The Johnson Inauguration

April 15, 1865 – Andrew Johnson became the new U.S. president on the morning of Abraham Lincoln’s death. To the dismay of many Republicans bent on punishing the South, a southern Democrat now occupied the White House.

17th U.S. President Andrew Johnson | Image Credit: learnnc.org

17th U.S. President Andrew Johnson | Image Credit: learnnc.org

In the 1864 elections, the Republicans had changed their name to the “National Union” party to garner support from Democrats who favored Lincoln’s war policies. Johnson, the former military governor of Tennessee, was one of those Democrats, and he replaced Hannibal Hamlin of Maine as vice president. Although Johnson had been the only congressman in the Confederate states to stay loyal to the U.S., the Republican majority in Congress distrusted him, especially the Radical Republicans who favored harsh policies toward the defeated South.[1]

However, some Republicans noted that Johnson’s hatred of the southern aristocracy may incline him to take a more punitive approach toward southern post-war reconstruction than Lincoln would have. Congressman George Julian of Indiana stated that Lincoln may have been popular among northerners, but not among Republicans in Congress: “Its expression never found its way to the people, (but) while everybody was shocked at his murder, the feeling was nearly universal that the accession of Johnson would prove a Godsend to our cause.”[2]

Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase administered the oath of office in Johnson’s hotel suite at the Kirkwood Hotel, and Johnson became the sixth vice president to ascend to the presidency (and the third to ascend due to death). A dozen members of Congress and assorted government officials witnessed the ceremony, which Johnson followed with a brief speech: “Gentlemen, I have been almost overwhelmed by the announcement of the sad event which has so recently occurred… The duties have been mine; the consequences are God’s.”[3]

A New England senator noted, “Johnson seemed willing to share the glory of his achievements with his Creator, but utterly forgot that Mr. Lincoln had any share of credit in the suppression of the rebellion.” This encouraged the Radicals, along with the fact that Johnson had taken his oath on a Bible opened to the vengeful Book of Ezekiel.[4]

Wasting no time, influential Radicals Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Benjamin Wade of Ohio visited Johnson on the evening Lincoln’s death, convinced that Johnson’s policy would be harsher than Lincoln’s. Wade said, “Mr. Johnson, I thank God that you are here. Mr. Lincoln had too much of the milk of human kindness to deal with these damned rebels. Now they will be dealt with according to their desserts.”[5]

The Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, dominated by Radical Republicans and led by Wade, held a caucus within eight hours of Lincoln’s death. They expressed dissatisfaction with Lincoln’s last speech on April 11 because of its conciliatory tone. Julian complained that “aside from his known tenderness to the rebels, Lincoln’s last public avowal, only three days before his death, of adherence to the plan of reconstruction he had announced in December 1863, was highly repugnant…” The Radicals planned to rid the government of Lincoln’s influence, and they hoped Johnson would be the man to do it for them [6]

Holding his first cabinet meeting on the 16th, Johnson asked all members to stay in their positions and trust in him based on his record: “The course which I have taken in the past, in connection with this rebellion, must be regarded as a guaranty for the future.” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton reported that Federal troops were pursuing John Wilkes Booth and Jefferson Davis, and the reconstruction of the South had begun.[7]

Johnson also met with members of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. Radical Republicans dominated the Committee, led by Benjamin Wade. Wade reiterated his confidence in the new president: “Johnson, we have faith in you. By the gods, there will be no trouble now in running the government.”[8]

Johnson declared to the committee members: “I hold that robbery is a crime; rape is a crime; murder is a crime; treason is a crime—and crime must be punished. Treason must be made infamous, and traitors must be impoverished.” This satisfied the committee, but that satisfaction quickly dimmed when Johnson later clarified his statement: “I say to the leaders, punishment. I also say leniency, reconciliation and amnesty to the thousands whom they have misled and deceived.”[9]

—–

[1] Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 151-52

[2] Bowers, Claude G., The Tragic Era: The Revolution After Lincoln (The Riverside Press, Cambridge, MA, 1929), p. 3-7

[3] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 20760-20789; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 677

[4] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 20760-20789

[5] Bowers, The Tragic Era: The Revolution After Lincoln, p. 3-7; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16-18, 20

[6] Bowers, The Tragic Era: The Revolution After Lincoln, p. 3-7; Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 20760-20789

[7] Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 677; Murphy, The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath, p. 16-18, 20

[8] Bowers, The Tragic Era: The Revolution After Lincoln, p. 3-7; Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 20779-20799; Murphy, The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath, p. 16-18, 20

[9] Bowers, The Tragic Era: The Revolution After Lincoln, p. 3-7; Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 20779-20799

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2 thoughts on “The Johnson Inauguration

  1. […] Abraham Lincoln died of his gunshot wound at 7:22 a.m. Andrew Johnson became the 17th U.S. president; to the horror of many northerners, Johnson was a southern […]

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  2. […] Abraham Lincoln died of his gunshot wound at 7:22 a.m. Andrew Johnson became the 17th U.S. president; to the horror of many northerners, Johnson was a southern […]

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