You are on page 1of 10

Running head: M7A1: Project 2 Historiography 1

M7A1: Project 2: Historiography

President Andrew Johnson


Excelsior College

Author Note

This paper was prepared for United States Civil War, taught by Dr. Stewart Bennett


This paper will analyze the book, “Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction” by

James McPherson and other works regarding President Andrew Johnson. We will

examine President Johnson before and after Reconstruction and his attitude toward the

newly freed slaves and the Republican Congress. Analyzing quotes within McPherson’s

book and comparing them to others attributed to President Johnson. The goal is to

obtain a greater understanding of the man, we called President.


M7A1: Project 2: Historiography

President Andrew Johnson

In the book “Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction” by James

McPherson President Andrew Johnson is shown to a complex man. A man that is loyal

to the working class while seeking to punish to planter class. “Traitors must be punished

and impoverished. Their great plantations must be seized and divided into small farms,

and sold to honest, industrious men” (McPherson, 2010, p.537). These were the

thoughts of President Johnson as described by McPherson.

Hatfield (1997) would also quote Johnson saying, “traitors punished” (p.3).

However, he describes Andrew Johnson visiting Tennessee as governor in 1862 and

placing the Union before his state. He would support emancipation to keep the Union

intact. Johnson, "Treason," he said, in a much publicized quote, "must be made odious

and traitors punished" (Hatfield, 1997, p.3). Based on the context of the quote, the

meanings are different in the way it is used by McPherson and Hatfield.

Hatfield (1997) shares the background of Johnson early in his political career. His

election to Governor in Tennessee in 1852, then Senate in 1856 placed President

Johnson on the path to the White House (p.2). A political star Hatfield cites (2010)

“Tennessee Democrats, spotting Andrew Johnson as a rising star and a pugnacious

debater, sent him around the state to campaign for their ticket in the 1840 election” (p.2).

The President would be described as, “The most self-consciously plebeian of

American presidents, he found no room in his definition of the common people for

nonwhites. Unlike Lincoln, Johnson demonstrated no capacity for growth and flexibility

in his attitudes (McPherson, 2010, p.536). President Johnson has also been described

as an “old-fashioned Southern Jacksonian Democrat of pronounced states' rights views”

(Freidel & Sidey, 2006).


During Reconstruction the United States radical changes took place. The

Congress would see the radical Republicans work to pass Constitution amendments

that would lead to the betterment of the newly freed blacks. These amendments would

penalize the South for their behavior towards the former slaves and bring equal rights to


Blacks would begin to live on land confiscated or abandoned by plantation

owners. McPherson (2010) cites,

Many freedmen believed that only the ownership of land could make their

freedom real. “What’s de use of being free if you don’t own land enough to be

buried in?” asked one black man. “Might juss as well stay slave all yo’ days.” A

black army veteran said: “Every colored man will be a slave, & feel himself a

slave until he can raise him own bale of cotton & put him own mark upon it & say

dis is mine” (p.547)!

President Johnson begins the process of return the land to the planter class with

their pardons. In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment would be passed by the United

States Congress ending slavery. Further ratification of this amendment would take

place throughout the fall in the Southern and Northern states. In the same year, the

Freedman’s Bureau would be created to assist newly freed slaves and poor whites.

The Bureau was the government’s first attempt at welfare. Its goal was to provide

temporary assistance to those who require it until they could stand on their own.

Through the Bureau, blacks could lease tools, land, and obtain food until they could get

on their feet.

The Southern states would begin to pass what would begin to be called the Black

Codes in 1865. These codes would hinder the newly given freedoms of Blacks. The

codes would be seen by some in the North as moving backwards and reversing the

outcome of the war. Hatfield (1997) cites, “the president opposed granting political

rights to the freedmen, white southerners looked to him as a defender of white

supremacy and as their protector against Radical retribution” (p.5).

The first attempt of Congress to pass a Civil Rights Bill in the United States was

in 1866. This bill would affirm the rights of blacks to, ““full and equal benefit of all laws

and proceedings for the security of person and property as is enjoyed by white citizens”

(McPherson, 2010, p.558). It was vetoed by President Johnson as he felt; the bill would

infringe on state rights’ (p.558). McPherson (2010) would cite him as saying,

“establish[ing] for the security of the colored race safeguards which go infinitely beyond

any that the General Government has ever provided for the white race” (p. 558)

“The predominantly Republican Washington press corps had at first embraced

President Johnson, assuring their readers that he supported black suffrage and other

Radical measures” (Hatfield, 1997, p.5).

President Johnson would celebrate this victory on February 22nd while delivering a

speech that sounded more like he was on a “stump in Tennessee”. McPherson quote

the President as,


If my blood is to be shed because I vindicate the Union and the preservation of

this government in its original purity and character, let it be shed; let an altar to

the Union be erected, and then, if it is necessary, take me and lay me upon it,

and the blood that now warms and animates my existence shall be poured out as

a fit libation to the Union (p.557).

Constitutional Amendment would be passed, thanks to the radical Republicans in

Congress. However, the Confederacy would need to ratify in order to gain admittance

into the Union. In Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment would make all native born

people citizens of the United States of America. It would also guarantee “the equal

protection of the laws” (McPherson 559).

In the 1866, the South would see violence rise against blacks. Memphis

commented, “New York Tribune sarcastically, “who doubts that the Freedmen’s Bureau

ought to be abolished forthwith, and the blacks remitted to the paternal care of their old

masters, who ‘understand the nigger, you know, a great deal better than the Yankees

can” (McPherson, 2010, p.562).

New Orleans would experience would host mob violence at the Mechanic’s

Institute. As delegates meet to discuss blacks and their enfranchisement; a mob

gathered and an attack ensued killing "killed thirty- seven blacks and three of their white

allies"(McPherson, p.562). General Sheridan called the affair, "an absolute massacre

by the police, which was not excelled in murderous cruelty by that of Fort Pillow”

(McPherson, p.562). The President would blame the Republican in a speech given in

St. Louis and did not show any empathy for the victims of the attack. McPherson (2010)

would state, "More than any other single event, the Mechanics’ Institute Riot convinced

Northern voters that Johnson’s plan of restoration was an abject failure—and possibly a

betrayal of Union sacrifices to win the war" (p.562).

Hatfield (1997) would remark that by Fall of 1867 the President would begin the,

“swing around the circle," campaigning by train in favor of congressional candidates

who supported his policies (p.6). President Johnson at an event in Cleveland called the

radical Republicans traitors and the South loyal. When President Johnson began to

discuss his pardoning policies, he compared himself to Jesus. “He died and shed His

own blood that the world might live. . . . If more blood is needed, erect an altar, and

upon it your humble speaker will pour out the last drop of his blood as a libation for his

country’s salvation” (McPherson, 2010, p.563).

Martin Midhurst’s book, “Before the Rhetorical Presidency”, describes a speech

given September 12, 1866 in Cincinnati by President Johnson. The chapter appears to

read not as a speech to gain support for other candidates, however, as the author

explains, to discuss his attributes. Medhurst (2008) states, “Johnson layers into the

speech not just standard policy arguments, but strenuous protestations of innocence,

appeals to his personal past, and, most notoriously, allusions to his Christlike mission to

save his country from the satanic designs of his opponents (p.203).

With the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment the Republicans assumed the

President would concede defeat but this would not be the case. Radical Republicans

would see huge wins in the 1866 elections. In time the thirteenth, fourteenth, and

fifteenth amendments would be considered the Reconstruction Amendments. These

amendments would allow the newly freed blacks to have a voice in the United States of

America. These amendments allowed blacks to be free in every part of the Union, the

right to vote, and to be considered citizens.

When Congress passed the Military Reconstruction Acts against the wishes of

President Johnson, they placed the states under the jurisdiction of the military. This

would allow the radical element of the Republican Party to push through their bill on

equality. President Johnson would complain, ‘”no master ever had so absolute control

over the slaves as this bill gives to military officers over both white and colored persons”

(McPherson, 2010, p.566).

The second Act would allow the military generals to control areas of the South to

allow for fair and safe voting to occur. The ability to register the newly freed blacks in

the South would be difficult as Southern whites did not feel they should have the right to

vote. While these measures gave some power to the Republicans, the President could

still appoint the commander of this choosing. The passage of this act would see

“scalawags and carpetbaggers in the Southern states. The army undertook the task of

registering voters, including freed slaves. The nation had completed another stage in

the revolution that had begun with emancipation—“the maddest, most infamous

revolution in history,” according to a hostile South Carolinian” (McPherson, 2010, p.


The impeachment of the first American President in resident Johnson was

impeached in the first months of 1868 was due to the breach in the Tenure of Office Act.

This Act requires the President to seek approval from Congress before removing

Presidential appointees. President Johnson was acquitted due one vote. However, this

would have a negative impact on his political career and Ulysses S. Grant would be

elected the following year; thus setting the stage for the fifteenth amendment.

President Johnson would be catapulted into the highest office in the land by the

assignation of President Lincoln. He would need to heal a deeply divided country along

racial lines. However, this would not be possible due to his views and white-supremacy

ideology regarding race. President Johnson was admired by the working class. He

was an advocate for the poor and working class. He was a promoter of states’ right, a

strong supporter of the Union. He would risk everything after President Lincoln won the

election and his family was forced to flee their home state of Tennessee (The, 2015). While the President had positive attributes, he also has some

negative ones. He held white-supremacist views fighting against blacks and civil rights.

During this tumultuous time, McPherson (2010) would say, “The crisis of war and

Reconstruction temporarily altered, but did not destroy, the balance of powers among

the three branches of the federal government” (p. 579).



Andrew Johnson. (2015). The website. Retrieved 11:40, Jun 22, 2015,


Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2006). The presidents of the United States of America|Andrew

Johnson Retrieved from

Mark O. Hatfield, with the Senate Historical Office. (1997).Vice Presidents of the United

States, 1789-1993 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office), pp. 213-219.

Medhurst, M. J. (2008). Politics of character: Andrew Johnson. Before the rhetorical

presidency (p. 203). College Station: Texas A & M University Press.

McPherson, James M. & James K. Hogue. (2010). Ordeal by fire: The civil war and

reconstruction, McGraw-Hill, Fourth Edition.