Jul 1, 2019 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Andrew Johnson versus Radical Republicans

Andrew Johnson versus Radical Republicans

Andrew Johnson was a Democrat in the Andrew Jackson tradition, and despite owning slaves himself, was a bitter opponent of aristocratic Whig slave holders. A John Breckinridge supporter in 1860 and a “violent opponent of Lincoln”, Johnson was wary of Radical Republicans before, during and after the War.

Once Johnson assumed the presidency following Lincoln’s death, he resisted Radical demands that black freedmen be enfranchised for the obvious purpose of maintaining Republican political power.

Johnson preferred to leave this question to the people; in the fall of 1865, a referendum to extend the vote to all black males in the District of Columbia failed 6591 to 35, in Georgetown, 712 to 1.

Johnson Versus Northern Capitalists and Radicals

“Like Andrew Jackson and Jefferson before him, Johnson was concerned with the question of the Western frontier. He had persistently opposed the attempts by Northern capitalists to secure large grants of public land for railroads and similar purposes. In his view the public domain should be allotted to small farmers, and it was his hope that by this means a new class of small holders would grow in the West and who would unite with the poor white people of the South whom he represented.

He had been quick to see that the War had enabled the Northern manufacturers to make enormous profits at the expense of the United States government and the American taxpayers. Most of the bonds issued during the war were now held by Northern capitalists, who were earning interest at six to seven percent.

The high tariffs set up during the War had especially benefitted them, and they were anxious above all else that this protection be retained. Were the Southern States to be readmitted to the Union, the alliance which they would form with the Northern and Western Democrats 40-would once more place the manufacturers of New England in the minority position which they held for so many years before the War.

Johnson was well aware that the Northern Radicals would not hesitate to use any means to prevent and delay the readmission of the Southern States – even if this involved increasing the power of the Legislative branch of the government at the expense of the Executive and Judiciary . . . he was determined to prevent this at all costs.

[His] strong opinions [against secession leaders] had made many of the Radical Congressmen who had been associated with Johnson in the Committee on the Conduct of the War, including [Benjamin] Wade and [Charles] Sumner, confident that he would endorse their theories on Reconstruction and they felt hopeful he would declare himself in favor of Negro suffrage.

On February 7, 1866, [Johnson] accorded an interview to a delegation of eleven Negro leaders, among them the great Abolitionist orator, Frederick Douglass . . . “[who desired] placing in our hands the ballot which will save ourselves.”

While maintaining the same friendliness of manner Johnson indicated to the delegation his fear that a “war of the races” would ensue if the poorer white man and the Negro were placed in competition with one another at the ballot box.” Such decisions should not be forced upon the white population of the South against its consent, and he urged the emigration of Negroes to Africa and Latin America as a solution to the problem.”

(The Uncivil War: Washington During Reconstruction, 1865-1878, James H. Whyte, Twayne Publishers, 1958, excerpts pp. 40-42; 52)

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