The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Johnson, Andrew
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JOHNSON, Andrew, seventeenth president of the United States, born in Raleigh, N. C., Dec. 29, 1808. His father, Jacob Johnson, who died in 1812, was city constable, sexton, and porter of the state bank. Extreme poverty prevented Andrew from receiving any schooling, and at the age of 10 he was apprenticed to Mr. Selby, a tailor. A gentleman was in the habit of visiting the shop and reading to the workmen, generally from “The American Speaker;” and Andrew became intensely interested, especially in the extracts from the speeches of Pitt and Fox. He determined to learn to read, and having done this, he devoted all his leisure hours to the perusal of such books as he could obtain. In the summer of 1824, a few months before his apprenticeship expired, he got into trouble by throwing stones at an old woman's house, and ran away to avoid the consequences. He went to Laurens Court House, S. C., and obtained work as a journeyman tailor. In May, 1826, he returned to Raleigh. Mr. Selby had moved into the country, and Johnson walked 20 miles to see him, apologized for his misdemeanor, and promised to pay him for the unfulfilled portion of his apprenticeship. Selby required security, which Johnson could not furnish; and in September he went to Tennessee, taking with him his mother, who was depen- dent upon him for support. He worked for a year at Greenville, during which time he married, and, after a vain search for a more desirable home further west, finally settled there. Thus far his education had been limited to reading; but now, under his wife's instruction, he learned to write and cipher. Taking an interest in local politics, he organized in 1828 a working men's party, to oppose the so-called aristocratic element which had always ruled the town. Considerable excitement ensued, and Johnson was elected alderman by a large majority. He was reflected in each of the two following years, and in 1830 was chosen mayor, which office he held three years. During a portion of this time he was prominent in a debating society formed by some young men of the neighborhood and students of Greenville college. One of the students says: “On approaching the village, there stood on the hill by the highway a solitary little house, perhaps ten feet square. We invariably entered when passing. It contained a bed, two or three stools, and a tailor's platform. Here we delighted to stop, because one lived here whom we knew outside of school, and made us welcome; one who would amuse us by his social good nature, taking more than ordinary interest in catering to our pleasure.” In 1834 the county court elected Johnson a trustee of Rhea academy; and in that year he was also active in securing the adoption of the new constitution of the state. In the summer of 1835 he offered himself as candidate for a seat in the lower house of the legislature, and announced that he was a democrat. Meeting with a cool reception from the leaders of that party, he entered the canvass personally, and in his first speech made such a vigorous and well sustained attack on the political career of his whig opponent that their opposition soon ceased, and he was elected. The most important measure brought before that legislature was a bill which involved the state in a debt of $4,000,000, for a vast scheme of internal improvements, consisting chiefly of macadamized and turnpike roads. Johnson strenuously opposed it, on the ground that no such debt should be incurred until the question had been submitted to the people, and predicted that the scheme would only result in a squandering of the money, without securing the benefits it promised. The bill became a law, and was so popular that in the election of 1837 Johnson failed to be returned to his seat. But before the expiration of the next two years the evils he predicted had developed themselves; many of the works were abandoned, and some of the companies had defrauded the state. In 1839 he was again elected. In the presidential contest of 1840 he canvassed eastern Tennessee in favor of Mr. Van Buren, and was a candidate on the democratic ticket for elector at large. In 1841 he was elected to the state senate, into which he introduced a judicious measure for internal improvements in the eastern part of the state. He was elected to congress from the first district of Tennessee in 1843, took his seat in December of that year, and held it by successive reëlections for ten years. During this time he advocated the bill refunding the tax imposed on Gen. Jackson at New Orleans, the annexation of Texas, the war with Mexico, the tariff of 1846, and general retrenchment in the expenses of the government. He sustained President Polk in his acceptance of the parallel of 49º as a settlement of the Oregon boundary question, and was conspicuous in urging the passage of a homestead law. On Aug. 2, 1848, he delivered an elaborate speech in favor of the veto power. In 1853 he was elected governor of Tennessee, over Gustavus A. Henry, the whig candidate; and in 1855 he was reëlected, over Meredith P. Gentry, candidate of the whigs and the “know-nothings.” The contest was exciting, and violence and threats of murder were frequent. At one meeting Johnson appeared with a pistol in his hand, laid it on the desk, and said: “Fellow citizens, I have been informed that part of the business to be transacted on the present occasion is the assassination of the individual who now has the honor of addressing you. I beg respectfully to propose that this be the first business in order. Therefore if any man has come here to-night for the purpose indicated, I do not say to him, let him speak, but let him shoot.” After pausing for a moment, with his hand on his pistol, he said: “Gentlemen, it appears that I have been misinformed. I will now proceed to address you on the subject that has called us together.” — On Dec. 7, 1857, Mr. Johnson took his seat in the United States senate, to which he had been elected for a full term by the legislature of Tennessee. Here, as in the lower house, he persistently urged the passage of a bill giving 160 acres of the public land to any citizen who would settle upon it and cultivate it a certain number of years; and he was soon recognized as the leading advocate of that measure. The bill was finally passed by more than a two-thirds vote in each house; but President Buchanan vetoed it, and the veto was sustained. In 1858 Johnson was one of the foremost opponents of the bill introduced by Jefferson Davis to increase the standing army because of the troubles in Utah, and offered a substitute which authorized the raising of 4,000 volunteers, to be dismissed when the trouble was over; which was modified so as to authorize two regiments of 18-months' men, and passed. In 1859 he was conspicuous in his efforts to secure the passage of a bill to retrench the government expenses, and in his opposition to the Pacific railroad. On the question of slavery, Johnson as a southern man and a democrat generally went with his party. He accepted slavery as an existing institution, protected by the constitution, but believed it would some day come to an end, and held that it must be kept subordinate to the Union at every hazard. He opposed the compromise measures of 1850, but finally voted for them. In the Charleston-Baltimore democratic convention of 1860 he was the presidential candidate of the Tennessee delegation. In the canvass which followed he supported Breckenridge and Lane, the candidates of the ultra southern wing of his party. But when the purposes of the leaders of that wing became apparent, and secession was actually introduced, he took ground against them, and in a speech delivered in the senate, Dec. 18 and 19, set forth the injustice and folly of the movement, and placed himself unreservedly on the side of the government. The legislature of Tennessee having voted the state out of the Union, in spite of the fact that the people had voted down a proposition for a convention on the subject, a reign of terror began there, and Johnson, returning home in May, 1861, was in peril of his life. On one occasion a mob entered a railroad car with the intention of lynching him; but he met them boldly, pistol in hand, and they retired. In nearly every city of the state he was burned in effigy. He took a prominent part in the East Tennessee Union convention of May 30, and on his arrival at Cincinnati (June 19) he received an ovation from the loyal citizens. On Jan. 31, 1862, he spoke in favor of the expulsion from the senate of Jesse D. Bright of Indiana. In the winter of 1861-'2 large numbers of Unionists were driven from their homes in East Tennessee, and sought refuge in Kentucky. Mr. Johnson met them there, relieved the immediate wants of many from his own purse, and used his influence with the government for the establishment of Camp Dick Robinson, where these refugees found shelter, food, and clothing, and were to a large extent organized into companies and mustered into the national service. His own wife and child had been turned out of their home, and his nine slaves confiscated. On March 4, 1862, President Lincoln nominated Andrew Johnson to be military governor of Tennessee; the senate confirmed the nomination; and on the 12th of that month he reached Nashville and assumed the duties of the office. The insurgent state government had been moved to Memphis when the capital was occupied by national troops. On March 18 Governor Johnson issued a proclamation which recited briefly the history of the state, the means by which it had been placed in hostility to the federal government, the reëstablishment of the national authority, and the abdication of the governor and dissolution of the legislature; announced his own appointment as military governor, and his purpose to fill the state and county offices by appointment until order could be restored; and declared that, “while it may become necessary, in vindicating the violated majesty of the law and reasserting its imperial sway, to punish intelligent and conscious treason in high places, no merely retaliatory or vindictive policy will be adopted.” This proclamation attracted wide attention, because it was looked upon as indicating the policy of the federal administration; but it produced little effect on the secession element in Tennessee. He next addressed a letter to the mayor and council of Nashville, requiring them to take the oath of allegiance. They refused, and he immediately declared their offices vacant, and appointed other citizens to fill them temporarily. Two months later, to protect Unionists from outrage at the hands of roving bands of secessionists, he issued a proclamation of which the following is the essential portion: “In every instance in which a Union man is arrested and maltreated by the marauding bands aforesaid, five or more rebels, from the most prominent in the immediate neighborhood, shall be arrested, imprisoned, and otherwise dealt with as the nature of the case may require; and further, in all cases where the property of citizens loyal to the government of the United States is taken or destroyed, full and ample remuneration shall be made to them out of the property of such rebels in the vicinity as have sympathized with, and given aid, comfort, information, or encouragement to the parties committing such depredations.” Three days after issuing this proclamation, he addressed a Union meeting at Nashville in a three-hour speech, which was most enthusiastically received. Here the tide of affairs seemed to turn, and similar meetings in various parts of the state greatly strengthened the Union cause. But Tennessee was still overrun by guerillas, and Johnson pursued his task amid continual personal peril. He showed courage and ability in maintaining order in Nashville while it was threatened by Gen. Bragg, and preventing the evacuation or surrender of the place, in providing for Union refugees, and in raising troops for the government. On Dec. 8, 1862, he issued a proclamation ordering elections to fill vacancies in the 37th congress; and on the 15th an order levying five monthly assessments on certain citizens of Nashville, “in behalf of the many helpless widows, wives, and children in the city of Nashville who have been reduced to poverty and wretchedness in consequence of their husbands, sons, and fathers having been forced into the armies of this unholy and nefarious rebellion.” On Feb. 20, 1863, he issued a proclamation warning all persons who occupied property belonging to “traitors” not to pay the rents until a person should be appointed to receive them in the name of the United States. In a speech at Columbus, Ohio, March 3, he expressed his belief that slavery would be extinguished by the war, but declared that the emancipation proclamation would not at all affect the question. On the first Saturday in March, 1864, by his order, elections were held for state and county officers, and the usual machinery of civil government was once more set in motion. — On June 1, 1864, the republican convention at Baltimore, having renominated Mr. Lincoln for the presidency, nominated Andrew Johnson for the vice presidency. He accepted the nomination in a long letter, in which he set forth fully his views on the questions at issue. On Sept. 30 he issued a proclamation ordering an election in Tennessee for presidential electors, and prescribing a rigid test oath as the condition of suffrage. On his inauguration as vice president (March 4, 1865) Johnson delivered an incoherent address, which was severely censured. President Lincoln was assassinated on the evening of April 14, and died the next morning. The members of the cabinet, excepting Mr. Seward, at once addressed a note to Mr. Johnson announcing the fact, and urging his immediate qualification as president. Accordingly, at 10 o'clock he took the oath of office, in the presence of the chief justice, a portion of the cabinet, and several congressmen, at his room in a hotel. On April 17 he made a speech in which he said: “The American people must be taught, if they do not already feel, that treason is a crime and must be punished; that the government will not always bear with its enemies; that it is strong not only to protect, but to punish. In our peaceful history, treason has been almost unknown. The people must understand that it is the blackest of crimes and will be surely punished.” Though in the same speech he said, “In regard to my future course I will now make no professions, no pledges,” yet the whole country looked upon these expressions as foreshadowing a severe policy in dealing with the secessionists. But it soon became evident that this expectation was to be disappointed, and the result was the alienation from President Johnson of almost the entire body of the party that had elected him. On May 1 he appointed a military commission for the trial of those immediately concerned in the assassination conspiracy, and offered $100,000 for the arrest of Jefferson Davis, and smaller amounts for several others, on the ground that they had aided and incited that conspiracy. On May 9 a new set of rules regulating trade with the southern states was promulgated, and on June 24 all restrictions were removed. An order for the restoration of Virginia to her relations with the federal government was issued May 9; and on May 29 two proclamations were promulgated, one establishing a provisional government in South Carolina, the other granting a general amnesty, on condition of their taking an oath of allegiance, to all persons engaged in the rebellion, with the exception of 14 specified classes, persons included in any of which might obtain pardon by a special application to the president. The appointment of provisional governments for the other insurgent states followed at brief intervals. On the assembling of congress in December, a determined opposition on the part of the majority to the reconstruction policy of the president was at once developed. The point at issue was, whether the seceding states should be at once admitted to representation in congress, and resume all the rights they enjoyed before the civil war, without further guarantees of good faith than the surrender of their armies, and with no provision for protecting the emancipated blacks in the enjoyment of their freedom and securing them the full rights of citizenship. A joint committee of 15 was appointed, to which were referred all questions concerning the recognition of these states, and the credentials of all persons sent from them as senators or representatives were laid on the table, to await the action of that committee. Congress passed an act known as the “civil rights bill,” and another for the extension of the freedmen's bureau, both of which the president vetoed, and the bills were then reconsidered and passed over the veto. In a speech delivered before the White House, Feb. 22, 1866, the president characterized the position assumed by congress as a new rebellion; and thereafter, in messages and speeches, he maintained an open hostility to the majority of that body. In June, 1866, a call was issued for a convention to be held at Philadelphia on Aug. 14, of delegates from every state and territory. Its specific object was not defined; but it was understood to be the foundation of a new party, on the basis of President Johnson's reconstruction policy. It failed of any practical effect, though some leading members of the dominant party attended or approved it. The members of President Lincoln's cabinet had remained in office; but in July the postmaster general, Mr. Denison, the attorney general, Mr. Speed, and the secretary of the interior, Mr. Harlan, resigned their offices, because of disagreement with the president; and their places were filled by A. W. Randall, Henry Stanbery, and O. H. Browning, respectively. On Aug. 28 President Johnson, accompanied by Secretaries Seward, Welles, and Randall, Gen. Grant, Admiral Farragnt, and others, left Washington for Chicago, to be present at the laying of the corner stone of a monument to Stephen A. Douglas. They went by way of Philadelphia, New York, and Albany; and at every important place the president addressed the assembled crowd, entering very fully into a discussion of his policy, and often denouncing the action of congress. An expression which he frequently repeated in these speeches gave rise to the popular quotation, “swinging round the circle.” The effect of this conduct upon himself was disastrous, and the autumn elections indicated a decided popular approval of the position maintained by congress. In June that body had resolved that no state should be readmitted until it had ratified the proposed 14th amendment to the constitution, which made all persons born or naturalized in the United States citizens thereof, and of the state wherein they resided; and in the session of 1866-'7 it passed acts requiring the elective franchise to be granted without distinction of color in the territories before they should be admitted as states, and similarly extending the franchise in the District of Columbia. All these measures met the determined opposition of President Johnson; but his vetoes were regularly overridden by the constitutional majority in congress. His argument against such measures was, that they “initiated an untried experiment for a people who have said, with one voice, that it is not for their good,” and that they were unconstitutional. On March 2, 1867, congress passed over the president's veto an act dividing ten of the seceding states into five military districts, and making the civil governments therein subject to the authority of the United States, exercised through the military commanders. After appointing the commanders, President Johnson requested the opinion of Mr. Stanbery, the attorney general, as to the legal questions arising from the reconstruction acts; and this opinion, after being considered in the cabinet, where Mr. Stanton alone objected to those portions calculated to nullify the law, was issued to the district commanders as an order. Gen. Sheridan, commanding the fifth district, soon after reported to Gen. Grant, commander-in-chief, that “the result of Mr. Stanbery's opinion is beginning to show itself by a defiant opposition to all acts of the military commander, by impeding and rendering helpless the civil officers acting under his appointment.” In July congress passed an act declaring the meaning of the previous act, and making the conduct of the military commanders subject only to the approval of the general of the army. This was vetoed, and passed over the veto. The only resource left to the president was to change the military commanders, which he did before the end of the year. On Aug. 12, 1867, the president notified to Mr. Stanton his suspension from office as secretary of war, and the appointment of Gen. Grant as secretary ad interim. Mr. Stanton turned over the office to the latter, submitting, “under protest, to superior force,” but denying the right of the president to remove him. This denial was based on the tenure-of-office act (passed March 2, 1867), which provided that no such removal should be made without the consent of the senate, and that appointments to vacancies occurring during the recess of congress should be subject to the approval of the senate at its next session. On Aug. 20 the president issued a proclamation declaring that peace, order, and civil authority existed once more throughout the United States; and on Sept. 7 he proclaimed an amnesty which relieved nearly all the white inhabitants of the southern states from any liability to confiscation of property, and restored to them the right of suffrage. When congress assembled in December the president sent to the senate a statement of his reasons for the removal of Mr. Stanton; but that body refused to sanction the removal, and Gen. Grant immediately resigned the office into Mr. Stanton's hands. On Feb. 21, 1868, Mr. Stanton was again informed of his removal, and of the appointment of Gen. Lorenzo Thomas as secretary of war ad interim. When the senate was officially informed of this action, it passed a resolution declaring that “the president has no power to remove the secretary of war and designate any other person to perform the duties of that office.” Mr. Stanton consequently refused to vacate the secretaryship. On Feb. 24 the house of representatives passed a resolution that the president be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors (yeas, 126; nays, 47; not voting, 17). The articles of impeachment were agreed to by the house on March 3, and presented to the senate on the 5th. The specifications were based on the president's removal of Mr. Stanton, his expressions in public speeches of contempt for congress, declaring the 39th not a constitutional congress, and his hindrance of the execution of some of its acts. The trial began on March 23, the president appearing by counsel. In his defence he asserted that his reconstruction policy was in pursuance of a course which had been marked out and determined upon by President Lincoln and his cabinet; and that Mr. Stanton himself had expressed his emphatic opinion of the unconstitutionality of the tenure-of-office act, when its veto was under consideration. On May 16 the senate voted upon the article in reference to contempt of congress and hindrance of execution of its acts, and on the 26th upon that in reference to the removal of Mr. Stanton. In each case the vote stood: guilty, 35; not guilty, 19. So the president was formally acquitted, as a two-thirds vote is required to convict. Mr. Stanton thereupon resigned his office, and was succeeded by Gen. Schofield. At the democratic national convention held in New York, July 4, 1868, Mr. Johnson's name was presented as a candidate for the presidency, and on the first ballot he received 65 votes, leading all other candidates except George H. Pendleton, who received 105. On the successive ballots he lost rapidly, until on the 19th he received no votes. On July 4 President Johnson issued a proclamation of pardon to all persons except those under presentment or indictment before a United States court; and on Dec. 25 a full pardon to everybody who had participated in the rebellion. On March 4, 1869, he was succeeded in the presidential office by U. S. Grant, and retired to his home in Greenville, Tenn. In 1870 he was a candidate before the legislature of Tennessee for a seat in the United States senate, but was defeated by two votes. In 1872 he was an independent candidate for congressman at large, and divided the democratic vote with the confederate Gen. B. F. Cheatham, which resulted in the election of Horace Maynard, the republican candidate. — See “Life and Public Services of Andrew Johnson,” by John Savage (New York, 1865); “Life, Speeches, and Services of Andrew Johnson” (Philadelphia, 1865); “Speeches of Andrew Johnson,” with a biographical introduction by Frank Moore (Boston, 1865); “Life and Speeches of Andrew Johnson, President of the United States,” by Lillian Foster (Philadelphia, 1866); “Life and Times of Andrew Johnson” (New York, 1866); “Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson” (Philadelphia, 1868); and “Proceedings in the Trial of Andrew Johnson” (Washington, 1868).