“Now he belongs to the ages”. (Edwin Stanton)
With a single shot of John Wilkes Booth’s pistol, the greatest President that ever served America was dead. With the Civil War barely over and with the country in a complete state of moral and political chaos, Abraham Lincoln’s death could not have come at a worse time. (1) The great leader, the brave revolutionary, the progressive politician – Abraham Lincoln was the man who held an ever-changing America together, the only candidate to lead America forward and leave the brutalities of the Civil War, and of course slavery, behind. As it was, Lincoln’s death at Ford’s Theatre could not have come at a worse time for the nation – the death of a national hero, when the people needed him most. (1) His assassination marked the beginning of political chaos within America’s upper echelons, and most unfortunately condemned the south to decades of isolation and the races to a long arduous painful struggle, which remains. (4c)(1) With one single bullet, the soul was immediately ripped out of American politics and all the work of one great man nearly undone.
Never before was a strong leader more needed to capitalise on this great opportunity for the country, than after Lincoln’s murder. A man to carry the mantle for this new “free” America, a great leader to unite the people once again, a man to make America great. Unfortunately, all they got was Andrew Johnson. If the people had wanted a replica of Abraham Lincoln, they were hugely disappointed. As a Democrat from the border state of Tennessee, Johnson was never going to be a mould in Lincoln’s image. (4c) He became very much his own man – whether this was to the benefit of American politics, is highly doubtful. Never before had a President distanced himself so much from Congress. He was egotistical and narrow-minded and never seemed to fully comprehend the complexity of the war that had taken place. As a white southerner, Johnson’s feelings towards blacks were at best mixed. This was seen in his instruction to ex-rebel states to draw up state constitutions and allow ex-confederate leaders to dominate these state governments. (1) Johnson gave these states pretty much “free rein” over their own affairs and his policy of silence and non-interference was damaging to the freedmen, allowing the states to remain loyal to “the cause”. (1) Slavery was officially dead, but oppression was thriving. Violence against the freedmen became commonplace and with the introduction of the hugely controversial “Black Codes” in many states, blacks were denied all but their basic civil rights. Overall, there was a ridiculously ignorant and narrow-minded, yet widely accepted, view that “the blacks at large belong to the whites” (Carl Schulz). (1) The infamous Ku Klux Klan (1865) carried out unprecedented violent attacks on the freedmen. (4f) The cowardice of Johnson was seeing all hopes for a brighter future unravel before the freedmen’s eyes. What would Abe Lincoln have thought? However, Johnson was not allowed have an easy ride – Congress fought back and moved to exclude Johnson’s own senators and representatives from the house. (1) To further rile Congress, Johnson in turn vetoed a proposed Fourteenth Amendment (4d)– which defined a U.S. Citizen (including African Americans) – gave extension of powers to the Freedman’s Bureau, and included a reformed civil rights law. (4d) There was now a complete split between the President and the Republican Party. This in turn united the Republican Party; they were united in their hatred of Johnson and now abandoned him. (1) Inevitably, impeachment proceedings were brought against Johnson instigated by Edwin Stanton (the first of its kind to be brought against any American President). These were rightly rejected by Congress. If this had been passed it would have threatened the basis of the Constitutional system that would have caused political chaos. (4a) However, one positive outcome of the whole...
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