Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson

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Andrew Johnson was born in Rayleigh, North Carolina on 29th December, 1808. His father, a porter in an local inn, died when Johnson was only three years old. Too poor to go to school, Johnson became an apprentice tailor at fourteen. Three years later he opened his own shop in Greeneville, Tennessee.

Johnson took a keen interest in politics and his tailor shop became the home of a discussion group. A strong advocate of improved political rights for poor whites, Johnson helped form the Workingman's Party. After serving as a local alderman and mayor, he was elected to the state senate (1841) and congress (1843).

After joining the Democratic Party, Johnson was elected as governor of Tennessee (1853-57) and in 1856 was elected to the U.S. Senate. He was a mainstream Democrat favouring lower tariffs and opposing anti-slavery legislation. However, Johnson disapproved when Tennessee seceded from the union in June, 1861.

Johnson supported Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and was the only Southern senator who refused to join the Confederacy. He made it clear that he was fighting for the Union and not the abolition of slavery. He openly told the people of Tennessee: "I believe slaves should be in subordination and I will live and die so believing." In May 1862, Lincoln rewarded Johnson for his loyalty by making him military governor of Tennessee.

On 22nd September, 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. He told the nation that from the 1st January, 1863, all slaves in states or parts of states, still in rebellion, would be freed. Johnson complained to Lincoln about this decision and as a result it was agreed that this proclamation would not apply to Tennessee.

In February, 1863, Johnson decided to travel to Washington. On the way he stopped at several Northern cities where he made speeches where he explained his views on slavery. At Indianapolis he told the large crowd: "I have lived among negroes, all my life, and I am for this Government with slavery under the Constitution as it is."

Johnson made it clear that under the right conditions he would be willing to accept the abolition of slavery. He stressed the economic rather than the moral arguments against slavery. He told his audiences that he owned slaves and told the story of how two had run away but later returned as free men to work for wages. Johnson argued that they were more productive as free men than they had been as slaves.

Southern newspapers criticised Johnson for these speeches and claimed he was making a bid for higher office. The Nashville Daily Press pointed out that: "No man in Tennessee has done more than Andrew Johnson to create, to perpetuate and embitter in the minds of the Southern people, that feeling of jealousy and hostility against the free States, which has at length culminated in rebellion and civil war. Up to 1860, he had been for 20 years among the most bigoted and intolerant of the advocates of slavery and Southernism". The newspaper accused him "of having but one aim, the Vice Presidency of the United States, on any rabid ticket likely to be successful."

After Johnson's successful speaking tour leading members of the Republican Party began to suggest that Johnson should replace Hannibal Hamlin as Abraham Lincoln's running mate in the 1864 presidential election. Hamlin was a Radical Republican and it was felt that Lincoln was already sure to gain the support of this political group. It was argued that what Lincoln needed was the votes of those who had previously supported the Democratic Party in the North.

Abraham Lincoln originally selected General Benjamin Butler as his 1864 vice-presidential candidate. Butler, a war hero, had been a member of the Democratic Party, but his experiences during the American Civil War had made him increasingly radical. Simon Cameron was sent to talk to Butler at Fort Monroe about joining the campaign. However, Butler rejected the offer, jokingly saying that he would only accept if Lincoln promised "that within three months after his inauguration he would die".

It was now decided that Johnson would make the best candidate for vice president. By choosing the governor of Tennessee, Lincoln would emphasis the fact that Southern states were still part of the Union. He would also gain the support of the large War Democrat faction. At a convention of the Republican Party on 8th July, 1864, Johnson received 200 votes to Hamlin's 150 and became Lincoln's running mate.

During the election Johnson made it clear that he supported what he called "white man's government". However, when faced with black audiences he spoke of the need of improved civil rights and on one occasion during a speech in Washington offered to "be your Moses and lead you through the Red Sea of war and bondage to a fairer future of liberty and peace."

The military victories of Ulysses S. Grant, William Sherman, George Meade, Philip Sheridan and George H. Thomas in the American Civil War in 1864 reinforced the idea that the Union Army was close to bringing the war to an end. This helped Lincoln's presidential campaign and with 2,216,067 votes, Lincoln comfortably beat General George McClellan (1,808,725) in the election.

Johnson had been a heavy drinker for several years. Both his sons, Charles and Robert, were alcoholics. Charles Johnson died in April 1863 after falling from his horse. Colonel Robert Johnson, a member of the Union Army, was found to be drunk while on duty and was sent home in order to avoid further embarrassment to the Vice President.

On inauguration day Johnson was drunk while he made his speech to Congress. After making several inappropriate comments Hannibal Hamlin, the former Vice President had to intervene and help him back to his seat. After the inauguration, one of the senators, Zachariah Chandler, wrote to his wife that Johnson "was too drunk to perform his duties and disgraced himself and the Senate by making a drunken foolish speech."

On 14th April, 1865 Abraham Lincoln went to Ford's Theatre with his wife, Mary Lincoln, Clara Harris and Major Henry Rathbone to see a play called Our American Cousin. John Parker, a constable in the Washington Metropolitan Police Force, was detailed to sit on the chair outside the presidential box. During the third act Parker left to get a drink. Soon afterwards, John Wilkes Booth, entered Lincoln's box and shot the president in the back of the head. William Seward (Secretary of State) was also attacked by one of Booth's fellow conspirators, Lewis Paine. Another friend of Booth's, George Atzerodt, had been ordered to kill Johnson. Despite making the necessary preparations he surprisingly made no attempt to do this.

Abraham Lincoln died at 7.22 on the morning of 15th April. Three hours later Chief Justice Salmon Chase administered the oath of office at Johnson's Kirkwood House. Later that day a group of Radical Republicans led by Benjamin Wade met with Johnson. It was suggested that Henry G. Stebbins, John Covode and Benjamin Butler should be appointed to the Cabinet to make sure that laws would be passed that would benefit former slaves in the South.

Johnson was unwilling to change the Cabinet he had inherited from Abraham Lincoln. This included William Seward (Secretary of State), Henry McCulloch (Secretary of the Treasury), Edwin M. Stanton (Secretary of War), Gideon Welles (Secretary of the Navy), James Speed (Attorney General), John Usher (Secretary of the Interior) and William Dennison (Postmaster General).

However, Johnson insisted that he intended to punish leading Confederates: "Robbery is a crime; rape is a crime; treason is a crime; and crime must be punished. The law provides for it; the courts are open. Treason must be made infamous and traitors punished." After these discussions Benjamin Wade told Johnson that he total faith in his new administration.

On 17th April Johnson received a deputation led by John Mercer Langston, the president of the National Rights League. Langston was a strong supporter of universal male suffrage and like the Radical Republicans left the meeting satisfied with the response of the new president. Johnson also had visits from other progressives such as Robert Dale Owen and Carl Schurz who advocated racial equality.

On 1st May, 1865, President Andrew Johnson ordered the formation of a nine-man military commission to try the conspirators involved in the assassination of Lincoln. It was argued by Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, that the men should be tried by a military court as Lincoln had been Commander in Chief of the army. Several members of the cabinet, disapproved, preferring a civil trial. However, James Speed, the Attorney General, agreed with Stanton and therefore the defendants did not enjoy the advantages of a jury trial.

The trial began on 10th May, 1865. The military commission included leading generals such as David Hunter, Lewis Wallace, Robert Foster, August Kautz, Thomas Harris and Albion Howe. The Attorney General selected Joseph Holt and John Bingham as the government's chief prosecutors.

Mary Surratt, Lewis Paine, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Mudd, Michael O'Laughlin, Edman Spangler and Samuel Arnold were all charged with conspiring to murder Lincoln. During the trial Joseph Holt and John Bingham attempted to persuade the military commission that Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government had been involved in conspiracy.

Joseph Holt attempted to obscure the fact that there were two plots: the first to kidnap and the second to assassinate. It was important for the prosecution not to reveal the existence of a diary taken from the body of John Wilkes Booth. The diary made it clear that the assassination plan was established just before the act took place. The defence surprisingly did not call for Booth's diary to be produced in court.

On 29th June, 1865 Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Mudd, Michael O'Laughlin, Edman Spangler and Samuel Arnold were found guilty of being involved in the conspiracy to murder Lincoln. Surratt, Powell, Atzerodt and Herold were hanged at Washington Penitentiary on 7th July, 1865. Surratt, who was expected to be reprieved, was the first woman in American history to be executed. Later Joseph Holt claimed that Johnson surprisingly ignored the Military Commission's plea for mercy.

The Radical Republicans became concerned when Johnson began surrounding himself with advisers such as Preston King, Henry W. Halleck and Winfield S. Hancock, who were well known for their reactionary views. Johnson also began to clash with those cabinet members such as Edwin M. Stanton, William Dennison and James Speed who favoured the granting of black suffrage. In this he was supported by conservatives in the government such as Gideon Welles and and Henry McCulloch.

Southern politicians began to realize that Johnson was going to use his position to prevent reform taking place. One Confederate senator, Benjamin Hill, wrote from his prison cell: "By this wise and noble statesmanship you have become the benefactor of the Southern people in the hour of their direst extremity and entitled yourself to the gratitude of those living and those yet to live."

Johnson now began to argue that African American men should only be given the vote when they were able to pass some type of literacy test. He advised William Sharkey, the governor of Mississippi, that he should only "extend the elective franchise to all persons of color who can read the Constitution of the United States in English and write their names, and to all persons of color who own real estate valued at not less than two hundred and fifty dollars."

In early 1865 General William T. Sherman set aside a coastal strip in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida for the exclusive use of former slaves. A few months later, General Oliver Howard, the head of the new Freeman's Bureau, issued a circular regularizing the return of lands to previous owners but exempting those lands that were already being cultivated by freeman. Johnson was furious with Sherman and Howard for making these decisions and over-ruled them.

Johnson also upset radicals and moderates in the Republican Party when he issued an amnesty proclamation exempting fourteen classes from prosecution for their actions during the American Civil War. This included high military, civil, and judicial officers of the Confederacy, officers who had surrendered their commissions in the armed forces of the United States, war criminals and those with taxable property of more than $20,000. Vice President Alexander Stephens was one of those that Johnson pardoned.

Johnson became increasingly hostile to the work of General Oliver Howard and the Freeman's Bureau. Established by Congress on 3rd March, 1865, the bureau was designed to protect the interests of former slaves. This included helping them to find new employment and to improve educational and health facilities. In the year that followed the bureau spent $17,000,000 establishing 4,000 schools, 100 hospitals and providing homes and food for former slaves.

In early 1866 Lyman Trumbull introduced proposals to extend the powers of the Freeman's Bureau . When this measure was passed by Congress it was vetoed by Johnson. However, the Radical Republicans were able to gain the support of moderate members of the Republican Party and Johnson's objections were overridden by Congress.

In April 1866, Johnson also vetoed the Civil Rights Bill that was designed to protect freed slaves from Southern Black Codes (laws that placed severe restrictions on freed slaves such as prohibiting their right to vote, forbidding them to sit on juries, limiting their right to testify against white men, carrying weapons in public places and working in certain occupations). On 6th April, Johnson's veto was overridden in the Senate by 33 to 15.

Johnson told Thomas C. Fletcher, the governor of Missouri: "This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men." His views on racial equality was clearly defined in a letter to Benjamin B. French, the commissioner of public buildings: "Everyone would, and must admit, that the white race was superior to the black, and that while we ought to do our best to bring them up to our present level, that, in doing so, we should, at the same time raise our own intellectual status so that the relative position of the two races would be the same."

Johnson's unwillingness to promote African American civil rights in the South upset the radical members of his Cabinet. In 1866 William Dennison (Postmaster General), James Speed (Attorney General) and James Harlan (Secretary of the Interior) all resigned. They were all replaced by the conservatives Alexander Randall (Postmaster General), Henry Stanbury (Attorney General) and Orville Browning (Secretary of the Interior).

In June, 1866, the Radical Republicans managed to persuade Congress to pass the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The amendment was designed to grant citizenship to and protect the civil liberties of recently freed slaves. It did this by prohibiting states from denying or abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, depriving any person of his life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or denying to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The elections of 1866 increased the the Republican Party two-thirds majority in Congress. There were also a larger number of Radical Republicans and in March, 1867, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act. This act forbade the President to remove any officeholder, including Cabinet members, who had been appointed with Senate consent. Once again Johnson attempted to veto the act.

In 1867 members of Radical Republicans such as Benjamin Loan, James Ashley and Benjamin Butler, began claiming in Congress that Johnson had been involved in the conspiracy to murder Abraham Lincoln. Butler asked the question: "Who it was that could profit by assassination (of Lincoln) who could not profit by capture and abduction? He followed this with: "Who it was expected by the conspirators would succeed to Lincoln, if the knife made a vacancy?" He also implied that Johnson had been involved in tampering with the diary of John Wilkes Booth. "Who spoliated that book? Who suppressed that evidence?"

Much was made of the fact that John Wilkes Booth had visited Johnson's house on the day of the assassination and left his card with the message: "Don't wish to disturb you. Are you at home?" Some people claimed that Booth was trying to undermine Johnson in his future role as president by implying he was involved in the plot. However, as his critics pointed out, this was unnecessary as it was Booth's plan to have Johnson killed by George Atzerodt at the same time that Abraham Lincoln was being assassinated.

On 7th January, 1867, James Ashley charged Johnson with the "usurpation of power and violation of law by corruptly using the appointing, pardoning, and veto powers, by disposing corruptly of the property of the United States, and by interfering in elections." Congress responded by referring Ashley's resolution to the Judiciary Committee.

Congress passed the first Reconstruction Acts on 2nd March, 1867. The South was now divided into five military districts, each under a major general. New elections were to be held in each state with freed male slaves being allowed to vote. The act also included an amendment that offered readmission to the Southern states after they had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and guaranteed adult male suffrage. Johnson immediately vetoed the bill but Congress repassed the bill the same day.

Johnson consulted General Ulysses S. Grant before selecting the generals to administer the military districts. Eventually he appointed John Schofield (Virginia), Daniel Sickles (the Carolinas), John Pope (Georgia, Alabama and Florida), Edward Ord (Arkansas and Mississippi) and Philip Sheridan (Louisiana and Texas).

It soon became clear that the Southern states would prefer military rule to civil government based on universal male suffrage. Congress therefore passed a supplementary Reconstruction Act on 23rd March that authorized military commanders to supervise elections and generally to provide the machinery for constituting new governments. Once again Johnson vetoed the act on the grounds that it interfered with the right of the American citizen to "be left to the free exercise of his own judgment when he is engaged in the work of forming the fundamental law under which he is to live."

Radical Republicans were growing increasing angry with Johnson over his attempts to veto the extension of the Freeman's Bureau, the Civil Rights Bill and the Reconstruction Acts. This became worse when Johnson dismissed Edwin M. Stanton, his Secretary of War, and the only radical in his Cabinet and replaced him with Ulysses S. Grant. Stanton refused to go and was supported by the Senate. Grant now stood down and was replaced by Lorenzo Thomas.This was a violation of the Tenure of Office Act and some members of the Republican Party began talking about impeaching Johnson.

At the beginning of the 40th Congress Benjamin Wade became the new presiding officer of the Senate. As Johnson did not have a vice-president this meant that Wade was now the legal successor to the president. This was highly significant as attempts to impeach the president had already began.

Johnson continued to undermine the Reconstruction Acts. This included the removal of two of the most radical military governors. Daniel Sickles (the Carolinas) and Philip Sheridan (Louisiana and Texas) were replaced them with Edward Canby and Winfield Hancock.

In November, 1867, the Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 that Johnson be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. The majority report written by George H. Williams contained a series of charges including pardoning traitors, profiting from the illegal disposal of railroads in Tennessee, defying Congress, denying the right to reconstruct the South and attempts to prevent the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.

On 30th March, 1868, Johnson's impeachment trial began. Johnson was the first president of the United States to be impeached. The trial, held in the Senate in March, was presided over by Chief Justice Salmon Chase. Johnson was defended by his former Attotney General, Henry Stanbury, and William M. Evarts. One of Johnson's fiercest critics, Thaddeus Stevens was mortally ill, but he was determined to take part in the proceedings and was carried to the Senate in a chair.

Charles Sumner, another long-time opponent of Johnson led the attack. He argued that: "This is one of the last great battles with slavery. Driven from the legislative chambers, driven from the field of war, this monstrous power has found a refuge in the executive mansion, where, in utter disregard of the Constitution and laws, it seeks to exercise its ancient, far-reaching sway. All this is very plain. Nobody can question it. Andrew Johnson is the impersonation of the tyrannical slave power. In him it lives again. He is the lineal successor of John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis; and he gathers about him the same supporters."

Although a large number of senators believed that Johnson was guilty of the charges, they disliked the idea of Benjamin Wade becoming the next president. Wade, who believed in women's suffrage and trade union rights, was considered by many members of the Republican Party as being an extreme radical. James Garfield warned that Wade was "a man of violent passions, extreme opinions and narrow views who was surrounded by the worst and most violent elements in the Republican Party."

Others Republicans such as James Grimes argued that Johnson had less than a year left in office and that they were willing to vote against impeachment if Johnson was willing to provide some guarantees that he would not continue to interfere with Reconstruction.

When the vote was taken all members of the Democratic Party voted against impeachment. So also did those Republicans such as Lyman Trumbull, William Fessenden and James Grimes, who disliked the idea of Benjamin Wade becoming president. The result was 35 to 19, one vote short of the required two-thirds majority for conviction. The editor of The Detroit Post wrote that "Andrew Johnson is innocent because Ben Wade is guilty of being his successor."

A further vote on 26th May, also failed to get the necessary majority needed to impeach Johnson. The Radical Republicans were angry that not all the Republican Party voted for a conviction and Benjamin Butler claimed that Johnson had bribed two of the senators who switched their votes at the last moment.

On 25th July, 1868 Johnson vetoed the decision by Congress to extend the activities of the Freeman's Bureau for another year. Once again Johnson decision was speedily overturned. Johnson critics claimed that he had taken these decisions in an attempt to win the Democratic Party nomination. The party approved Johnson's actions but chose Horatio Seymour as its presidential candidate.

Johnson continued to issue pardons for people who had participated in the rebellion. By the end of his period in office he gave 13,350 pardons, including one for Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.

On 25th December, 1868, Johnson used his last annual message as president to attack the Reconstruction Acts. He claimed that: "The attempt to place the white population under the domination of persons of color in the South has impaired, if not destroyed, the friendly relations that had previously existed between them; and mutual distrust has engendered a feeling of animosity which, leading in some instances to collision and bloodshed, has prevented the cooperation between the two races so essential to the success of industrial enterprise in the Southern States."

Johnson retired from office in March 1869. He returned to his 350 acre farm near Greenville, Tennessee. Soon afterwards his son, Robert Johnson, who had been unable to overcome his alcoholism, committed suicide. His sole remaining son, Andrew Johnson, wrote from Georgetown College, promising his parents that he would never "let any kind of intoxicating liquor" pass his lips.

Andrew Johnson failed in his attempt to win a seat in the Senate in 1869. He was also unsuccessful in his bid for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1872. However, he was elected to the Senate shortly before his death at Carter Station, Tennessee, on 31st July, 1875.

I have lived among negroes, all my life, and I am for this Government with slavery under the Constitution as it is. I am for the Government of my fathers with negroes, I am for it without negroes. Before I would see this Government destroyed, I would send every negro back to Africa, disintegrated and blotted out of space.

No man in Tennessee has done more than Andrew Johnson to create, to perpetuate and embitter in the minds of the Southern people, that feeling of jealousy and hostility against the free States, which has at length culminated in rebellion and civil war. Up to 1860, he had been for 20 years among the most bigoted and intolerant of the advocates of slavery and Southernism.

If you could extend the elective franchise to all persons of color who can read the Constitution of the United States in English and write their names and to all persons of color who own real estate valued at not less than two hundred and fifty dollars and pay taxes thereon, and would completely disarm the adversary. This you can do with perfect safety. And as a consequence, the radicals, who are wild upon negro franchise, will be completely foiled in their attempts to keep the Southern States from renewing their relations to the Union.

The inauguration went off very well except that the Vice President Elect was too drunk to perform his duties and disgraced himself and the Senate by making a drunken foolish speech. I was so mortified in my life, had I been able to find a hole I would have dropped through in out of sight.

Everyone would, and must admit, that the white race was superior to the black, and that while we ought to do our best to bring them up to our present level, that, in doing so, we should, at the same time raise our own intellectual status so that the relative position of the two races would be the same.

I share with Congress the strongest desire to secure to the freedmen the full employment of their freedom and property and their entire independence and equality in making contracts for their labor, but the bill before me contains provisions which in my opinion are not warranted by the Constitution and are not well suited to accomplish the end in view.

The bill proposes to establish, by authority of Congress, military jurisdiction over all parts of the United States containing refugees and freedmen. It would by its very nature apply with most force to those parts of the United States in which the freedmen most abound, and it expressly extends the existing temporary jurisdiction of the Freedmen's Bureau, with greatly enlarged powers, over those states "in which the ordinary course of judicial proceedings has been interrupted by the rebellion."

The bill in effect proposes a discrimination against large numbers of intelligent, worthy, and patriotic foreigners, and in favor of the Negro, to whom, after long years of bondage, the avenues to freedom and intelligence have just now been suddenly opened. He must, of necessity, from his previous unfortunate condition of servitude, be less informed as to the nature and character of our institutions than he who, coming from abroad, has to some extent at least, familiarized himself with the principles of a government to which he voluntarily entrusts "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The bill neither confers nor abridges the rights of anyone but simply declares that in civil rights there shall be equality among all classes of citizens and that all alike shall be subject to the same punishment. Each state, so that it does not abridge the great fundamental rights belonging, under the Constitution, to all citizens, may grant or withhold such civil rights as it pleases; all that is required is that, in this respect, its laws shall be impartial. And yet this is the bill now returned with the President's objections.

Whatever may have been the opinion of the President at one time as to "good faith requiring the security of the freemen in their liberty and their property," it is now manifest from the character of his objections to this bill that he will approve no measures that will accomplish the object.

President Johnson has surrendered completely to the 'Copperheads' and the Rebels in the South allied with them, and is furiously opposing the party that elevated him to power. Because of this the Rebels have begun to stir once more. It has almost got to be so that a loyal man cannot travel or stay, in most of the Southern states. During the absence of Sheridan - he has received military charge of Texas and Louisiana - the military in New Orleans was placed under the command of a former Rebel general by telegraphed order from the President. It is hard to imagine a greater insult either to the Army or the country.

But President Johnson is hardly furthering the cause of the South by behaving in this manner, as time will show very soon. The Republican press is breathing smoke and fire. Hundreds of newspapers which supported the President six months ago have changed their attitude completely. But the Republican Party is so strong that for a while yet it will have a majority both in the Senate and in Congress; and the South will not be allowed to send representatives until the North has received complete guarantees that the money and the blood expended on the defense of the Union were not sacrificed in vain.

That, that miserable inebriate Johnson, had cognizance of my husband's death. Why, was that card of Booth's, found in his box, some acquaintance certainly existed. I have been deeply impressed, with the harrowing thought, that he, had an understanding with the conspirators & they knew their man. As sure, as you & I live, Johnson, had some hand, in all this.

In the beginning the assassination of Lincoln had been thought the deed "of a reckless young man. But subsequent developments have shown it to have been the result of deliberate plans adopted in the interests of the Rebellion." An assassin's bullet wielded and directed by Rebel hands and paid for by Rebel gold made Andrew Johnson President. The price that he was to pay for his promotion was treachery.

The president grew much excited and expressed the most bitter hatred of the measure in all its parts, declaring that it was nothing but anarchy and chaos, that the people of the South, poor, quiet, unoffending, harmless, were to be trodden under foot "to protect ******s," that the States were already in the Union, that in no part of the country were life and property so safe as in the Southern States.

He is a pig headed man, with only one idea - a bitter opposition to universal suffrage and a determination to secure the political ascendancy of the old Southern leaders, who, he emphasized, must in the nature of things rule the South.

The excuse given for the bill in the preamble is admitted by the bill itself not to be real. The military rule which is establishes is plainly to be used, not for any purpose of order or for the prevention of crime but solely as a means of coercing the people into the adoption of principles and measures to which it is known that they are opposed and upon which they have an undeniable right to exercise their own judgment. I submit to Congress whether this measure is not in its whole character, scope, and object without precedent and without authority, in palpable conflict with the plainest provisions of the Constitution, and utterly destructive to those great principles of liberty and humanity for which our ancestors on both sides of the Atlantic have shed so much blood and expended so much treasure.

I have had a son killed, a son-in-law die during the last battle of Nashville, another son has thrown himself away, a second son-in-law is in no better condition, I think I have had sorrow enough without having my bank account examined by a Committee of Congress.

This is one of the last great battles with slavery. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis; and he gathers about him the same supporters.

This formal accusation is founded on certain recent transgressions, enumerated in articles of impeachment, but it is wrong to suppose that this is the whole case. It is very wrong to try this impeachment merely on these articles. It is unpardonable to higgle over words and phrases when, for more than two years, the tyrannical pretensions of this offender, now in evidence before the Senate have been manifest in their terrible heartrending consequences.

This usurpation, with its brutalities and indecencies, became manifest as long ago as the winter of 1866, when, being President, and bound by his oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, and to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, he took to himself legislative powers in the reconstruction of the Rebel states; and, in carrying forward this usurpation, nullified an act of Congress, intended as the cornerstone of Reconstruction, by virtue of which Rebels are excluded from office under the government of the United States.

I come now to the question of intent. Admitting that the President had no power under the law to issue the order to remove Mr. Stanton to and appoint General Thomas secretary for the Department of War, did he issue those orders with a manifest intent to violate the laws and "the Constitution of the United States" as charged in the articles, or did he issue them, as he says he did, with a view to have the constitutionally of the Tenure of Office Act judicially decided?

I cannot believe it to be our duty to convict the President of an infraction of a law when, in our consciences, we believe the law itself to be invalid, and therefore having no binding effect. If the law is unconstitutional, it is null and void, and the President has committed no offence and done to act deserving of impeachment.

The attempt to place the white population under the domination of persons of color in the South has impaired, if not destroyed, the friendly relations that had previously existed between them; and mutual distrust has engendered a feeling of animosity which, leading in some instances to collision and bloodshed, has prevented the cooperation between the two races so essential to the success of industrial enterprise in the Southern States.

Andrew Johnson had been suspected by many people of being concerned in the plans of Booth against the life of Lincoln or at least cognizant of them. A committee of which I was the head, felt it their duty to make a secret investigation of that matter, and we did our duty in that regard most thoroughly. Speaking for myself I think I ought to say that there was no reliable evidence at all to convince a prudent and responsible man that there was any ground for the suspicions entertained against Johnson.

First: Mr. Johnson's well-known and anxious desire for the highest official honors which the country could bestow upon him, for the space of at least twenty years before the "deep damnation" of Mr. Lincoln's "taking off" had blurred so unfortunately the historic record of our country.

Second: the utter extinction of his hopes of Presidential advancement along the accustomed pathway to promotion, by his shameless drunkenness on the day of his being sworn into office as Vice President.

Third: his falling out with Mr. Lincoln soon after, and delivering a speech on Pennsylvania Avenue in bitter denunciation of humanity and moderation.

Fourth: that Booth called at Mr. Johnson's private room, only a few hours before the murder occurred, and on finding him absent wrote upon a card the deep disappointment which he felt at not having met with the only human being on earth who could possibly profitably Mr. Lincoln's death, and who was at the same time the only individual in the world who could give assurance to the murderer of his own pardon.

It was pretended at the time and it has since been asserted by historians and publicists that Mr. Johnson's Reconstruction policy was only a continuation of that of Mr. Lincoln. This is true only in a superficial sense, but not in reality. Mr. Lincoln had indeed put forth reconstruction plans which contemplated an early restoration of some of the rebel states. But he had done this while the Civil War was still going on, and for the evident purpose of encouraging loyal movements in those States and of weakening the Confederate State government there. Had he lived, he would have as ardently wished to stop bloodshed and to reunite as he ever did. But is it to be supposed for a moment that, seeing the late master class in the South intent upon subjecting the freedmen again to a system very much akin to slavery, Lincoln would have consented to abandon those freemen to the mercies of that master class?

Andrew Johnson, ex-President of the United States and member of the Senate from Tennessee, died at the house of his daughter, Mrs. W.R. Brown, near Elizabethtown, Carter County, Tenn., at 2 o'clock yesterday morning. The history this man leaves is a rare one. His career was remarkable, even in this country; it would have been quite impossible in any other. It presents the spectacle of a man who never went to school a day in his life rising from a humble beginning as a tailor's apprentice through a long succession of posts of civil responsibility to the highest office in the land, and evincing his continued hold upon the popular heart by a subsequent election to the Senate in the teeth of a bitter personal and political opposition. Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, N.C., Dec. 29, 1808. His father, Jacob Johnson, who was in the humblest circumstances, was drowned while attempting to save the life of Editor Henderson, of the Raleigh Gazette, in 1812, and six years later young Andrew, at the age of ten, was apprenticed to a tailor named Selby. School was then out of the question, of course, and the outlook was that the young man would grow up to an illiterate life. But the intellect that was in him was aroused through the instrumentality of a Raleigh gentleman, whose practice it was to read aloud to the tailor's employees from books of published speeches. The speeches of some of the British statesmen particularly attracted his attention, and he set about learning to read with the same determination which characterized his later life. By resolute application after work hours and in moments taken from sleep, he soon succeeded and was able to read the speeches and other books for himself.

He left Raleigh in 1824, before his apprenticeship had expired, and went to Laurens Court House, S.C., where he worked two years at his trade, and then, after a return to Raleigh and a brief stay there, he removed with his mother to Greenville, Tenn. He soon married, and was fortunate enough to get a wife who was a help-meet to him in every sense of the word. She set herself at once to supply his greatest lack, became his teacher, giving him such oral instruction as was possible while he was at work, and teaching him writing, arithmetic, and other branches at night. Under her faithful tuition he acquired a fair education. The native forces of his mind supplied the remaining elements of his success.

We find him early in politics. In natural sympathy with the laboring classes, he became their local champion, and organized a Working Man's party in 1828, and, as its candidate for Alderman of Greenville, defeated the more aristocratic party and broke their rule in the town. In 1830 he was chosen Mayor, and held that office for three years. Four years later he gained a more than local prominence by active exertions to secure the adoption of a new State Constitution, and offering himself the next year as a Democratic candidate for the lower branch of the Legislature, he was elected, winning support mainly by his vigorous speeches. A grand and costly scheme of internal improvement which came before the Legislature incurred his earnest opposition, and though his denunciation of it made him temporarily unpopular and defeated him in the canvass of 1837, yet his course was vindicated by the deplorable working of the enacted bill, and he was returned to the Legislature in 1839.

He was one of the Democratic electors in the Presidential year of 1840, and canvassed Tennessee for Martin Van Buren. His powers of oratory were then first publicly revealed, and they proved very effective even against some of the noted public men of the day. He was elected to the State Senate in 1841, and gained much credit for the introduction and advocacy of a judicious plan of internal improvement of the eastern portion of the State. But he was destined to a broader sphere of influence. In 1843 he was elected to Congress in the First Tennessee District, defeating Col. John A. Asken, a Democrat of the United States Bank stamp. By successive re-elections he was continued in Congress for ten years. He was during the time a prominent supporter of the national measures of his party, favoring the annexation of Texas and the Mexican war, and being a conspicuous advocate of the Homestead bill, to give 160 acres of the public lands to any one who would settle upon and till them. It is curious and suggestive to find him in 1848 making a long and powerful speech in favor of the veto power.

By a redistricting of his State a Whig majority was created in his district, and in 1853 he was defeated in the Congressional canvass. Compensation came in his election as Governor of the State the same year, over Gustavus A. Henry, the Whig and "Know-Nothing" candidate. The canvass was unusually spirited, even for Tennessee, and on one occasion when he was to address a large gathering, Mr. Johnson appeared on the platform with a pistol in his hand. He was re-elected Governor in 1855, and his administration of the State affairs, both in that and the preceding term of office, was marked by a regard for the public interest, rather than party fealty. A higher honor came to him in his election to the United States Senate by the Legislature of 1857. In his Senatorial career he was generally found upon the side of retrenchment and the interests of the laboring classes. He opposed the increase of the Army and the Pacific Railroad bill, and, as in the House, urged the passage of the Homestead bill -- which, however, was lost by President Buchanan's veto -- and took an active part in the discussion concerning retrenchment. Coming from a slave State, and himself owning slaves, he held slavery to be protected by the Constitution and beyond the interference of Congress; nevertheless, he believed in its ultimate overthrow. He denounced the John Brown raid, and in those early mutterings of the coming tempest he urged concessions to the South to calm the rising discontent, and new guarantees for the protection of slavery.

It was in the era of the rebellion that Andrew Johnson achieved his greatest distinction. It was not necessary for him to weigh the chances of the coming struggle, or to nicely estimate its moral elements, like some others of the less radical class of Southern statesmen. He was by principle and training unreservedly for the right, and he declared without hesitation for the Union, and strove with all the strength of his rugged soul against the secession faction. In the Presidential campaign of 1860, he at first supported Breckinridge and Lane, who represented the ultra-Southern Democrats, but at the first unmasking of the secession designs of this wing of his party he quitted their camp and vehemently denounced their unhallowed purpose. He saw no threat of injustice to the South in the election of Abraham Lincoln, and in the memorable Senate debates which preceded the withdrawal of the Southern members his powerful appeal to them to remain and "fight for the constitutional rights on the battlements of the Constitution," defined most clearly his position, and will be remembered as a noble and patriotic effort. But secession had then too vigorous a growth to be checked by any forensic effort, however moving. One after another the Southern States seceded, and finally Mr. Johnson's own State, Tennessee, was declared out of the Union by its Legislature, though the people had voted against holding a convention to consider the question of secession. Out of this discord a condition of mob law and anarchy was speedily developed, and when Senator Johnson returned home in April, 1861, at the close of the session of Congress, he found himself exposed to violence, and in the gravest personal peril. He was burned in effigy in nearly every city in the State, and on one occasion a mob entered a railroad car in which he was riding declaring that they were going to lynch him. He met them with a pistol in his hand and cowed them. At the East Tennessee Union Convention of May 3, 1861, he was prominent, and a little later, while on his way to attend a special session of Congress, he was honored by an enthusiastic public reception in Cincinnati. Through his efforts the Unionists of East Tennessee, persecuted and driven from their homes by the rebels, were given shelter, food and protection at Camp Dick Robinson, established by the Government.

President Lincoln nominated Mr. Johnson Military Governor of Tennessee March 4, 1862, and on the 12th he assumed the trying responsibilities of that office at Nashville. The rebel State Government had been driven from that city to Memphis. Johnson's wife and child had only a little while before been driven from their home and his property and slaves confiscated, but in a proclamation announcing his appointment, he said that, though it might be necessary to punish conscious treason in high places, no merely vindictive or retaliatory policy would be pursued. It required no common courage to rule with the firmness he displayed in that dark and perilous time. Civil officers who refused to take the oath of allegiance were at once removed and their places filled by Union men. He even imprisoned the disloyal clergymen of Nashville after they had expressed their determination not to take the oath. He levied a tax upon prominent secessionists to maintain the women and children whose husbands and fathers had been "forced into the armies of this unholy and nefarious rebellion." In the Summer of 1863 the entire State of Tennessee was brought under Federal military control, and a convention was held at Nashville in September to consider the question of restoring the State to the Union. Gov. Johnson then expressed the belief that it had never been out of the Union, holding that there was no constitutional provision permitting secession. In January, 1864, the machinery of the State civil government was set in motion again by an election of State and county officers ordered by him. The National Republican Convention of June 7, 1864, held at Baltimore, renominated Abraham Lincoln for President, with Andrew Johnson as the nominee for Vice President. In September he ordered an election in Tennessee for the choice of Presidential Electors, and made a rigid test oath the condition of suffrage. He was inaugurated with Mr. Lincoln March 4, 1865.

Undoubtedly the greatest misfortune that ever befell Andrew Johnson was the assassination of President Lincoln, April 14, 1865. It promoted him to the eminent position of President of the nation, it is true, but the student of history is forced to conclude that his posthumous fame would have been brighter without this high honor and the consequences it entailed. Up to this time Mr. Johnson's public life had been such that he incurred, in weightier matters, only the hostility of men whose opposition was, to an upright and honest man, more honorable than their approval; but his Presidential acts were of a kind that speedily alienated from him the party whose votes elected him, and left him only the questionable and lukewarm support of the opposition. In a speech of welcome to a delegation of citizens of Illinois who called on him on the 18th of April, President Johnson said:"The times we live in are not without instruction. 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."

These words seemed to foreshadow a reconstruction policy which would deal with the leading secessionists severely, as the people were then in a mood to demand. He offered $100,000 for the arrest of Jefferson Davis, and large sums also for other leading Confederates. Early in May rules were issued governing trade with the States lately in rebellion, but on the 24th of June all restrictions were removed. Then rapidly followed orders restoring Virginia to her Federal relations, establishing provisional governments in the Southern States, and (on May 29) granting a general amnesty to all persons engaged in the rebellion, except certain classes who could receive pardon by special application.

When Congress assembled the popular opposition to this hasty method of reconstruction took shape in a quarrel between Congress and the President. The Republican majority held that some substantial guarantee of good faith should be required of the rebellious States before they were admitted to their former rights and privileges, and that some provision should be made for protecting the freedmen. The difference of opinion between the Executive and Congress led to his vetoing the first Civil Rights bill and an act extending the Freedmen's Bureau. The bills were both passed over his veto, and President Johnson, certainly with questionably taste, repeatedly asserted in public that Congress was in an attitude of rebellion. It was not possible for the Cabinet chosen by Mr. Lincoln to be in harmony with his successor's policy, and in July, Postmaster General Dennison, Attorney General Speed, and Secretary of the Interior Harlan resigned, and the President at once filling their places. In the latter part of August President Johnson with Secretaries Seward and Welles, and Gen. Grant and others, set out for Chicago to attend the ceremonies of laying the corner-stone of the monument to Stephen A. Douglas. It was this trip that gave rise to the well-known expression "swinging around the circle."

The President spoke very freely of his policy in the different places on the route, openly denouncing Congress and saying many things that were decidedly inconsistent with the dignity of his position, and unquestionably injurious to him. The Fall elections showed incontestably that the popular approval was with Congress. On the reassembling of Congress the President vetoed bills denying the admission of States that had not ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, and giving the right of suffrage without distinction of color in Territories and the District of Columbia. Congress passed the bills over his veto, however. That body having also passed over his veto a bill establishing military districts in ten of the seceding States and making the civil authority therein subordinate to the military commanders, representing the United States Government, there arose a difficulty that widened the breach between the Executive and the Congress.

Attorney General Stanbury decided, on application of the President, that some provisions of the act were unconstitutional, whereby its enforcement by the military commanders was greatly impeded. Congress passed another act in July, 1867, making these commanders responsible only to the General of the Army, and after its passage over his veto President Johnson removed the commanders and substituted others. On the 12th of August, the same year, Edwin M. Stanton was removed from the office of Secretary of War by the President, and Gen. Grant appointed. The Tenure-of-office bill, passed the previous March, made the consent of the Senate necessary to such removals, and provided that its sanction was required, at the next ensuing session, in the case of appointments made in recess. Accordingly Secretary Stanton vacated his office under protest. The Senate, at its reassembling, refused to sanction his removal, and Gen. Grant at once resigned in his favor, but it was not in the nature of so determined a man as Andrew Johnson to yield the point thus, and he again removed Mr. Stanton, and appointed Gen. Lorenzo Thomas in his stead. The Senate at once declared that the President had exceeded his authority, and the House of Representatives passed a resolution -- 126 yeas to 47 nays -- that he be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.

The House agreed to the articles of impeachment March 3, 1868, and the Senate received them two days later. They specified his removal of Secretary Stanton, his publicly-expressed contempt for the Thirty-ninth Congress and his hindrances to the execution of its measures as acts calling for his impeachment. The trial began in the Senate, sitting as a high court of impeachment, on March 23. The managers of the trial on the part of the accusation were Thaddeus Stevens, B.F. Butler, John H. Bingham, George S. Boutwell, J.F. Wilson, T. Williams, and John A. Logan, all members of the House; for the President appeared Attorney General Henry Stanbury, Benjamin R. Curtis, Jeremiah S. Black, William M. Evarts, and Thomas A.R. Nelson. The votes on the two articles were taken May 16 and 26, standing, in each case, thirty-five guilty and nineteen not guilty, which acquitted the President, as a two-thirds vote is required to convict. Stanton at once resigned, and General Schofield was made Secretary of War.

The remainder of his Presidential career is not especially noteworthy. He issued a full pardon to everybody who had taken part in the rebellion, on the 25th of December. On the expiration of his term, in March, 1869, he retired to his home at Greenville, Tenn. In 1870 he was a candidate for the United States Senate, but was defeated by two votes; in 1872 he was defeated on independent nomination for Congress.

He came again into public life, however, in the beginning of the present year, being elected to the United States Senate by the Tennessee Legislature after an exciting contest, receiving on the fifty-fifth ballot fifty-two votes, which was only four more than was necessary for a choice. The popular demonstrations and rejoicings in the cities and towns of his vicinity were very flattering to him, and only expressed the genuine satisfaction that was felt all over the country at his return to the councils of the nation, in which, just then, the Louisiana affair and financial questions were in active discussion. It is needless to review this latest public service of Mr. Johnson, as it is recent, and fresh in the memory. Suffice it to say that he was honest and courageous as ever. Whatever else may be said of him, his integrity and courage have been seldom questioned though often proved. He was by nature and temperament squarely disposed toward justice and the right, and was a determined warrior for his convictions. He erred from limitation of grasp and perception, perhaps, or through sore perplexity in trying times, but never weakly or consciously. He was always headstrong and "sure he was right" even in his errors.

History & Culture

Young Andrew Johnson from a locket set

Who Was Andrew Johnson?

Andrew Johnson was the first President of the United States who had neither been a military hero nor studied law. In the aftermath of the hardships and antagonism endured during the Civil War, the country’s political, social and economic landscape changed, ushering in a new era where the face of the presidency was evolving as well.

Known in his time both as the "courageous commoner" and an "accidental president," this former tailor's apprentice followed the ideals inherent in the American dream to rise from his poverty-stricken circumstances to our Nation’s highest office. On his journey to the Executive Mansion, this self-taught man held nearly every political office available - without attending a single day of school.

Andrew Johnson's life is marked by passionate debate and controversy. Decisions he made during his presidency, based on his interpretation of the Constitution and his belief in the limits of the federal government, were often in direct opposition to Congressional measures legislated to enable the freedmen.

Many of the decisions and policies argued during his Presidency still impact the country today. Topics such as civil rights, citizenship, and enfranchisement were taking their first breaths along with the "new birth of freedom" emerging with the emancipation of over four millions slaves.

On this page you will find a brief overview of Johnson's life, as well as a time-line and several topics that are trademarks of his legacy. Discover more about your 17th President as you explore these links, several transcribed from Johnson's own words.

President Andrew Johnson


View a timeline of Andrew Johnson's life and political career.



"'The execution of Mrs. Surrat [sic] was a crime of passion without justice or reason. " Andrew Johnson, 1875
Learn more.


Andrew Johnson stated "there is no such thing as reconstruction."

Andrew Johnson and Congress were unable to agree on a plan for restoring the ravaged country following the Civil War. There was a marked difference between Congressional Reconstruction and Andrew Johnson's plan for Presidential Restoration. Learn more about the different manifestations of Reconstruction and what Andrew Johnson meant by this statement.


The structure of American society changed radically with the Civil War. Four million slaves were now free people. The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the United States Constitution attempted to deal with this enormous change in the country.


Andrew Johnson vetoed more bills introduced by Congress than any other President before him.

Below you will find a partial list of Bills vetoed by Andrew Johnson. At first glance it is not easy to understand why Johnson vetoed much of what appeared to be such beneficial legislation. To understand Johnson's reasoning, click on the highlighted bills to discover the explanations Johnson supplied when he returned his vetoes to Congress.

A ticket to Andrew Johnson's trial - the tickets were color coded according to date. This one is dated the day after the final Senate vote.


Andrew Johnson was the first American president to be impeached. Learn more about impeachment here.

A carved basket from Queen Emma's visit to the White House


During Andrew Johnson's administration, the United States purchased Alaska, annexed Midway Island, and communicated with Europe by telegraph following the completion of a successful Transatlantic Cable. The British Novelist Charles Dickens and Queen Emma of the Sandwich Islands both paid visits to the White House. Andrew Johnson was also the first President to hold the Easter Egg Roll at the White House, and when he turned 60, he invited 300 children to the White House for his birthday party.

Never Attended School

Johnson never attended school at all. In fact, he taught himself to read. Once he and his brother escaped from their "master," he opened up his own tailoring shop in order to make money. You can see his tailor shop at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, Tennessee.

The untold story of wrestler Andrew Johnson’s dreadlocks

Andrew Johnson is pictured during his 120-pound bout at the Williamstown Duals on Jan. 5 in New Jersey, Johnson’s first time back on the wrestling mat since he was forced to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit his match on Dec. 19, 2018. Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media/Barcroft Media

W hen Andrew Johnson walked into The Line Up barbershop last April, all eyes focused on him. Since that awful day in December when a referee had forced the 16-year-old Buena Regional High School wrestler to either cut his dreadlocks or forfeit his match, he felt as if the world was constantly watching him, especially in his small New Jersey town. Watching and whispering about things beyond his control.

Yo, that&rsquos that kid who got his locs chopped by the white ref.

Andrew, who goes by Drew, sat down in Chris Perez&rsquos chair. Perez has tended Drew&rsquos hair since middle school. After a video of Drew&rsquos shearing attracted a massive social media audience last December, he had reshaped Drew&rsquos hair into shorter dreadlocks that radiated from his head.

But now Drew had a new problem. The night before, he had grabbed a pair of scissors from the kitchen and hacked at what remained of his dreads, then asked his little sister to finish the job. Drew loved his hair but was tired of it causing so much trouble. Tired of being treated differently and made into something he was not. Tired of looking in the mirror and seeing the referee, Alan Maloney, looking back.

Since the incident last December, support for Andrew Johnson, seen here during a bout on Jan. 5, has poured in from celebrities, pro athletes and the governor of New Jersey. But others, including some of his schoolmates and other residents of his mostly white town, defended referee Alan Maloney as simply enforcing the rules.

Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media/Barcroft Media

Maloney already had a racist incident in his past before telling Drew that his hair was &ldquounnatural&rdquo and giving him 90 seconds to cut it. What resulted was far more than a humiliating haircut for one high school student. It became a shared and painful experience for many who see how issues of identity, subjugation, power and freedom are intertwined in African American hair.

On Sept. 18, the state attorney general&rsquos office announced that Maloney would be suspended from officiating for two years, and that all referees, coaches and athletic administrators in all high school sports across the state must undergo implicit bias training. Wrestling officials also will be trained about hair discrimination.

After Drew&rsquos dreadlocks were cut, support for Drew poured in from celebrities, pro athletes and the governor of New Jersey. But others, including some of Drew&rsquos schoolmates and other residents of his mostly white town, defended Maloney as simply enforcing the rules. Another local contingent believed that even if Maloney was wrong, Drew should have just shaken it off and moved on.

The shy, quiet teen was trapped in a suffocating bubble. Maybe those kitchen scissors were meant to let in some air.

The barber surveyed the damage and looked at Drew&rsquos father, Charles Johnson III, who goes by his middle name of Sharidon. Sharidon and his three sons get their hair cut once a week. Their hairstyles vary, but they always stay crisply edged and trimmed. The Johnsons are not a family who walks around looking jacked up.

The barbers and most of their clientele are Puerto Rican here at The Line Up, which is located in one of the strip malls dotting the South Jersey farmlands between Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Drew, too, is more Puerto Rican than anything else, despite being widely portrayed as strictly African American when his haircut entered the viral pantheon of American racial injustice.

During several trips to Buena Vista Township, and while attending several of the wrestling team&rsquos home and away matches, I had in-depth conversations with Drew, his parents and siblings, close friends of the Johnson family and their attorney. I talked to Drew&rsquos schoolmates, coaches, other members of the Buena community, and wrestlers and coaches from around South Jersey. The Johnsons declined to be interviewed on the record. Some of the descriptions of Drew&rsquos emotions come from his attorney others from people in Buena who interacted with him. Maloney declined an interview request, and his attorney didn&rsquot respond to phone messages.

What I saw in Buena was a close-knit, mixed-race family crushed by our country&rsquos tectonic conflict over racial justice and demographic change. This took place in a small town with a rich wrestling tradition where people say sports brings them together, even as they are further apart than most want to believe.

Watching the video of the match, I saw Maloney give Drew 90 seconds to shatter either a pillar of his identity or his bond with his teammates and his home. Sitting in the barber chair beneath Perez&rsquos buzzing clippers 3½ months later, Drew was still trying to reassemble the pieces of who he used to be.

Hair is Africa&rsquos most enduring marker in America, the phenotype most likely to persist through generations of interracial children. Hair is what black folks look at when trying to determine who is one of us. Many mixed-race people are not permitted to fully determine their own identity because of how the world insists on defining them. That&rsquos when hair can represent a manifesto of self.

Sharidon Johnson is the son of a black father and a Puerto Rican mother. He looks black, grew up with his black grandparents and has always identified himself as black. His hair is cut close but dark on top, with a fade melting into his thick, impeccably groomed beard.

Sharidon&rsquos wife, Rosa, has a Puerto Rican father and an Irish mother. Rosa has straight, shoulder-length brown hair and fair skin. She values her Puerto Rican heritage and maiden name of Santiago, but much of the world sees her as a white lady with black kids.

The four Johnson children are Drew, who is now 17, 13-year-old Cami, 15-year-old Nate and 19-year-old Matt. Each of their complexions is a different shade of brown. Their hair, too, varies in texture and degree of curl. Drew has the lightest skin, and freckles. He cultivated his dreadlocks in early 2018 by rubbing his hair nightly with a towel. Cami is the darkest, with caramel-colored skin and hair that, when I saw her, fell past her shoulders in cascading coils. Cami is the only sibling who sort of considers herself black. Her brothers never defined themselves that way. If pressed, the Johnson boys will break themselves down mathematically: 50% Puerto Rican, 25% black and 25% white.

Last December, Drew&rsquos calculated identity went up in smoke. That&rsquos when the world decided he was black.

Long, straight roads slice through the farms and woods of Buena Vista Township, 45 minutes southeast of Philly. Tractors creep through fields of tomatoes, peppers and corn. Farmers from Italy arrived in the mid-1850s because the sandy soil was good for grapes. The area remains heavily working-class Italian: Buena is pronounced &ldquoBYOO-nuh&rdquo because of how it was said by those from the old country. The census says 75% of the township&rsquos 7,299 residents are white, 13% are Hispanic and 7.5% are black.

On Dec. 19, furrowed empty earth ran right up to the parking lot of Buena Regional High School, where the Johnson family gathered to watch Drew wrestle. It was not a special occasion. Where you see one Johnson, you often see them all.

The meet took place in the Charles Johnson Memorial Gymnasium, which is named after Sharidon&rsquos grandfather, who was a beloved custodian at the school. The opponent was rival Oakcrest High. Buena had beaten Oakcrest eight years in a row, but this meet was expected to be close. They were the top two teams in the Cape Atlantic League&rsquos National Division, so the division title was likely on the line. Every match would be crucial.

Wrestling has been part of the fabric of Buena since the early 1970s, when Mickey Caprese, who owned a greeting card store across from Buena&rsquos junior high school, got a bunch of neighborhood kids together and started a youth program. Buena and wrestling are a good match. They&rsquore both tough but not loud, small but proud. There&rsquos no room for pretty boys. Scarred hands or cauliflowered ears are a mark of pride.

New Jersey&rsquos rules prohibit a wrestler&rsquos hair from falling past his earlobes, shirt collar or eyebrows. But that was not Alan Maloney&rsquos issue with Drew. He cited a rule saying hair must be in its natural state.


&ldquoWe&rsquore just a small community with values and work ethic,&rdquo said Doug Castellari, one of Caprese&rsquos first recruits. He became an All-American at Temple University in 1984, coached the Buena team for almost three decades and is one of five Buena alumni in the South Jersey Wrestling Hall of Fame.

&ldquoWrestling&rsquos not a sport you can just go out there and play,&rdquo said Castellari, who is still fit from daily workouts and tanned from running his family&rsquos farm. &ldquoYou have to put a lot into it just to win one match. You have to get a kid to buy in. You have to dedicate yourself and put in the time.&rdquo

Castellari&rsquos son Eric wrestled for his dad and now volunteers with the Buena wrestling team. &ldquoBuena is not a participation trophy kind of place,&rdquo Eric said. &ldquoOther sports, there&rsquos somebody next to you. This is one-on-one. If you mentally break, if you give up, you will be abused. Nobody can save you. There&rsquos no safety over the top.

&ldquoNobody realizes how hard those six minutes are.&rdquo

Five minutes and 30 seconds into the December match, blood dripped down Drew&rsquos bottom lip. Cramps wracked both calves. He was losing 2-1 and trapped on his stomach underneath his opponent. The shock of having his dreadlocks cut before the match had given way to the desperation of trying to survive.

Drew is not the most talented wrestler in his family. That would be his younger brother, Nate, who started varsity as a freshman at 113 pounds. Drew didn&rsquot join the varsity until his sophomore year, when his record was 13-12 with six pins. In some of the losses, he hit a mental wall and couldn&rsquot climb over, one of his coaches told me. Drew let himself think he could not win.

Drew had big goals last season, his junior year, in the 120-pound division. It was cool having his brother on the team. Nate wouldn&rsquot have to learn by getting abused on the wrong side of the wall.

Referees are supposed to handle hair and other issues at the pre-meet weigh-ins, but on that day Maloney was late. He conducted the &ldquoskin check&rdquo about 6:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the 7 p.m. start, according to a statement submitted to the school district by Buena&rsquos head wrestling coach, George Maxwell. Maloney told Drew he needed to shave. After Drew returned from the locker room with no stubble, Maloney said he had &ldquoconcerns&rdquo about Drew&rsquos and Nate&rsquos hair, according to the statement and the Johnson family&rsquos attorney, Dominic A. Speziali.

Drew returned to the locker room to get a cap. Maloney left because the meet was about to begin. Drew&rsquos match came second. When Drew was on the mat about to shake hands with his opponent, Maloney stopped him and said his cap was illegal because it didn&rsquot attach to his headgear. Drew and his team did not have an attachable cap because they didn&rsquot think it was needed. Drew had wrestled earlier that season without one.

New Jersey&rsquos rules prohibit a wrestler&rsquos hair from falling past his earlobes, shirt collar or eyebrows. But that was not Maloney&rsquos issue with Drew. He cited a rule saying hair must be in its natural state.

&ldquoIt&rsquos unnatural,&rdquo Maloney told Drew and his coaches, according to a letter sent by Speziali to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, which is investigating what happened.

Andrew Johnson (left) wrestles for Buena Regional High School against Cherokee High School&rsquos Andrew Aromando (right) during a match in New Jersey on Jan. 11. Aromando won the match 4-2.


Rosa and Sharidon sat in the bleachers, unable to hear what was going on.

Maxwell and his assistants argued Drew&rsquos case. After less than two minutes of discussion, Maloney turned his back on them and twirled his finger to start the 90-second injury clock. When it ran out, Drew would forfeit.

It didn&rsquot take Drew long to decide. Wrestlers make immense sacrifices &mdash running in rubber suits to cut weight, starving themselves, vomit-inducing practices. The whole team had suffered to beat Oakcrest. If Drew didn&rsquot wrestle, and win, they could lose the meet and the division title. He did what any Buena wrestler would have done. &ldquoI&rsquom going to cry, but cut it,&rdquo he told his coach.

As a trainer began to hack off fistfuls of locs with a pair of tape scissors, a wave of anguished noise rolled down from the packed bleachers. Shouts of &ldquoNoooo!&rdquo can be heard on the video.

Rosa did not run down to the mat. Neither did Sharidon. Later, they would be flamed on social media for not stepping in. But the situation was out of their hands. Would it have been less humiliating for Drew if his parents made him forfeit the match? How much hair would Drew have had left by that point? What could Rosa and Sheridan have done as the clock ticked down to zero?

When about half of Drew&rsquos dreadlocks were gone, Maloney deemed him acceptable. Drew walked onto the mat with tears in his eyes, his face a mask of hurt and anger, breathing so hard his cheeks puffed out from his face.

Oakcrest&rsquos David Flippen bloodied Drew&rsquos lip in the first period. Watching the video, there are moments where Flippen&rsquos hair flops past his eyebrows, which is supposed to be illegal. Drew&rsquos legs convulsed with cramps. With less than a minute to go in the match, Flippen was on top of Drew, leading 2-1. Drew escaped, earning one point to tie the match. He was poised on top of the wall. Sudden-death overtime: The first wrestler to score again would win.

Less than a minute into the overtime, Drew emerged from a tangle of limbs and took Flippen down. Maloney blew his whistle. Drew staggered upright, let Maloney briefly raise his right arm, then yanked it away and stumbled off the mat.

Buena won the meet and at the end of the season won the division with a 6-0 record. Oakcrest finished 5-1.

Forty-five minutes after the match, Drew sat in a hallway, tears streaming down his face. Rosa massaged his trembling legs. He had broken down the wall. But another was rising in its place.

In the days after the video detonated on social media, reporters circled the high school. TV trucks parked outside the Johnsons&rsquo house, right up to Christmas Eve. Sharidon, a cable TV equipment installer, and Rosa, an elementary school teacher in the Buena district, were deluged with comments, ranging from well-intentioned to overbearing to hurtful.

Man, Drew is a trouper. Glad he&rsquos done with all that stuff. &hellip What&rsquos the big deal? &hellip It&rsquos just hair, it&rsquoll grow back. &hellip

Drew sat in his classes in a daze. He walked the halls with his headphones clamped tight. With his new celebrity supporters and fame, he felt yanked from euphoria to anger to depression. One day he left the wrestling room and walked past a basketball game. He felt every eye in the gym on him as he left the building.

Buena&rsquos next match did not happen because the referee planned to require Drew to wear a cap on hair that had already been cut, and Buena officials could not get clarification of the rules in time for it to proceed. The match after that, the referee called the school and said Drew&rsquos hair was still illegal. That match did not happen either. Now the whole team was being penalized. Nobody wants to suffer through making weight for nothing. Drew struggled with whether the canceled matches were his fault, and whether he should quit the team.

He decided against it. He was a varsity starter. The team needed him. Who knows what foolishness Nate would get into in practice without Drew. And if you mess around in practice, the matches will be hell.

Buena&rsquos Andrew Johnson (left) has his 195-pound teammate Sammy Drogo (right) in his ear as they prepare to wrestle against Clayton at the Williamstown Duals in New Jersey on Jan. 5.


Most of all, Drew just wanted to wrestle.

He got pinned in the two matches after his hair was cut, then recovered to win eight in a row at the end of January. He did well enough at the district meet to qualify for regionals but lost in the first round and ended his season with a 19-10 record and eight pins. Nate finished 21-7 with 15 pins.

The Johnson family has made no public comment since a statement six days after the December match.

&ldquoWrestling has taught Andrew to be resilient in the face of adversity,&rdquo Rosa and Sharidon said in the statement. &ldquoAs we move forward, we are comforted by both the strength of Andrew&rsquos character and the support he&rsquos received from the community. We will do all that we can to make sure that no student-athlete is forced to endure what Andrew experienced.&rdquo

There is a long history of white people trying to legislate and regulate the gravity-defying, shape-shifting glory of black hair. White people may think their rules are neutral, but they come from a mindset that, consciously or not, defines white hair as normal and black hair as deviant. Black hair must be controlled, conform or cut down. Its mere existence is often seen as illegal, from a North Carolina pool banning swimmers with locs to a Texas junior high school coloring in a boy&rsquos part with a Sharpie.

Maloney has a horseshoe of dark hair around the sides of a bald scalp. He is 63 years old, about 5 feet, 7 inches tall, with a paunch and an outsize reputation built on four decades of refereeing in South Jersey. He has held several offices in the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association, or NJWOA.

Maloney is an extremely knowledgeable official but also abrasive, frequently late to matches and a showboat, according to three wrestling coaches I spoke with and other coaches interviewed by NJ Advance Media. What the coaches didn&rsquot need to tell me, because it received statewide media coverage, is that Maloney once called a black referee the N-word. Maloney was briefly suspended, but his punishment was overturned by the NJWOA.

All this history set the context for Maloney calling Drew&rsquos hair &ldquounnatural.&rdquo

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) follows the wrestling regulations of the National Federation of State High School Associations. The rulebook says that &ldquothe hair, in its natural state, shall not extend below the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back and on the sides, the hair shall not extend below earlobe level in the front, the hair shall not extend below the eyebrows.&rdquo In a photo of Drew&rsquos hair just before the match, he did not violate any of those restrictions.

The rulebook says that &ldquothe hair, in its natural state, shall not extend below the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back and on the sides, the hair shall not extend below earlobe level in the front, the hair shall not extend below the eyebrows.&rdquo This is a photo of Drew Johnson&rsquos hair just before the match.

SNJ Today via Johnson attorney&rsquos Jan. 9 letter to the state Division on Civil Rights

Amid the postmatch outrage, the NJSIAA and NJWOA agreed not to assign Maloney to any more matches until an investigation was completed. Three weeks later, Roy Dragon, who holds offices with both organizations, sent an email to NJWOA chapters to clarify the hair rules.

Dragon&rsquos email tried to outlaw the hair that Drew still had left. The email, which was obtained by NJ Advance Media, showed examples of what it called illegal hair that required a cap, including this photo.

But the hair in the photograph was actually legal, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Asked by local media about that contradiction, NJSIAA executive director Larry White sent out another email, which included this guidance from the national rules federation:

&ldquoThere is a wide spectrum of modern hair styles that might give the appearance that they are in violation of the hair rule, but in actuality they are just creative expressions of today&rsquos youth,&rdquo the guidance said. It defined hair in its natural state as &ldquohow your hair appears when you wake up in the morning.&rdquo

But that still leaves room for judgment about what is &ldquonatural.&rdquo Can you wrestle with hair dyed orange? With gelled hair? Why did it take a state Division of Civil Rights investigation for the people who run South Jersey wrestling to recognize that their rules assumed everything white is normal and anything else needs to conform or get cut down?

&ldquoAs a result of the investigation, those rules have changed,&rdquo NJSIAA executive director Larry White said in a statement. &ldquoWe are confident that those changes, together with the training programs NJSIAA will be developing in collaboration with [the Division on Civil Rights], will ensure that a situation like this does not happen in the future.&rdquo

It&rsquos false to say that mixed-race people are caught between two worlds, but it&rsquos a fact that the reaction to Drew&rsquos haircut placed the Johnsons in a bind.

The support Drew received, locally and beyond, helped him and his family get through the experience. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay tweeted, &ldquoI don&rsquot just wear locs. They are a part of me &hellip So to watch this young man&rsquos ordeal, wrecked me. The criminalization of what grows from him. The theft of what was his.&rdquo New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he was &ldquodeeply disturbed.&rdquo

Related Stories

But many supporters focused their outrage on Drew&rsquos coaches, teammates, trainer, school and neighbors. &ldquoWhy didn&rsquot people as a group walk out of that room? It speaks to the culture that this is acceptable,&rdquo Rachel Green, a member of the civil rights group Action Together New Jersey, said at a public meeting called by the school district. Action Together called for racial bias training for the entire Buena district.

In a passionate Twitter video, four-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, who grew up 15 minutes from Buena and attended the same high school as Maloney, told Drew: &ldquoThe fact that the parents and the coaches in that gymnasium allowed for you to be put in that position and didn&rsquot protect you is absolutely shameful.

&ldquoThe bottom line is this young man, especially a young black man in a traditionally and predominantly Caucasian sport, out there defenseless, you guys gotta help this young man. You gotta protect him,&rdquo Burroughs said. He criticized Maloney &mdash &ldquoYou gotta pay the consequences of your actions&rdquo &mdash and later FaceTimed with Drew to offer more support.

Drew&rsquos coaches did argue on his behalf. The trainer reluctantly did what Drew asked her to do. Drew wasn&rsquot thinking about systemic racism when Maloney started that 90-second clock. He was thinking about a division title.

Buena can be uncomfortable for people of color. It&rsquos one of 53 New Jersey towns that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 after choosing Barack Obama in 2012. There is prejudice against Mexicans who come for agricultural work. Since Trump was elected president, a few Confederate flags have been spotted flying from pickup trucks at Buena high school football games.

&ldquoBuena is no different than most of the communities around here,&rdquo said the Rev. David Mallory, the black pastor of First Baptist Church in adjacent Richland. &ldquoThere are still racial tensions in a lot of areas, but I also see more interracial activity that is favorable.&rdquo

Since Drew&rsquos hair was cut, much of Buena has assumed a defensive crouch. Many residents don&rsquot want to acknowledge the role of race in what happened to Drew.

&ldquoAmbivalence toward racism is a form of racism in itself,&rdquo Speziali told me.

Rosa and Sharidon grew up in Buena and enjoy living there, have meaningful friendships among people of all races and never told me anything negative about their home. But it was clear to me that Buena could become an inhospitable place if they spoke publicly about the toll Drew&rsquos humiliation took on their family.

The uproar over Drew&rsquos hair &ldquoupset me because it became a racial issue. Buena is a melting pot,&rdquo said one resident who is close to the Johnson family. The woman, who is white, did not want to be named in order to avoid upsetting the Johnsons. &ldquoMy boys were brought up not to judge people based on color. We have all types of kids staying over at our house. We&rsquore just a little town, as far from racist as possible.&rdquo

&ldquoThere&rsquos a few racists, like anywhere else,&rdquo she continued. &ldquoBut we&rsquore family.&rdquo

A three-minute drive from The Line Up, inside the Sports Cuts barbershop, owner Frank Baldissero rings up haircuts on a 1950s-era R.C. Allen cash register. A 1932 photograph of Rockefeller Center skyscraper workers eating lunch in midair hangs on the wall. A grease board has customer appointments written into 15-minute time slots. &ldquoThat&rsquos my computer,&rdquo said Baldissero, who has been here 31 years.

The Johnson family, pictured from left to right: Matt, Rosa, Drew, Nate, Cami and Sharidon.

At Sports Cuts, Maloney is the hero and the Johnsons are villains. &ldquoThe kid got away with it for some number of matches and finally got a ref who followed the rules,&rdquo said Baldissero, whose head matches his name. &ldquoThey didn&rsquot enforce the rules until that point in time, and that&rsquos it.&rdquo

&ldquoThe media left out that no adults or coaches made him follow the rules,&rdquo chimed in Katrina D&rsquoAllessandro. Her son Will was getting his hair cut for the prom, a fade with bangs hanging down over the front.

&ldquoIt was upsetting to a lot of people at school,&rdquo Will said. &ldquoBuena isn&rsquot a racist school. We&rsquore all diverse, we have different views. We&rsquore all human. It&rsquos just a matter of rules, I guess. The rules are that hair has to be a certain length. You can&rsquot really have dreads.&rdquo

&ldquoThe parents and the kid, they should step up and say this isn&rsquot about race, it&rsquos about rules. The kid didn&rsquot follow the rules,&rdquo said Baldissero.

&ldquoThe media is way out of whack,&rdquo the barber continued. &ldquoThey turned it into a racial thing. It got to be a racial thing based on what the ref did years ago. People change. I&rsquom sure he&rsquos not the same person he was back then.&rdquo

What Maloney did &ldquoyears ago&rdquo happened in 2016, during an informal gathering of referees after they worked a Jersey Shore tournament. During a disagreement about homemade wine, Maloney poked a black referee named Preston Hamilton in the chest and called him the N-word. Hamilton, a former wrestler, responded by body-slamming Maloney.

The NJWOA was asked to discipline Maloney, who was NJWOA membership chairman and training supervisor at the time. He apologized to Hamilton and volunteered to take alcohol awareness and sensitivity courses. The NJWOA ethics committee decided that Maloney should be suspended from refereeing for one year. The committee also suspended Hamilton for &ldquoassault.&rdquo

Both men appealed. Ethics appeals are handled by NJWOA officers, several of whom had been friends with Maloney for decades. They voted to rescind both suspensions, outraging a swath of the South Jersey wrestling community. Numerous schools told the NJWOA not to assign Maloney to their meets.

Maloney wasn&rsquot interested in public contrition. &ldquoI really don&rsquot think this should go any further than it&rsquos gone anyhow. &hellip It was two men, a group of guys, having fun and it was just a slip-up. If you can&rsquot see past that, then I don&rsquot know what to say. I made a mistake and I apologized for it,&rdquo he told the Courier-Post newspaper.

It was not his first mistake. In 2012, Maloney told a 6-year-old wrestler that he couldn&rsquot compete with dreadlocks because &ldquohair doesn&rsquot naturally look like that,&rdquo according to a statement by a parent who came forward to state civil rights investigators after Drew&rsquos haircut. Finally, &ldquoa younger referee, who was a person of color, told him that my son&rsquos hair was natural and he was able to wrestle with it,&rdquo according to the statement, which was obtained by NJ Advance Media. Maloney also was accused of kicking an 11-year-old mixed-race wrestler after he wandered onto the mat during a match.

Maloney owns an auto repair garage in West Berlin, about 30 minutes north of Buena. I stopped by one afternoon in May and walked around the gray building with three car bays. A police car was up on one lift. I asked a mechanic if Maloney was around, and he went to get him.

I waited in the garage&rsquos tiny office. Several NJWOA awards hung on the wall. &ldquoPresented in recognition for your outstanding achievements, leadership and contributions to New Jersey Scholastic Wrestling,&rdquo read one faded plaque. Nearby was a framed newspaper article from Maloney&rsquos 1989 induction into the South Jersey Wrestling Hall of Fame. The pinnacle of his competitive career was finishing fourth in the state in 1974. He started reffing two years later.

A short white man with a cigar jammed into his mouth entered the office. He was not Maloney. &ldquoWho&rsquos calling?&rdquo the man asked. I told him.

&ldquoYou have to leave,&rdquo the man said, and pointed at the door.

Maloney has filed a legal notice preserving his right to sue the Buena school district and 11 other possible defendants, not including the Johnson family. He is claiming defamation of character and emotional distress.

Chris Perez spun Drew around in his barber chair and went to work on what was left of Drew&rsquos dreadlocks. Hair fell to the floor, just like on the mat four months earlier. Only this time, Drew was reclaiming his identity as a mixed-race, bighearted athlete in a small town that doesn&rsquot fully understand what it means to be Drew Johnson.

Drew had played baseball as a sophomore but decided not to go out for the team this past spring. He did go to the prom. He got an after-school job busing tables. Last summer, he worked on a farm during tomato harvest and received an all-expenses-paid scholarship to attend Burroughs&rsquo wrestling camp in Nebraska. Nate went to the camp too. Drew is looking forward to wrestling his senior year with Nate. Their bond is closer than ever.

Thanks to the publicity over Drew&rsquos hair, other dreadlocks will thrive. California just banned employers and schools from discriminating against people based on their hair. A similar bill is pending in New Jersey, in addition to the implicit bias and hair discrimination training now required in state scholastic sports as a result of Drew&rsquos haircut.

Maloney saw Drew as another black boy who should have followed the rules. Now rules are changing because of Drew.

Perez snapped off his clippers. Drew looked at himself in the mirror. The sides of his hair were faded close to his scalp. A low carpet of hair lay on top. From the crown grew one last dreadlock, uncut, in its natural state, with inseparable strands of Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States of America.

The Lincoln Administration

After Abraham Lincoln&aposs election in 1860, Tennessee seceded from the Union. Johnson broke with his home state and became the only Southern senator to retain his seat in the U.S. Senate. He was vilified in the South. His property was confiscated, and his wife and two daughters were driven out of Tennessee. However, his pro-Union passion did not go unnoticed by the Lincoln Administration. Once Union troops occupied Tennessee in 1862, Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor. He walked a difficult line, offering an olive branch to his fellow Tennesseans while exercising the full force of the federal government to rebels. He was never able to gain complete control of the state as insurgents, led by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, raided cities and towns at will.

Johnson originally opposed the Emancipation Proclamation, but after gaining an exemption for Tennessee and realizing that it was an important tool for ending the war, he accepted it. Southern papers caught his flip-flopping and accused him of seeking a higher office. This notion played out when Lincoln, concerned about his chances for reelection, tapped Johnson as his vice president to help balance the ticket in 1864. After several high-profile Union victories in the summer and fall of 1864, Lincoln was re-elected in a sweeping victory.

The Formerly Enslaved Households of President Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson’s close association with Abraham Lincoln, as both his vice president and his successor, often disguises Johnson’s own slave ownership. He is a complicated example of a southerner who simultaneously supported the Union and gradual emancipation while perpetuating slavery through the bondage of others—perhaps even fathering children with his enslaved servant. Some of these enslaved individuals were later freed and brought to work at the White House during the Johnson administration. While Andrew Johnson was loyal to the North and pompously referred to himself as the “Moses of the colored men,” his legacy, largely measured by his mishandling of Reconstruction politics after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, remains marred by racial prejudice. 1 Click here to learn more about the household of President Abraham Lincoln.

Unlike many other slave owning presidents, Andrew Johnson was not born into the practice, although as a Tennessee native, he would have been surrounded by others who exploited enslaved labor. Instead, Andrew Johnson was born into poverty and his mother, Mary “Polly” McDonough, was widowed when he was only three years old. He and his brother, William, became tailor apprentices, and Johnson worked as a tailor before running for local and state government positions in the 1830s and 1840s.

Andrew Johnson’s successful election to the Tennessee House of Representatives and Tennessee Senate in 1835 and 1841, respectively, provided increased income and status that led him to purchase an enslaved teenage girl named Dolly and her younger half-brother Sam. These purchases were his first venture into slave ownership and a deliberate demonstration of his increased wealth and prominence in fact, historian David Warren Bowen suggests that “the servants were procured for what might be best described as cosmetic purposes, as they were clearly not an essential part of the family’s economic support.” 2

Andrew Johnson's tailor shop, later home to Sam and his wife, Margaret

According to the bill of sale, Andrew Johnson purchased nineteen-year-old Dolly for five hundred dollars. 3 He also purchased Sam, about thirteen years old, for $541. 4 Dolly later gave birth to three children—Liz, Florence, and William—who inherited their mother’s enslaved status and also became the property of the Johnson family the father of Dolly’s children is unknown. Though the exact number of enslaved individuals owned by the Johnsons is unclear, there were four listed enslaved individuals in the 1850 slave schedules and five in the 1860 slave schedules. 5 These individuals were Sam, Dolly, Liz, Florence, and William—though there may have been more. 6 Further complicating these numbers was Johnson’s purchase of a thirteen-year-old boy named Henry for $1,015 in May 1857, although he was not listed in the 1860 slave schedule. 7

In any case, the enslaved individuals owned by the Johnsons worked in a domestic capacity rather than on a plantation. William’s own recollections demonstrate his duties at the Johnson homestead at the young age of “five or six”:

At four in the morning I had to be up. I went up and made the fire in ‘mawster’s’ room, shined his boots, and then made a fire in the kitchen stove. I stood by his side at the table and saw that all his wants were fulfilled. Then I washed all the dishes. After that I made up his room…by the time all this was done there was plenty else to do, such as working for ‘company,’ plenty of which he had, and helping everybody else around the place. 8

Records also show that on occasion, the Johnsons hired Sam out to chop wood for neighbors, sometimes allowing him to keep the wages, though at other times they collected his pay. Evidence suggests Sam resisted the forced labor, and Charles, Andrew Johnson’s son, complained that Sam was too headstrong and should be sold away. Allegedly, Sam once told Eliza Johnson that he would “be damned” to work without pay. 9 Martha Stover, daughter of Andrew Johnson, later commented that “Old Sam boasts that he was my father’s servant but the fact is, my father was Sam’s servant.” 10

Bill of sale for Sam, purchased by Andrew Johnson in 1842

Courtesy of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, National Park Service

The Johnson family, like many other southern slave owners, claimed that they treated their enslaved property with benevolence—something historically misconstrued as compassion. This tactic, of course, was designed by slave owners to keep the enslaved population subservient. “Fair” treatment sought to improve work ethic while minimizing resistance and risk of escape. For example, there is overt evidence of Johnson’s paternalistic attitude toward the young children of Dolly in 1854, he wrote to his son Robert and told him that in addition to the gifts he had sent for his young son Andrew, he had also sent “a little chair for Liz and Florence.” 11

There may also be another reason for Andrew Johnson’s paternalism. Some historians have speculated that Johnson’s “fatherly” treatment of Dolly’s children, coupled with slave schedule data indicating that her children were “mulatto,” though she was listed as “black,” point to the possibility that Andrew Johnson himself may have been the father of Liz and Florence. 12

Additional information may illuminate William’s biological father, as well: Johnson’s son, Robert, was close in age to William’s mother, Dolly. Furthermore, after William’s death in 1943, Robert Johnson was listed on the death certificate as his father. 13 William’s second cousin and granddaughter of Sam, Adrian McGhee Boyd, filled out his death certificate thus, this information about Robert’s paternity was shared family knowledge across almost a century. 14

Andrew Johnson Stover, son of President Andrew Johnson, is pictured here with Dolly

Courtesy of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, National Park Service

It was not unusual for slave owners to enter into sexual relationships with their enslaved servants, the bulk of which were non-consensual. While there is no DNA evidence of these relationships in the Johnson household, Johnson’s fatherly treatment of Dolly’s children, their recorded racial complexion, and William’s death certificate all illuminate the complex and often predatory nature of male slave ownership.

Johnson was proud of his status as slave owner, often mentioning it in political speeches. In 1858, he bragged that “I have not got many slaves I have got a few but I made them by the industry of these hands…What I own cost me more labor and toil than some who own thousands, and got them because they were the sons of moneyed people.” 15

Still, Johnson was a proud Unionist—a controversial position in Tennessee as the American Civil War loomed. When the state voted on secession in 1861, Eastern Tennessee, home to the Johnson family, overwhelmingly voted to stay in the Union however, Western and Middle Tennessee voted to leave, thus leading to the state’s secession. 16 Tennessee joined the Confederate States of America during Johnson’s tenure in the United States Senate, but he chose to remain a sitting senator for the Union. During this period, he was separated from his family and their enslaved domestic servants, who remained in hostile Confederate territory. 17 In 1862, following the recapture of the state by federal troops, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Johnson to the role of Military Governor of Tennessee as a reward for his loyalty to the Union.

William's death certificate lists Robert Johnson, son of Andrew Johnson, as his father.

Tennessee State Library and Archives

During his time as military governor, Johnson began to support emancipation—not due to his own ideas about racial equity, but for military expediency. His primary concerns were ending the war and crippling the Confederacy. Johnson’s ambivalent position on slavery is most clearly demonstrated by his successful attempt to convince Lincoln to exempt Tennessee from the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. 18 However, as the war continued, Johnson expanded his support for emancipation, perhaps for two reasons: first, to remain in favor with northern politicians (particularly President Lincoln) and second, he probably realized that as the Civil War continued, the preservation of slavery in the South became increasingly unlikely. As a result, Johnson appeared before a gathering at the Tennessee State Capitol in 1863 and stated:

The system of negro Slavery [has] proved baleful to the nation by arraying itself against the institutions and interests of the people, and the time [has] clearly come when means should be devised for its total eradication from Tennessee. Slavery [is] a cancer on our society… 19

The Nashville Union also reported that Johnson “was for immediate emancipation, if he could get it.” 20 This sudden change of heart came just one month after an important event transpired in the Johnson household. According to Tennessee folklore, Andrew Johnson freed Dolly, Sam, Liz, Florence, and William on August 8, 1863. Today, the state of Tennessee celebrates emancipation each year on August 8, a tradition that began eight years after Johnson freed his enslaved individuals. 21 According to the Knoxville Daily Chronicle, Sam was the “1st Officer of the Day” in the emancipation parade on August 8, 1871 and helped to plan the festivities former President Johnson also joined the parade and spoke at the celebration. 22

After he emancipated his enslaved individuals, it appears that Johnson hired a few of them as wage-earning servants during his time as Military Governor and Brigadier General. In 1864 and 1865, he claimed pay toward wages, rations, and clothing for three servants: Henry, Florence, and Elizabeth (Liz). 23

The Johnson home in Greeneville, Tennessee

On October 24, 1864, Johnson finally extended freedom to everyone enslaved in the state of Tennessee, boldly asserting: “I, Andrew Johnson, do hereby proclaim freedom to every man in Tennessee. I will indeed be your Moses, and lead you through the Red Sea of war and bondage, to a fairer future of liberty and peace.” 24

Andrew Johnson’s loyalty to the Union paid off. That year, President Lincoln selected him as his running mate for reelection, hoping that Johnson’s alignment with the Democrats might help to balance the ticket and court southern voters in an uncertain election. They were successful, but six months later Johnson was thrust into the presidency following Lincoln’s assassination and death on April 15, 1865. Ill-equipped to handle post-war negotiations and the rebuilding of the American nation, Johnson’s actions illuminated his prejudiced and often outright racist ideas. Johnson vetoed numerous bills that attempted to promote civil rights and equality for African Americans and generally ignored the implementation of “Black Codes” and other racist policies in the American South that infringed upon the rights of newly-freed individuals. 25

Sam Johnson, former enslaved servant of Andrew Johnson, went on to work for the Freedmen's Bureau, an organization that assisted newly-free African Americans after emancipation.

Courtesy of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, National Park Service

Johnson’s actions also reinforced beliefs in white supremacy, stating in an 1865 letter to Benjamin French, Commissioner of Public Buildings, that “Everyone would and must admit that the white race was superior to the black.” 26 Generally, historians consider Johnson’s maladministration of Reconstruction to have significantly worsened race relations in post-war America, rather than easing them.

To combat these racist policies, Frederick Douglass, a prominent abolitionist and formerly-enslaved man, and other African-American leaders met with the president in 1866 at the White House to discuss racial equality. Douglass, a vocal critic of Johnson, hoped to convince him to extend full voting rights to African-American men across the country but was unsuccessful. In fact, Johnson made insensitive statements regarding slavery as a practice, telling the group: “I might say, however, that practically, so far as my connection with slaves has gone, I have been their slave instead of their being mine. Some have even followed me here, while others are occupying and enjoying my property with my consent.” 27

Indeed, Johnson brought some of his formerly-enslaved servants to the Executive Mansion as paid employees and sheltered others in his Greeneville home. William became the president’s valet, and Florence worked in the White House as a maid. 28 Johnson also sent Florence to culinary school during his presidency to improve her domestic skills. 29 After the presidency, Florence was hired as the Johnson family’s household cook, where she utilized this education. 30 In 1869, the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune reported that Dolly, Sam, and his wife Margaret lived at the Johnson homestead, where Johnson did not charge rent. 31 Sam and Margaret lived in Johnson’s old tailor shop, while Dolly had moved into the former residence of Eliza Johnson’s mother, “a small one-story, wood colored old house” a few feet away. 32

This 1866 political cartoon depicts Johnson's veto of the Freedmen's Bureau Bill. It was originally published in Harper's Weekly Magazine.

House Divided Project at Dickinson College

Unlike many of the other enslaved individuals that labored in the White House, we know the fate of many of the men and women enslaved by Johnson. After emancipation, Dolly, Sam, William, Florence, and Liz used the Johnson family name, which was a common practice. Interestingly, Samuel Johnson became a commissioner for the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen’s Bureau), an organization created by President Lincoln to aid newly-free individuals. The Bureau’s expansion was vetoed by President Johnson. Still, the determined Sam seems to have maintained a pleasant relationship with the president. In 1867, he wrote to his former owner and requested to purchase land for a school for the “colored children of Greeneville,” which he was granted. 33 Sam later wrote to Johnson: “I…have not changed any in Politics still being for you as much as ever. I would like to see you all very much.” 34

After Andrew Johnson’s presidency ended, he returned to Greeneville, and was reelected to the U.S. Senate in 1875. However, his term ended prematurely when Johnson died of a stroke while visiting his daughter in Tennessee later that year. Interestingly, in the last letter ever written by the former president, he mentions two formerly-enslaved individuals—William and Liz. To his daughter, Mary, he describes his upcoming trip to visit, stating “William is very anxious to come and perhaps I may bring him as he is… desirous to see Liz and the children.” 35 Johnson did, in fact, bring William, who remained at Johnson’s side until the moment he died. 36

William Johnson, former enslaved servant of Andrew Johnson, is pictured with the Capitol Building following his visit to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He is holding the cane gifted to him by F.D.R.

William also attended school after emancipation, where he learned to read and write. 37 After the deaths of Andrew and Eliza Johnson, William lived with his sister, Liz Forbey, and her family and worked as a domestic servant and cook. In 1937, after being interviewed by journalist Ernie Pyle, William Johnson gained national recognition as the last surviving individual to be formerly enslaved by an American president. 38 As a result, he was invited to the White House to meet President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. President Roosevelt gifted Johnson a silver-headed, engraved cane, and he embarked on a tour of Washington, D.C. 39 During their meeting, Johnson described his time serving the president both in and out of bondage, learning to cook with Eliza Johnson, and living as a free man in Greeneville. 40

Andrew Johnson’s self-imposed proximity to his formerly-enslaved servants, by bringing them to the White House, sharing his home in Greeneville, and referencing them in personal correspondence, further emphasizes his perception of them as family, perhaps initiated by a blood connection to those that he held in bondage. Though Johnson’s actual relation to his enslaved servants can only be corroborated by DNA evidence, he certainly had a unique relationship with Dolly, Florence, Liz, William, and Sam. Still, Johnson’s actions worsened the lives of many African Americans in Reconstruction America by attempting to stop government programs and legislation designed to help them. His antipathy toward African-American civil and political rights revived the racial hierarchies that had allowed slavery to exist in America in the first place. In fact, William stressed in the last years of his life that no matter how fair the treatment, “[A]ny man would rather be free than be a slave.” 41

Thank you to the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site for providing documents used in this article, including the personal scrapbook of William Johnson.

Andrew Johnson - History

Andrew Johnson was raised in Raleigh North Carolina. He was born on December 29, 1808. He lived with his mother Mary Johnson, his father Jacob Johnson, and his older brother William Johnson in a small house made of wood within the land of Casso’s inn where his parents worked. His mother was a weaver and his father was a hostler but worked as a janitor as well in the State capitol. Andrew was youngest of the two sons. Tragically, his father died when he was 3 years old. His father managed to rescue his friends but his health deteriorated after the incident and on that same year his father died. His mother was left to take care of him and his brother William. Later on she remarried.

Andrew Johnson as a Tailor

When he was 14 years old he and his brother became the apprentice of a tailor named John J. Selby. Andrew did not attend school, but during his work as the tailor’s apprentice, their regular customers would give him books and would sometimes read oratory books to him while he works. He then taught himself to study how to read.

During his younger days along with his friends, they tossed rocks at the tradesman house, when the owner warned them that he will contact the police, Andrew got scared and went away and came to North Carolina in Carthage. Luckily, he found work there because of his skills in tailoring. Then, later he went to South Carolina in Laurens.

After one year of working in Laurens, he went back home and hoped to regain his old apprenticeship job. But John Selby did not own the shop for tailoring anymore, living without work he and his brother William led their mother and step father in 1826 to move in Tennessee, when he was just 18 years old that time. He and his family lived in Tennessee at Greeneville, and he managed to establish his own tailor shop by putting a sign on their house door.

He then met McCardle, Eliza daughter of a local shoemaker. They got married on the 17th of May 1827, Andrew was 19 years old and Eliza 16 years old. Between 1828 and 1852, they had five children: Martha (1828), Charles (1830), Mary (1832), Robert (1834), and Andrew Jr. (1852). His wife’s tutoring advanced Johnson’s writing and reading skills, and educated him in arithmetic, as far as basic algebra. His Tailor shop improved in business and later became an assembly for political discussion.

Andrew Johnson’s Early Political Career

His business became his training ground in enhancing his skills in debate. Later, he then joined a club for debates at a small university four miles away from their home and once every week he would walk to attend debates. His political career started, when he was voted Alderman or part of the city council of Tennessee in Greeneville 1828 he was 20 years old that time.

His political profession advanced rapidly. After 2 years of becoming Alderman, he became the town’s mayor. In 1835, when he was 27 years old he was voted to the House of Representative in Tennessee, but he served for only one term. In 1837, then 29 years old he was defeated for re-election, but eventually won the following term in 1839. He admired the State rights and the Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson.

He became the voice of many farmers and mountaineers against privileged planter families that has influenced and gripped political power in the country. He was an avid supporter for the rights of free employees or laborers.

In 1841 he was voted for the Tennessee Senate seat, he was 33 years old. There he wanted to abolish a law giving bigger representation to slave possessor but his proposal was beaten. He also failed to make a new state from the Appalachian district of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, be named Frankland. He promoted common man’s rights which included a free farm for the poor bill, giving land to ordinary farmers.

He supported James K. Polk, president that time and also a North Carolina native. He handled the Oregon and Texas settlement and the Mexican conflict. He was a major follower of the Constitution over states, which opposed many southerner legislatures. He served a two year term in the senate. In 1843, he was then 35 years old he became the first Democrat to win election as the US representative from Tennessee’s first Congressional District. 1843 was the end of his Senatorial term. Andrew Johnson became a US Representative for five times until 1853. In that same year, he was voted as the Governor of Tennessee and was re elected in 1855, he was 47 years old. During his governor term, he gave state profits to Tennessee public schools and state libraries.

During the Civil War

During the Civil War in 1857, he was elected again as a US Senate a Southern Senator who supported the law for fugitive slave and protected slavery. During that time he was a supporter of Abraham Lincoln’s opponent in the 1860 presidential election. He was strict against secessionists and abolitionists and said they are perilous to the survival of the Union and the Constitution. When Tennessee seceded in 1861, he was a US senator from Greeneville in East Tennessee and was a Unionist and the only senator from the south who did not resign. He became prominent War Democrat from the south and supported Lincoln’s military policies during the American Civil war of 1861-1865.

In 1862, he was 54 years old, President Lincoln chose him as militia governor or administrator of Tennessee. As governor he was effective in battling rebellion and beginning the transition to Reconstruction. Ruling with a solid grip, he silenced all anti-union outcries. He was militia governor until 1864 in Tennessee. He remained with his strong support for the Constitution and the Union.

Vice Presidency

President Lincoln recommended the Republican Party to drop his preceding vice president Hamlin from Maine, who was an eager abolitionist, in favor of Andrew, who was a Southern Democrat. In 1864, when he was 56 years old Andrew became the official vice president of Lincoln and on March 1865, Andrew was elected as vice president of the U.S.


During those times, there were conspiracies to kill the important officials in the government and because of that plan sadly, President Lincoln was assassinated, a month after the oath taking. Although Andrew was also one of the targets, his supposed killer backed out. And on 15 of April 1865, he became the President of the United States. As president, he dealt with radical Republicans. He wanted to carry on reconstructing the former Confederate States in 1865 congress was not yet in session that time. He gave pardon to all that would pledge allegiance, but required wealthy men and leaders to obtain special Presidential pardons. During his reign he added Nebraska to the US States and the purchased territory that would become Alaska.

In December 1865, by the time the Congress reconvened, most states in the South were already reconstructed. Slavery was being abolished and “Black Codes” were regulated. Republicans moved in Congress to change Andrew’s programs. They eventually gained support from northerners who got disappointed upon seeing many Southern leaders. Their steps were, to refuse any senatorial or representative seat from anyone who supported the old Confederacy. Next they passed actions dealing with the former slaves. Andrew vetoed the legislation, but those who opposed him gained enough votes in Congress to pass legislation over his veto, that was the first time that Congress overridden a president on an important bill.

In 1866, the Civil Rights bill was written so that Negroes would become American citizens, but Johnson vetoed it. He also administered the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery and the 14th Amendment that provided equal protection by law of all citizens who were under the Constitution. Numerous government officials opposed him and there were plenty of legislative measures that were passed that he refused to vote on. There were conflicts as well within his administration, when he confessed to lay off Edwin Stanton Lincoln’s secretary, who later became one of his fierce detractors. In 1868, he was 60 years old he was accused of violating The Office of Tenure act, which states that presidents cannot lay off some publicly designated officials without the Senate’s consent. Three accusations were presented in opposition to him but all failed to reach the required majority vote for impeachment. In spring of 1868 he was acquitted of all the charges. When he completed the remainder of Lincoln’s reign, he did not get his party’s nomination for the 1869 election.


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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, &ldquoJohnson, Andrew,&rdquo Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2021,

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Andrew Johnson / Andrew Johnson - Key Events

Vice President Andrew Johnson takes the presidential oath of office in his hotel room at the Kirkwood House following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase oversees the proceeding. Lincoln chose Johnson, a racist and uneducated Southerner from Tennessee, as his vice president to balance the 1864 ticket.

Johnson declares that the terms agreed on between Union General William Tecumseh Sherman and Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston are too lenient to the Confederates and orders that they be set aside. Johnston surrenders to Sherman on April 26 on harsher terms.

Lincoln's funeral train departs from Washington, D.C., on its journey to Springfield, Illinois.

Johnson issues a proclamation offering rewards for the arrests of Jefferson Davis, Jacob Thompson, and Clement C. Clay, Jr.

The close of the Civil War is celebrated in Washington, D.C. Johnson presides over a series of reviews of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Tennessee.

Johnson issues two proclamations summarizing his recommendations for the restoration of Confederate states to the Union. First, he grants amnesty to all white southerners who take a loyalty oath by doing so, the southerners will regain their property. (High Confederate officials and southern planters owning property worth more than $20,000 are excluded from this option.) Second, Johnson outlines a reconstruction plan for North Carolina which becomes the blueprint for other Southern states. Johnson proposes to appoint provisional governors to the defeated states under their direction, new constitutions would be drafted abolishing slavery and renouncing secession. Following the authorization of these new laws, the states would be accepted back into the Union.

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson was born on December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He grew up in poverty and was apprenticed to a tailor as a boy, but ran away. As an adult, he opened a tailor shop in Greeneville, Tennessee, where he met and married Eliza McCardle. The couple raised five children together, and Eliza supported her husband’s aspirations by teaching him essential reading and writing skills that prepared him for a career in politics. He became an adept stump speaker, championing the common man and vilifying the plantation aristocracy. He was elected to the House of Representatives and later the Senate, where he advocated for a homestead bill to provide farmland for white men.

Johnson’s new political position brought him increased wealth and social clout. To reflect his newfound status, he purchased an enslaved teenage girl named Dolly and her younger half-brother, Sam. Dolly later gave birth to three children—Liz, Florence, and William—who inherited their mother’s enslaved status and also became the property of the Johnson family. The father of Dolly’s children is unknown, but it is possible that Andrew Johnson (or one of his sons) may have fathered her children. Click here to learn more about the enslaved households of President Andrew Johnson.

After the election of Republican Party candidate Abraham Lincoln, southern states began seceding from the Union. By the time Lincoln took the oath of office, seven states had already left the Union, with four more to follow—including Johnson’s home state of Tennessee. During the crisis, Johnson remained in the United States Senate after his state seceded, the only southern senator to do so. In recognition of his commitment to the Union, President Lincoln appointed him military governor of Tennessee in 1862. In this position, Johnson began to support emancipation—not because he supported racial equality, but for military expediency. His primary concerns were ending the war quickly and crippling the Confederacy. To prove his new stance (and loyalty to President Lincoln), Johnson freed the enslaved individuals he owned in 1863 and ordered total emancipation in Tennessee the following year. His actions appealed to the different factions and leaders within the Republican Party, including President Lincoln who desired a political ticket that represented unity and a commitment to preserve the Union. As a result, the party nominated Johnson, a southerner and a Democrat, for vice president.

President Lincoln’s tragic and unexpected assassination thrust Andrew Johnson into the presidency. He moved into the White House with his family and brought Florence and William as paid workers. But President Johnson’s racial prejudices and inability to heal a broken nation quickly became a larger problem. Johnson pardoned all who would take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States but required Confederate leaders and men of wealth to obtain special presidential pardons. While he pursued reconciliation with southern white citizens, he generally ignored the implementation of “Black Codes” and other racist policies by state legislatures that infringed upon the rights of newly-freed African Americans.

Radical Republicans in Congress lambasted Johnson's approach to Reconstruction. They gained the political support of northerners who were dismayed to see southerners voting many prewar leaders back into office. The Radicals refused to seat any senator or representative from the Confederacy. They also passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to protect the rights of formerly enslaved individuals, which Johnson subsequently vetoed. The Radicals mustered enough votes to pass the legislation over his veto—one of fifteen times that Congress voted to override President Johnson.

A few months later, Congress submitted the 14th Amendment to the states, which specified "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside No state shall…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." President Johnson publicly expressed his disapproval of the amendment and encouraged state legislatures to reject it. All former Confederate states, except Tennessee, refused to ratify the amendment. Two violent race riots broke out in Memphis and New Orleans in 1866. Dozens of African Americans were beaten and killed—furthering the argument that the federal government needed to do more to protect African-American citizens.

After the Radical Republicans won an overwhelming victory in congressional elections that fall, they crafted their own Reconstruction plan, placing southern states under martial law and passing other laws to restrict the powers of the president. In February 1868, Johnson moved to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton without Senate approval during full session, which violated the Tenure of Office Act. This law had been passed by Radical Republicans a year earlier, vetoed by Johnson, and then overridden by Congress. Stanton’s dismissal triggered impeachment proceedings and the House voted to charge Johnson on eleven articles of impeachment. The Senate tried Johnson in the spring of 1868 and voted on three of the articles, acquitting him by a single vote each time.

In 1875, Johnson felt vindicated when the citizens of Tennessee elected him to the Senate that had nearly thrown him out of the presidency, but he died a few months later on July 31,1875 after suffering a stroke.

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