What Number President was He?
Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson assumed the role of the 17th President of the United States (1865-1869). He was a traditional southern Jacksonian Democrat known for his strong states' rights beliefs. Despite his integrity, Johnson faced a challenging presidency, contending with the formidable Radical Republicans led by Congress, whose strategic maneuvers were relentless and effective, leaving Johnson at a disadvantage.
Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1808, Johnson grew up in poverty and worked as a tailor after leaving an apprenticeship. Settling in Greeneville, Tennessee, he married Eliza McCardle and engaged in local debates. As a political figure, he became known for advocating for the common people and criticizing the plantation elite. Serving in the House of Representatives and the Senate during the 1840s and 1850s, Johnson championed causes such as a homestead bill to grant land to the poor.
During the secession crisis, Johnson remained loyal to the Union even as his home state of Tennessee seceded, earning praise in the North but scorn from many in the South. In 1862, President Lincoln appointed him Military Governor of Tennessee, allowing him to experiment with reconstruction efforts. In 1864, Johnson, a Southerner and Democrat, was nominated as Vice President by the Republican National Union Party.
After Lincoln's assassination, Johnson focused on reconstructing former Confederate states while Congress was adjourned in 1865. He extended pardons to those who took an allegiance oath, but demanded special pardons from leaders and wealthy individuals. By the time Congress reconvened later that year, numerous southern states were reconstructed and slavery was being dismantled, but discriminatory "black codes" emerged.
The Radical Republicans, backed by concerned Northerners, resisted Johnson's approach. They began by refusing to seat any representatives from the former Confederacy, subsequently passing legislation concerning former slaves. Johnson vetoed their bills, yet the Radicals marshaled enough support to override his veto for the first time in a significant legislative conflict. The Civil Rights Act of 1866, conferring citizenship on African Americans and prohibiting discrimination against them, was enacted. The following months saw Congress proposing the Fourteenth Amendment, outlining protections for individuals' rights.
With the exception of Tennessee, Confederate states rejected the Fourteenth Amendment, and violent racial tensions erupted in the South. Johnson faced hostility during his speeches in the Midwest, while the Radical Republicans achieved a sweeping victory in the Congressional elections that year.
In 1867, the Radicals pursued their own Reconstruction plan, reestablishing military control over the southern states and implementing laws curbing the President's authority. Johnson was accused of violating the Tenure of Office Act for dismissing Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, leading the House to impeach him on multiple charges. Tried in the Senate in 1868, Johnson was acquitted by a single vote.
In 1875, Johnson was elected to the Senate by Tennessee and passed away several months later.
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