Explain how Andrew Johnson’s background shaped his attitudes and policies on Reconstruction.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Andrew Johnson was most definitely not from the ruling class of the South.  He was born to a very middling family and was quite poor during his childhood and youth.  This colored his attitudes towards Reconstruction.

Because Johnson was from such a poor family, he had no love for the planters who dominated the South.  At the same time, he had no real love for African Americans since he, like many poor white Southerners, felt that it was important to maintain "white skin privilege" to differentiate themselves from blacks.  If blacks got rights, the poor whites would no longer be able to feel that they were clearly above anyone in the social hierarchy.

These attitudes led to Johnson's approach to Reconstruction.  He tried to make it easy for Southern states to return to the Union.  He did not push them for concessions on black rights.  At the same time, however, he tried to limit the the true aristocrats of the South's ability to regain political and economic power.

Thus, Johnson thought he was creating a Reconstruction system that would put more power in the hands of the whites who had not been part of the plantation-owning elite.