Andrew Johnson
Andrew johnson2.jpg

In office
April 15 1865 – March 4 1869
Vice President none
Preceded by Abraham Lincoln
Succeeded by Ulysses S. Grant

In office
March 4, 1865 – April 15, 1865
President Abraham Lincoln
Preceded by Hannibal Hamlin
Succeeded by Schuyler Colfax

In office
October 8, 1857 – March 4, 1862
Preceded by James C. Jones
Succeeded by Vacant
David T. Patterson (1866)

In office
October 17, 1853 – November 3, 1857
Preceded by William B. Campbell
Succeeded by Isham G. Harris

19th Governor of Tennessee
Military Governor
In office
March 12, 1862 – November 3, 1865
Preceded by Isham G. Harris
Succeeded by E. H. East

Born December 29, 1808(1808-12-29)
Died July 31, 1875 (age 66)
Nationality American
Political party Democratic until 1864 and after 1869; elected Vice President in 1864 on a National Union ticket; no party affiliation 1865–1869
Spouse(s) Eliza McCardle Johnson
Occupation Tailor
Religion Christian (no denomination; attended Catholic and Methodist services)[1]
Signature Andrew Johnson Signature.png

Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808July 31 1875) was the seventeenth President of the United States (1865–1869), succeeding to the presidency upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Johnson was a U.S. Senator from Greeneville at the time of the secession of the southern states. He was the only Southern Senator not to quit his post upon secession, and became the most prominent War Democrat from the South. In 1862 Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of Tennessee, where he proved energetic and effective in fighting the rebellion. Johnson was nominated for the Vice President slot in 1864 on the National Union Party ticket. He was elected along with Abraham Lincoln in November 1864, and he became president upon Lincoln's assassination on April 15, 1865. As president he took charge of Presidential Reconstruction — the first phase of Reconstruction — which lasted until the Radical Republicans gained control of Congress in the 1866 elections. His conciliatory policies towards the South, his hurry to reincorporate the former Confederates back into the union, and his vetoes of civil rights bills embroiled him in a bitter dispute with the Radical Republicans. The Radicals in the House of Representatives impeached him in 1868, and he was acquitted by a single vote in the Senate, that of Edmund G. Ross. He was the first U.S. President to be impeached.

Early lifeEdit


Andrew Johnson's boyhood home in Raleigh.

Johnson was born on December 29 1808, in Raleigh, to Jacob Johnson and Mary McDonough. Andrew Johnson grew up in poverty. When Johnson was three, his father died. At the age of 10 he was apprenticed to a tailor, but at age 16 he and his brother ran away to Greeneville, where he found work as a tailor. [2] Johnson married Eliza McCardle Johnson at the age of 19. He never attended any type of school; he credited his wife, Eliza McCardle Johnson with teaching him to read and write.

Early political careerEdit

Johnson served as an alderman in Greeneville from 1828 to 1830 and mayor of Greeneville from 1830 to 1833. As a Democrat he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Political ascendancyEdit

Johnson was elected governor of Tennessee, serving from 1853 to 1857, and was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from October 8 1857 to March 4 1862. He was chairman of the Committee to Audit and Control the Contingent Expense (Thirty-sixth Congress). Before Tennessee voted on secession, Johnson toured the state speaking in opposition to the act, which he said was unconstitutional. Johnson was an aggressive stump speaker and often responded to hecklers, even if those hecklers were in the senate. At the time of secession of the Confederacy, Johnson was the only Senator from the seceded states to continue participation in Congress.

In 1862 Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of Tennessee, where he proved energetic and effective in fighting the rebellion. According to tradition and local lore, on Aug. 8, 1863, Johnson freed his personal slaves.[3] He vigorously suppressed the Confederates and later spoke out for black suffrage, 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." [4]

Vice PresidencyEdit

Younger Andrew Johnson

Pre-Civil War photo of Andrew Johnson.

As a leading War Democrat and pro-Union southerner, Johnson was an ideal candidate for the Republicans in 1864 as they enlarged their base to include War Democrats and changed the party name to the National Union Party. He was elected Vice President of the United States and was inaugurated March 4 1865. At the ceremony, Johnson, who had been drinking (he explained later) to offset the pain of typhoid fever, gave a rambling speech and appeared intoxicated to many. In early 1865, Johnson talked harshly of hanging traitors like Jefferson Davis, which endeared him to the Radicals. [5]

Lincoln assassinationEdit

On the night of April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater in Washington by John Wilkes Booth. Booth's original plan included targeting Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward, in an attempt to topple the United States government. Johnson was unguarded and alone in his room at the Kirkwood Hotel in Washington, but his would-be assassin, George Atzerodt, never acted. [6]

Presidency 1865–1869Edit

Johnson was sworn in as President of the United States on April 15 1865, upon the death of Lincoln that morning. He was the first Vice President to succeed to the U.S. Presidency upon the assassination of a President and the sixth Vice president to become a President.

Johnson had an ambiguous party status. He attempted to build up a party of loyalists under the National Union label, but he did not identify with either of the two main parties while President—though he did try for the Democratic nomination in 1868. Asked in 1868 why he did not become a Democrat, he said "It is true I am asked why don't I join the Democratic party. Why don't they join me...if I have administered the office of president so well?"[7]

Foreign policyEdit


Eliza McCardle Johnson

Johnson forced the French out of Mexico by sending a combat army to the border and issuing an ultimatum. The French withdrew in 1867, and their puppet government quickly collapsed. Secretary of State Seward negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia on April 9 1867 for $7.2 Million. Critics sneered at "Seward's Folly" and "Seward's Icebox" and "Icebergia." Seward also negotiated to purchase the Danish West Indies, but the Senate refused to approve the purchase in 1867 (it eventually took place in 1917). The Senate likewise rejected Seward's arrangement with the United Kingdom to arbitrate the Alabama Claims.

The U.S. experienced tense relations with the United Kingdom and its colonial government in Canada in the aftermath of the war. Lingering resentment over a perception of British sympathy towards the Confederacy resulted in Johnson initially turning a blind eye towards a series of armed incursions by Irish-American civil war veterans into British territory in Canada, named the Fenian Raids. Eventually Johnson ordered the Fenians disarmed and barred from crossing the border, but his initially hesitant reaction to the crisis helped motivate the movement toward Canadian Confederation.


At first Johnson talked harshly, telling an Indiana delegation in late April, 1865, "Treason must be made odious... traitors must be punished and impoverished... their social power must be destroyed." But then he struck another note: "I say, as to the leaders, punishment. I also say leniency, reconciliation and amnesty to the thousands whom they have misled and deceived." [8] His class-based resentment of the rich appeared in a May, 1865 statement to W.H. Holden, the man he appointed governor of North Carolina, "I intend to confiscate the lands of these rich men whom I have excluded from pardon by my proclamation, and divide the proceeds thereof among the families of the wool hat boys, the Confederate soldiers, whom these men forced into battle to protect their property in slaves."[9]Johnson in practice was not at all harsh toward the Confederate leaders. He allowed the Southern states to hold elections in 1865 in which prominent ex-Confederates were elected to the U.S. Congress; however, Congress did not seat them. Congress and Johnson argued in an increasingly public way about Reconstruction and the manner in which the Southern secessionist states would be readmitted to the Union. Johnson favored a very quick restoration, similar to the plan of leniency that Lincoln advocated before his death.

Break with the Republicans: 1866Edit

Johnson-appointed governments all passed Black Codes that gave the Freedmen second class status. In response to the Black Codes and worrisome signs of Southern recalcitrance, the Radical Republicans blocked the re-admission of the ex-rebellious states to the Congress in fall 1865. Congress also renewed the Freedman's Bureau, but Johnson vetoed it. Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, leader of the moderate Republicans, took affront at the Black Codes. Trumbull proposed the first Civil Rights bill.

AndyJohnson's Home

The Johnson home in Greeneville today known as the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.

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 and 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." [10] Johnson, in a letter to Governor Thomas C. Fletcher of Missouri, wrote, "This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men." [11]

The Democratic party, proclaiming itself the party of white men, north and south, aligned with Johnson. [12] However the Republicans in Congress overrode his veto (the Senate by the vote of 33:15, the House by 182:41) and the Civil Rights bill became law.

The last moderate proposal was the Fourteenth Amendment, also authored by moderate Trumbull. It was designed to put the key provisions of the Civil Rights Act into the Constitution, but it went much further. It extended citizenship to everyone 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 guaranteed the Federal war debt (and promised the Confederate debt would never be paid). Johnson used his influence to block the amendment in the states, as three-fourths of the states were required for ratification. (The Amendment was later ratified.) The moderate effort to compromise with Johnson had failed and an all-out political war broke out 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. Johnson campaigned vigorously but was widely ridiculed.[13] The Republicans won by a landslide (the Southern states were not allowed to vote), and took full control of Reconstruction. Johnson was almost powerless.

Historian James Ford Rhodes has explained Johnson's inability to engage in serious negotiations:[14]

As Senator Charles Sumner shrewdly said, "the President himself is his own worst counselor, 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 colored people, his unyielding position 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; and for the quarrel and its unhappy results Johnson's lack of imagination and his inordinate sensitiveness to political gadflies were largely responsible: it was not a contest in which fundamentals were involved. 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.


First attemptEdit


There were two attempts to remove President Andrew Johnson from office. The first occurred in the fall of 1867. On November 21st of that year, the House Judiciary committee produced a bill of impeachment that was basically a vast collection of complaints against him. After a furious debate, there was a formal vote in the House of Representatives on December 5th, which failed 108-57. [15]

Second attemptEdit

Johnson notified Congress that he had removed Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War and was replacing him in the interim with Adjutant-General Lorenzo Thomas. Johnson had wanted to replace Stanton with former General Ulysses S. Grant, who refused to accept the position. This violated the Tenure of Office Act, a law enacted by Congress in March, 1867 over Johnson's veto, specifically designed to protect Stanton. Johnson had vetoed the act, claiming it was unconstitutional. The act said, "...every person holding any civil office, to which he has been appointed by and with the advice and consent of the Senate ... shall be entitled to hold such office until a successor shall have been in like manner appointed and duly qualified," thus removing the President's previous unlimited power to remove any of his Cabinet members at will. Years later in the case Myers v. United States in 1926, the Supreme Court ruled that such laws were indeed unconstitutional.


The 1868 Impeachment Resolution

The Senate and House entered into debate. Thomas attempted to move into the war office, for which Stanton had Thomas arrested. Three days after Stanton's removal, the House impeached Johnson for intentionally violating the Tenure of Office Act.

The situation

The Situation
A Harper's Weekly cartoon gives a humorous breakdown of "the situation". Secretary of War Edwin Stanton aims a cannon labeled "Congress" on the side at President Johnson and Lorenzo Thomas to show how Stanton was using congress to defeat the president and his unsuccessful replacement. He also holds a rammer marked "Tenure of Office Bill" and cannon balls on the floor are marked "Justice". Ulysses S. Grant and an unidentified man stand to Stanton's left.

On March 5, 1868, a court of impeachment was constituted in the Senate to hear charges against the President. William M. Evarts served as his counsel. Eleven articles were set out in the resolution, and the trial before the Senate lasted almost three months. Johnson's defense was based on a clause in the Tenure of Office Act stating that the then-current secretaries would hold their posts throughout the term of the President who appointed them. Since Lincoln had appointed Stanton, it was claimed, the applicability of the act had already run its course.

There were three votes in the Senate: one on May 16 for the 11th article of impeachment, which included many of the charges contained in the other articles, and two on May 26 for the second and third articles, after which the trial adjourned. On all three occasions, thirty-five Senators voted "Guilty" and nineteen "Not Guilty". As the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority for conviction in impeachment trials, Johnson was acquitted. A single changed vote would have sufficed to return a "Guilty" verdict. Seven Republican senators were disturbed by how the proceedings had been manipulated in order to give a one-sided presentation of the evidence. Senators William Pitt Fessenden, Joseph S. Fowler, James W. Grimes, John B. Henderson, Lyman Trumbull, Peter G. Van Winkle,[16] and Edmund G. Ross of Kansas, who provided the decisive vote, [17] defied their party and public opinion and voted against impeachment.

Before 1960 most historians held the impeachment of Andrew Johnson as a violation of American values regarding division of powers and fair play. Had Johnson been successfully removed from office, he would have been replaced with Radical Republican Benjamin Wade, making the presidency and Congress somewhat uniform in ideology, although in many ways Wade was more "radical" than the Republicans in Congress. This would have established a precedent that a President could be removed not for "high crimes and misdemeanors," but for purely political differences.

Christmas Day amnesty for ConfederatesEdit

One of Johnson's last significant acts was granting unconditional amnesty to all Confederates on Christmas Day, December 25, 1868. This was after the election of U.S. Grant to succeed him, but before Grant took office in March, 1869. Earlier amnesties requiring signed oaths and excluding certain classes of people were issued both by Lincoln and by Johnson.

Administration and CabinetEdit

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The Johnson Cabinet
Office Name Term
President Andrew Johnson1865–1869
Vice President None1865–1869
Secretary of State William H. Seward1865–1869
Secretary of Treasury Hugh McCulloch1865–1869
Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton1865–1868
John M. Schofield1868–1869
Attorney General James Speed1865–1866
Henry Stanberry1866–1868William M. Evarts1868–1869
Postmaster General William Dennison1865–1866
Alexander W. Randall1866–1869
Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles1865–1869
Secretary of the Interior John P. Usher1865
James Harlan1865–1866Orville H. Browning1866–1869

States admitted to the UnionEdit



Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, the final resting place of Andrew and Eliza Johnson as well as their children in Greeneville.

Johnson was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the United States Senate from Tennessee in 1868 and to the House of Representatives in 1872. However, in 1874 the Tennessee legislature did elect him to the U.S. Senate. Johnson served from March 4, 1875, until his death from a stroke near Elizabethton, on July 31 that same year. In his first speech since returning to the Senate, which was also his last, Johnson denounced the corruptions of the Grant Administration and his passions aroused a standing ovation from many of his fellow senators who had once voted to remove him from the presidency. He is the only President to serve in the Senate after his presidency.

Interment was in the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, Greeneville, where he was buried with a copy of the Constitution. Andrew Johnson National Cemetery is now part of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.

Historians' changing view of Andrew JohnsonEdit

Andrew Johnson

Engraving of Andrew Johnson

Historians have gone through cycles on Johnson. The Dunning School of the early 20th century saw him as a heroic bulwark against the corruption of the Radical Republicans who tried to remove the entire leadership class of the white South. Johnson seemed to be the legitimate heir of the sainted Abraham Lincoln. By the 1930s a series of favorable biographies enhanced his prestige.[18] Johnson's Republican critics of the 1860s appeared as disreputable to liberal historians as did the Republican critics of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Furthermore, a Beardian School (named after Charles 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. Historian Eric Foner says that by 1948, historians regarded Reconstruction, "as a time of corruption and misgovernment caused by granting black men the right to vote." They rated Johnson "near great." By 1960, however, historians such as Erik McKitrick demonstrated that Johnson was a poor politician who could not build coalitions and was doomed to failure. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s brought a new perspective, akin to that of the abolitionists of the 1860s. This neo-abolitionist school gave muted praise for Republican efforts to help the blacks, and excoriated Johnson for siding explicitly with the white South.

Johnson's most important foreign policy action was the purchase of Alaska from Russia (the future Soviet Union), which would prove vital to national security later during the Cold War. The idea and implementation is credited to Seward as Secretary of State, but Johnson approved the plan. It should be remembered that gold was not discovered in Alaska until 1880, thirteen years after the purchase and five years after Johnson's death, and that oil was not discovered until 1968.

See alsoEdit


  • Howard K. Beale, The Critical Year. A Study of Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (1930). ISBN 0-8044-1085-2
  • Michael Les Benedict, The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson (1999). ISBN 0-393-31982-2 online edition
  • Albert E. Castel, The Presidency of Andrew Johnson (1979). ISBN 0-7006-0190-2
  • D. M. DeWitt, The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson (1903).
  • W. A. Dunning, Essays on the Civil War and Reconstruction (New York, 1898) online edition
  • W. A. Dunning, Reconstruction, Political and Economic (New York, 1907) online edition
  • Foster, G. Allen, Impeached: The President who almost lost his job (New York, 1964).
  • Eric L. McKitrick, Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (1961). ISBN 0-19-505707-4
  • Martin E. Mantell; Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction (1973) online edition
  • Hatfield, Mark O, with the Senate Historical Office, Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789-1993.(Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997), p.219
  • Howard Means, The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days That Changed the Nation (New York, 2006)
  • Milton; George Fort. The Age of Hate: Andrew Johnson and the Radicals (1930) online edition
  • Patton; James Welch. Unionism and Reconstruction in Tennessee, 1860–1869 (1934) online edition
  • Rhodes; James Ford History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896. Volume: 6. 1920. Pulitzer prize. online edition
  • Schouler, James. History of the United States of America: Under the Constitution vol. 7. 1865–1877. The Reconstruction Period (1917) online edition
  • Lloyd P. Stryker, Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage (1929). ISBN 0-403-01231-7 online edition
  • Trefousse, Hans L. Andrew Johnson: A Biography (1989). ISBN 0-393-31742-0 online edition
  • Winston; Robert W. Andrew Johnson: Plebeian and Patriot (1928) online edition

Primary sourcesEdit


  1. ^ The Religious Affiliation of Andrew Johnson
  2. ^ Karin L Zipf. Labor Of Innocents: Forced Apprenticeship in North Carolina, 1715–1919 (2005) pp 8–9
  3. ^ Tennessee Recalls Emancipation, Segregation
  4. ^ Patton p 126
  5. ^ Trefousse p. 198
  6. ^ Atzerodt was hung along with fellow conspirators. Swanson, J: "Manhunt.", p. 154. HarperCollins, 2006
  7. ^ Trefousse, Hans Louis. Andrew Johnson: A Biography (1997), p. 338-339.
  8. ^ Milton 183
  9. ^ "Memoirs of W.W. Holden: Electronic Edition".
  10. ^ Rhodes, History 6:68
  11. ^ Trefousse pg. 236. Online reference to the quote available at
  12. ^ Trefousse 1999
  13. ^ Andrew Johnson Cleveland Speech (September 3, 1866)
  14. ^ Rhodes, History 6:74
  15. ^ Trefousse, 1989 pages 302–3
  16. ^ "Andrew Johnson Trial: The Consciences of Seven Republicans Save Johnson".
  17. ^ "The Trial of Andrew Johnson, 1868".
  18. ^ Highly favorable were Winston (1928), Stryker (1929), Milton (1930), and Claude Bowers, The Tragic Era (1929).

External linksEdit

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Political offices
Preceded by
William B. Campbell
Governor of Tennessee
1853 – 1857
Succeeded by
Isham G. Harris
Preceded by
Isham G. Harris
as Governor of Tennessee
Military Governor of Tennessee
1862 – 1865
Succeeded by
Edward H. East
as Acting Governor of Tennessee
Preceded by
Hannibal Hamlin
Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1865 – April 15, 1865
Succeeded by
Schuyler Colfax
Preceded by
Abraham Lincoln
President of the United States
April 15, 1865 – March 4, 1869
Succeeded by
Ulysses S. Grant
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Thomas D. Arnold
Member from Tennessee's 1st congressional district
March 4, 1843 – March 3, 1853
Succeeded by
Brookins Campbell
United States Senate
Preceded by
James C. Jones
Senator from Tennessee (Class 1)
October 8, 1857 – March 4, 1862
Served alongside: John Bell, Alfred O. P. Nicholson
Title next held by
David T. Patterson
Preceded by
William G. Brownlow
Senator from Tennessee (Class 1)
March 4, 1875 – July 31, 1875
Served alongside: Henry Cooper
Succeeded by
David M. Key
Party political offices
Preceded by
Hannibal Hamlin
Republican Party¹ vice presidential candidate
Succeeded by
Schuyler Colfax
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Millard Fillmore
Oldest U.S. President still living
March 8, 1874 – July 31, 1875
Succeeded by
Ulysses S. Grant
Notes & References
1. Lincoln and Johnson ran on the National Union ticket in 1864.

NAME Johnson, Andrew
SHORT DESCRIPTION seventeenth President of the United States
DATE OF BIRTH December 29, 1808(1808-12-29)
DATE OF DEATH July 31, 1875
PLACE OF DEATH Greeneville

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