Andrew Johnson's Presidency

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Why did Radical Republicans believe that Andrew Johnson would support their agenda? 

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It is not clear that Radical Republicans expected President Andrew Johnson to support their views. Radical Republicans had repeatedly clashed with Abraham Lincoln prior to his assassination in 1865, so it is not surprising that they were not able to work with Johnson. In addition, Johnson did not have a...

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It is not clear that Radical Republicans expected President Andrew Johnson to support their views. Radical Republicans had repeatedly clashed with Abraham Lincoln prior to his assassination in 1865, so it is not surprising that they were not able to work with Johnson. In addition, Johnson did not have a great reputation when he entered the White House. In fact, some thought he was a drunkard. He certainly could not match the stature and reputation of Lincoln.

Charles Sumner (1811–1874), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1861 to 1871, was a leader of the Radical Republicans. He believed that the South was a conquered region that had no protection under the Constitution. Sumner and other Radical Republicans were determined to punish the South and give full rights to black people.

Sumner and the Radicals eventually impeached Johnson—failing to convict by only one vote. Would they have tried to impeach Lincoln? Probably not. But they were determined to control Reconstruction and they would have fought for that no matter who the serving President was. The country had never experienced Reconstruction before, so it was not clear whether the executive or legislative branch should hold sway. Because of that uncertainty, conflict was almost inevitable.

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Radical Republicans thought that Johnson would support their agenda because he had an enduring and passionate hatred for the planter class that had, in his opinion, brought about disunion and civil war. Johnson, a Tennessean, had remained in the Senate when his home state seceded. Since part of the Radical program involved disfranchising the planters that he hated so much, they thought Johnson could be relied upon to support most of their plans for Reconstruction. However, Johnson had other ideas. He thought that Southerners ought to be in charge of Reconstruction. He thus issued pardons and eventually amnesty to many Confederates, even leaders, and less than a year after the end of the war, many of them returned to positions of leadership.

Johnson also had no sympathy for former slaves. While he of course accepted the Thirteenth Amendment, he was dead set against providing freedmen with voting rights (as Lincoln had openly contemplated for black war veterans near the end of the war). He also held a limited view of the powers of the federal government, and therefore viewed federal action on Reconstruction, like the Freedman's Bureau and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, as unconstitutional overreaches. He vetoed both of these measures. In fact, the Radicals were really born, or at least were mobilized, in the midterm elections of 1866, which saw significant backlash in the North to Johnson's policies.

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