Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808 – July 31, 1875) was the 17th President of the United States (1865–69), succeeding to the Presidency upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He was the first U.S. President to be impeached.
Who was Johnson? Johnson was a former tailor’s apprentice, who rose to prominence as a politician in pre-war Tennessee. In 1861, he became the only senator from a seceding state to declare his loyalty to the Union. In 1864 he was nominated as vice president to symbolize the Union’s desire for postwar unity.
Lincoln rarely met with Johnson after the election, and Johnson played no active role in his administration. Lincoln had many assassination threats, and it is an interesting question as to how responsible he was in letting the Party select such a man. As historian Eric Foner describes Johnson in his book Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation & Reconstruction:
…the assassination of Lincoln brought into the White House a man who lacked the personal qualities and political sagacity to provide the nation with enlightened leadership when it was most needed. Johnson was a lonely, stubborn man with few confidants, who seemed to develop his policies without consulting anyone, and then stuck to them inflexibly in the face of any and all criticism. He lacked Lincoln’s ability to conciliate his foes and his capacity for growth… Unlike Lincoln, Johnson had no real standing in the Republican Party and no sensitivity to the nuances of northern public opinion. Moreover…Johnson held deeply racist views regarding blacks, and proved unable to envision their playing any role in the South’s Reconstruction, except as a dependent laboring class returning to work. … Taken together, Johnson’s beliefs, prejudices, and personality traits were a recipe for disaster at a time when an unprecedented national crisis put a premium on the capacity to think in new and creative ways.”
Johnson is consistently ranked by historians as being among the worst U.S. presidents. Among his many dubious achievements, he vetoed the first Civil Rights Act, calling it discriminatory toward whites. There were two attempts to remove President Andrew Johnson from office, but both failed.