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Andrew Johnson: 17th President: High Crimes and Misdemeanors

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else be destined to repeat it.

Official Portrait

Andrew Johnson unexpectedly became the 17th President when Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed. He had served as Lincoln's Vice-President during his second term. After Abe's death, Johnson served the remainder of that term.

He was born of modest means on December 29, 1808, in Raleigh, North Carolina. He had never attended a school because his parents were too poor to send him. Most of his education in reading and writing was acquired while he served as an apprentice to a tailor. Later, he worked as a tailor himself in Greeneville, Tennessee. He enjoyed debating and often participated in debates at the local school. His first political position was as the mayor of Greeneville. Later, he became a Congressman and was subsequently elected governor of Tennessee.

Johnson's Political Career

At the age of 49, he became a United States Senator, where he advocated for the poor man. He pushed for a homestead bill that would provide a free farm for those living in poverty. He became known for his exceptional ability at speaking and his willingness to speak against the plantation aristocracy. Despite being a Southern Democrat, he did not support the South's desire to secede from the Union. Many of his southern colleagues felt he was a traitor, while northerners commended him. When the Civil War broke out, every single Southern Senator quit, except Johnson, which meant that even when his home state of Tennessee seceded, he remained in his seat.

In 1862, Lincoln took notice of this loyalty and appointed him as the Military Governor of Tennessee, where he continued to impress the President by beginning efforts of reconstruction.

When it was time for Lincoln to run for his second term, he decided to go against party lines. The National Union Party claimed they were for any man who was loyal to the union. Therefore, even though Lincoln was a Republican, he decided to take Andrew, a Southern Democrat, on as his Vice-President. Just a little over a year later, the Civil War ended, Lincoln was assassinated, and he became President.

Impeachment Trial

Black Codes and Civil Rights Act of 1866

As President, he began reconstructing the former Confederate States while Congress was not in session in 1865. Many Northerners felt that the ex-Confederates should be punished. Still, Johnson supported Lincoln's views that as a nation, they needed to be pardoned as long as they were willing to take an oath of allegiance, although he did give special Presidential pardons to all leaders and men of wealth.

Once Congress met again in December of 1865, most of the southern states were reconstructed. Although things did not become perfect, the abolishment of slavery finally occurred. "Black codes" were created. These were codes that governed black Americans, such as separate drinking fountains, schools, bathrooms, etc. Although black men were free, they were kept separate from the white population, which made Radical Republicans in Congress angry, and they tried to change Johnson's programs. They had the support of many of the Northerners, who were in disbelief that the Southern prewar leaders were still in power and black people still had many restrictions

Radicals refused to seat any Senator or Representative that came from the Confederacy. They attempted to pass protections for former slaves, but Johnson vetoed the legislation. They were able to get enough votes to override the veto, which was the first time Congress had ever overridden a President's veto on a significant bill. They were able to successfully pass the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which stated that a black person was a United States citizen, which also forbids discrimination against them.

Soon after, Congress submitted the Fourteenth Amendment, which stated that no state should "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Unfortunately, all of the former Confederate States, except for Tennessee, refused to pass the amendment. Despite advancements in racial prejudices, the South remained hostile towards black Americans, resulting in many trials, including bloody race riots.

Not only were Confederate and Union troubles still a problem, but Johnson also faced a lot of hostility. Radical Republicans won the majority in Congress during this time. They decided that they wanted to affect their plan of Reconstruction, which resulted in southern states to be placed under military rule as well as placing restrictions upon the President.

Attempts to Impeach

Not only were Confederate and Union troubles still a problem, but Johnson also faced a lot of hostility. Radical Republicans won the majority in Congress during this time. They decided that they wanted to affect their plan of Reconstruction, which resulted in southern states to be placed under military rule as well as placing restrictions upon the President.

Tensions between Johnson and Congress continued to escalate. Congress often passed bills over Johnson's veto. Although the most significant disagreement was when Johnson acted without Congress's permission when he decided to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, this went against a new restriction placed on Johnson, which was the Tenure of Office Act. Congress became very angry and accused him of "high crimes and misdemeanors," then preceded to attempt to impeach him.

The trial went on for two months during the spring of 1868. Although the House of Representatives voted for impeachment, the Senate was a single vote shy of the two-thirds majority that it needed to remove Johnson from office; therefore, he was able to finish his term.

He did seek to run for a second term, but his party chose a different candidate. Four years later, he became a U.S. Senator from Texas. Despite the trial and rejection seven years previously, he received loud applause when he took his Senate seat. Unfortunately, he did not serve much longer, as he passed away a few months later in 1875.

Fun Facts

  • Johnson worked as a tailor before becoming president.
  • He never attended a school, because his parents were too poor to send him.
  • While president, Congress acted to impeach him because of accusations of "high crimes and misdemeanors."
  • The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, was ratified during his term.

Excerpt from the History Channel

Basic Facts

QuestionAnswer

Born

December 29, 1808 - North Carolina

President Number

17th

Party

Democratic

Military Service

United States Army and Union Army - Brigadier General

Wars Served

American Civil War

Age at Beginning of Presidency

57 years old

Term of Office

April 15, 1865 - March 3, 1869

How Long President

4 years

Vice-President

none

Age and Year of Death

July 31, 1875 (aged 66)

Cause of Death

stroke

The United States Presidents

1. George Washington

16. Abraham Lincoln

31. Herbert Hoover

2. John Adams

17. Andrew Johnson

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt

3. Thomas Jefferson

18. Ulysses S. Grant

33. Harry S. Truman

4. James Madison

19. Rutherford B. Hayes

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower

5. James Monroe

20. James Garfield

35. John F. Kennedy

6. John Quincy Adams

21. Chester A. Arthur

36. Lyndon B. Johnson

7. Andrew Jackson

22. Grover Cleveland

37. Richard M. Nixon

8. Martin Van Buren

23. Benjamin Harrison

38. Gerald R. Ford

9. William Henry Harrison

24. Grover Cleveland

39. James Carter

10. John Tyler

25. William McKinley

40. Ronald Reagan

11. James K. Polk

26. Theodore Roosevelt

41. George H. W. Bush

12. Zachary Taylor

27. William Howard Taft

42. William J. Clinton

13. Millard Fillmore

28. Woodrow Wilson

43. George W. Bush

14. Franklin Pierce

29. Warren G. Harding

44. Barack Obama

15. James Buchanan

30. Calvin Coolidge

45. Donald Trump

Sources

  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). Andrew Johnson. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/andrewjohnson
  • Sullivan, George. Mr. President: A Book of U.S. Presidents. New York: Scholastic, 2001. Print.
  • U.S. Presidential Fun Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2016, from http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/history/presidential-fun-facts/#geo-washington.jpg

© 2017 Angela Michelle Schultz

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