History of the United States
Volume IV


Chapter XXII
Johnson's Administration, 1865-1869

On the day after the assassination of Mr. Lincoln, Andrew Johnson took the oath of office, and became President of the United States. He was a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, born in 1808. With no advantages of education, he passed his boyhood in poverty and neglect. In 1828 he removed to Tennessee and settled at Greenville. Here, through toil and hardship, he rose to distinction, and after hold minor offices was elected to Congress. As a member of the United States Senate in 1860-61, he opposed secession with all his powers, and continued to hold his seat as senator from Tennessee. On the 4th of March, 1862, he was appointed military governor of that State. This office he held until 1864, and was then nominted for the Vice-Presidency. Now, by the death of the President, he was called to assume the responsibilities of chief magistrate.

On the 1st of February, 1865, Congress adopted an amendment to the Constitution by which slavery was abolished and forbidden in all the States and Territories of the Union. By the 18th of the following December the amendment had been ratified by the legislatures of twenty-seven States, and was duly proclaimed as a part of the Constitution. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued as a military measure; now the doctrines and results of that instrument were recognized and incorporated in the fundamental law of the land.

The problem of reconstruction of the Southern States was a most serious one and the Republican party came near splitting asunder over it. As early as 1863 President Lincoln had formulated a plan by which any seceding State might be restored to the Union if one-tenth of its voters of 1860 should take an oath to support the Constitution and the laws and should set up a State government. Two of the States, Louisiana and Arkansas, did this; but Congress refused to receive them. Johnson was soon won to Lincoln's way in relation to reconstruction, that is, to permit the Southern sisters to resume their place in the family with as little further humiliation as possible, though in this matter he was destined to come into serious conflict with Congress.

On the 29th of May he issued the Amnesty Proclamation. by its provisions a general pardon was extended to all persons--except those specified in certain classes--who had participated in the organization and defense of the Confederacy. The condition of the pardon was that those receiving it should take an oath of allegiance to the United States. The excepted persons might also be pardoned on special application to the President. During the summer of 1865 the gret armies were disbanded, and the victors and vanquished returned to their homes to resume the work of peace.

The finances of the nation were in an alarming condition. The war debt went on increasing until the beginning of 1866, and it was only by the most herculean exertions that national bankruptcy could be warded off. The yearly interest on the debt had grown to a hundred and thirty-three million dollars in gold. The expenses of the government had reached the aggregate of two hundred millions of dollars annually. But the augmented revenues of the nation proved sufficient to meet these enormous outlays, and at last the debt began to be slowly diminished. On the 5th of December, 1865, a resolution was passed in the House of Representatives pledging the faith of the United States to the full payment of the national indebtedness, both principal and interest.

During the Civil War the emperor Napoleon III. interfered in the affairs of Mexico, and succeeded, by overawing the people with a French army, in setting up an empire. In the early part of 1864 the crown of Mexico was conferred on Maximilian, the archduke of Austria, who established his government and sustained it with French and Austrian soldiers. But the Mexican president Juarez headed a revolution against the usurping emperor; the government of the United States rebuked France for having violated the Monroe doctrine; Napoleon, becoming alarmed, withdrew his army; and Maximilian was overthrown. Flying from Mexico to Queretaro, he was there besieged and taken prisoner. On the 13th of June, 1867, he was tried by court-martial and condemned to be shot; and six days afterward the sentence was carried into execution. The scheme of Napoleon, who had hoped to profit by the Civil War and gain a foothold in the New World, was thus justly brought to shame and contempt.

After a few weeks of successful operation the first Atlantic telegraph, laid by Mr. Field in 1858, had ceased to work. The friends of the enterprise were greatly disheartened. Not so with Mr. Field, who continued both in Europe and America to advocate the claims of his measure and to plead for assistance. He made fifty voyages across the Atlantic, and finally secured sufficient capital to begin the laying of a second cble. The work began from the coast of Ireland in the summer of 1865. When the steamer Great Eastern had proceeded more than twelve hundred miles on her way to America, the cable parted and was lost. Mr. Field held on to his enterprise. Six millions of dollars had been spent in unsuccessful attempts, but still he persevered. In July of 1866 a third cable, two thousand miles in length, was coiled in the Great Eastern, and again the vessel started on her way. This time the work was completely successful. After twelve years of unremitting effort Mr. Field received a gold medal from the Congress of his country, and the plaudits of all civilized nations.

The administration of President Johnson is noted as the time when the Territories of the United States assumed their final form. The vast domains west of the Mississippi were now reduced to proper limits and organized with a view to early admission to the Union as States. A large part of the work was accomplished during the administration of President Lincoln. In March of 1861 the Territory of Dakota, with an area of a hundred and fifty thousand square miles, was detached from Nebraska on the north, and given a distinct territorial organization. In February of 1863 Arizona, with an area of a hundred and thirteen thousand square miles, was separated from New Mexico on the west and organized as an independent Territory. On the 3d of March in the same year Idaho was organized out of portions of Dakota, Nebraska, and Washington Territories; and on the 26th of May, 1864, Montana, with an area of a hundred and forty-six thousand square miles, was cut off from the eastern part of Idaho. By this measure the area of the latter Territory was reduced to eighty-six thousand square miles. On the 1st of March, 1867, the Territory of Nebraska, reduced to its present area of seventy-six thousand square miles, was admitted into the Union as the thrity-seventh State. Finally, on the 25th of July, 1868, the Territory of Wyoming, with an area of ninety-eight thousand square miles, was organized out of portions of Dakota, Idaho, and Utah.

The year 1867 was signalized by the Purchase of Alaska. Two years previously the territory had been explored by a corps of scientific men with a view of establishing telegraphic communication with Asia by way of Behring Strait. The report of the exploration showed that Alaska was by no means the worthless country it had been supposed to be. It was found that the coast fisheries were of very great value, and that the forests of white pine and yellow cedar were among the finest in the world. Negotiations for the purchase of the peninsula were at once opened, and on the 30th of March, 1867, a treaty was concluded by which, for the sum of seven million two hundred thousand dollars, Russia ceded Alaska to the United States. The territory thus added to the domains of the Republic embraced an area of five hundred and eighty thousand square miles, and a population of twenty-nine thousand souls.

A few months after his accession to the chief magistracy the disagreement between the President and Congress was on in full force. The difficulty grew out of the great question of reorganizing the Southern States. The particular point in dispute was as to the relation which those States had sustained to the Federal Union during the Civil War. The President held that the ordinances of secession were in their very nature null and void, and that therefore the seceded States had never been out of the Union. The majority in Congress held that the acts of secession were illegal and unconstitutional, but that the seceded States had been by those acts actually detached from the Union, and that special legislation and special guarantees were necessary in order to restore them to their former relations under the government. Such was the real foundation of the difficulty by which the question of reconstructing the Southern States was so seriously embarrassed.

In the summer of 1865 measures of reconstruction were begun by the President in accordance with his own views. On May 29, the same day on which Johnson had issued his Amnesty Proclamation, he issued another establishing a provisional government in North Carolina. This was followed by others setting up governments for the other seceding States, except a few which had already been received into the Union under Lincoln's "ten per cent. plan." The newly installed President did not stop at this. Congress was not in session, and he proceeded with the great questions before the country single-handed, just as if there was no need of having a Congress. On the 24th of June all restrictions on trade and intercourse with the Southern States were removed by proclamation of the President. On the 7th of the following September a second amnesty proclamation was issued, by which all persons who had upheld the Confederate cause--excepting the leaders--were unconditionally pardoned. Meanwhile, the State of Tennessee had been reorganized, and in 1866 was restored to its place in the Union. When Congress convened in December of 1866, the policy of the President was severely condemned. The difficulty between the executive and legislative departments of the government became irreconcilable. On its meeting in December, 1865, Congress ignored the work of the President and brought in its own plan of reconstructing the Southern States. After a wrangle of more than two years, within which Congress passed various important measures over the President's veto, the seceding States--except Tennessee, which was already admitted--came back into the Union in accordance with the Congressional plan. They had been obliged to ratify the Constitution, which now included the Thirteenth Amendment, forbidding slavery in the United States; and the Fourteenth Amendment, which raised the colored race to the rank of citizenship and forbade the payment of the Southern war debt.

In the mean time, a difficulty had arisen in the President's cabinet which led to his impeachment. On the 21st of February, 1868, he notified Edwin M. Stanton, secretary of war, of his dismissal from office. The act was regarded by Congress as a violation on the part of the President of the Tenure of Office Act, which had recently become a law. The reconstruction difficulties had already broken off all friendly relations between the two Houses and the Executive. Accordingly, on the 3d of March, articles of impeachment were agreed to by the House of Representatives, in accordance with the forms of the Constitution, and the cause was immediately remanded to the Senate for trial. Proceedings began before that body on the 23d of March and continued until the 26th of May, when the President was acquitted. But his escape was very narrow; a two-thirds majority was required to convict, and but one vote was wanting. The trial was by far the most momentous in the annals of America. The eyes of the whole nation were turned intently toward the capital and even Europe took a profound interest in the great trial. The President remained at the White House, apparently little concerned. He would have been convicted and deposed from his great office but for the fact that eleven of the Republican senators voted against their party majority and in favor of the President. Had Johnson been deposed Benjamin Wade, of Ohio, president of the Senate, would have filled the great office to the end of the term. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, one of the most eminent of American statesmen and jurists, presided over this remarkable trial.

The time for holding another presidential election was already at hand. General Ulysses S. Grant was nominated by the Republicans, and Horatio Seymour, of New York, by the Democrats. The canvass was attended with great excitement. The people were still agitated by the recent strife through which the nation had passed, and the questions most discussed by the political speakers were those arising out of the Civil War. The principles advocated by the majority in Congress furnished the basis of the Republican platform of 1868, and on that platform General Grant was elected by a very large majority. As Vice-President, Schuyler Colfax, of Indiana, was chosen.


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