern anger over his assassination and the losses of the war, led to demands for more severe policies toward the Southern states. The pursuit of Reconstruction held inherent paradoxes for the North. The emancipation of slaves would give the South more voters and cause the end of the three-fifths compromise in the Constitution in terms of Congressional apportionment. Johnson's personal attitude of white supremacy was seen in his hostility toward expanded rights for freedmen.
Many officials, including those from Maryland, Virginia and Louisiana, as well as Chief Justice Chase personally, underscored for the President that the Southern states were economically in a state of chaos and governmental disorganization, and most anxious to reach agreements that would restore them to the Union. These officials urged the President to use his leverage to insist on conditions assuring the rights of freedmen. But Johnson, with the support of other officials including Seward, insisted that the states, not the federal government, had the right to address the issue of suffrage. The cabinet was divided on the issue. Johnson grew increasingly intransigent on this position, believing that the southern states had legally never left the Union.
Johnson implemented his Reconstruction policy initially with two proclamations. One recognized the Virginia government organized and led by Gov. Francis Pierpont. The second provided amnesty for all insurgents except those holding property valued at $20,000 or more; it also appointed a provisional governor for North Carolina and authorized elections. Neither of these proclamations included provisions regarding black suffrage or freedmen's rights. The President sanctioned similar actions in other states, including South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida and Texas. Democratic conservatives approved, while the Radical Republicans, lead by Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner and Ben Wade, were appalled by Johnson's anti-negro policies.
The President's earlier moderate views favoring the freedmen had not endured. Johnson recommended that black voting begin with black troops, those who could read and write, and those who had property of at least $200 or $250. Outraged at learning that black troops had been billeted in his house in Nashville, he nullified an arrangement by Gen. Sherman to allow an abandoned coastal strip in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida be allocated to freedmen for their agricultural use. Johnson did not deal harshly with Confederate leaders, as he had earlier indicated he would; he expanded his pardons to include those in the highest ranks of the Confederacy, including their Vice-President, Alexander H. Stephens. Since Johnson's proclamations allowed the Southern states to control the procedure and conduct of their elections in 1865, prominent former Confederate leaders were elected to the U.S. Congress (but not seated). As the President's leniency toward the South became more apparent, the former secessionists responded with more arrogance. Johnson's schism with Congress over Reconstruction widened.
"The Situation", a Harper's Weeklyeditorial cartoon shows Secretary of War Stanton aiming a cannon labeled "Congress" to defeat Johnson. The rammer is "Tenure of Office Bill" and cannon balls on the floor are "Justice".
The state governments installed by Johnson all passed Black Codes that gave the freedmen subordinate legal status. In response to the Black Codes and Southern recalcitrance, the Republicans prevented the secessionist states' representatives from taking their seats in Congress in the fall 1865. Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, leader of the moderate Republicans and Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was anxious to reach a compromise with the President. He ushered through the Congress a bill expanding the Freedman's Bureau, but Johnson vetoed it. In a second effort at compromise, Trumbull presented for Johnson's signature the first Civil Rights Bill, which sought to grant citizenship to the freedmen.
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 in the Congress, and the bill also 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." Johnson, in a letter to Gov. Thomas C. Fletcher of Missouri, had written, "This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men." The Democratic party, proclaiming itself the party of white men, North and South, aligned with Johnson. However, the Republicans in Congress overrode his veto and the Civil Rights measure became law.
The most significant moderate proposal was the Fourteenth Amendment, also written by Trumbull. It was designed to put the key provisions of the Civil Rights Act into the Constitution, but it went further. It extended citizenship to every person 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 also guaranteed the federal war debt and voided all Confederate war debts. The amendment was submitted to the states for ratification by Congressional joint resolution, and therefore was not subject to Presidential veto, though Johnson vigorously opposed it, again because so many southern states were not represented in the Congress. The moderates passed the Freedmen's Bureau Act a second time, and again the president vetoed it, but on this occasion the veto was overridden. By the summer of 1866 Johnson's method of restoring states to the Union by executive fiat, without safeguards for the Union Party or the freedmen, was in deep trouble. Indeed, his home state of Tennessee ratified the Fourteenth Amendment despite the President's opposition, and was the only seceded state to empower a civil government during Reconstruction.
In 1866, Seward and Weed sought out Democratic allies of the President and other conservatives in an effort to establish a stronger base for the President to oppose the Radical Republicans. It was also agreed that some reorganization of the cabinet would be helpful to draw more Democratic support; though changes were made, Seward and Stanton, who had the most tenuous relationship with the party, were not affected. Meanwhile, also in the summer of 1866, a riot broke out in New Orleans when radicals, with strong opposition from conservatives, sought to re-convene the Louisiana Convention of 1864. Forty radicals of both races were killed and 140 others injured. Johnson was criticized, especially in the North, for not acting to prevent this.
The moderates' efforts to compromise with Johnson failed, and a political war ensued 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, in which the Southern states were not allowed to vote. Johnson campaigned vigorously, undertaking a public speaking tour of the north, known as the "Swing Around the Circle"; the tour, including speeches in Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Columbus, proved politically disastrous, with Johnson making distasteful and blasphemous comparisons between himself and Christ, and occasionally engaging in hostile and irrational arguments with hecklers. The Republicans won by a landslide, increasing their two-thirds majority in Congress, and made plans to control Reconstruction. Johnson's mood did not change; he continued to criticize the Congress for refusing to allow the Southern states to take their seats. Rep. Samuel S. Cox saw Johnson at this time and remarked that, when asked if the President would modify his views, "He got as ugly as the devil. He was regularly mad and couldn't talk like a reasonable being." 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. 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; nevertheless, his trial in the Senate ended in an acquittal by a single vote.
Historian James Ford Rhodes explained Johnson's inability to engage in serious negotiations:
"But," as Sumner shrewdly said, "the President himself is his own worst counsellor, 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 coloured people, his unyielding disposition 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....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.
In early March Congress, led in part by Radical Republicans, passed the first in a series of four Reconstruction Acts, initially providing for the recognition of provisional governments to be established thereunder by the Southern states, on the condition that each state ratify the Fourteenth Amendment and assure suffrage for freedmen. Five military districts and commanders were delineated to oversee the region. Johnson said he would sooner sever his right arm from his body than sign the law, and vetoed it; and Congress overrode his veto. The next session of Congress produced a second Reconstruction Act to further implement the first with specific voting regulations, which the President vetoed and Congress overrode. Johnson's Attorney General issued legal opinions to the administration designed to thwart the execution of the Reconstruction Acts. Congress passed a third Reconstruction Act to invalidate these opinions, and took two votes to defeat the President's obstruction. Congress passed a fourth Reconstruction Act (again over a veto) to provide for ratification of each state's constitution by a majority of those voting (rather than requiring the vote to be all those registered).
When Secretary Stanton did not join the President's opposition to the Reconstruction acts, Johnson decided to dismiss him together with his radical subordinates. Since Congress was in recess, Johnson thought he could suspend Stanton without Senate approval and avoid violating the Tenure of Office Act. Ulysses S. Grant, whom Johnson appointed as Stanton's interim successor, advised against the action, but accepted the temporary appointment when Johnson proceeded with Stanton's suspension in August. The President thought his action could drive a wedge between Grant and the Republicans, and dampen Grant's presidential aspirations. Over Grant's objection, Johnson removed generals Sheridan and Sickles for failing to follow his earlier orders to circumvent the Reconstruction acts.
Congressmen began to talk informally of impeaching the president after his veto of the Civil Rights Act. The foremost advocates of impeachment were Ben Butler and James M. Ashley. The first vote in the House to impeach the President occurred in the fall of 1867. On November 21, 1867, the House Judiciary Committee produced a bill of impeachment: it had a broad collection of complaints against him, but as stated, these were not thought to be easily provable under the Constitution, which required evidence "as treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors." After a vigorous debate, a formal vote for impeachment was held in the House of Representatives on December 5, 1867, and failed, 57–108.
Johnson notified Congress of War Secretary Stanton's suspension and Grant's interim appointment. When it reconvened in January 1868, the Senate disapproved of his action, and reinstated Stanton, contending Johnson had violated the Tenure of Office Act. Grant stepped aside over Johnson's objection (causing a complete break between them). Johnson dismissed Stanton again and appointed Lorenzo Thomas to replace him. As the Senate and House debated the matter, Thomas tried to move into the war office, and Stanton had him arrested. Three days after Stanton's removal, the House impeached Johnson for intentionally violating the Tenure of Office Act, by a vote of 128 to 47. The House adopted eleven articles of impeachment, for the most part bearing on Johnson's violation of the Tenure of Office Act in his dismissal of Stanton and appointment of Thomas.
On March 5, 1868, the impeachment trial began in the Senate and lasted almost three months; Reps. George S. Boutwell, Ben Butler and Thaddeus Stevens acted as managers (prosecutors) for the House and William M. Evarts, Benjamin R. Curtis and Attorney General Henry Stanberry served as Johnson's counsel; Chief Justice Chase served as presiding judge. Johnson's defense relied on the provision of the Tenure of Office Act that made it applicable only to appointees of the current administration. Since Lincoln rather than Johnson had appointed Stanton, the defense maintained the president had not violated the Act. The defense also argued that the President reserved the right to test the constitutionality of an act of Congress, in good faith. Johnson's counsel were adamant that he make no appearance at the trial or public comments about the proceedings, and he complied.
Through his allies, Johnson maneuvered among the senators in an attempt to secure a favorable vote; for example, a pledge was made to Sen. James W. Grimes to install a more highly respected War Secretary and to cease interference with Congress' Reconstruction efforts. Also, Sen. Edmund G. Ross received assurances that the radical constitutions ratified in South Carolina and Arkansas would be transmitted to the Congress. The Senate took three votes: on May 16, it voted on the 11th article of impeachment, which included many of the charges contained in the other articles, and on May 26 voted on the second and third articles, after which the trial adjourned. On all three occasions, 35 senators voted "guilty" and 19 "not guilty", thus falling short by a single vote of the two-thirds majority required for conviction in impeachment trials. Seven Republican senators – William Pitt Fessenden, Joseph S. Fowler, John B. Henderson, Lyman Trumbull, Peter G. Van Winkle and notably Senators Grimes and Ross played a decisive role; purportedly disturbed by how the proceedings had been manipulated to give a one-sided presentation of the evidence, they voted against conviction, in defiance of their party and public opinion.
During the impeachment trial, Representative Benjamin Butler launched an investigation into suspicious and complex activities surrounding certain Senators, whose votes would either convict or acquit President Johnson. According to the historian David O. Stewart, Cornelius Wendell led an acquittal committee, which met in the Astor House in New York; it collected a bribery fund of up to $150,000 to influence Senators into voting for Johnson's acquittal. Sen. Ross, who was the deciding vote in the Senate, reportedly received a bribe of $20,000 to acquit Johnson.Senators Ross, Henderson, and Fowler, were most suspected of taking bribe money. Butler's investigation was tainted by the rumor that Butler paid Wendell $100,000 to testify during the investigation, in order to expose the Astor House acquittal committee. Many of the men involved with Johnson's acquittal committee were friends of Secretary William Seward, Johnson's strongest ally on his Presidential Cabinet. There is no evidence that President Johnson knew of any illicit activities. After his acquittal, Johnson gave Sen. Ross patronage favors, including appointing Ross's friend, Perry Fuller, as collector of the Port of New Orleans. According to Stewart, there was evidence that gambling interests may have influenced Johnson's impeachment trial.
To fulfill promises made during the impeachment trial, Johnson nominated John M. Schofield as War Secretary, who was confirmed. Stanberry resigned and Johnson replaced him with William M. Evarts as Attorney General. He maintained his opposition to the Reconstruction Acts and continued to veto bills seeking to admit seceded states under their provisions, and Congress continued to override his vetos. Johnson persisted in his perceived role as protector of the white race. The President had measurable support to run for a full term and he was amenable to the idea. At the Democratic Convention, when he came in second on the first ballot and faded from there, it became clear that he was too unpopular to run. Horatio Seymour received the Democratic presidential nomination, which Johnson silently endorsed. One of Johnson's last significant acts as President was to grant unconditional amnesty to all Confederates on Christmas Day 1868, after the election of Ulysses S. Grant but before he took office in March 1869. Earlier amnesties, requiring signed oaths and excluding certain classes of people, had been issued by Lincoln and by Johnson.
Johnson forced the French out of Mexico by sending an army to the border and issuing an ultimatum. Many critics considered Johnson's actions were passive and delayed, and thought his defense of the Monroe Doctrine in this instance was weak. The French withdrew in 1867, and the government they supported quickly collapsed.
Secretary of State Seward negotiated the treaty for the purchase of Alaska from Russia on April 9, 1867 for $7.2 million. This is equivalent to $120 million in present day terms. Critics sneered at "Seward's Folly" and "Seward's Icebox" and "Icebergia." Gaining Senate approval of the Alaska treaty was Johnson's singular legislative accomplishment in the midst of a political war with Congress. Johnson's purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867 was his most important foreign policy action. The idea and implementation is credited to Seward as Secretary of State, but Johnson approved the plan. Seward also negotiated to purchase the Danish West Indies, but the Senate refused to approve the purchase in 1867 (it eventually was accomplished in 1917). The Senate likewise rejected Seward's arrangement with Britain to arbitrate the Alabama Claims.
The U.S. experienced tense relations with Britain and its colonial government in Canada in the aftermath of the Civil War. Johnson resented what he had perceived as British sympathy toward the Confederacy and he ignored a series of armed incursions by Fenians (Irish-American civil war veterans) into Canada. The British easily repulsed the small-scale Fenian Raids. Eventually, Johnson ordered the Fenians disarmed and barred from crossing the border. Fearing an American takeover, the Canadians moved toward Canadian Confederation.
Post-presidency and critiques
Senator Andrew Johnson in 1875. (age 66)
Popular for his oratory, the ex-President traveled extensively throughout Tennessee and the country on the public lecture circuit. He campaigned for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 1869, losing by a narrow margin. In 1872 he ran for election to fill Tennessee's new at–large seat in the House of Representatives. In 1873 Johnson contracted cholera during an epidemic but recovered; that year he lost about half his assets, when the First National Bank went under. In 1874, the Tennessee legislature elected him over five other candidates to the U.S. Senate. In his first and last speech in the Senate, Johnson spoke eloquently in opposition to Grant's military intervention between rival governments in Louisiana, when the gubernatorial election was disputed and Democratic supporters ousted the winning Republican side with armed force in New Orleans. Johnson based his opposition on the Constitution. He is the only former president to serve in the Senate after serving as president.
Views of Johnson's policies have changed over time, depending on historians' perception of Reconstruction. After the compromise of 1877, the widespread denunciation of Reconstruction resulted in Johnson being favorably portrayed. By the 1930s, a series of favorable biographies enhanced his prestige. A Beardian School (named after Charles A. 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. Historians in opinion polls once rated Johnson "near great", but have since reevaluated and now consider Johnson "a flat failure".
New work by historians and the civil rights movement of the 1960s brought a new perspective on Reconstruction. It was increasingly seen as a noble effort to integrate the freed slaves into society. Beginning with W.E.B. Du Bois' Black Reconstruction, first published in 1935, historians have noted African American contributions during Reconstruction to founding what were often the first systems of public education and welfare institutions in the South, gave muted praise for Republican efforts to extend suffrage and provide other social institutions, and excoriated Johnson for opposing the extension of basic rights to freedmen.Eric Foner denounced Johnson as a "fervent white supremacist" who foiled Reconstruction;Sean Wilentz wrote that Johnson "actively sided with former Confederates" in his attempts to derail Reconstruction. In the early 21st century, Johnson is among those commonly mentioned as the worst presidents in U.S. history. The most positive accomplishment during his Administration was the purchase of Alaska from Russia, though this was probably due more to the efforts of William H. Seward than President Johnson.
"Johnson is a particular favorite for the bottom of the pile because of his impeachment, despite his acquittal, and also due to his mishandling of Reconstruction policy, his inept dealings with his Cabinet and Congress, his bristling personality and his sense of self-importance. He once suggested that God saw fit to have Lincoln assassinated so that he could become president. A Northern senator averred that 'Andrew Johnson was the queerest character that ever occupied the White House.' "
His biographer Trefousse concludes that, while his courageous stand for the Union paid handsome political dividends, Johnson did not succeed in the White House because of his failure to outgrow his Jeffersonian-Jacksonian background; put in other words, "Johnson was a child of his time, but he failed to grow with it."
The house where he was born was preserved and is within Mordecai Historic Park in Raleigh.