Andrew Johnson was born in Rayleigh, North Carolina on 29th December, 1808. His father, a porter in an local inn, died when Johnson was only three years old. Too poor to go to school, Johnson became an apprentice tailor at fourteen. Three years later he opened his own shop in Greeneville, Tennessee.
Johnson took a keen interest in politics and his tailor shop became the home of a discussion group. A strong advocate of improved political rights for poor whites, Johnson helped form the Workingman's Party. After serving as a local alderman and mayor, he was elected to the state senate (1841) and congress (1843).
After joining the Democratic Party, Johnson was elected as governor of Tennessee (1853-57) and in 1856 was elected to the U.S. Senate. He was a mainstream Democrat favouring lower tariffs and opposing anti-slavery legislation. However, Johnson disapproved when Tennessee seceded from the union in June, 1861.
Johnson supported Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and was the only Southern senator who refused to join the Confederacy. He made it clear that he was fighting for the Union and not the abolition of slavery. He openly told the people of Tennessee: "I believe slaves should be in subordination and I will live and die so believing." In May 1862, Lincoln rewarded Johnson for his loyalty by making him military governor of Tennessee.
On 22nd September, 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. He told the nation that from the 1st January, 1863, all slaves in states or parts of states, still in rebellion, would be freed. Johnson complained to Lincoln about this decision and as a result it was agreed that this proclamation would not apply to Tennessee.
In February, 1863, Johnson decided to travel to Washington. On the way he stopped at several Northern cities where he made speeches where he explained his views on slavery. At Indianapolis he told the large crowd: "I have lived among negroes, all my life, and I am for this Government with slavery under the Constitution as it is."
Johnson made it clear that under the right conditions he would be willing to accept the abolition of slavery. He stressed the economic rather than the moral arguments against slavery. He told his audiences that he owned slaves and told the story of how two had run away but later returned as free men to work for wages. Johnson argued that they were more productive as free men than they had been as slaves.
Southern newspapers criticised Johnson for these speeches and claimed he was making a bid for higher office. The Nashville Daily Press pointed out that: "No man in Tennessee has done more than Andrew Johnson to create, to perpetuate and embitter in the minds of the Southern people, that feeling of jealousy and hostility against the free States, which has at length culminated in rebellion and civil war. Up to 1860, he had been for 20 years among the most bigoted and intolerant of the advocates of slavery and Southernism". The newspaper accused him "of having but one aim, the Vice Presidency of the United States, on any rabid ticket likely to be successful."
After Johnson's successful speaking tour leading members of the Republican Party began to suggest that Johnson should replace Hannibal Hamlin as Abraham Lincoln's running mate in the 1864 presidential election. Hamlin was a Radical Republican and it was felt that Lincoln was already sure to gain the support of this political group. It was argued that what Lincoln needed was the votes of those who had previously supported the Democratic Party in the North.
Abraham Lincoln originally selected General Benjamin Butler as his 1864 vice-presidential candidate. Butler, a war hero, had been a member of the Democratic Party, but his experiences during the American Civil War had made him increasingly radical. Simon Cameron was sent to talk to Butler at Fort Monroe about joining the campaign. However, Butler rejected the offer, jokingly saying that he would only accept if Lincoln promised "that within three months after his inauguration he would die".
It was now decided that Johnson would make the best candidate for vice president. By choosing the governor of Tennessee, Lincoln would emphasis the fact that Southern states were still part of the Union. He would also gain the support of the large War Democrat faction. At a convention of the Republican Party on 8th July, 1864, Johnson received 200 votes to Hamlin's 150 and became Lincoln's running mate.
During the election Johnson made it clear that he supported what he called "white man's government". However, when faced with black audiences he spoke of the need of improved civil rights and on one occasion during a speech in Washington offered to "be your Moses and lead you through the Red Sea of war and bondage to a fairer future of liberty and peace."
The military victories of Ulysses S. Grant, William Sherman, George Meade, Philip Sheridan and George H. Thomas in the American Civil War in 1864 reinforced the idea that the Union Army was close to bringing the war to an end. This helped Lincoln's presidential campaign and with 2,216,067 votes, Lincoln comfortably beat General George McClellan (1,808,725) in the election.
Johnson had been a heavy drinker for several years. Both his sons, Charles and Robert, were alcoholics. Charles Johnson died in April 1863 after falling from his horse. Colonel Robert Johnson, a member of the Union Army, was found to be drunk while on duty and was sent home in order to avoid further embarrassment to the Vice President.
On inauguration day Johnson was drunk while he made his speech to Congress. After making several inappropriate comments Hannibal Hamlin, the former Vice President had to intervene and help him back to his seat. After the inauguration, one of the senators, Zachariah Chandler, wrote to his wife that Johnson "was too drunk to perform his duties and disgraced himself and the Senate by making a drunken foolish speech."
On 14th April, 1865 Abraham Lincoln went to Ford's Theatre with his wife, Mary Lincoln, Clara Harris and Major Henry Rathbone to see a play called Our American Cousin. John Parker, a constable in the Washington Metropolitan Police Force, was detailed to sit on the chair outside the presidential box. During the third act Parker left to get a drink. Soon afterwards, John Wilkes Booth, entered Lincoln's box and shot the president in the back of the head. William Seward (Secretary of State) was also attacked by one of Booth's fellow conspirators, Lewis Paine. Another friend of Booth's, George Atzerodt, had been ordered to kill Johnson. Despite making the necessary preparations he surprisingly made no attempt to do this.
Abraham Lincoln died at 7.22 on the morning of 15th April. Three hours later Chief Justice Salmon Chase administered the oath of office at Johnson's Kirkwood House. Later that day a group of Radical Republicans led by Benjamin Wade met with Johnson. It was suggested that Henry G. Stebbins, John Covode and Benjamin Butler should be appointed to the Cabinet to make sure that laws would be passed that would benefit former slaves in the South.
Johnson was unwilling to change the Cabinet he had inherited from Abraham Lincoln. This included William Seward (Secretary of State), Henry McCulloch (Secretary of the Treasury), Edwin M. Stanton (Secretary of War), Gideon Welles (Secretary of the Navy), James Speed (Attorney General), John Usher (Secretary of the Interior) and William Dennison (Postmaster General).
However, Johnson insisted that he intended to punish leading Confederates: "Robbery is a crime; rape is a crime; treason is a crime; and crime must be punished. The law provides for it; the courts are open. Treason must be made infamous and traitors punished." After these discussions Benjamin Wade told Johnson that he total faith in his new administration.
On 17th April Johnson received a deputation led by John Mercer Langston, the president of the National Rights League. Langston was a strong supporter of universal male suffrage and like the Radical Republicans left the meeting satisfied with the response of the new president. Johnson also had visits from other progressives such as Robert Dale Owen and Carl Schurz who advocated racial equality.
On 1st May, 1865, President Andrew Johnson ordered the formation of a nine-man military commission to try the conspirators involved in the assassination of Lincoln. It was argued by Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, that the men should be tried by a military court as Lincoln had been Commander in Chief of the army. Several members of the cabinet, disapproved, preferring a civil trial. However, James Speed, the Attorney General, agreed with Stanton and therefore the defendants did not enjoy the advantages of a jury trial.
The trial began on 10th May, 1865. The military commission included leading generals such as David Hunter, Lewis Wallace, Robert Foster, August Kautz, Thomas Harris and Albion Howe. The Attorney General selected Joseph Holt and John Bingham as the government's chief prosecutors.
Mary Surrat, Lewis Paine, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Mudd, Michael O'Laughlin, Edman Spangler and Samuel Arnold were all charged with conspiring to murder Lincoln. During the trial Joseph Holt and John Bingham attempted to persuade the military commission that Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government had been involved in conspiracy.
Joseph Holt attempted to obscure the fact that there were two plots: the first to kidnap and the second to assassinate. It was important for the prosecution not to reveal the existence of a diary taken from the body of John Wilkes Booth. The diary made it clear that the assassination plan was established just before the act took place. The defence surprisingly did not call for Booth's diary to be produced in court.
On 29th June, 1865 Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Mudd, Michael O'Laughlin, Edman Spangler and Samuel Arnold were found guilty of being involved in the conspiracy to murder Lincoln. Surratt, Powell, Atzerodt and Herold were hanged at Washington Penitentiary on 7th July, 1865. Surratt, who was expected to be reprieved, was the first woman in American history to be executed. Later Joseph Holt claimed that Johnson surprisingly ignored the Military Commission's plea for mercy.
The Radical Republicans became concerned when Johnson began surrounding himself with advisers such as Preston King, Henry W. Halleck and Winfield S. Hancock, who were well known for their reactionary views. Johnson also began to clash with those cabinet members such as Edwin M. Stanton, William Dennison and James Speed who favoured the granting of black suffrage. In this he was supported by conservatives in the government such as Gideon Welles and and Henry McCulloch.
Southern politicians began to realize that Johnson was going to use his position to prevent reform taking place. One Confederate senator, Benjamin Hill, wrote from his prison cell: "By this wise and noble statesmanship you have become the benefactor of the Southern people in the hour of their direst extremity and entitled yourself to the gratitude of those living and those yet to live."
Johnson now began to argue that African American men should only be given the vote when they were able to pass some type of literacy test. He advised William Sharkey, the governor of Mississippi, that he should only "extend the elective franchise to all persons of color who can read the Constitution of the United States in English and write their names, and to all persons of color who own real estate valued at not less than two hundred and fifty dollars."
In early 1865 General William T. Sherman set aside a coastal strip in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida for the exclusive use of former slaves. A few months later, General Oliver Howard, the head of the new Freeman's Bureau, issued a circular regularizing the return of lands to previous owners but exempting those lands that were already being cultivated by freeman. Johnson was furious with Sherman and Howard for making these decisions and over-ruled them.
Johnson also upset radicals and moderates in the Republican Party when he issued an amnesty proclamation exempting fourteen classes from prosecution for their actions during the American Civil War. This included high military, civil, and judicial officers of the Confederacy, officers who had surrendered their commissions in the armed forces of the United States, war criminals and those with taxable property of more than $20,000. Vice President Alexander Stephens was one of those that Johnson pardoned.
Johnson became increasingly hostile to the work of General Oliver Howard and the Freeman's Bureau. Established by Congress on 3rd March, 1865, the bureau was designed to protect the interests of former slaves. This included helping them to find new employment and to improve educational and health facilities. In the year that followed the bureau spent $17,000,000 establishing 4,000 schools, 100 hospitals and providing homes and food for former slaves.
In early 1866 Lyman Trumbull introduced proposals to extend the powers of the Freeman's Bureau . When this measure was passed by Congress it was vetoed by Johnson. However, the Radical Republicans were able to gain the support of moderate members of the Republican Party and Johnson's objections were overridden by Congress.
In April 1866, Johnson also vetoed the Civil Rights Bill that was designed to protect freed slaves from Southern Black Codes (laws that placed severe restrictions on freed slaves such as prohibiting their right to vote, forbidding them to sit on juries, limiting their right to testify against white men, carrying weapons in public places and working in certain occupations). On 6th April, Johnson's veto was overridden in the Senate by 33 to 15.
Johnson told Thomas C. Fletcher, the governor of Missouri: "This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men." His views on racial equality was clearly defined in a letter to Benjamin B. French, the commissioner of public buildings: "Everyone would, and must admit, that the white race was superior to the black, and that while we ought to do our best to bring them up to our present level, that, in doing so, we should, at the same time raise our own intellectual status so that the relative position of the two races would be the same."
Johnson's unwillingness to promote African American civil rights in the South upset the radical members of his Cabinet. In 1866 William Dennison (Postmaster General), James Speed (Attorney General) and James Harlan (Secretary of the Interior) all resigned. They were all replaced by the conservatives Alexander Randall (Postmaster General), Henry Stanbury (Attorney General) and Orville Browning (Secretary of the Interior).
In June, 1866, the Radical Republicans managed to persuade Congress to pass the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The amendment was designed to grant citizenship to and protect the civil liberties of recently freed slaves. It did this by prohibiting states from denying or abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, depriving any person of his life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or denying to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The elections of 1866 increased the the Republican Party two-thirds majority in Congress. There were also a larger number of Radical Republicans and in March, 1867, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act. This act forbade the President to remove any officeholder, including Cabinet members, who had been appointed with Senate consent. Once again Johnson attempted to veto the act.
In 1867 members of Radical Republicans such as Benjamin Loan, James Ashley and Benjamin Butler, began claiming in Congress that Johnson had been involved in the conspiracy to murder Abraham Lincoln. Butler asked the question: "Who it was that could profit by assassination (of Lincoln) who could not profit by capture and abduction? He followed this with: "Who it was expected by the conspirators would succeed to Lincoln, if the knife made a vacancy?" He also implied that Johnson had been involved in tampering with the diary of John Wilkes Booth. "Who spoliated that book? Who suppressed that evidence?"
Much was made of the fact that John Wilkes Booth had visited Johnson's house on the day of the assassination and left his card with the message: "Don't wish to disturb you. Are you at home?" Some people claimed that Booth was trying to undermine Johnson in his future role as president by implying he was involved in the plot. However, as his critics pointed out, this was unnecessary as it was Booth's plan to have Johnson killed by George Atzerodt at the same time that Abraham Lincoln was being assassinated.
On 7th January, 1867, James Ashley charged Johnson with the "usurpation of power and violation of law by corruptly using the appointing, pardoning, and veto powers, by disposing corruptly of the property of the United States, and by interfering in elections." Congress responded by referring Ashley's resolution to the Judiciary Committee.
Congress passed the first Reconstruction Acts on 2nd March, 1867. The South was now divided into five military districts, each under a major general. New elections were to be held in each state with freed male slaves being allowed to vote. The act also included an amendment that offered readmission to the Southern states after they had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and guaranteed adult male suffrage. Johnson immediately vetoed the bill but Congress repassed the bill the same day.
Johnson consulted General Ulysses S. Grant before selecting the generals to administer the military districts. Eventually he appointed John Schofield (Virginia), Daniel Sickles (the Carolinas), John Pope (Georgia, Alabama and Florida), Edward Ord (Arkansas and Mississippi) and Philip Sheridan (Louisiana and Texas).
It soon became clear that the Southern states would prefer military rule to civil government based on universal male suffrage. Congress therefore passed a supplementary Reconstruction Act on 23rd March that authorized military commanders to supervise elections and generally to provide the machinery for constituting new governments. Once again Johnson vetoed the act on the grounds that it interfered with the right of the American citizen to "be left to the free exercise of his own judgment when he is engaged in the work of forming the fundamental law under which he is to live."
Radical Republicans were growing increasing angry with Johnson over his attempts to veto the extension of the Freeman's Bureau, the Civil Rights Bill and the Reconstruction Acts. This became worse when Johnson dismissed Edwin M. Stanton, his Secretary of War, and the only radical in his Cabinet and replaced him with Ulysses S. Grant. Stanton refused to go and was supported by the Senate. Grant now stood down and was replaced by Lorenzo Thomas.This was a violation of the Tenure of Office Act and some members of the Republican Party began talking about impeaching Johnson.
At the beginning of the 40th Congress Benjamin Wade became the new presiding officer of the Senate. As Johnson did not have a vice-president this meant that Wade was now the legal successor to the president. This was highly significant as attempts to impeach the president had already began.
Johnson continued to undermine the Reconstruction Acts. This included the removal of two of the most radical military governors. Daniel Sickles (the Carolinas) and Philip Sheridan (Louisiana and Texas) were replaced them with Edward Canby and Winfield Hancock.
In November, 1867, the Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 that Johnson be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. The majority report written by George H. Williams contained a series of charges including pardoning traitors, profiting from the illegal disposal of railroads in Tennessee, defying Congress, denying the right to reconstruct the South and attempts to prevent the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.
On 30th March, 1868, Johnson's impeachment trial began. Johnson was the first president of the United States to be impeached. The trial, held in the Senate in March, was presided over by Chief Justice Salmon Chase. Johnson was defended by his former Attotney General, Henry Stanbury, and William M. Evarts. One of Johnson's fiercest critics, Thaddeus Stevens was mortally ill, but he was determined to take part in the proceedings and was carried to the Senate in a chair.
Charles Sumner, another long-time opponent of Johnson led the attack. He argued that: "This is one of the last great battles with slavery. Driven from the legislative chambers, driven from the field of war, this monstrous power has found a refuge in the executive mansion, where, in utter disregard of the Constitution and laws, it seeks to exercise its ancient, far-reaching sway. All this is very plain. Nobody can question it. Andrew Johnson is the impersonation of the tyrannical slave power. In him it lives again. He is the lineal successor of John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis; and he gathers about him the same supporters."
Although a large number of senators believed that Johnson was guilty of the charges, they disliked the idea of Benjamin Wade becoming the next president. Wade, who believed in women's suffrage and trade union rights, was considered by many members of the Republican Party as being an extreme radical. James Garfield warned that Wade was "a man of violent passions, extreme opinions and narrow views who was surrounded by the worst and most violent elements in the Republican Party."
Others Republicans such as James Grimes argued that Johnson had less than a year left in office and that they were willing to vote against impeachment if Johnson was willing to provide some guarantees that he would not continue to interfere with Reconstruction.
When the vote was taken all members of the Democratic Party voted against impeachment. So also did those Republicans such as Lyman Trumbull, William Fessenden and James Grimes, who disliked the idea of Benjamin Wade becoming president. The result was 35 to 19, one vote short of the required two-thirds majority for conviction. The editor of The Detroit Post wrote that "Andrew Johnson is innocent because Ben Wade is guilty of being his successor."
A further vote on 26th May, also failed to get the necessary majority needed to impeach Johnson. The Radical Republicans were angry that not all the Republican Party voted for a conviction and Benjamin Butler claimed that Johnson had bribed two of the senators who switched their votes at the last moment.
On 25th July, 1868 Johnson vetoed the decision by Congress to extend the activities of the Freeman's Bureau for another year. Once again Johnson decision was speedily overturned. Johnson critics claimed that he had taken these decisions in an attempt to win the Democratic Party nomination. The party approved Johnson's actions but chose Horatio Seymour as its presidential candidate.
Johnson continued to issue pardons for people who had participated in the rebellion. By the end of his period in office he gave 13,350 pardons, including one for Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.
On 25th December, 1868, Johnson used his last annual message as president to attack the Reconstruction Acts. He claimed that: "The attempt to place the white population under the domination of persons of color in the South has impaired, if not destroyed, the friendly relations that had previously existed between them; and mutual distrust has engendered a feeling of animosity which, leading in some instances to collision and bloodshed, has prevented the cooperation between the two races so essential to the success of industrial enterprise in the Southern States."
Johnson retired from office in March 1869. He returned to his 350 acre farm near Greenville, Tennessee. Soon afterwards his son, Robert Johnson, who had been unable to overcome his alcoholism, committed suicide. His sole remaining son, Andrew Johnson, wrote from Georgetown College, promising his parents that he would never "let any kind of intoxicating liquor" pass his lips.
Andrew Johnson failed in his attempt to win a seat in the Senate in 1869. He was also unsuccessful in his bid for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1872. However, he was elected to the Senate shortly before his death at Carter Station, Tennessee, on 31st July, 1875.
(1) Andrew Johnson, speech in Indianapolis (26th February, 1863)
I have lived among negroes, all my life, and I am for this Government with slavery under the Constitution as it is. I am for the Government of my fathers with negroes, I am for it without negroes. Before I would see this Government destroyed, I would send every negro back to Africa, disintegrated and blotted out of space.
(2) The Nashville Press on Andrew Johnson's speaking tour of Northern cities (February, 1863)
No man in Tennessee has done more than Andrew Johnson to create, to perpetuate and embitter in the minds of the Southern people, that feeling of jealousy and hostility against the free States, which has at length culminated in rebellion and civil war. Up to 1860, he had been for 20 years among the most bigoted and intolerant of the advocates of slavery and Southernism.
(3) Andrew Johnson, letter to William Sharkey, the governor of Mississippi (June, 1865)
If you could extend the elective franchise to all persons of color who can read the Constitution of the United States in English and write their names and to all persons of color who own real estate valued at not less than two hundred and fifty dollars and pay taxes thereon, and would completely disarm the adversary. This you can do with perfect safety. And as a consequence, the radicals, who are wild upon negro franchise, will be completely foiled in their attempts to keep the Southern States from renewing their relations to the Union.
(4) Zachariah Chandler, letter to his wife about Andrew Johnson's behaviour at Abraham Lincoln's Inauguration on 4th March, 1865.
The inauguration went off very well except that the Vice President Elect was too drunk to perform his duties and disgraced himself and the Senate by making a drunken foolish speech. I was so mortified in my life, had I been able to find a hole I would have dropped through in out of sight.
(5) Andrew Johnson, letter to Benjamin B. French, the commissioner of public buildings (8th February, 1866)
Everyone would, and must admit, that the white race was superior to the black, and that while we ought to do our best to bring them up to our present level, that, in doing so, we should, at the same time raise our own intellectual status so that the relative position of the two races would be the same.
(6) The Freeman's Bureau created by Congress at the end of the American Civil War was an attempt to preserve the freedom of former slaves. When Congress attempted to increase the powers of the Freemen's Bureau in February, 1866, the proposed bill was vetoed by Andrew Johnson.
I share with Congress the strongest desire to secure to the freedmen the full employment of their freedom and property and their entire independence and equality in making contracts for their labor, but the bill before me contains provisions which in my opinion are not warranted by the Constitution and are not well suited to accomplish the end in view.
The bill proposes to establish, by authority of Congress, military jurisdiction over all parts of the United States containing refugees and freedmen. It would by its very nature apply with most force to those parts of the United States in which the freedmen most abound, and it expressly extends the existing temporary jurisdiction of the Freedmen's Bureau, with greatly enlarged powers, over those states "in which the ordinary course of judicial proceedings has been interrupted by the rebellion."
(7) On 27th March, 1866, Andrew Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Bill that had been passed by Congress.
The bill in effect proposes a discrimination against large numbers of intelligent, worthy, and patriotic foreigners, and in favor of the Negro, to whom, after long years of bondage, the avenues to freedom and intelligence have just now been suddenly opened. He must, of necessity, from his previous unfortunate condition of servitude, be less informed as to the nature and character of our institutions than he who, coming from abroad, has to some extent at least, familiarized himself with the principles of a government to which he voluntarily entrusts "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
(8) Lyman Trumbull of Illinois led the attack on Andrew Johnson after he vetoed the Civil Rights Bill in March, 1866.
The bill neither confers nor abridges the rights of anyone but simply declares that in civil rights there shall be equality among all classes of citizens and that all alike shall be subject to the same punishment. Each state, so that it does not abridge the great fundamental rights belonging, under the Constitution, to all citizens, may grant or withhold such civil rights as it pleases; all that is required is that, in this respect, its laws shall be impartial. And yet this is the bill now returned with the President's objections.
Whatever may have been the opinion of the President at one time as to "good faith requiring the security of the freemen in their liberty and their property," it is now manifest from the character of his objections to this bill that he will approve no measures that will accomplish the object.
(9) A letter published in the Norwegian newspaper, Aftenbladet (28th September, 1866)
President Johnson has surrendered completely to the 'Copperheads' and the Rebels in the South allied with them, and is furiously opposing the party that elevated him to power. Because of this the Rebels have begun to stir once more. It has almost got to be so that a loyal man cannot travel or stay, in most of the Southern states. During the absence of Sheridan - he has received military charge of Texas and Louisiana - the military in New Orleans was placed under the command of a former Rebel general by telegraphed order from the President. It is hard to imagine a greater insult either to the Army or the country.
But President Johnson is hardly furthering the cause of the South by behaving in this manner, as time will show very soon. The Republican press is breathing smoke and fire. Hundreds of newspapers which supported the President six months ago have changed their attitude completely. But the Republican Party is so strong that for a while yet it will have a majority both in the Senate and in Congress; and the South will not be allowed to send representatives until the North has received complete guarantees that the money and the blood expended on the defense of the Union were not sacrificed in vain.
(10) Mary Todd Lincoln, letter to Sally Orme about her belief that Andrew Johnson was involved in her husband's death (15th March, 1866)
That, that miserable inebriate Johnson, had cognizance of my husband's death. Why, was that card of Booth's, found in his box, some acquaintance certainly existed. I have been deeply impressed, with the harrowing thought, that he, had an understanding with the conspirators & they knew their man. As sure, as you & I live, Johnson, had some hand, in all this.
(11) Benjamin Loan, speech in the House of Representatives about the consequences of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (24th January, 1867)
In the beginning the assassination of Lincoln had been thought the deed "of a reckless young man. But subsequent developments have shown it to have been the result of deliberate plans adopted in the interests of the Rebellion." An assassin's bullet wielded and directed by Rebel hands and paid for by Rebel gold made Andrew Johnson President. The price that he was to pay for his promotion was treachery.
(12) Charles Nordhoff, managing editor of the New York Evening Post had a meeting with Andrew Johnson about the planned Reconstruction Act. In a letter to his friend, William Cullen Bryant, he described the president's views on the act (2nd February, 1867)
The president grew much excited and expressed the most bitter hatred of the measure in all its parts, declaring that it was nothing but anarchy and chaos, that the people of the South, poor, quiet, unoffending, harmless, were to be trodden under foot "to protect niggers," that the States were already in the Union, that in no part of the country were life and property so safe as in the Southern States.
He is a pig headed man, with only one idea - a bitter opposition to universal suffrage and a determination to secure the political ascendancy of the old Southern leaders, who, he emphasized, must in the nature of things rule the South.
(13) President Andrew Johnson explained why he had decided to veto the Reconstruction Act in a speech in the House of Representatives (2nd March, 1867)
The excuse given for the bill in the preamble is admitted by the bill itself not to be real. The military rule which is establishes is plainly to be used, not for any purpose of order or for the prevention of crime but solely as a means of coercing the people into the adoption of principles and measures to which it is known that they are opposed and upon which they have an undeniable right to exercise their own judgment. I submit to Congress whether this measure is not in its whole character, scope, and object without precedent and without authority, in palpable conflict with the plainest provisions of the Constitution, and utterly destructive to those great principles of liberty and humanity for which our ancestors on both sides of the Atlantic have shed so much blood and expended so much treasure.
(14) In April, 1867, Radical Republicans began to call for Andrew Johnson's bank accounts to be examined. He wrote about this to his friend, Colonel Moore (1st May, 1867)
I have had a son killed, a son-in-law die during the last battle of Nashville, another son has thrown himself away, a second son-in-law is in no better condition, I think I have had sorrow enough without having my bank account examined by a Committee of Congress.
(15) Charles Sumner, speech during the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson (May, 1868)
This is one of the last great battles with slavery. Driven from the legislative chambers, driven from the field of war, this monstrous power has found a refuge in the executive mansion, where, in utter disregard of the Constitution and laws, it seeks to exercise its ancient, far-reaching sway. All this is very plain. Nobody can question it. Andrew Johnson is the impersonation of the tyrannical slave power. In him it lives again. He is the lineal successor of John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis; and he gathers about him the same supporters.
This formal accusation is founded on certain recent transgressions, enumerated in articles of impeachment, but it is wrong to suppose that this is the whole case. It is very wrong to try this impeachment merely on these articles. It is unpardonable to higgle over words and phrases when, for more than two years, the tyrannical pretensions of this offender, now in evidence before the Senate have been manifest in their terrible heartrending consequences.
This usurpation, with its brutalities and indecencies, became manifest as long ago as the winter of 1866, when, being President, and bound by his oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, and to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, he took to himself legislative powers in the reconstruction of the Rebel states; and, in carrying forward this usurpation, nullified an act of Congress, intended as the cornerstone of Reconstruction, by virtue of which Rebels are excluded from office under the government of the United States.
(16) James Grimes, speech during the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson (May, 1868)
I come now to the question of intent. Admitting that the President had no power under the law to issue the order to remove Mr. Stanton to and appoint General Thomas secretary for the Department of War, did he issue those orders with a manifest intent to violate the laws and "the Constitution of the United States" as charged in the articles, or did he issue them, as he says he did, with a view to have the constitutionally of the Tenure of Office Act judicially decided?
I cannot believe it to be our duty to convict the President of an infraction of a law when, in our consciences, we believe the law itself to be invalid, and therefore having no binding effect. If the law is unconstitutional, it is null and void, and the President has committed no offence and done to act deserving of impeachment.
(17) Andrew Johnson, speech to Congress (25th December, 1868)
The attempt to place the white population under the domination of persons of color in the South has impaired, if not destroyed, the friendly relations that had previously existed between them; and mutual distrust has engendered a feeling of animosity which, leading in some instances to collision and bloodshed, has prevented the cooperation between the two races so essential to the success of industrial enterprise in the Southern States.
(18) Benjamin Butler, Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major-General Benjamin F. Butler (1892)
Andrew Johnson had been suspected by many people of being concerned in the plans of Booth against the life of Lincoln or at least cognizant of them. A committee of which I was the head, felt it their duty to make a secret investigation of that matter, and we did our duty in that regard most thoroughly. Speaking for myself I think I ought to say that there was no reliable evidence at all to convince a prudent and responsible man that there was any ground for the suspicions entertained against Johnson.
(19) In his autobiography, Reminiscences, Henry Stuart Foote, the former Senator of Mississippi, explained why he believed Andrew Johnson was involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (1873)
First: Mr. Johnson's well-known and anxious desire for the highest official honors which the country could bestow upon him, for the space of at least twenty years before the "deep damnation" of Mr. Lincoln's "taking off" had blurred so unfortunately the historic record of our country.
Second: the utter extinction of his hopes of Presidential advancement along the accustomed pathway to promotion, by his shameless drunkenness on the day of his being sworn into office as Vice President.
Third: his falling out with Mr. Lincoln soon after, and delivering a speech on Pennsylvania Avenue in bitter denunciation of humanity and moderation.
Fourth: that Booth called at Mr. Johnson's private room, only a few hours before the murder occurred, and on finding him absent wrote upon a card the deep disappointment which he felt at not having met with the only human being on earth who could possibly profitably Mr. Lincoln's death, and who was at the same time the only individual in the world who could give assurance to the murderer of his own pardon.
(20) Carl Schurz wrote about the differences between Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson in his autobiography published in 1906.
It was pretended at the time and it has since been asserted by historians and publicists that Mr. Johnson's Reconstruction policy was only a continuation of that of Mr. Lincoln. This is true only in a superficial sense, but not in reality. Mr. Lincoln had indeed put forth reconstruction plans which contemplated an early restoration of some of the rebel states. But he had done this while the Civil War was still going on, and for the evident purpose of encouraging loyal movements in those States and of weakening the Confederate State government there. Had he lived, he would have as ardently wished to stop bloodshed and to reunite as he ever did. But is it to be supposed for a moment that, seeing the late master class in the South intent upon subjecting the freedmen again to a system very much akin to slavery, Lincoln would have consented to abandon those freemen to the mercies of that master class?
(21) New York Times (1st August, 1875)
Andrew Johnson, ex-President of the United States and member of the Senate from Tennessee, died at the house of his daughter, Mrs. W.R. Brown, near Elizabethtown, Carter County, Tenn., at 2 o'clock yesterday morning. The history this man leaves is a rare one. His career was remarkable, even in this country; it would have been quite impossible in any other. It presents the spectacle of a man who never went to school a day in his life rising from a humble beginning as a tailor's apprentice through a long succession of posts of civil responsibility to the highest office in the land, and evincing his continued hold upon the popular heart by a subsequent election to the Senate in the teeth of a bitter personal and political opposition. Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, N.C., Dec. 29, 1808. His father, Jacob Johnson, who was in the humblest circumstances, was drowned while attempting to save the life of Editor Henderson, of the Raleigh Gazette, in 1812, and six years later young Andrew, at the age of ten, was apprenticed to a tailor named Selby. School was then out of the question, of course, and the outlook was that the young man would grow up to an illiterate life. But the intellect that was in him was aroused through the instrumentality of a Raleigh gentleman, whose practice it was to read aloud to the tailor's employees from books of published speeches. The speeches of some of the British statesmen particularly attracted his attention, and he set about learning to read with the same determination which characterized his later life. By resolute application after work hours and in moments taken from sleep, he soon succeeded and was able to read the speeches and other books for himself.
He left Raleigh in 1824, before his apprenticeship had expired, and went to Laurens Court House, S.C., where he worked two years at his trade, and then, after a return to Raleigh and a brief stay there, he removed with his mother to Greenville, Tenn. He soon married, and was fortunate enough to get a wife who was a help-meet to him in every sense of the word. She set herself at once to supply his greatest lack, became his teacher, giving him such oral instruction as was possible while he was at work, and teaching him writing, arithmetic, and other branches at night. Under her faithful tuition he acquired a fair education. The native forces of his mind supplied the remaining elements of his success.
We find him early in politics. In natural sympathy with the laboring classes, he became their local champion, and organized a Working Man's party in 1828, and, as its candidate for Alderman of Greenville, defeated the more aristocratic party and broke their rule in the town. In 1830 he was chosen Mayor, and held that office for three years. Four years later he gained a more than local prominence by active exertions to secure the adoption of a new State Constitution, and offering himself the next year as a Democratic candidate for the lower branch of the Legislature, he was elected, winning support mainly by his vigorous speeches. A grand and costly scheme of internal improvement which came before the Legislature incurred his earnest opposition, and though his denunciation of it made him temporarily unpopular and defeated him in the canvass of 1837, yet his course was vindicated by the deplorable working of the enacted bill, and he was returned to the Legislature in 1839.
He was one of the Democratic electors in the Presidential year of 1840, and canvassed Tennessee for Martin Van Buren. His powers of oratory were then first publicly revealed, and they proved very effective even against some of the noted public men of the day. He was elected to the State Senate in 1841, and gained much credit for the introduction and advocacy of a judicious plan of internal improvement of the eastern portion of the State. But he was destined to a broader sphere of influence. In 1843 he was elected to Congress in the First Tennessee District, defeating Col. John A. Asken, a Democrat of the United States Bank stamp. By successive re-elections he was continued in Congress for ten years. He was during the time a prominent supporter of the national measures of his party, favoring the annexation of Texas and the Mexican war, and being a conspicuous advocate of the Homestead bill, to give 160 acres of the public lands to any one who would settle upon and till them. It is curious and suggestive to find him in 1848 making a long and powerful speech in favor of the veto power.
By a redistricting of his State a Whig majority was created in his district, and in 1853 he was defeated in the Congressional canvass. Compensation came in his election as Governor of the State the same year, over Gustavus A. Henry, the Whig and "Know-Nothing" candidate. The canvass was unusually spirited, even for Tennessee, and on one occasion when he was to address a large gathering, Mr. Johnson appeared on the platform with a pistol in his hand. He was re-elected Governor in 1855, and his administration of the State affairs, both in that and the preceding term of office, was marked by a regard for the public interest, rather than party fealty. A higher honor came to him in his election to the United States Senate by the Legislature of 1857. In his Senatorial career he was generally found upon the side of retrenchment and the interests of the laboring classes. He opposed the increase of the Army and the Pacific Railroad bill, and, as in the House, urged the passage of the Homestead bill -- which, however, was lost by President Buchanan's veto -- and took an active part in the discussion concerning retrenchment. Coming from a slave State, and himself owning slaves, he held slavery to be protected by the Constitution and beyond the interference of Congress; nevertheless, he believed in its ultimate overthrow. He denounced the John Brown raid, and in those early mutterings of the coming tempest he urged concessions to the South to calm the rising discontent, and new guarantees for the protection of slavery.
It was in the era of the rebellion that Andrew Johnson achieved his greatest distinction. It was not necessary for him to weigh the chances of the coming struggle, or to nicely estimate its moral elements, like some others of the less radical class of Southern statesmen. He was by principle and training unreservedly for the right, and he declared without hesitation for the Union, and strove with all the strength of his rugged soul against the secession faction. In the Presidential campaign of 1860, he at first supported Breckinridge and Lane, who represented the ultra-Southern Democrats, but at the first unmasking of the secession designs of this wing of his party he quitted their camp and vehemently denounced their unhallowed purpose. He saw no threat of injustice to the South in the election of Abraham Lincoln, and in the memorable Senate debates which preceded the withdrawal of the Southern members his powerful appeal to them to remain and "fight for the constitutional rights on the battlements of the Constitution," defined most clearly his position, and will be remembered as a noble and patriotic effort. But secession had then too vigorous a growth to be checked by any forensic effort, however moving. One after another the Southern States seceded, and finally Mr. Johnson's own State, Tennessee, was declared out of the Union by its Legislature, though the people had voted against holding a convention to consider the question of secession. Out of this discord a condition of mob law and anarchy was speedily developed, and when Senator Johnson returned home in April, 1861, at the close of the session of Congress, he found himself exposed to violence, and in the gravest personal peril. He was burned in effigy in nearly every city in the State, and on one occasion a mob entered a railroad car in which he was riding declaring that they were going to lynch him. He met them with a pistol in his hand and cowed them. At the East Tennessee Union Convention of May 3, 1861, he was prominent, and a little later, while on his way to attend a special session of Congress, he was honored by an enthusiastic public reception in Cincinnati. Through his efforts the Unionists of East Tennessee, persecuted and driven from their homes by the rebels, were given shelter, food and protection at Camp Dick Robinson, established by the Government.
President Lincoln nominated Mr. Johnson Military Governor of Tennessee March 4, 1862, and on the 12th he assumed the trying responsibilities of that office at Nashville. The rebel State Government had been driven from that city to Memphis. Mr. Johnson's wife and child had only a little while before been driven from their home and his property and slaves confiscated, but in a proclamation announcing his appointment, he said that, though it might be necessary to punish conscious treason in high places, no merely vindictive or retaliatory policy would be pursued. It required no common courage to rule with the firmness he displayed in that dark and perilous time. Civil officers who refused to take the oath of allegiance were at once removed and their places filled by Union men. He even imprisoned the disloyal clergymen of Nashville after they had expressed their determination not to take the oath. He levied a tax upon prominent secessionists to maintain the women and children whose husbands and fathers had been "forced into the armies of this unholy and nefarious rebellion." In the Summer of 1863 the entire State of Tennessee was brought under Federal military control, and a convention was held at Nashville in September to consider the question of restoring the State to the Union. Gov. Johnson then expressed the belief that it had never been out of the Union, holding that there was no constitutional provision permitting secession. In January, 1864, the machinery of the State civil government was set in motion again by an election of State and county officers ordered by him. The National Republican Convention of June 7, 1864, held at Baltimore, renominated Abraham Lincoln for President, with Andrew Johnson as the nominee for Vice President. In September he ordered an election in Tennessee for the choice of Presidential Electors, and made a rigid test oath the condition of suffrage. He was inaugurated with Mr. Lincoln March 4, 1865.
Undoubtedly the greatest misfortune that ever befell Andrew Johnson was the assassination of President Lincoln, April 14, 1865. It promoted him to the eminent position of President of the nation, it is true, but the student of history is forced to conclude that his posthumous fame would have been brighter without this high honor and the consequences it entailed. Up to this time Mr. Johnson's public life had been such that he incurred, in weightier matters, only the hostility of men whose opposition was, to an upright and honest man, more honorable than their approval; but his Presidential acts were of a kind that speedily alienated from him the party whose votes elected him, and left him only the questionable and lukewarm support of the opposition. In a speech of welcome to a delegation of citizens of Illinois who called on him on the 18th of April, President Johnson said:"The times we live in are not without instruction. The American people must be taught -- if they do not already feel -- that treason is a crime and must be punished; that the Government will not always bear with its enemies; that it is strong not only to protect but to punish."
These words seemed to foreshadow a reconstruction policy which would deal with the leading secessionists severely, as the people were then in a mood to demand. He offered $100,000 for the arrest of Jefferson Davis, and large sums also for other leading Confederates. Early in May rules were issued governing trade with the States lately in rebellion, but on the 24th of June all restrictions were removed. Then rapidly followed orders restoring Virginia to her Federal relations, establishing provisional governments in the Southern States, and (on May 29) granting a general amnesty to all persons engaged in the rebellion, except certain classes who could receive pardon by special application.
When Congress assembled the popular opposition to this hasty method of reconstruction took shape in a quarrel between Congress and the President. The Republican majority held that some substantial guarantee of good faith should be required of the rebellious States before they were admitted to their former rights and privileges, and that some provision should be made for protecting the freedmen. The difference of opinion between the Executive and Congress led to his vetoing the first Civil Rights bill and an act extending the Freedmen's Bureau. The bills were both passed over his veto, and President Johnson, certainly with questionably taste, repeatedly asserted in public that Congress was in an attitude of rebellion. It was not possible for the Cabinet chosen by Mr. Lincoln to be in harmony with his successor's policy, and in July, Postmaster General Dennison, Attorney General Speed, and Secretary of the Interior Harlan resigned, and the President at once filling their places. In the latter part of August President Johnson with Secretaries Seward and Welles, and Gen. Grant and others, set out for Chicago to attend the ceremonies of laying the corner-stone of the monument to Stephen A. Douglas. It was this trip that gave rise to the well-known expression "swinging around the circle."
The President spoke very freely of his policy in the different places on the route, openly denouncing Congress and saying many things that were decidedly inconsistent with the dignity of his position, and unquestionably injurious to him. The Fall elections showed incontestably that the popular approval was with Congress. On the reassembling of Congress the President vetoed bills denying the admission of States that had not ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, and giving the right of suffrage without distinction of color in Territories and the District of Columbia. Congress passed the bills over his veto, however. That body having also passed over his veto a bill establishing military districts in ten of the seceding States and making the civil authority therein subordinate to the military commanders, representing the United States Government, there arose a difficulty that widened the breach between the Executive and the Congress.
Attorney General Stanbury decided, on application of the President, that some provisions of the act were unconstitutional, whereby its enforcement by the military commanders was greatly impeded. Congress passed another act in July, 1867, making these commanders responsible only to the General of the Army, and after its passage over his veto President Johnson removed the commanders and substituted others. On the 12th of August, the same year, Edwin M. Stanton was removed from the office of Secretary of War by the President, and Gen. Grant appointed. The Tenure-of-office bill, passed the previous March, made the consent of the Senate necessary to such removals, and provided that its sanction was required, at the next ensuing session, in the case of appointments made in recess. Accordingly Secretary Stanton vacated his office under protest. The Senate, at its reassembling, refused to sanction his removal, and Gen. Grant at once resigned in his favor, but it was not in the nature of so determined a man as Andrew Johnson to yield the point thus, and he again removed Mr. Stanton, and appointed Gen. Lorenzo Thomas in his stead. The Senate at once declared that the President had exceeded his authority, and the House of Representatives passed a resolution -- 126 yeas to 47 nays -- that he be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.
The House agreed to the articles of impeachment March 3, 1868, and the Senate received them two days later. They specified his removal of Secretary Stanton, his publicly-expressed contempt for the Thirty-ninth Congress and his hindrances to the execution of its measures as acts calling for his impeachment. The trial began in the Senate, sitting as a high court of impeachment, on March 23. The managers of the trial on the part of the accusation were Thaddeus Stevens, B.F. Butler, John H. Bingham, George S. Boutwell, J.F. Wilson, T. Williams, and John A. Logan, all members of the House; for the President appeared Attorney General Henry Stanbury, Benjamin R. Curtis, Jeremiah S. Black, William M. Evarts, and Thomas A.R. Nelson. The votes on the two articles were taken May 16 and 26, standing, in each case, thirty-five guilty and nineteen not guilty, which acquitted the President, as a two-thirds vote is required to convict. Mr. Stanton at once resigned, and General Schofield was made Secretary of War.
The remainder of his Presidential career is not especially noteworthy. He issued a full pardon to everybody who had taken part in the rebellion, on the 25th of December. On the expiration of his term, in March, 1869, he retired to his home at Greenville, Tenn. In 1870 he was a candidate for the United States Senate, but was defeated by two votes; in 1872 he was defeated on independent nomination for Congress.
He came again into public life, however, in the beginning of the present year, being elected to the United States Senate by the Tennessee Legislature after an exciting contest, receiving on the fifty-fifth ballot fifty-two votes, which was only four more than was necessary for a choice. The popular demonstrations and rejoicings in the cities and towns of his vicinity were very flattering to him, and only expressed the genuine satisfaction that was felt all over the country at his return to the councils of the nation, in which, just then, the Louisiana affair and financial questions were in active discussion. It is needless to review this latest public service of Mr. Johnson, as it is recent, and fresh in the memory. Suffice it to say that he was honest and courageous as ever. Whatever else may be said of him, his integrity and courage have been seldom questioned though often proved. He was by nature and temperament squarely disposed toward justice and the right, and was a determined warrior for his convictions. He erred from limitation of grasp and perception, perhaps, or through sore perplexity in trying times, but never weakly or consciously. He was always headstrong and "sure he was right" even in his errors.