Johnson – post Presidency

Johnson is the only former President to serve in the Senate after leaving the White House.

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Reconstruction

Congress passed a Reconstruction plan that required states to approve civil and voting rights for freedmen. Many southern whites refused to participate in writing new constitutions and setting up state governments. Secret societies were formed to threaten, injure and frighten anyone voting Republican. The KKK was the most famous of these groups.

More 13th Amendment

To restore southern states to the union, each had to write a new constitution accepting the 13th amendment abolishing slavery, as well as make illegal the right of a state to secede from the union.

Johnson pardoned all southern citizens willing to take an oath to the union and the constitution. Anyone who was a leader of the Confederate government, former US military officer who fought for the south, wealthy landowners and merchants who actively supported the Confederacy were required to apply directly to Johnson for a pardon.

Anyone who qualified for a pardon could run for office and vote in elections.

Johnson’s plan did not mention former slaves. He wanted to leave that up to the states in good faith. However, the states did not give any rights to former slaves and enacted harsh laws to make their lives difficult.

Johnson – pre Presidency

When he was in the U.S. House, he voted against the Smithsonian, against expanding the U.S. Patent Office, against federal spending for improved roads and railroads. He felt people who used the roads and railroads should pay for them, not everyone else. He supported cutting salaries of Congressmen, including himself. He proposed a homestead bill that would give small plots of undeveloped land to new settlers in the west.  If they cleared it and farmed it for five years, they would receive full ownership. Business opposed this bill, however, so it did not pass.

As Governor of Tennessee, he proposed expansion of public education and the homestead act, but the governor of the state had little power, so he could not get anything through the state Congress.

In the U.S. Senate, he still wanted to pass his homestead bill. This time railroad companies opposed his bill because they were getting grants from the federal government for the land. Southern political leaders were also still opposed to the bill. They thought the bill would be a way to break up potential plantations that might be cultivated property with slaves. Both houses passed it, but President Buchanan vetoed it. Two years later, Congress passed it again and Lincoln signed it into law.

Johnson generally voted with the south, but he disagreed on secession.

The Assassination

The two theaters that Lincoln regularly visited were Grover’s and Ford’s. Mr. Grover estimated Lincoln visited his theater more than a hundred times during his first term. Lincoln liked to get away from the pressures of the office for a couple of hours and lose himself in the story.

The morning of April 14, 1865, Lincoln was very happy. The war was over and his son Robert was home. He and Mary were scheduled to go to the theater with the Grants that night. Lincoln did not really want to go because he didn’t feel like he had to escape from anything, but he had made a commitment and went. The Grants excused themselves, so the Lincolns went alone.

John Wilkes Booth, a fan of the confederacy, and his co-conspirators planned to kill Lincoln, as well as Secretary of State Seward and Vice President Johnson. Booth and his brother were actors, so he had access to the stage at the Ford Theater.

The man assigned to kill Seward showed up at his house on the pretense he had medicine to deliver. When Seward’s son wouldn’t let him in, he tried to shoot him, but his fun misfired. He hit him with the back of the gun and fled to the stairs. Seward’s bodyguard came to see what was going on and the man slashed him with his knife. He made his way to Seward and stabbed him in the neck and face. He ran out of the house, while stabbing someone else, and made it out into the city streets. Seward survived.

The man assigned to kill Vice President Johnson thought they were going to kidnap the President. When he was told it would be an ambush and kill of three people, he initially agreed to do it. However, fifteen minutes before he was supposed to ring the bell at Johnson’s hotel, he changed his mind and was never seen again.

Booth had carefully thought out his plan. He attended dress rehearsal the day before to get an idea of what would happen where backstage so he could rehearse his plan. At about twelve minutes after 10, Booth presented his calling card to the footman in Lincoln’s box and was let in. Once he got in, “he raised his pistol, pointed it at the back of the president’s head, and fired.” Some theater goers thought it may be part of the play, but Mary was screaming, “They have shot the President!”

Another man in the box tried to grab Booth, but Booth cut him in the chest with his knife and leapt out of the box to the stage 15 feet below and ran from the stage.

The doctors said most people would have died instantly, but Lincoln hung on for nine hours dying the morning of April 15. Stanton was there and uttered the famous quote, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

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