1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Johnson, Andrew
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JOHNSON, ANDREW (1808-1875), seventeenth president of the United States, was born at Raleigh, North Carolina, on the 29th of December 1808. His parents were poor, and his father died when Andrew was four years old. At the age of ten he was apprenticed to a tailor, his spare hours being spent in acquiring the rudiments of an education. He learned to read from a book which contained selected orations of great British and American statesmen. The young tailor went to Laurens Court House, South Carolina, in 1824, to work at his trade, but returned to Raleigh in 1826 and soon afterward removed to Greeneville in the eastern part of Tennessee. He married during the same year Eliza McCardle (1810-1876), much his superior by birth and education, who taught him the common school branches of learning and was of great assistance in his later career. In East Tennessee most of the people were small farmers, while West Tennessee was a land of great slave plantations. Johnson began in politics to oppose the aristocratic element and became the spokesman and champion of the poorer and labouring classes. In 1828 he was elected an alderman of Greeneville and in 1830-1834 was mayor. In 1834, in the Tennessee constitutional convention he endeavoured to limit the influence of the slaveholders by basing representation in the state legislature on the white population alone. In 1835-1837 and 1839-1841 Johnson was a Democratic member of the state House of Representatives, and in 1841-1843 of the state Senate; in both houses he uniformly upheld the cause of the “common people,” and, in addition, opposed legislation for “internal improvements.” He soon was recognized as the political champion of East Tennessee. Though his favourite leaders became Whigs, Johnson remained a Democrat, and in 1840 canvassed the state for Van Buren for president.
In 1843 he was elected to the national House of Representatives and there remained for ten years until his district was gerrymandered by the Whigs and he lost his seat. But he at once offered himself as a candidate for governor and was elected and re-elected, and was then sent to the United States Senate, serving from 1857 to 1862. As governor (1853-1857) he proved to be able and non-partisan. He championed popular education and recommended the homestead policy to the national government, and from his sympathy with the working classes and his oft-avowed pride in his former calling he became known as the “mechanic governor.” In Congress he proved to be a tireless advocate of the claims of the poorer whites and an opponent of the aristocracy. He favoured the annexation of Texas, supported the Polk administration on the issues of the Mexican War and the Oregon boundary controversy, and though voting for the admission of free California demanded national protection for slavery. He also advocated the homestead law and low tariffs, opposed the policy of “internal improvements,” and was a zealous worker for budget economies. Though opposed to a monopoly of political power in the South by the great slaveholders, he deprecated anti-slavery agitation (even favouring denial of the right of petition on that subject) as threatening abolition or the dissolution of the Union, and went with his sectional leaders so far as to demand freedom of choice for the Territories, and protection for slavery where it existed — this even so late as 1860. He supported in 1860 the ultra-Democratic ticket of Breckinridge and Lane, but he did not identify the election of Lincoln with the ruin of the South, though he thought the North should give renewed guarantees to slavery. But he followed Jackson rather than Calhoun, and above everything else set his love of the Union, though believing the South to be grievously wronged. He was the only Southern member of Congress who opposed secession and refused to “go with his state” when it withdrew from the Union in 1861. In the judgment of a leading opponent (O. P. Morton) “perhaps no man in Congress exerted the same influence on the public sentiment of the North at the beginning of the war” as Johnson. During the war he suffered much for his loyalty to the Union. In March 1862 Lincoln made him military governor of the part of Tennessee captured from the Confederates, and after two years of autocratic rule (with much danger to himself) he succeeded in organizing a Union government for the state. In 1864, to secure the votes of the war Democrats and to please the border states that had remained in the Union, Johnson was nominated for vice-president on the ticket with Lincoln.
A month after the inauguration the murder of Lincoln left him president, with the great problem to solve of reconstruction of the Union. All his past career and utterances seemed to indicate that he would favour the harshest measures toward ex-Confederates, hence his acceptability to the most radical republicans. But, whether because he drew a distinction between the treason of individuals and of states, or was influenced by Seward, or simply, once in responsible position, separated Republican party politics from the question of constitutional interpretation, at least he speedily showed that he would be influenced by no acrimony, and adopted the lenient reconstruction policy of Lincoln. In this he had for some time the cordial support of his cabinet. During the summer of 1865 he set up provisional civil governments in all the seceded states except Texas, and within a few months all those states were reorganized and applying for readmission to the Union. The radical congress (Republican by a large majority) sharply opposed this plan of restoration, as they had opposed Lincoln's plan: first, because the members of Congress from the Southern States (when readmitted) would almost certainly vote with the Democrats; secondly, because relatively few of the Confederates were punished; and thirdly, because the newly organized Southern States did not give political rights to the negroes. The question of the status of the negro proved the crux of the issue. Johnson was opposed to general or immediate negro suffrage. A bitter contest began in Feb. 1866, between the president and the Congress, which refused to admit representatives from the South and during 1866 passed over his veto a number of important measures, such as the Freedmen's Bureau Act and the Civil Rights Act, and submitted to the States the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Johnson took a prominent and undignified part in the congressional campaign of 1866, in which his policies were voted down by the North. In 1867 Congress threw aside his work of restoration and proceeded with its own plan, the main features of which were the disfranchisement of ex-Confederates and the enfranchisement of negroes. On the 2nd of March 1867 Congress passed over the president's veto the Tenure of Office Act, prohibiting the president from dismissing from office without the consent of the Senate any officer appointed by and with the advice and consent of that body, and in addition a section was inserted in the army appropriation bill of this session designed to subordinate the president to the Senate and the general-in-chief of the army in military matters. The president was thus deprived of practically all power. Stanton and other members of his cabinet and General Grant became hostile to him, the president attempted to remove Stanton without regard to the Tenure of Office Act, and, finally, to get rid of the president, Congress in 1868 (February-May) made an attempt to impeach and remove him, his disregard of the Tenure of Office Act being the principal charge against him. The charges were in part quite trivial, and the evidence was ridiculously inadequate for the graver charges. A two-thirds majority was necessary for conviction; and the votes being 35 to 19 (7 Republicans and 12 Democrats voting in his favour on the crucial clauses) he was acquitted. The misguided animus of the impeachment as a piece of partisan politics was soon very generally admitted; and the importance of its failure, in securing the continued power and independence of the presidential element in the constitutional system, can hardly be over-estimated. The rest of his term as president was comparatively quiet and uneventful. In 1869 he retired into private life in Tennessee, and after several unsuccessful efforts was elected to the United States Senate, free of party trammels, in 1875, but died at Carter's Station, Tenn., on the 31st of July 1875. The only speech he made was a skilful and temperate arraignment of President Grant's policy towards the South.
President Johnson's leading political principles were a reverence of Andrew Jackson, unlimited confidence in the people, and an intense veneration for the constitution. Throughout his life he remained in some respects a “backwoodsman.” He lacked the finish of systematic education. But his whole career sufficiently proves him to have been a man of extraordinary qualities. He did not rise above untoward circumstances by favour, nor — until after his election as senator — by fortunate and fortuitous, connexion with great events, but by strength of native talents, persistent purpose, and an iron will. He had strong, rugged powers, was a close reasoner and a forcible speaker. Unfortunately his extemporaneous speeches were commonplace, in very bad taste, fervently intemperate and denunciatory; and though this was probably due largely to temperament and habits of stump-speaking formed in early life, it was attributed by his enemies to drink. Resorting to stimulants after illness, his marked excess in this respect on the occasion of his inauguration as vice-president undoubtedly did him harm with the public. Faults of personality were his great handicap. Though approachable and not without kindliness of manner, he seemed hard and inflexible; and while president, physical pain and domestic anxieties, added to the struggles of public life, combined to accentuate a naturally somewhat severe temperament. A lifelong Southern Democrat, he was forced to lead (nominally at least) a party of Northern Republicans, with whom he had no bond of sympathy save a common opposition to secession; and his ardent, aggressive convictions and character, above all his complete lack of tact, unfitted him to deal successfully with the passionate partisanship of Congress. The absolute integrity and unflinching courage that marked his career were always ungrudgingly admitted by his greatest enemies.
See L. Foster, The Life and Speeches of Andrew Johnson (1866); D. M. De Witt, The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson (1903); C. E. Chadsey, The Struggle between President Johnson and Congress over Reconstruction (1896); and W. A. Dunning, Essays on the Civil War and Reconstruction (1898). Also see W. A. Dunning's paper “More Light on Andrew Johnson” (in the American Historical Review, April 1906), in which apparently conclusive evidence is presented to prove that Johnson's first inaugural, a notable state paper, was written by the historian George Bancroft.
- The charges centred in the president's removal of Secretary Stanton, his ad interim appointment of Lorenzo Thomas, his campaign speeches in 1866, and the relation of these three things to the Tenure of Office Act. Of the eleven charges of impeachment the first was that Stanton's removal was contrary to the Tenure of Office Act; the second, that the appointment of Thomas was a violation of the same law; the third, that the appointment violated the Constitution; the fourth, that Johnson conspired with Thomas “to hinder and prevent Edwin M. Stanton . . . from holding . . . office of secretary for the department of war”; the fifth, that Johnson had conspired with Thomas to “prevent and hinder the execution” of the Tenure of Office Act; the sixth, that he had conspired with Thomas “to seize, take and possess the property of the United States in the department of war,” in violation of the Tenure of Office Act; the seventh, that this action was “a high misdemeanour”; the eighth, that the appointment of Thomas was “with intent unlawfully to control the disbursements of the moneys appropriated for the military service and for the department of war”; the ninth, that he had instructed Major-General Emory, in command of the department of Washington, that an act of 1867 appropriating money for the army was unconstitutional; the tenth, that his speeches in 1866 constituted “a high misdemeanour in office”; and the eleventh, the “omnibus” article, that he had committed high misdemeanours in saying that the 39th Congress was not an authorized Congress, that its legislation was not binding upon him, and that it was incapable of proposing amendments. The actual trial began on the 30th of March (from the 5th of March it was adjourned to the 23rd, and on the 24th of March to the 30th). On the 16th of May, after sessions in which the Senate repeatedly reversed the rulings of the chief justice as to the admission of evidence, in which the president's counsel showed that their case was excellently prepared and the prosecuting counsel appealed in general to political passions rather than to judicial impartiality, the eleventh article was voted on and impeachment failed by a single vote (35 to 19; 7 republicans and 12 democrats voting “Not guilty”) of the necessary two-thirds. After ten days' interval, during which B. F. Butler of the prosecuting counsel attempted to prove that corruption had been practised on some of those voting “Not guilty,” on the 26th of May a vote was taken on the second and third articles with the same result as on the eleventh article. There was no vote on the other articles.