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Andrew Johnson's Civil War and Reconstruction

Paul H. Bergeron

Publication Year: 2011

Few figures in American political history are as reviled as Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth president of the United States. Taking office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, he clashed constantly with Congress during the tumultuous early years of Reconstruction. He opposed federally-mandated black suffrage and the Fourteenth Amendment and vetoed the Freedmen’s Bureau and Civil Rights bills. In this new book, Paul H. Bergeron, a respected Johnson scholar, brings a new perspective on this often vilified figure. Previous books have judged Johnson out of the context of his times or through a partisan lens. But this volume—based on Bergeron’s work as the editor of The Papers of Andrew Johnson—takes a more balanced approach to Johnson and his career. Admiring Johnson's unswerving devotion to the Union, Lincoln appointed him as military governor of Tennessee, a post, Bergeron argues, that enhanced Johnson's executive experience and his national stature. While governor, Johnson implemented the emancipation of slaves in the state and laid the foundation for a new civilian government. Bergeron also notes that Johnson developed a close connection with the president which eventually resulted in his vice-presidential candidacy. In many respects, therefore, Johnson's Civil War years served as preparation for his presidency. Bergeron moves beyond simplistic arguments based on Johnson’s racism to place his presidency within the politics of the day. Putting aside earlier analyses of the conflict between Johnson and the Republican Radicals as ideological disputes, Bergeron discusses these battles as a political power struggle. In doing so, he does not deny Johnson’s racism but provides a more nuanced and effective perspective on the issues as Johnson tried to pursue the “politics of the possible.” Bergeron interprets Johnson as a strong-willed, decisive, fearless, authoritarian leader in the tradition of Andrew Jackson. While never excusing Johnson’s inflexibility and extreme racism, Bergeron makes the case that, in proper context, Johnson can be seen at times as a surprisingly effective commander-in-chief—one whose approach to the problems of reestablishing the Union was defensible and consistent. With its fresh insight on the man and his times, Andrew Johnson’s Civil War and Reconstruction is indispensable reading for students and scholars of the U.S. presidency and the Civil War and Reconstruction periods.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

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pp. xi-xii

I have lived with Andrew Johnson since 1987, the year I became editor and director of The Papers of Andrew Johnson. (some might consider such a long involvement to be a fate worse than death. But I think not.) The Johnson Papers staff and I persevered, harmoniously and productively, for thirteen years, during which time we published nine volumes ...

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pp. 1-12

"No public man in the United states has been so imperfectly understood as Andrew Johnson. none has been so difficult to understand.”1 This observation by Hugh McCulloch, Johnson’s secretary of the treasury, is as true today as it was 120 years ago when he wrote it. There have been many attempts by scholars and biographers to unravel the mysteries ...

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1. 1862–1863: Johnson’s War

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pp. 13-40

Abraham lincoln sent a message to Gen. Henry Halleck in the summer of 1862: “The Gov. [Johnson] is a true, and a valuable man—indispensable to us in Tennessee.”1 such an assessment would have come as no surprise to most observers. After all, Lincoln had dispatched the senator to Tennessee in March as one of the first moves pushing a Re- ...

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2. 1864–1865: Johnson’s Mission Achieved

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pp. 41-64

Union victories on the Tennessee battlefields in late 1863 opened up new possibilities for Andrew Johnson and his public career. The three major accomplishments of the fourteen-month period from January 1864 to february 1865 were the official emancipation of slaves, the establishment of civil government in Tennessee, and the nomination ...

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3. 1865: Johnson’s Year

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pp. 65-98

From nashville on Saturday, April, 15, 1865, Johnson’s daughter, Martha Patterson, penned this poignant message to her father: “The sad, sad news has just reached us, announcing the death of President Lincoln’s. Are you safe, and, do you feel secure? . . . How I long to be with you this sad day, that we might weep together at a Nation’s calamity. ...

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4. 1866: Johnson’s New Challenge

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pp. 99-144

October 1866 found Benjamin Truman in New England on the eve of the fall elections. From Hartford he notified Johnson that “the long haired men and cadaverous females . . . think you are horrid.” Truman added an account of his conversation with “an antique female” who “declared that she hoped you would be impeached. Said I ‘Why should he ...

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5. 1867: Johnson’s Wounded Leadership

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pp. 145-180

Johnson and Congress clashed on the battlefields of leadership and power in 1867. The ensuing warfare resulted in overall victory for the legislative branch but also a few successes for the executive. In the process Congress seized dramatic, even ruthless, control over Reconstruction in the south by eroding Johnson’s constitutional duties and ...

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6. 1868: Johnson’s Victorious Defeat

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pp. 181-216

The calendar made it clear that 1868 would likely be a time of high drama for Andrew Johnson and his presidency. For one thing, this would be a presidential election year. in mid-January, John Haskin, a New York lawyer, flattered Johnson with the prospect of a united Democratic Party that would nominate him, after which he would “be ...

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pp. 217-224

As the new year 1869 dawned, a tentative mood pervaded Washington, a recognition that the current president was about to exit and the new one was soon to enter. Perhaps Andrew Johnson, as well as congressional leaders, engaged in a daily ritual of marking another day off the calendar in anticipation of March 4. After the grueling and debilitating ...


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pp. 225-276

Essay on Sources

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pp. 277-283


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pp. 283-299

E-ISBN-13: 9781572337947
E-ISBN-10: 157233794X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572337480
Print-ISBN-10: 1572337486

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 14 halftones
Publication Year: 2011