Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Andrew Johnson

Term: 1865-1869

Party: Democrat

Nickname: Tennessee Tailor

Short Bio:
Johnson’s run as presidency was sort of an enigma. Johnson made bad decisions, but so did Congress. First off, as you may have noticed, Johnson is a democrat, while Lincoln was a republican. Johnson was the only southern senator to stay loyal to the union during the Civil War and was rewarded with the vice presidency. He took over for Hannibal Hamlin going into the second term to win border state votes with a southerner on the ballet. Lincoln didn’t really need the help, because his main opposition was the inept General McClellan. Now Johnson is in a pickle. He is a democrat surrounded by republican cabinet members and a mainly radical republican congress. Johnson opposed the radical republicans who were strictly anti-slavery, but also condemned rich plantation owners as traitors. Keep in mind that Johnson was a huge racist. He cared far more about getting the southern states back in the union than the welfare of the freed slaves.

As you probably guessed, Johnson didn’t get much done during his term. Congress simply wouldn’t let him do anything. Johnson sought to carry out most of what Lincoln had planned for the South. In that respect, Johnson granted amnesty and pardon, including restoration of property rights except to slaves, to all Confederates who pledged loyalty to the Union and support for the 13th Amendment. This was excluding all wealthy land owners and Confederate officials, though they could apply individually for presidential pardons. Johnson went on to pardon roughly 90 percent of those who applied. The funny thing is that this was all done while Congress was not in session. Oh, Johnson, you rascal. By late 1865, almost all of the southern states claimed to be in compliance with Johnson's plan. Johnson went in front of Congress and declared the restoration of the Union to be virtually complete. Congress, however, was not going to let some southern Democrat take the reigns in the reconstruction of the United States.

Johnson's "restoration plan" had a few good points. It went easy on the South, which was necessary to the cohesiveness of the Union, and it sought to get it done quickly. Southern states were allowed to elect their own representatives and senators again under Johnson's provisional state governments, and they tried to take their seats in December 1865, but were barred by the majority Republicans. Congress had a different idea for Reconstruction. The Southern states could be readmitted, but they first had to draft a new state constitution, have 50% of the voting population from 1860 swear loyalty to the Union, guarantee African American voting rights, ratify the Fourteenth Amendment making everyone born in America a citizen (except Native Americans), and letting the North basically decide who was allowed to represent the Southern states. Harsher towards white southerners, but way better for freed slaves. Again, Johnson didn't care about the freed slaves. When Congress brought up the Civil Rights bill of 1866 and another bill that enlarged the scope of the Freedman's Bureau, empowering it to build schools and pay teachers, and also to establish courts to prosecute those charged with depriving African Americans of their civil rights, Johnson vetoed both. Johnson claimed that the civil rights act was a "stride toward centralization, and the concentration of all legislative powers in the national Government." So he kind of viewed it more as a power play by the Radical Republicans than anything else. Congress overturned the vetoes and Johnson's bullheadedness only brought the Radical and Moderate Republicans together to take a large majority in Congress. With the majority in 1866, the Republicans fully took over the reigns of Reconstruction and made Johnson's life a living hell.

Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, was the only radical republican in Johnson’s cabinet, and was basically in charge of the Radical Republican's reconstruction. This didn't bode well with Johnson, so when Congress wasn't in session he suspended Stanton from the position and replaced him with Ulysses S. Grant. Congress came back into session and they weren't happy. Congressional pressure made Grant leave and Stanton took back his position. Johnson tried to replace Stanton again with General Lorenzo Thomas, but Stanton barricaded himself in his office for two months, keeping himself from being thrown out. Finally with a reason to get rid of Johnson, Congress moved to impeach the president. The impeachment passes in the House, thus Johnson becomes the first president, but not the last to be impeached. However, like a future president, the Senate saves him. Senator James Grimes had the deciding vote and sided with the president saving him from conviction. What saved Johnson? Well, behind the scenes, Moderate Republicans realized that the checks and balances in the government would be thrown out of whack if Congress could get rid of a president just because he disagreed politically with them. It would set a costly precedent that would in the end probably would have spelled disaster for our young republic. And that's what it was all about the whole time; Johnson's hard-nosed opposition to the Radical Republicans. The Tenure Act was just a smokescreen for the impeachment. Unfortunately for Johnson, though the law would be deemed unconstitutional twenty years later, it was in effect and he blatantly broke it. Along with the realization by moderate Republicans about the effect the removal would have, Johnson also agreed to follow along with the Republican's Reconstruction plan. Johnson left the presidency shortly after and stayed in politics, becoming the only president to serve as a senator after their presidential term.

Grade: D+

Johnson is another president that goes down as one of the worst, mostly for working against blacks and other parts reconstruction, though he was doing a few things right. Johnson did try to carry out Lincoln's plans of a easy transition for the southern states, but Congress simply would not have it. Because of all the bickering, and the fact that the Radical Republicans gained majority in all the northern states in 1866, Johnson could not get anything done. This is a prime example of what can happen when a president and Congress are at odds with each other. As you've seen, it's not good. Was the Radical Reconstruction perfect? No, it bolstered southerners to hate the north and the freed slaves more than probably would have. Out of that hate came the KKK and the Jim Crow Laws. Johson's plan wasn't much better as it would have further disenfranchised a whole race of people. I can't imagine what would have happened if nothing was done to protect the newly freed slaves.

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