Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson: A Tumultuous Presidency

Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States, holds a unique and controversial place in American history. As the first president to assume office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Johnson faced the daunting task of navigating a divided nation during the tumultuous period of Reconstruction. Born into humble beginnings, Johnson’s rise to power and his presidency were marked by both admirable qualities and significant shortcomings. This article by Academic Block delves into the life, career, and presidency of Andrew Johnson, exploring the complex legacy he left behind.

Early Life and Political Beginnings

Andrew Johnson was born on December 29, 1808, in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Jacob and Mary Johnson. His family struggled with poverty, and young Andrew’s childhood was marked by hardship. His lack of formal education did not deter him from pursuing self-education, and he developed a keen interest in politics. Johnson’s early years were marked by various jobs, including working as an apprentice tailor and participating in local politics.

In 1827, Johnson married Eliza McCardle, and the couple had five children. Despite his limited education, Johnson’s determination and political acumen helped him enter the world of Tennessee politics. He served as an alderman, mayor, and member of the Tennessee state legislature, gradually establishing himself as a prominent figure.

Rise to National Politics

Andrew Johnson’s political rise reached a significant milestone when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843. A self-declared champion of the common man, Johnson advocated for the interests of the working class and small farmers. His impassioned speeches on behalf of the Union during the Mexican-American War solidified his reputation as a nationalist and garnered attention beyond Tennessee.

In 1857, Johnson ascended to the U.S. Senate, further expanding his influence on the national stage. Despite his Southern roots, Johnson ardently opposed the expansion of slavery into new territories. His commitment to preserving the Union became evident as the country teetered on the brink of Civil War.

As the nation fractured along regional lines, Johnson remained loyal to the Union, and his unwavering support for the federal government earned him recognition from President Lincoln. In 1862, Lincoln appointed Johnson as the military governor of Tennessee, a move aimed at re-establishing federal control over the rebellious state.

The Vice Presidency and Assassination of Lincoln

In 1864, as the Civil War approached its conclusion, President Abraham Lincoln sought to build a coalition that would include Southern Unionists. With this goal in mind, Lincoln chose Andrew Johnson, a Southern Democrat and a former slaveholder who had remained loyal to the Union, as his running mate for the 1864 presidential election. The Republican Party, which Lincoln represented, adopted the name “National Union Party” for the election.

The election of 1864 was a pivotal moment in American history, with the Union on the verge of victory. Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, just days after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, thrust Johnson into the presidency at a critical juncture in the nation’s history.

Presidency and Reconstruction Policies

Andrew Johnson’s presidency was marked by the enormous challenge of reconstructing the Southern states in the aftermath of the Civil War. His approach to Reconstruction, however, would prove to be highly contentious and contribute to the enduring controversy surrounding his legacy.

Johnson’s vision for Reconstruction was lenient towards the Southern states that had seceded from the Union. He aimed to quickly reintegrate them into the national fold without imposing harsh penalties or extensive federal oversight. Johnson granted amnesty to many former Confederates, including high-ranking military and government officials, allowing them to regain their citizenship and property.

The President’s lenient approach clashed with the more radical wing of the Republican Party, which sought to implement more stringent measures to protect the rights of newly freed slaves and ensure Southern loyalty to the Union. The conflict between Johnson and the Radical Republicans set the stage for a series of political battles that would define his presidency.

The Impeachment Crisis

The deepening divide between President Johnson and the Radical Republicans came to a head in 1867 when a series of conflicts over Reconstruction policies escalated into a full-blown political crisis. The Radical Republicans, led by figures like Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner, pushed for the passage of the Tenure of Office Act in 1867, which restricted the president’s power to remove certain officeholders without Senate approval.

Johnson, believing the act to be unconstitutional, defied it by removing Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, from his cabinet and attempting to replace him with Lorenzo Thomas. This move triggered the impeachment proceedings against Johnson, making him the first president in American history to face such a fate.

The impeachment trial took place in the Senate in 1868, with Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding. The charges against Johnson included violations of the Tenure of Office Act and accusations of bringing disgrace and ridicule to the presidency. The trial ended in acquittal by just one vote, preventing Johnson’s removal from office.

Legacy of Impeachment

While Andrew Johnson narrowly avoided removal from office, the impeachment process had lasting implications for the presidency and the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches. Johnson’s acquittal reinforced the principle that impeachment should not be used as a tool for political disagreement or policy disputes. This precedent has shaped subsequent debates over the impeachment of other presidents, including Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

Despite surviving impeachment, Johnson’s presidency suffered irreparable damage. His political capital diminished, and his ability to shape Reconstruction policies dwindled. The Radicals in Congress took control of Reconstruction, implementing measures such as the Reconstruction Acts and the establishment of military districts in the South to safeguard the rights of African Americans and ensure Southern compliance with federal authority.

His Works:

Restoration of the Southern States: One of the primary goals of Andrew Johnson’s administration was the restoration of the Southern states to the Union. Johnson favored a lenient approach, allowing Southern states to rejoin the Union with minimal federal intervention. This approach aimed to expedite the reunification of the country and encourage economic recovery in the South.

Amnesty and Pardons: Johnson issued a series of amnesty proclamations, granting pardons to a large number of former Confederates. This was a significant development project in the sense that it aimed to reintegrate former rebels into the political and economic life of the nation. However, this policy also fueled tensions with Radical Republicans who sought a more punitive approach.

Reconstruction Acts: While Johnson’s vision for Reconstruction was relatively lenient, Congress, controlled by Radical Republicans, had a different agenda. In response to Johnson’s policies, Congress passed a series of Reconstruction Acts in 1867. These acts divided the South into military districts, and federal troops were stationed in these regions to enforce new civil rights laws and oversee the establishment of new governments. While this was more of a Congressional initiative, it had a significant impact on the development of the Southern states during this period.

Freedmen’s Bureau: The Freedmen’s Bureau, established in 1865 during Johnson’s presidency, was a federal agency designed to assist newly freed slaves and impoverished whites in the aftermath of the Civil War. The bureau provided food, housing, medical care, and education to freedmen and poor whites. While the Freedmen’s Bureau was not a long-term project, it played a crucial role in the immediate aftermath of the war and contributed to the development of education and social services in the South.

Veto of Civil Rights Legislation: Johnson’s presidency also witnessed his veto of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which aimed to protect the rights of African Americans. While not a development project in the traditional sense, Johnson’s opposition to this legislation reflected his resistance to federal intervention in matters of civil rights. The subsequent Congressional override of Johnson’s veto demonstrated the ongoing struggle between the executive and legislative branches over the direction of Reconstruction.

Homestead Act of 1866: Johnson signed the Homestead Act of 1866 into law. This act expanded on the original Homestead Act of 1862 by granting 160 acres of public land to settlers for a small fee, provided they improve the land by building a dwelling and cultivating crops. While this act was not exclusive to the Southern states, it contributed to the westward expansion and development of the nation as a whole.

Transcontinental Railroad: The First Transcontinental Railroad was completed during Johnson’s presidency. The Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads were joined at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869, connecting the East and West coasts of the United States. While the planning and construction of the railroad began before Johnson took office, its completion had a transformative impact on the nation’s development and economy.

Legacy and Death

Andrew Johnson’s presidency concluded in 1869, and he returned to Tennessee after leaving office. He made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 1869 but found himself largely marginalized in national politics. Johnson’s post-presidential years were marked by financial struggles and attempts to rebuild his political reputation.

While Johnson’s lenient approach to Reconstruction has been criticized for failing to address the deep-rooted issues of racial inequality and civil rights in the South, his legacy is not without positive aspects. Johnson’s commitment to the Union and his opposition to secession endeared him to many Americans, and his presidency contributed to the preservation of the United States during a critical period.

However, Johnson’s attitudes toward race and his unwillingness to confront the Southern states’ deeply entrenched systems of white supremacy have left a stain on his legacy. His veto of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which aimed to protect the rights of African Americans, and his resistance to the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the U.S., demonstrated his reluctance to champion the cause of racial equality.

Andrew Johnson passed away on July 31, 1875, at the age of 66. The immediate cause of his death was a stroke. Johnson’s death marked the end of a turbulent era in American history, and his legacy continued to be a subject of historical analysis and debate.

Final Words

Andrew Johnson’s presidency remains a subject of historical debate and analysis, reflecting the complexities and challenges of the Reconstruction era. While his commitment to preserving the Union during a time of profound crisis is commendable, his shortcomings in addressing the deep-seated issues of racial inequality and civil rights have left a controversial legacy.

Johnson’s impeachment and the subsequent struggles with Congress over Reconstruction policies underscore the delicate balance of power in the American system of government. The lessons learned from his presidency continue to resonate in discussions about executive authority, impeachment, and the ongoing pursuit of justice and equality.

As we reflect on the life and career of Andrew Johnson, it is essential to approach the subject with a nuanced understanding of the historical context in which he operated. The complexities of his presidency serve as a reminder that leaders, even those with admirable qualities, can be shaped and constrained by the turbulent times in which they govern. Please provide your comments below, it will help us in improving this article. Thanks for reading!

Andrew Johnson
17th President of the United States
Personal Details
Date of Birth : 19th  December 1808
Died : 31th  July 1875
Place of Birth : Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.
Father : Jacob Johnson
Mother : Mary McDonough
Spouse/Partner : Eliza McCardle
Children : Martha, Charles, Mary, Robert, Andrew “Frank”
Professions : Politician, Tailor
Career History

Served As:      17th President of the United States
Time Period:  April 15, 1865 – March 4, 1869
Predecessor:  Abraham Lincoln
Successor:     Ulysses S. Grant

Served As:      16th Vice President of the United States
Time Period:   March 4, 1865 – April 15, 1865
Predecessor:   Hannibal Hamlin
Successor:       Schuyler Colfax

Served As:      United States Senator from Tennessee
Time Period:  March 4, 1875– July 31, 1875
Predecessor:  William G. Brownlow
Successor:    David M. Key

Served As:      United States Senator from Tennessee
Time Period:  October 8, 1857 – March 4, 1862
Predecessor:  James C. Jones
Successor:    David T. Patterson

Served As:      Military Governor of Tennessee
Time Period:  March 12, 1862 – March 4, 1865
Predecessor:  Isham G. Harris
Successor:    William G. Brownlow

Served As:      15th Governor of Tennessee
Time Period:  October 17, 1853– November 3, 1857
Predecessor:  William B. Campbell
Successor:    Isham G. Harris

Served As:      Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee’s 1st district
Time Period:  March 4, 1843– March 3, 1853
Predecessor:  Thomas Dickens Arnold
Successor:    Brookins Campbell

Famous quotes by Andrew Johnson

“The goal to strive for is a poor government but a rich people.”

“The goal of government is to promote the greatest good for the greatest number.”

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.”

“The aim of government is not to do away with hardship but to give ordinary people the ability to overcome it.”

“The best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.”

“It is the function of the President, representing the executive of the United States, to administer and enforce the law.”

“The goal of life is not to do what we want but what is required of us.”

“Tyranny is a habit, it has its own organic life, it develops finally into a disease.”

“Honor is better than honors.”

“The goal of government should be to do all within its power to give the opportunity for every child to attend school.”

Controversies related to Andrew Johnson

Approach to Reconstruction: One of the central controversies of Johnson’s presidency was his approach to Reconstruction. Johnson favored a lenient policy toward the Southern states that had seceded from the Union. He granted amnesty to many former Confederates, allowing them to regain their property and political rights with relative ease. This leniency drew criticism from Radical Republicans in Congress who believed that a more punitive approach was necessary to protect the rights of newly freed slaves and ensure Southern loyalty to the Union.

Veto of Civil Rights Legislation: Johnson’s opposition to civil rights legislation was a source of significant controversy. In 1866, he vetoed the Civil Rights Act, which sought to protect the rights of African Americans in the South. Johnson argued that such legislation exceeded the federal government’s constitutional authority and encroached upon states’ rights. Congress overrode Johnson’s veto, marking the first time in U.S. history that Congress had overridden a presidential veto on a major piece of legislation.

Conflict with Radical Republicans: Johnson’s clashes with Radical Republicans in Congress escalated over time. The Radicals sought to implement more stringent measures during the Reconstruction process, including the establishment of military districts in the South and the extension of civil rights to African Americans. Johnson resisted these efforts, leading to a breakdown in relations between the executive and legislative branches and setting the stage for his impeachment.

Impeachment Trial: The impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868 remains one of the most notable controversies in American history. The impeachment articles charged Johnson with violating the Tenure of Office Act by removing Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, from his cabinet. The trial in the Senate was highly charged, with Johnson narrowly avoiding removal from office by one vote. The impeachment crisis underscored the intense political and ideological divisions of the time.

Attitude Toward African Americans: Johnson’s attitudes toward African Americans were a source of controversy. Despite his Unionist stance during the Civil War, Johnson did not advocate strongly for the civil rights of newly freed slaves. His veto of the Civil Rights Act and opposition to the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the U.S., reflected his reluctance to champion the cause of racial equality.

Amnesty and Pardons for Former Confederates: Johnson’s liberal use of amnesty and pardons for former Confederates drew criticism from those who believed that more stringent measures were needed to address the legacies of slavery and secession. Critics argued that Johnson’s approach allowed many former Confederate leaders to re-enter political life in the South without fully addressing the issues of civil rights and racial equality.

Southern “Black Codes” and Sharecropping: The Southern states, under Johnson’s lenient Reconstruction policies, enacted “Black Codes” that restricted the rights and freedoms of African Americans. These codes aimed to maintain a system of white supremacy and limit the economic opportunities available to freed slaves. Additionally, the emergence of the sharecropping system, in which many African Americans became trapped in a cycle of debt and economic dependence, further exacerbated racial and economic inequalities.

Academic References on Andrew Johnson


“Andrew Johnson: A Biography” by Hans L. Trefousse

“Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy” by David O. Stewart

“Andrew Johnson: Plebeian and Patriot” by Robert W. Winston

“The Presidency of Andrew Johnson” by Albert E. Castel

“Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage” by Lloyd Paul Stryker

“Andrew Johnson’s Civil War and Reconstruction” by David R. Zuczek

“Andrew Johnson: The American Presidents Series” by Annette Gordon-Reed


“Andrew Johnson: The Accidental President” by Michael Les Benedict

“Andrew Johnson and the Politics of Reconstruction” by Eric Foner

“The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson” by Michael Les Benedict

“Andrew Johnson and the Uses of Precedent” by David P. Currie

“Andrew Johnson and the Politics of Amnesty” by Jonathan M. Atkins

“Southern Discontent and the Election of 1866” by Richard L. Hume

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