President Andrew Johnson lifted himself out of extreme poverty to become President of the United States. He was a man with little education who climbed the political ladder and held many different high offices. As a strict constitutionalist, Johnson believed in limiting the powers of the federal government. President Johnson was one of the most bellicose Presidents who fought Congress, critics, and many others. President Andrew Johnson faced numerous problems post-Civil War Era including reconstructing the Southern states to combine peacefully with the Union, his battles with Congress, and his career ending impeachment.
Following Lincolns tragic assassination, President Andrew Johnson took on the accountability of making Reconstruction a reality. Andrew Johnson wanted to use Lincolns ideas of reconstruction but in a modified form. Since Congress would be in recess for eight more months Johnson decided to go ahead with his plan. Johnson’s goal in reconstruction was to grant amnesty to all former Confederates (except high officials), the ordinances of secession were to be revoked, Confederate debts would repudiate, and the states had to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment. Once the states swore to a loyalty oath to abide by the conditions they would be allowed to return to the Union. After swearing to the oath Confederate States would be allowed to govern themselves. With this power the states implemented the creation of a system of black codes that restricted the actions of freed slaves in much the same way, if not exactly the same way, that slaves were restricted under the old law. The end result of his plan was a hopeless conflict with the Radical Republicans who dominated Congress, passed measures over Johnson’s vetoes, and attempted to limit the power of the executive concerning appointments and removals.
As soon as Johnson was made president he began to disagree with Congress, particularly those Congressional members of his opposing party. Later, he even broke ties with his own party citing the fact that he wouldnt endorse a new amendment to the Constitution granting blacks the rights of citizenship. Congress did not approve of President Johnsons plans for Reconstruction. The Wade Davis Plan returned power to the same people who had tried to break the Union by granting them amnesty. The Congress mainly opposed this plan because it contained no provision to protect the free slaves. The Freedmans Bureau Act was intended to help former slaves to shift from slavery to emancipation and assured them equality before law. This act was passed over the Presidents veto. The Congress also proposed a plan known as the Radical Reconstruction. President Johnson was a prime detractor of this plan. He attempted to dismiss the secretary of war, Stanton to prevent him from enacting Congresss plan. From this point forward Johnson’s relations with the congressional majority deteriorated.
Johnsons conflict with Congress culminated into his impeachment. He was impeached by the House of Representatives and tried before the Senate. There were a total of 11 prepared articles of impeachment including an incident when Johnson tried to gain control of the Army in February 1868, by removing the secretary of war in apparent violation of the Tenure of Office Act, his involvement in Lincolns assassination (which was later withdrawn), and the general allegation that Johnson had attempted to intentionally undermine Congress. The defense stressed that since Edwin McMasters Stanton (U.S. secretary of war) was appointed by Lincoln, the Tenure of Office Act did not pertain to Stanton. The president did not attend his trial but the excellence of his lawyers, the ambiguity of the law, the termination of his interference in the South, the establishment of new governments there and the admission of their representatives to Congress, and divisions among Republicans all led to a verdict of “not guilty.” The trial lasted from March to May 1868 with Chief Justice Chase presiding. Even though Johnson was acquitted, his political career was effectively over.
President Andrew Johnsons presidency is considered an abject failure, except Congressionally. His only success was ability to circumvent being kicked out of office under impeachment. Although, during his administration many rights such as the rights to vote were given to blacks to compensate them for their servitude and military help. All these rights were overshadowed by the system of black codes. Congress felt the same way and sought to rectify what was done to blacks. President Andrew Johnsons administration was filled with both failures and success.