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Andrew Johnson was the successor to Abraham Lincoln and was the first president of the United States to be impeached.
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He made the most of his position by giving important appointments to political allies.
As the 1856 election neared, Andrew Johnson briefly considered a run for the presidency, but felt he didn’t quite have the national exposure he needed. He decided to run for the U.S. Senate. Even though his party controlled the legislature, the campaign was difficult. Many Democratic leaders disapproved of his populist views. However, the Tennessee legislature did elect him,
and the reaction by the opposition press was immediate and scathing. The Richmond Whig referred to Johnson as “the vilest radical and most unscrupulous demagogue in the Union.”
As senator, Johnson introduced the Homestead Act, a bill he had promoted while a congressman. The bill met with stiff opposition by many Southern Democrats, who feared the land would be settled by poor whites and immigrants who couldn’t afford, or didn’t want, slavery in the area. A heavily amended bill was passed, but was vetoed by President Buchanan. For the remainder of his Senate term, Johnson kept an independent course, opposing abolition while making clear his devotion to the Union.
After Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, Tennessee seceded from the Union. Andrew Johnson broke with his home state and became the only Southern senator to retain his seat in the U.S. Senate. He was vilified in the South. His property was confiscated, and his wife and two daughters were driven out of Tennessee. However, his pro-Union passion did not go unnoticed by the Lincoln administration. Once Union troops occupied Tennessee in 1862, Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor. He walked a difficult line, offering an olive branch to his fellow Tennesseans while exercising the full force of the federal government to rebels. He was never able to gain complete control of the state as insurgents, led by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, raided cities and towns at will.
Johnson originally opposed the Emancipation Proclamation, but after gaining an exemption for Tennessee and realizing that it was an important tool for ending the war, he accepted it. Southern papers caught his flip-flopping and accused him of seeking a higher office. This notion played out when Lincoln, concerned about his chances for reelection, tapped Johnson as his vice president to help balance the ticket in 1864. After several high-profile Union victories in the summer and fall of 1864, Lincoln was reelected in a sweeping victory.
On the night of April 14, 1865, while spending an evening at Ford’s Theater, in Washington, D.C., President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth, and he died the next morning. Johnson was also a target on that fateful night, but his would-be assassin failed to show up. Three hours after Lincoln died, Andrew Johnson was sworn in as the 17th president of the United States. In a strange irony often found in American history, the racist Southerner Johnson was charged with the reconstruction of the South and the extension of civil rights and suffrage to former black slaves.
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