Born in 1808, Andrew Johnson became a Tennessee legislator in 1833, congressman in 1843, governor in 1853, United States senator in 1856, Tennessee's military governor in 1862, Vice-President of the United States in March 1865, and, on ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S death in April 1865, President. Early in his career Johnson mixed STRICT CONSTRUCTION and STATES ' RIGHTS views with an unusually warm nationalism, stern loyalty to the Democratic party (until the CIVIL WAR : Johnson returned to the Democratic allegiance in late 1866), and a remarkable devotion to white supremacy. By 1860 Johnson's sponsorship of homestead legislation (see HOMESTEAD ACT) and frontier-style campaign rhetoric had won him a reputation as a latter-day Jacksonian.
In the 1860?1861 winter, Johnson, the only slave-state senator who refused to follow his state into SECESSION, openly counseled Tennesseans against seceding. For his temerity he had to flee to Washington. In the SENATE, Johnson, achieving at last his homestead goal, won Republicans' appreciation also for supporting Lincoln's and Congress's policies on TEST OATHS, military arrests of civilians, confiscation, emancipation, and RECONSTRUCTION. Johnson insisted that the Constitution's WAR POWERS and
TREASON clauses authorized the nation, not to coerce a state, but to punish disloyal individuals directly. This believer in a fixed, state-on-top, race-ordered FEDERALISM in 1862 accepted from Lincoln assignment as Tennessee's military governor, a position unknown to the Constitution or statutes, supportable only from the most flexible contemporary ideas on national primacy under martial law.
As military governor, Johnson employed test oaths and troops against alleged pro-Confederates, sometimes purging unfriendly government officeholders and officials of private CORPORATIONS, to rebuild local and state governments. Johnson's policies helped the Republican-War Democratic "Union" coalition win Tennessee in 1864. That party named Johnson its vice-presidential candidate in order to attract the support of other Unionists in the reconquered South and border states, who seemed to be educable on race. Then, just as the Confederacy's collapse made Reconstruction an immediate concern, Johnson became President.
Although no specific Reconstruction statute constrained him, the 1861?1862 CONFISCATION ACTS, the 1862 test oath act, and the 1865 FREEDMEN ' SBUREAU law limited and defined executive actions. Johnson arrogated to himself an unprecedented right to enforce them selectively or not at all in order to further his Reconstruction policy. (For a modern parallel...