What caused the confrontation between President Johnson and Congress over Reconstruction policies? Why should we care, and how does it connect to today?

The confrontation between President Johnson and Congress over Reconstruction policies came about because Johnson was too lenient on the southern states, which continued to oppress African Americans, and because Johnson opposed laws that Congress attempted to pass that would give former slaves equality and citizenship. This connects to us today and we should be concerned about it because African Americans are still struggling for the equal rights that they deserve.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In answering this question, it is important to understand that Andrew Johnson was not elected President of the United States. When the Civil War started, he was a senator from Tennessee, and he remained loyal to the Union after the Southern states seceded. As it turned out, he was the...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In answering this question, it is important to understand that Andrew Johnson was not elected President of the United States. When the Civil War started, he was a senator from Tennessee, and he remained loyal to the Union after the Southern states seceded. As it turned out, he was the only Southern senator to do so. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln selected Andrew Johnson as his running mate, considering that adding a Southern senator would balance the ticket. Lincoln and Johnson took their oaths of office on March 4, 1865. On April 9, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Civil War. On April 14, Lincoln was assassinated and Johnson became president.

With the war over, the next step was the Reconstruction of the South. Before the war, Johnson believed that the Constitution clearly included the right to own slaves. His attitude after the war was a reflection of this. He gave significant autonomy to Southern states in electing new governments and granted amnesty to many Confederates. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery in the United States, was passed by Congress while Lincoln was still alive and was later ratified by the states. Johnson opposed the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship to those born in the United States, including former slaves, but it was ratified anyway.

The perceived leniency of Johnson allowed the Southern states to pass numerous so-called black codes, which were oppressive laws limiting the freedom of African Americans. In early 1866, Congress passed the Freedmen's Bureau Bill and the Civil Rights Bill, both of which were intended to protect the rights of black people. Johnson vetoed these bills, although Congress managed to get enough votes to override the Civil Rights Bill so that it became law.

The president and Congress eventually became so estranged that Johnson was the first president in US history to be impeached. He was later acquitted in the Senate impeachment proceedings by just one vote.

We see, then, that President Johnson did not believe in equality and citizenship for African Americans, and his bigoted attitudes created significant animosity and discord within the federal government during reconstruction. This is relevant today, as African Americans continue to struggle for the equal rights under the law due them by modern legislation and the US Constitution.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team