Andrew Johnson (29 December 1808 – 31 July 1875) was the seventeenth President of the United States (1865–1869), succeeding to the presidency upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He presided over the Reconstruction of the United States following the American Civil War and was the first President to be impeached, although he was subsequently acquitted by a single vote in the Senate.
- There are no good laws but such as repeal other laws.
- Statement (1835), as quoted in Andrew Johnson, Plebeian and Patriot (1928) by Robert Watson Winston
- There are some who lack confidence in the integrity and capacity of the people to govern themselves. To all who entertain such fears I will most respectfully say that I entertain none... If a man is not capable, and is not to be trusted with the government of himself, is he to be trusted with the government of others... Who, then, will govern? The answer must be, Man — for we have no angels in the shape of men, as yet, who are willing to take charge of our political affairs.
- Statement (1853) as quoted in Andrew Johnson, Plebeian and Patriot (1928) by Robert Watson Winston
- No, gentlemen, if I am to be shot at, I want no man to be in the way of the bullet.
- As military governor of Tennessee, asserting that he would walk alone, to friends who offered to escort him to the statehouse, after postings of a placard saying he should be "shot on sight." (c.1862); as quoted in Andrew Johnson, President of the United States: His Life and Speeches (1866) by Lillian Foster
- I have lived among negroes, all my life, and I am for this Government with slavery under the Constitution as it is. I am for the Government of my fathers with negroes, I am for it without negroes. Before I would see this Government destroyed, I would send every negro back to Africa, disintegrated and blotted out of space.
- Speech in Indianapolis, Indiana (26 February 1863)
- I am a-goin' for to tell you here to-day; yes, I'm a-goin for to tell you all, that I'm a plebian! I glory in it; I am a plebian! The people — yes, the people of the United States have made me what I am; and I am a-goin' for to tell you here to-day — yes, to-day, in this place — that the people are everything.
- First address as Vice-President, widely reported as having been delivered while he was inebriated. (5 March 1865)
- If you could extend the elective franchise to all persons of color who can read the Constitution of the United States in English and write their names and to all persons of color who own real estate valued at not less than two hundred and fifty dollars and pay taxes thereon, and would completely disarm the adversary. This you can do with perfect safety. And as a consequence, the radicals, who are wild upon negro franchise, will be completely foiled in their attempts to keep the Southern States from renewing their relations to the Union.
- Letter to William L. Sharkey, governor of Mississippi (June 1865)
- Notwithstanding a mendacious press; notwithstanding a subsidized gang of hirelings who have not ceased to traduce me, I have discharged all my official duties and fulfilled my pledges. And I say here tonight that if my predecessor had lived, the vials of wrath would have poured out upon him.
- Speech in Cleveland, Ohio (3 September 1866)
- I have had a son killed, a son-in-law die during the last battle of Nashville, another son has thrown himself away, a second son-in-law is in no better condition, I think I have had sorrow enough without having my bank account examined by a Committee of Congress.
- Letter to his friend Colonel William G. Moore, complaining of Congressional investigations.... (1 May 1867)
- Legislation can neither be wise nor just which seeks the welfare of a single interest at the expense and to the injury of many and varied interests at least equally important and equally deserving the considerations of Congress.
- Veto message to the House of Representatives (22 February 1869)
- The goal to strive for is a poor government but a rich people.
- As quoted in Andrew Johnson, Plebeian and Patriot (1928) by Robert Watson Winston
- Your President is now the Tribune of the people, and, thank God, I am, and intend to assert the power which the people have placed in me... Tyranny and despotism can be exercised by many, more rigorously, more vigorously, and more severely, than by one.
- As quoted in Presidential Government in the United States: The Unwritten Constitution (1947) by Caleb Perry Patterson
First Presidential address (1865)
- I must be permitted to say that I have been almost overwhelmed by the announcement of the sad event which has so recently occurred. I feel incompetent to perform duties so important and responsible as those which have been so unexpectedly thrown upon me.
- The only assurance that I can now give of the future is reference to the past. The course which I have taken in the past in connection with this rebellion must be regarded as a guaranty of the future. My past public life, which has been long and laborious, has been founded, as I in good conscience believe, upon a great principle of right, which lies at the basis of all things. The best energies of my life have been spent in endeavoring to establish and perpetuate the principles of free government, and I believe that the Government in passing through its present perils will settle down upon principles consonant with popular rights more permanent and enduring than heretofore. I must be permitted to say, if I understand the feelings of my own heart, that I have long labored to ameliorate and elevate the condition of the great mass of the American people. Toil and an honest advocacy of the great principles of free government have been my lot. Duties have been mine; consequences are God's. This has been the foundation of my political creed, and I feel that in the end the Government will triumph and that these great principles will be permanently established.
First State of the Union Address (1865)
- "The sovereignty of the States" is the language of the Confederacy, and not the language of the Constitution. The latter contains the emphatic words — This Constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made or which shall be made under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
- Certainly the Government of the United States is a limited government, and so is every State government a limited government. With us this idea of limitation spreads through every form of administration — general, State, and municipal — and rests on the great distinguishing principle of the recognition of the rights of man. The ancient republics absorbed the individual in the state — prescribed his religion and controlled his activity. The American system rests on the assertion of the equal right of every man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to freedom of conscience, to the culture and exercise of all his faculties. As a consequence the State government is limited — as to the General Government in the interest of union, as to the individual citizen in the interest of freedom.
- Our Government springs from and was made for the people — not the people for the Government. To them it owes allegiance; from them it must derive its courage, strength, and wisdom. But while the Government is thus bound to defer to the people, from whom it derives its existence, it should, from the very consideration of its origin, be strong in its power of resistance to the establishment of inequalities. Monopolies, perpetuities, and class legislation are contrary to the genius of free government, and ought not to be allowed. Here there is no room for favored classes or monopolies; the principle of our Government is that of equal laws and freedom of industry. Wherever monopoly attains a foothold, it is sure to be a source of danger, discord, and trouble. We shall but fulfill our duties as legislators by according "equal and exact justice to all men," special privileges to none.
- The life of a republic lies certainly in the energy, virtue, and intelligence of its citizens; but it is equally true that a good revenue system is the life of an organized government. I meet you at a time when the nation has voluntarily burdened itself with a debt unprecedented in our annals. Vast as is its amount, it fades away into nothing when compared with the countless blessings that will be conferred upon our country and upon man by the preservation of the nation's life. Now, on the first occasion of the meeting of Congress since the return of peace, it is of the utmost importance to inaugurate a just policy, which shall at once be put in motion, and which shall commend itself to those who come after us for its continuance. We must aim at nothing less than the complete effacement of the financial evils that necessarily followed a state of civil war.
- I hold it the duty of the Executive to insist upon frugality in the expenditures, and a sparing economy is itself a great national resource.
Fourth State of the Union Address (1868)
- It may be safely assumed as an axiom in the government of states that the greatest wrongs inflicted upon a people are caused by unjust and arbitrary legislation, or by the unrelenting decrees of despotic rulers, and that the timely revocation of injurious and oppressive measures is the greatest good that can be conferred upon a nation. The legislator or ruler who has the wisdom and magnanimity to retrace his steps when convinced of error will sooner or later be rewarded with the respect and gratitude of an intelligent and patriotic people.
Our own history, although embracing a period less than a century, affords abundant proof that most, if not all, of our domestic troubles are directly traceable to violations of the organic law and excessive legislation.
- The attempt to place the white population under the domination of persons of color in the South has impaired, if not destroyed, the kindly relations that had previously existed between them: and mutual distrust has engendered a feeling of animosity which leading in some instances to collision and bloodshed, has prevented that cooperation between the two races so essential to the success of industrial enterprise in the Southern States.
- Honest conviction is my courage; the Constitution is my guide.
- I am sworn to uphold the Constitution as Andy Johnson understands it and interprets it.
- If the rabble were lopped off at one end and the aristocrats at the other, all would be well with the country.
- Outside of the Constitution we have no legal authority more than private citizens, and within it we have only so much as that instrument gives us. This broad principle limits all our functions and applies to all subjects.
- Slavery exists. It is black in the South, and white in the North.
- It's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.
- More commonly misattributed to Andrew Jackson, the originator of this line is actually unknown.
Quotes about Johnson
- Andrew Johnson had been suspected by many people of being concerned in the plans of Booth against the life of Lincoln or at least cognizant of them. A committee of which I was the head, felt it their duty to make a secret investigation of that matter, and we did our duty in that regard most thoroughly. Speaking for myself I think I ought to say that there was no reliable evidence at all to convince a prudent and responsible man that there was any ground for the suspicions entertained against Johnson.
- Benjamin Franklin Butler, in Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major-General Benjamin F. Butler (1892)
- The inauguration went off very well except that the Vice President Elect was too drunk to perform his duties and disgraced himself and the Senate by making a drunken foolish speech. I was never so mortified in my life, had I been able to find a hole I would have dropped through it out of sight.
- On this inauguration day, while waiting for the opening of the ceremonies, I made a discovery in regard to the vice president — Andrew Johnson. There are moments in the lives of most men, when the doors of their souls are open, and unconsciously to themselves, their true characters may be read by the observant eye. It was at such an instant I caught a glimpse of the real nature of this man, which all subsequent developments proved true. I was standing in the crowd by the side of Mrs. Thomas J. Dorsey, when Mr. Lincoln touched Mr. Johnson, and pointed me out to him. The first expression which came to his face, and which I think was the true index of his heart, was one of bitter contempt and aversion. Seeing that I observed him, he tried to assume a more friendly appearance; but it was too late; it was useless to close the door when all within had been seen. His first glance was the frown of the man, the second was the bland and sickly smile of the demagogue. I turned to Mrs. Dorsey and said, 'Whatever Andrew Johnson may be, he certainly is no friend of our race.'
- Frederick Douglass in Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881)
- This Johnson is a queer man.
- Abraham Lincoln, in a remark to his friend Shelby M. Cullom, after Johnson inquired whether his presence was required at the inauguration, as quoted in A Reporter's Lincoln by Walter B. Stevens, edited by Michael Burlingame
- I have known Andy for many years... he made a bad slip the other day, but you need not be scared. Andy ain't a drunkard.
- Abraham Lincoln, on Johnson's infamous speech on the day of his inauguration as Vice-President, as quoted in Hannibal Hamlin: Lincoln's First Vice President (1969) by H. Draper Hunt
- It has been a severe lesson for Andy, but I do not think he will do it again.
- Abraham Lincoln, as quoted by Senate aide John Wien Forney, with whom Johnson had been drinking the night before his swearing in as Vice-President, in Anecdotes of Public Men (1873) by John W. Forney
- It was pretended at the time and it has since been asserted by historians and publicists that Mr. Johnson's Reconstruction policy was only a continuation of that of Mr. Lincoln. This is true only in a superficial sense, but not in reality. Mr. Lincoln had indeed put forth reconstruction plans which contemplated an early restoration of some of the rebel states. But he had done this while the Civil War was still going on, and for the evident purpose of encouraging loyal movements in those States and of weakening the Confederate State government there. Had he lived, he would have as ardently wished to stop bloodshed and to reunite as he ever did. But is it to be supposed for a moment that, seeing the late master class in the South intent upon subjecting the freedmen again to a system very much akin to slavery, Lincoln would have consented to abandon those freemen to the mercies of that master class?
- Carl Schurz in Reminiscences (1906)
- This is one of the last great battles with slavery. Driven from the legislative chambers, driven from the field of war, this monstrous power has found a refuge in the executive mansion, where, in utter disregard of the Constitution and laws, it seeks to exercise its ancient, far-reaching sway. All this is very plain. Nobody can question it. Andrew Johnson is the impersonation of the tyrannical slave power. In him it lives again.
- Senator Charles Sumner during Johnson's impeachment trial (May 1868)
- Whatever may have been the opinion of the President at one time as to "good faith requiring the security of the freemen in their liberty and their property," it is now manifest from the character of his objections to this bill that he will approve no measures that will accomplish the object.
- No man in Tennessee has done more than Andrew Johnson to create, to perpetuate and embitter in the minds of the Southern people, that feeling of jealousy and hostility against the free States, which has at length culminated in rebellion and civil war. Up to 1860, he had been for 20 years among the most bigoted and intolerant of the advocates of slavery and Southernism.
- The Nashville Press (February 1863)
- The history this man leaves is a rare one. His career was remarkable, even in this country; it would have been quite impossible in any other. It presents the spectacle of a man who never went to school a day in his life rising from a humble beginning as a tailor's apprentice through a long succession of posts of civil responsibility to the highest office in the land, and evincing his continued hold upon the popular heart by a subsequent election to the Senate in the teeth of a bitter personal and political opposition.... Whatever else may be said of him, his integrity and courage have been seldom questioned though often proved. He was by nature and temperament squarely disposed toward justice and the right, and was a determined warrior for his convictions. He erred from limitation of grasp and perception, perhaps, or through sore perplexity in trying times, but never weakly or consciously. He was always headstrong and "sure he was right" even in his errors.
- Obituary in The New York Times (1 August 1875)