Andrew Johnson: Labor Politics

Andrew Johnson had some interesting theories on labor relations. He was a friend of the 'mechanic', a loose term in the mid 1800's that designated any role above laborer but below large plantation owner. I guess you could say that the closest comparison today would be small business owner.

The small business owners of the time were carriage repair shops, innkeepers, general store managers etc.

Many politicians at the time were for wealthy interests such as large scale farmers, rail roads or mining interests, but very few were talking about the mechanic class of laborer. There simply wasn't a lot of money in it, I guess that's why today we have certain industries such as pharma or banking so improportionately represented in Congress, but we don't hear a lot about the guy that just owns a repair shop.

This love of the mechanic class led Johnson to take some strange views. He came out strong against a rail road cutting through his district when he was in Congress because he was afraid that it would put the wagon operators and inn keepers who weren't close enough to a rail road stations out of business. It would seem like overall, a rail road would bring commerce and wealth into a community, but Johnson tended to not think of the big picture on these things and stayed pretty dedicated to his favorite class of people.

He also was against slavery because he felt that it took jobs away from the white man and forced small farmers off of their land since a plantation can expand indefinitely with slave labor since its labor cost is somewhere close to $0.00 and any expansion means additional profits.

Under reconstruction, Johnson showed how little he was concerned about freed slaves when he underfunded all the reconstruction projects and suggested that they simply pick up and leave the United States, but by virtue of him not wanting to enslave them, it certainly put him in the progressive class in the south.

I like reading about Johnson, because it shows that in American politics, people will have different view points for different reasons. What gets lost in the soaring anti slavery rhetoric is the fact that not all people supported the abolition of slavery for simply moral reasons.

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