Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808 – July 31, 1875) was the 17th President of the United States (1865–1869). Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Johnson presided over the Reconstruction era of the United States in the four years after the American Civil War. His tenure was controversial as Southern Democrats never forgave his loyalty to the Union, and Republicans heavily attacked him for his policy of reconciliation with the South.
When Tennessee seceded in 1861, Johnson was a U.S. Senator from Greeneville in East Tennessee. A Unionist, he was the only Southern senator not to resign. He became the most prominent War Democrat from the South and supported Lincoln’s military policies during the American Civil War of 1861–1865. In 1862, Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of occupied Tennessee, where he was energetic and effective in fighting the rebellion and beginning the transition to Reconstruction.
Johnson was nominated as the vice presidential candidate in 1864 on the National Union Party ticket. He and Lincoln were elected in November 1864 and inaugurated on March 4, 1865. Johnson succeeded to the presidency upon Lincoln’s assassination on April 15, 1865.
As President, he took charge of Reconstruction – the first phase, often called the Presidential Reconstruction – which lasted until the Radical Republicans gained control of Congress in the 1866 elections. His conciliatory policies towards the South, his hurry to reincorporate the former Confederate states back into the union, and his vetoes of civil rights bills embroiled him in a bitter dispute with Radical Republicans. The Radicals in the House of Representatives passed the Tenure of Office Act, knowing that the Johnson would violate that law, and proceeded to impeach him in 1868, charging him with the violation, but the Senate acquitted him by a single vote.
Johnson’s party status was ambiguous during his presidency. As President, he did not identify with the two main parties – though he did try for the Democratic nomination in 1868. While President he attempted to build a party of loyalists under the National Union label. Asked in 1868 why he did not become a Democrat, he said, “It is true I am asked why don’t I join the Democratic Party. Why don’t they join me … if I have administered the office of president so well?” His failure to make the National Union brand an actual party made Johnson effectively an independent during his presidency, though he was supported by Democrats and later rejoined the party as a Democratic Senator from Tennessee from 1875 until his death. Johnson was the first U.S. President to undergo an impeachment trial.
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