Andrew Johnson: America’s Most Racist President
During his controversial tenure, Andrew Johnson has called the most racist of all the American presidents. As president, Johnson tried everything he could to keep blacks oppressed and disenfranchised. Johnson was full of racist ideologies. Johnson was the owner of eight slaves before the Civil War. He was totally in favor of colonization of blacks. He favored the annexation of Texas as a gateway for black emigration. Johnson also favored the annexation of Cuba for black slave labor. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Johnson wrote to Governor Thomas C. Fletcher of Missouri, “This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men.” (Andrew Johnson by Hans Louis Trefousse, W.W. Norton & Company, 1997, pg. 236) It was this attitude that Johnson showed that prompted one constituent to warn Illinois Congressman Elihu B. Washburne in 1865, “ I have grounds to fear President Johnson may hold almost unconquerable prejudices against the African race.” (Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner, New York: Harper Collins, 1988, pg. 179)
Johnson believed that blacks were inferior to whites and not intended to be included in the Declaration of Independence, which would exclude them from the rights of citizenship. He also believed that the Constitution left the issue of voting qualifications to the individual states, not in the hands of the federal government. This would leave the southern states total authority in whether or not to grant voting rights to blacks.
In an annual message to Congress in December 1867, he remarked that blacks have “shown less capacity for government than any other race of people. No independent government of any form has been successful in their hands. On the contrary, wherever they have been left to their own devices they have shown a constant tendency to relapse into barbarism.” ((Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Part 1 by United States Department of State, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1868)
Almost immediately after taking office, Johnson began granting pardons to ex-confederates. By doing so, he restored all confiscated and abandoned lands back to the former rebellious owners. Even though he despised the aristocracy, he did this once he realized that the Freedmen’s Bureau would give the confiscated lands to the freed slaves. (The Freedmen’s Bureau: A Chapter in the History of Reconstruction by Paul Skeels Peirce, New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1971, pg 130) This is the reason that blacks never received the “forty acres and a mule” that General O.O. Howard proposed for the slaves at the end of the Civil War.
Johnson vetoed the Freedman’s Bureau Bill, designed to allocate land for the freedmen, provide schools for their children, and increase the Bureau’s legal power by setting up military courts in the southern states to protect the freedmen’s rights. Johnson said he vetoed the bill because it “favored one class of citizens over another”, which meant that he felt it would do more for blacks than whites.
Johnson then vetoed The Civil Rights Bill, which was designed to protect blacks against black codes and terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Johnson vetoed the bill, declaring it unconstitutional. Congress eventually passed both Bills over Johnson’s vetoes with modifications. Johnson’s vetoes ultimately set him on a path towards impeachment by Congress. In the end, Johnson was acquitted in the impeachment trial, but his actions as president has solidified him as the most openly racist president in the history of the United States.