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"GIVE HIM THE HOT END OF THE POKER' OHIO REPUBLICANS REJECT JOHNSON'S LEADERSHIP OF RECONSTRUCTION Robert D. Sawrey Two DAYSafter Abraham Lincoln's assassination, William Henry Smith, a radical Republican and the editor of the Cincinnati Daily Gazette, expressed a common view in Ohio ofAndrewJohnson, the new president, when he wrote, "there is ... no man who understands their [southern leaders'] character, or who is better qualified by observation to judge the best mode of dealing with them than he. . . . We are confident that the executive office is safe in his hands, and that his course will at once bring assurance of it to the country."1 Less than one year later another Ohio Republican tellingly conveyed his frustrations with Johnson to James Garfield, suggesting that if the president did not work more closely with Congress, Garfield and Congress would "have no alternative but to open the war with him at once, and givehim thehot end of the poker." An Ohioan from the Western Reserve concluded with a tone of bewildered rage that Johnson was "determined to 'write himself down an Ass.' "2 1 Cincinnati Daily Gazette, Apr. 17, 1865. For other examples of Republican editorial supportin early 1865 forJohnson see ClevelandLeader, Apr. 21, 1865; Ohio StateJournal, Apr. 17, 1865; Lancaster Gazette, Apr. 20, 1865; Scioto Gazette, Apr. 25, 1865; Eaton Weekly Register, Apr. 20, 1865; Sandusky Daily Commercial Register, Apr. 21, 1865; Portage County Democrat, Apr. 19, 1865; Dayton Daily Journal, Apr. 24, 1985. For examples of individual expressions of support for the new president, see Tobias Plants to Andrew Johnson, Apr. 15, 1865, and James Ashley to Andrew Johnson, Apr. 15, 1865, Andrew Johnson Papers, Library ofCongress; Robert Schenck to W. D. Bickham, Apr. 20, 1865, W. D. Bickham Papers, Dayton Public Library, Dayton, Ohio; Aaron F. Perry to Jacob D. Cox, May 13, 1865, Jacob D, Cox Papers, Oberlin College Library, Oberlin, Ohio; William Johnson to Rutherford B. Hayes, Apr. 22, 1865, Rutherford B. Hayes Papers, Rutherford B. Hayes Memorial Library, Fremont, Ohio. 2 W. C. Howells to James A. Garfield, Mar. 26, 1866, James A. Garfield Papers, Library of Congress; B. F. Hoffman to Garfield, Apr. 30, 1866, ibid. Civil War History, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, © 1987 by The Kent State University Press 156CIVIL WAR HISTORY From his first days in the presidency and throughout the remainder of 1865 Andrew Johnson received great support in Ohio. For example, when in late May he announced his reconstruction policy, Ohio Republicans , or Unionists as they continued to call themselves, applauded heartily. Such phrases as "a generous offer," "wise and just," and "worthy of Lincoln" appeared in a high percentage of editorials written about his North Carolina and Amnesty proclamations.3 However, these editors also expected that Johnson would be extremely stingy in granting pardons to the fourteen groups he excluded from his general amnesty grant and that, if problems arose in the execution of his plans, Johnson would be willing to amend his policy in order to gain a secure future for the country. In addition, Ohioans endorsed the president's plan to leave the question of black suffrage to southerners. Johnson's support on this matter crossed party lines with numerous Unionists and virtually all Democrats in general agreement that only states could determine suffrage qualifications.4 Even those Unionists who favored the enfranchisement of adult male freedmen generally muted their criticism because they correctly concluded that attacks upon the president would not find sympathy among the mass of Ohioans. While Johnson had been developing his reconstruction policy, a similar process had been occurring in Ohio, where the public debated the numerous issues involved in the reunification of the country. Ohioans generally agreed that a small group of planters who owned large numbers of slaves had led a reluctant South into rebellion. This had been possible because of the tremendous political, economic, and social power of these planters. The best way to crush the influence of that elite was to end slavery and to grant blacks a bare minimum of civil rights so that they could protect their freedom and not fall again under the control of the planters. This conclusion about the power of the planter...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 155-172
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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