The Papers of Andrew Johnson


Thrust suddenly and unexpectedly into the presidency in mid-April 1865, Andrew Johnson ruled as well as reigned in the summer months. This volume of his papers portrays a man who was resolute in his attempt to accomplish the "restoration" of his native South. The absence of Congress from the national seat of government during these crucial months afforded Johnson the opportunity to fashion his program; it was truly a period of executive hegemony.

As the documents in this volume reveal, Johnson articulated his blueprint for implementing presidential reconstruction and then moved forward with the task of achieving it. First, he extended a special offer of pardon to former Confederates; there were, however, restrictions built into the Amnesty Proclamation. Persons included in one of the fourteen different categories of exceptions, for example, had to seek special pardon from the President. By the end of August several thousand ex-Rebels had received individual pardons and were therefore enabled to recover personal property, accept public office, etc.

Assisting Johnson greatly in the matter of dealing with pardons and with the larger questions of governing the former Confederate states were the Southern governors, seven of whom Johnson directly appointed during the summer. The naming of these so-called provisional governors represented an extraordinary exercise of presidential prerogative, yet there were few complaints North or South. Johnson's high expectations that the Southern governors would accelerate the process of "restoration" were not entirely fulfilled. Indeed at times it looked as though their policies and actions were out of harmony with the plans and goals of the President. The most sensitive area of discomfort during the summer months was the matter of gubernatorial appointments of men of questionable loyalty to public office, for which Johnson properly chastised his governors. During those weeks the Chief Executive devised the three major requirements that the ex-Confederate states would have to meet in order to be realigned with the Union: repeal the ordinances of secession, abolish slavery and ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, and repudiate all Confederate debts. Johnson made a tentative move toward insisting upon the granting of suffrage to qualified blacks, but backed away from it when rebuffed by his Mississippi governor.
The question of the future of blacks in the South was a troubling and complicated one in 1865. Official advisers and plain citizens alike, both in the North and the South, were quick to offer solutions and remedies to Johnson. The President himself discussed the matter directly with delegations of blacks who visited him at the White House. His staunchly conservative outlook, however, became increasingly evident as he turned a deaf ear to proposals that the federal government assist the newly-freed blacks in a variety of ways.

Despite a somewhat bumpy ride toward restoration, Johnson could take justifiable pride in his accomplishments by the end of the summer. He was confident that the following months would complete the process without much further difficulty. It was a naive, but perhaps understandable, belief, rooted in Johnson's certainty that he enjoyed widespread popular support throughout the nation and that therefore members of Congress (thus far shut out of the process of reconstruction) would acquiesce in his program. Warning signs were visible during the summer months, but Johnson either did not see them or else chose to ignore them.

The Greeneville resident prevailed in these early months of his presidency; few could deny this reality. To many he appeared to be the strong, assertive, and confident president that the fragmented nation needed. But actions and policies in the following months would erode this perception.

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