Andrew Johnson (president from 1865-1869, 17th)
By Richard E. Noble
Andrew Johnson, the original "Man in Black" form Tennessee, had quite a time of it. He was a typical Democrat of the period. He favored the Union, but was not all that interested in abolishing slavery. In this respect, he was very much like his boss Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a Republican, but just barely. If anything, Lincoln was a liberal, left-wing Republican.
Johnson was right in line with Lincoln's liberal, tolerant and forgiving, reconstructionist attitudes towards the South. But the Republicans, who were right-wing, religious, abolitionists to the core, wanted no part of such an attitude. The Republicans wanted to occupy the South militarily, give the franchise to blacks, remove the franchise from the Southern whites, confiscate white property and plantations and delay, if not deny, the South's return to statehood. To the Republican, the Southern whites were traitors and revolutionaries and they should be treated accordingly. The South should be nothing more than occupied, defeated territory.
Johnson was from common working stock and the Confederate state of Tennessee. His Unionists attitudes made him and his family flee to Kentucky during the Civil War. He was a tailor, and a runaway apprentice, at that. He and his brother broke their legal contract and ran away from their apprenticeship. A year later when they returned to face the music, their boss had gone out of business and no fine or imprisonment was imposed. The charges, though not forgotten, were not pursued.
At Lincoln’s second inauguration, Johnson, a tea-toddler, was offered a whiskey to quiet his nerves. The first drink did so well he tried a couple more. When the time came for his acceptance speech as vice president, he could barely talk. He mumbled and fumbled to his own embarrassment, and was labeled from that time on as "the Old Sot." After Lincoln's assassination he was promoted by his enemies as a common, uneducated, drunken, Southern democratic, sympathizer and appeaser. The Republicans wanted no part of him and wanted him out. They tried their best. He was impeached by the House and then tried in the Senate. He missed being thrown out of office by just one vote. The charges are considered today to have been trumped up, unconstitutional, and political. A freshman, radical Republican himself, a man named Edmund Ross, senator from Kansas voted not guilty and thus forfeited his own career and future.
It was during Johnson's administration that the U.S. purchased Alaska, but this was viewed as no notable achievement. Seward's Folly, it was called. Seven million dollars wasted on icebergs, igloos and polar bears. He sent troops to put down a take over of Mexico by Napoleon III.
Though his opponents hated him, he certainly had the approval of his electorate. He was elected five times to the House of Representative. His opponents got so tired of him that they actually gerrymandered his district right out of existence. So instead of running for the House he ran for Governor and was elected, not once but twice.
After his failed presidency and impeachment, in 1875 he ran once again for the Senate and won. Upon returning to the Senate, the galleries roared with applause, his desk was covered with flowers, and even his one time political enemies pressed forward to shake his hand.