Andrew Johnson: Domestic Terrorism

After the war, a couple of good ol' boys that recently 'walked the dog' (the forced loyalty oath returning confederate soldiers had to make to federal troops) met for drinks as they commiserated about their situation.

They eventually formed a social club of sorts and called it the Klu Klux Klan.

They dressed up like ghosts in bedsheets and went on torch lit parades through town.

All of these men were angry, having fought a useless war and now being governed by the same federal troops they fought against. They took much of their anger out on the recently freed slaves who as they saw it, were better off now while they were in a worse situation.

Their ceremonies became more regular and started to focus on scaring the freedmen and keeping those who they thought were 'uppity' in line.

They also eventually morphed into a militant 'Al Quaeda in Iraq' sort of organization and started carrying out murders of freedmen and federal troops for dramatic effect and to change the political situation in their favor. This anger was also turned on the 'carpet baggers' from the north and started to spiral out of control a year or so after the war ended.

Northerners weren't safe walking the streets and whig politicians would be murdered from time to time. Johnson certainly did nothing to stop this and restrained the federal troops from aggressively going after the terrorists.

Only when Grant sent in the full force of the Army did the tide start to turn. Even after that, no freed man could break the 'black codes' without fear of being visited at night by a gang of murderers.


Andrew Johnson: Post Civil War Years: Welcome Back South!

After the war was over, Lincoln was murdered and the North's desire for revenge had never been stronger. Certainly, had Lincoln lived, he would have forced reforms in the South, but would have held back the strongest Northern extremists that wanted to treat the entire South like a conquered country and repopulate it with their own people.

Lincoln however, did not live to see his reconstruction plans through and it was left to Johnson to figure out exactly what the South was and wasn't with respect to its place in the country.

Was the South part of the United States again? Was it some sort of territory that the Federal government needed to oversee? If it was not immediately welcomed back into the Union, then what would the conditions be that would allow it back in? Should it pay reparations to what now is its own government?

The questions go on and on and are extremely complex.

Johnson was of the school of thought that the policy of the North should be one of forgiveness.

I should note that this was also Lincoln's policy, but where Johnson and Lincoln would seem to differ is that as soon as the South surrendered and its soldiers took a loyalty oath to the United States (southerners called this 'walking the dog') they were completely United States citizens again.

Johnson wanted southern states to rejoin the Union as fast as possible and pardoned high level members of the rebellion.

He said nothing when the same people that served as congress members of the confederacy eagerly rejoined the Congress of the United States and their own state's house of representatives. This begs the question of how things were any different after the Civil War politically between the North and South.

Although he outlawed slavery, he did nothing to prevent the 'black codes' from going into effect and stood by when virtually all southern states disenfranchised the recently freed blacks.

He did what he could to prevent the public works projects for teaching freed slaves business or trade skills and sent letters of support in favor of programs to send free blacks overseas or down to Mexico.

Johnson put the South in a strange position. Before and during the war, he was completely hated for his sympathies for the Union cause and his distrust of rebellion. After the war, he was loved for the way he tried to make everything the way it was before the war, minus slavery of course. Poor whites stepped into a world where they had somewhat more upward mobility since they no longer had to compete with no wage workers and the former slaves were largely excluded from political and economic life.

In short, Johnson made things as good as possible for white Southerners and made things as bad as possible for freed slaves.


Andrew Johnson: Let me be your Moses!

Those were the words uttered to a crowd of freedmen by Andrew Johnson. I suppose that in those times, simply the fact that he didn't want to own them as property must have made him seem very much the Liberator, but it seems a little disingenuous.

I don't want to make it seem like Johnson was any worse than any other white people at the time towards the blacks, but he sure wasn't much better.

Johnson didn't support emancipation of black people in the south as a moral imperative, but as a way to take the Aristocratic class down a few notches.

Johnson was a self made man, a Tailor that rose to success by his own hard work and ruthlessness and constantly fought for the 'mechanic class'. This would have been what we would call blue collar jobs these days and encompassed such professions as innkeepers, coachmen etc. Johnson saw, not inaccurately, that the slaves represented the ultimate cheap labor and forever would keep poor white people from ever making a 'living wage'.

I guess you could say he was the Lou Dobbs of his day, fighting to keep cheap foreign or in this case, black labor out of the country.

Did Johnson like the blacks and want them to make better lives for themselves? No.

Johnson basically wanted them to leave the country and head south to Mexico where they might in his words, mingle with the other mongrel races.

Here's another gem:

"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. "

It just goes to show that the whole debate on emancipation was more than a black and white issue.


#17: Andrew Johnson: The Aftermath of Confederate Terrorism

It was extremely hard for me to write about Lincoln. There's very little I can say that hasn't already been said and it's hard to write about him without sounding like some propaganda piece or like a weepy fan.

Luckily, I'm moving on to a much, much lesser man, Andrew Johnson.

Andrew Johnson came to power after Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth shortly after the surrender of the south.

The conspiracy to kill Lincoln was far reaching and his killer had conspirators that attempted to simultaneously kill his Secretary of State, William Seward and other members of the cabinet.

Into this confusion and turmoil stepped the Tennessean.

To use the phrase of George W. Bush, Johnson did not have a whole lot of political capital to spend.

As a Senator, Johnson was not respected by Southerners since he took the controversial stand of backing Lincoln during the Civil War and refusing to go over to the Confederacy.

He was especially hated by the citizens of Tennessee since he served as a somewhat despotic military governor during the war.

He was hated by Northerners since in the tradition of John Tyler, he was on Lincoln's ticket as VP to 'bring out the southern vote'. It was clear even as he was running that although he stopped short of wishing to secede from the Union, he certainly did not share the Republican party's beliefs, which was a problem, since that was the ticket he was running on.

Also- Johnson was hated for a whole host of other reasons:

He was kind of a dick.
He was completely drunk during his inauguration speech as VP.
He was so paranoid, it made Nixon seem like Jack Johnson.
and a whole host of other things which I'll try to get to in later posts.

For all these traits and his absolute bungling of the post war reconstruction era, Johnson is consistently ranked as one of the worst presidents we ever had.

I'm looking forward to writing about him!