"Please Don't Call Me Andy" Johnson: Number 17 in a Series
Johnson assumed the presidency at one of the most crucial times in American history, following the assassination of Abraham
Lincoln in April of 1865. The Civil War had just ended, and the biggest political issue of the day was how to deal
with the South, and especially with all of those people who had been formerly held as slaves. Even the most
apt of presidents would've been challenged by such a task.
Johnson, who was a talented politician, wasn't talented
Born into poverty in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1808, at a young age Andrew and his brother became indentured servants
to a local tailor. After two years, the brothers both broke their "bond" and ran away, never
to return. In 1826, when he was just 18, Johnson moved to Tennessee. A year later he married Eliza McCardle,
and together they had five children, three sons and two daughters. Andrew Johnson never attended school
– any school. Even though he had taught himself to read, it was his well educated wife, Eliza, who
greatly improved Andrew's education. (Kelly)
More than likely because Johnson had always been considered an excellent
speaker, he quickly found his way into politics. He became the mayor of Greenville, Tennessee, when he
was only 22, and in 1835 was elected to the Tennessee legislature. In 1843, he was elected to the the US
House of Representatives. He left Congress in 1853 to become the governor of Tennessee, which he quit in
1857 to become a Senator. (Andrew Johnson)
His early political aspirations included railing against the "Southern
plantation aristocracy," and even campaigning for free farms for the poor. (17. Andrew Johnson) Indeed,
it was Johnson who first introduced legislation that would eventually become the Homestead Act in 1862 (Andrew Johnson)
then came the Civil War. When Tennessee succeeded from the Union at the start of the Civil War, Johnson
didn't, becoming the only Southern Senator to remain loyal to the North (Andrew Johnson) This
made him loved in the North, and hated in the South. In 1862 President Lincoln appointed him Military Governor
of Tennessee. And in 1864, because of his loyalty to the North, he was chosen as the Lincoln's running
mate for his second term, (17. Andrew Johnson) replacing Hannibal Hamlin, who had served as Lincoln's first Vice President.
Hamlin never really wanted to be the vice president. He left a position in the
Senate where he truly had power, to one in which he felt, at best, a figurehead. One of the few things
Hamlin is known for is banning alcohol from the congressional floor, undoubtedly changing the tenor of politics
in Washington forever, but not necessarily for the better. Say what you will about Hamlin, he was a loyal
guy, and did the best he could, even encouraging Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. All that
just to be dumped at the end of Lincoln's first term, which is probably why he went on to oppose Johnson over Reconstruction.
Andrew Johnson served as Lincoln's Vice President for just six weeks (42 days) before
Lincoln was assassinated. (Andrew Johnson) Only John Tyler served less time as Vice President, replacing
William Henry Harrison after only 31 days in office. (Lists of Vice Presidents of the United States by Time in Office)
Even so, Johnson barely escaped assassination himself. As part of the plot to assassinate Lincoln,
other assassins were assigned to kill both Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State Seward. Seward, though,
attacked, was not killed. And Johnson was not attacked at all, the assassin assigned to him having "lost
his nerve." (Andrew Johnson)
Johnson started his presidency with the support of the "Radical
Republicans," who sought for major changes in the South as part of Reconstruction. They found out
in a hurry, though, that Johnson didn't support those changes. (The Impeachment)
it seems that Abraham Lincoln, an opponent of slavery, had a vice president who was not. After all, Johnson
did own slaves. (List of Presidents of the United States who Owned Slaves). And Johnson went on record
stating that the US Constitution guaranteed citizens the right to own slaves. (Andrew Johnson) As well,
he sought to limit the rights of freed slaves. Indeed, the bigger mystery might be why Johnson chose to
stay in the Senate after Southern succession.
As president, Andrew Johnson favoured a more "conciliatory"
stance with the South, opposing such things as the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship for all Blacks,
because he saw it as too divisive. (Hannibal Hamlin) As well, Johnson set into motion policies that would
pardon all Southern combatants if they would swear their loyalty to the Union, including many of those who held positions
of leadership in the Civil War. Even though his legislation granted freedom to all Blacks, he allowed the
South to keep many of the pre-war restrictions on their former Slaves. In short, not much changed in the
South, especially if you weren't White. And Johnson did all this while Congress was not in session, which
didn't set very well with any of those folks who really wanted to give the former slaves their 40 acres and two mules –
the Radicals. (17. Andrew Johnson)
What followed was a string of events – vetoes and overrides of
vetoes and firings and reinstatements and firings again and even arrests – that finally resulted in impeachment.
(The Impeachment) The Radicals in Congress wouldn't seat any Representative or Senator from the
South, and Johnson vetoed legislation which would've improved the lives of former slaves, only to have his vetoes over-ridden.
(17. Andrew Johnson) It is said that Johnson "...had no interest in compromise." But that was
OK, because both Congress and the Senate didn't need to compromise. They had a majority. (The
Impeachment) Finally having had enough, the House of Representatives voted to impeach the president on
February 24, 1868. (The Impeachment) Andrew Johnson become the first, though not the
last, president to be impeached. (Andrew Johnson)
As a quick Civics lesson, impeachment is not a removal from office.
It is only "a statement of charges," much like being indicted for a crime. According to
the Constitution (Article 2, Section 4), the House of Representatives has the sole power to impeach a president, to bring
him up on charges, which only requires a simple majority. The Senate, then, is where the president is tried.
A conviction by the Senate requires a "super majority" – two thirds, 67 out of 100. The
only things conviction on impeachment charges can do are to remove a president from office, and/or to bar
him from holding future offices. Any possible civil or criminal charges are left to the respective courts
after the president is removed from office. (Impeachment)
The biggest charge against Johnson was that he violated the Tenure
of Office Act, which had been passed over Johnson's veto, by firing his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. The
Tenure of Office Act attempted to limit who the president could assign to his cabinet, requiring that all hiring and firing
be first approved by the Senate. (The Impeachment)
Johnson could've easily been impeached. The Republicans
held more than the two-thirds majority they needed to do so. The only reason he wasn't impeached is because
there were enough representatives who were more concerned with insuring the balance of powers and the office of the president
in general. (The Impeachment) Therefore, Johnson was left to finish the few months left
of his presidency.
Even though Johnson was the sitting president, and even though he wanted to run again, his own party
did not nominate him in 1868, instead going with somebody whose name only comes up on Jeopardy!, Horatio Seymour.
Seymour lost the presidency to Ulysses S. Grant. (Andrew Johnson)
Perhaps the one really good thing
that Andrew Johnson accomplished during his tenure was the acquisition of the Alaska territory from Russia in 1867, but even
that wasn't appreciated at the time. Originally the purchase was called "Seward's folly" or "Seward's
Icebox," after Secretary of State William Seward, because most folks considered Alaska to be worthless frozen wasteland.
They quickly changed their minds in 1896 with the Klondike Gold Rush. (Treaty with Russia)
Andrew Johnson tried to stay
in politics following his presidency, though he lost attempts at both the Senate (1869) and the Congress (1872).
However, in 1875 he was once again elected to the Senate, becoming the only president to have served in the Senate
both before and after being a president. But his victory was short lived. He died after
serving only a few months, at the age of 66, on July 31, 1875. (Andrew Johnson)
"17. Andrew Johnson."
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Kelly, Martin. "10 Facts to Know About Andrew
Johnson." ThoughtCo. Dotdash Publishing Co. (11 Jan. 2019):
n. pag. Web. 18 Jan. 2019 https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-andrew-johnson-104322
"List of Vice Presidents of the United States by Time in Office."
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (2 Nov. 2018): n. pag.
Web. 18 Jan. 2018 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Vice_Presidents_of_the_United_States_by_time_in_office
"List of Presidents of the United States who Owned Slaves." Wikipedia.
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (18 Jan. 2019): n. pag. Web. 18 Jan. 2019
"Treaty with Russia for the Purchase of Alaska." Web Guides. The
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