Andrew Johnson “I care not about my dignity”

  • Philip Abbott
Part of the The Evolving American Presidency Series book series (EAP)


Andrew Johnson is almost universally regarded as one of the worst presidents. He was, after all, the first president to be impeached, and the missed opportunities for genuine reconstruction have been directly traced to his policies. It is only the subsequent judgment that impeachment itself was a great error that seems to lessen slightly this assessment. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, for example, concluded in 1992 that congressmen mistakenly followed the maxim that “the end justifies the means.” Constitutional protections for an independent executive were regarded as “obstacles to the accomplishment of a greater good.”1


Vice Presidency Constitutional Protection Independent Strategy Confidence Motion Subsequent Judgment 
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  1. 1.
    William H. Rehenquist, Grand Inquests (New York: William Morrow, 1992), p. 22. See David Donald, “Why They Impeached Andrew Johnson,” American Heritage (December, 1956), 7:21–25 for a different assessment. It should also be noted that until the 1960s, Johnson’s general reputation was rather high first as a result of negative assessments of Reconstruction and then as negative reassessments of the Civil War in the 1930s. See as examples two popular accounts: Claude Bowers, The Tragic Era: The Revolution after Lincoln (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1929); George F. Milton, The Age of Hate: Andrew Johnson and the Radicals (New York: Coward-McCann, 1930). Bowers described Johnson as one “who fought the bravest battle ever waged by an Executive” against “brutal, hypocritical and corrupt” men.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Brooks D. Simpson, The Reconstruction Presidents (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998), p. 69.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Howard P. Nash, Jr., Andrew Johnson, Congress and Reconstruction (Rutherford, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1972), pp. 23–24.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    John J. Craven, Prison Life of Jefferson Davis (New York, 1866), p. 261.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Hans L. Trefouse, Andrew Johnson (New York: Norton, 1989), pp. 35–50.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    See Stephen Howard Browse’s analysis: “Andrew Johnson and the Politics of Character” in Martin J. Medhust, ed., Before the Rhetorical Presidency (College Station, TX; Texas A&M Press, 2008).Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Carl Schurz to Charles Sumner, November 13, 1865 in Harold M. Hyman, ed., The Radical Republicans and Reconstruction, 1861–1870 (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967), p. 294.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    W. J. Cash, The Mind of the South, Paperback ed. (New York: Knopf, 1941).Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    LaWanda Cox and John H. Carr, Politics, Principle and Prejudice, 1861–1866 (New York: Free Press, 1963), pp. 151–55.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    The Papers of Andrew Johnson, ed. LeRoy P. Graf and Ralph W. Haskins (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1967), 9:466.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Andrew Sefton, Andrew Johnson and the Uses of Constitutional Power (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980), p. 125. Johnson’s personal secretary shared this account with the press and bragged that the president upheld his honor in the face of a hostile “darkey delegation.” Trefose, Andrew Johnson, p. 242.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    P. Nash, Jr., Andrew Johnson, Congress and Reconstruction, p. 67.Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    The Papers of Andrew Johnson, ed. LeRoy P. Graf and Ralph W. Haskins et al. (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1967).Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    Howard P. Nash, Jr., Andrew Johnson, Congress and Reconstruction, pp. 94–96.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    Ibid., p. 109.Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    Martin E. Mantell, Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973), p. 68.Google Scholar

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© Philip Abbott 2008

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  • Philip Abbott

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