Advertisement

Lincoln in Reverse: Andrew Johnson

  • Philip Abbott
Part of the The Evolving American Presidency Series book series (EAP)

Abstract

Andrew Johnson is almost universally regarded as one of the worst of presidents. He was, after all, the first president to be impeached and the missed opportunities for genuine reconstruction have been directly traced to his policies. It is the subsequent judgment that impeachment itself was a great error that seems to lessen this assessment and sometimes creates a tipping point away from badness. In 1922, Claude G. Bowers, a popular historian admired by Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), contended that Johnson was not a bad president. In fact, he “fought the bravest battle for constitutional liberty and for the preservation of our institutions ever waged by an executive” against “brutal, hypocritical and corrupt” men.1 Senator Edmund Ross was featured in John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage for his refusal to vote for conviction. Kennedy claimed his vote “may well have preserved for ourselves and posterity constitutional government in the United States.”2 It is certainly true that Johnson’s general reputation rose first as a result of negative reassessments of Reconstruction and then as a result of negative reassessments of the Civil War in the 1930s. He was ranked nineteenth out of twenty-nine presidents (just below McKinley) in Schlesinger’s 1948 poll. But post–civil rights assessments that return to ones like those in 1866 when the Atlantic Monthly described the president as “touched with insanity, corrupted with lust, stimulated with drink” are not universal. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, for example, concluded in 1992 that Congressmen mistakenly followed the maxim that “the end justifies the means.” Constitutional protections for an independent executive were regarded as “obstacles to the accomplishment of a greater good.” 3

Keywords

Racial Prejudice Constitutional Protection Confidence Motion Southern Representation Homage Strategy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Claude G. Bowers, The Tragic Era (Cambridge, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1929).Google Scholar
  2. Also see, George F. Milton, The Age of Hate: Andrew Johnson and the Radicals (New York: Coward-McCann, 1930).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (New York: Harpers, 1956).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    William H. Rehenquist, Grand Inquests (New York: William Morrow, 1992). Although see, David Donald, “Why They Impeached Andrew Johnson,” American Heritage VIII (December 1956): 21–25, for a different assessment. David O. Steward contends that despite the questionable constitutional grounds for Johnson’s impeachment, the action did establish the precedent that there are limits to presidential discretion and was also an outlet for the violent political passions of the day. Impeached: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009), p. 323.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Stephen Howard Browne, “Andrew Johnson and the Politics of Character,” in Martin J. Medhurst, ed., Before the Rhetorical Presidency (College Station, TX: Texas AandM Press, 2008), pp. 195, 210–11.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Charles F. Faber and Richard B. Faber, The American Presidents Ranked by Performan ce (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000), pp. 125–30.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Brooks D. Simpson, The Reconstruction Presidents (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998), p. 69.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    For an examination of LBJ’s strategy, see Philip Abbott, Accidental Presidents: Death, Assassination, Resignation and Democratic Succession (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), Ch. 8.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Howard P. Nash, Jr., Andrew Johnson, Congress and Reconstruction (Rutherford, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1972), pp. 23–24.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    John J. Craven, Prison Life of Jefferson Davis (New York: Carleton, 1866), p. 261.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Hans L. Trefousse, Andrew Johnson (New York: Norton, 1989), pp. 35–50.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Carl Schurz to Charles Sumner, November 13, 1865, in Harold M. Hyman, ed., The Radical Republicans and Reconstruction, 1861–1870 (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967), p. 294.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    W. J. Cash, The Mind of the South (New York: Knoph, 1941).Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    LaWanda Cox and John H. Carr, Politics, Principle and Prejudice, 1861–1866 (New York: Free Press, 1963), pp. 151–55.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    LeRoy P. Graf et al., eds., The Papers of Andrew Johnson (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1967–2000), vol. 9, p. 466.Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    Andrew Sefton, Andrew Johnson and the Uses of Constitutional Power (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980), p. 125. Johnson’s personal secretary shared this account with the press and bragged that the president upheld his honor in the face of a hostile “darkey delegation.” Trefousse, Andrew Johnson, p. 242.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Philip Abbott 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip Abbott

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations