The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

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The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
Born in North Carolina in 1808 to impoverished parents, Andrew Johnson had no formal education. He became a tailor’s apprentice at age fourteen. He later moved to Greenville, in eastern Tennessee, where he established a thriving tailor shop and went into local politics. Andrew Johnson was a lifelong Democrat and slave owner who won a place alongside Abraham Lincoln on the 1864 Republican ticket, in order to gain the support of pro-war Democrats. Their election was closer in the popular than in the electoral columns; in the end they pulled off a victory. Lincoln received fifty-five percent of the popular, and ninety-one percent of the electoral votes. Johnson became vice-president. During the time period between the election and Lincoln’s inauguration seven states left the Union. Worried that the election of a Republican would threaten their rights, especially slavery, the lower South seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. By the time Lincoln arrived in Washington, D.C., for his inauguration the threat of war hung heavy in the air. On March 4th in 1861, the inauguration took place. Lincoln made sure to make no specific threats against the Southern states in his remarks. In his speech he extended an olive branch to the South, but also made it clear that he intended to enforce federal laws in the states that seceded. The second matter was the behavior of Johnson, who is said to have come to the ceremony in a state of intoxication. It was later said, that Johnson was ill and had merely taken and extra strong shot of whiskey; however, his behavior at the inauguration was to plague him for years. At about ten-thirty on April 14th in 1865, Andrew Johnson got the news that changed his life. John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre. His assassination had a long-lasting impact upon the United States. A few hours after Lincoln's death, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase swore Johnson in as President of the United States. An ardent admirer of Andrew Jackson, Johnson believed strongly in the former Democratic president’s idea of state rights, that is, a limited national government with the states having the power to handle all matters not specifically designated in the Constitution as federal responsibilities. During political campaigns he portrayed himself as a man of the people. Although Johnson came into the presidency with much political and administrative experience, the task confronting him would require extraordinary talents of leadership that Johnson had yet to exhibit. From the day of his inauguration until December of 1865, the question of Reconstruction was almost totally in the hands of Johnson, because Congress had recessed shortly before he took the oath of office. In those eight months, Johnson rushed to implement his own Reconstruction policies based upon his interpretation of Lincoln's program. On May 29th in 1865, Johnson issued two presidential proclamations as part of his reconstruction plan. One was an offer of amnesty to pardon Southerners who had supported the Confederacy. Congress authorized general amnesties like this in 1862, as part of a law that permitted the confiscation of Confederates’ property. The Confiscation Act of 1862 allowed the granting of amnesties to those who were willing to declare loyalty. It also allowed the seizure of property as a punishment for rebellion against the United States. The government throughout the Civil War rarely used confiscation provision of the law, and the amnesty provision. The general amnesty Johnson issued excluded fourteen categories. Members of these excluded classes were able to apply for individual pardons. Johnson’s second proclamation, as a first step in restoring civil government, appointed a provisional governor for the state of North Carolina. It also called for a convention of the state’s loyal citizens to draw up a new state constitution. The North Carolina proclamation...
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