While at conferences, I attend a lot of dinners/social events outside of the day time festivities and although the topics on the table are often technical, sometimes they veer off to those of each person’s interest. Discussions with me often fall into one of my areas of interest, which happens to be history, (American, European or Russian…) Many who know me realize that if I hadn’t ended up in the technical world, I might have become a history teacher. The common question during these conversations is “Who is your favorite American president?” When I answer “Andrew Johnson”, I always get a quizzical look, often followed by some hoping to correct me, “You mean Andrew Jackson, right?” I’ll stand by my answer, stating no, although I can talk about Jackson, our 7th president for hours, it was our 17th president, Andrew Johnson that I was referring to.
So often we all hear the popular, the much conversed about, the “buzz words”. Even if we take the topic of databases and I were enter an area with five folks who work with databases and say the following words:
“SQL*Plus, inline function, Mark Hurd and RAC”
They would all have some thoughts on most of the subjects above. They’ve read the headlines and the white papers, even if they haven’t been introduced personally to any of it, then if I proceeded to say:
“csscan, mutual recursion, Charles Rozwat and emdiag”
I might not be so lucky and would have at least a few wondering what a few of these were. I have a tendency to find value in what may impact our day to day world, even when we don’t realize it. How many of us know Mark Hurd and his impact to us as DBA’s, but may not realize Charles Rozwat’s impact as he heads up My Oracle Support is understandable. His impact is much less visible. History is one of those things, if you may not know about it and in turn you don’t realize how much it impacts you or you fail to repeat it…
Andrew Johnson had a tough road. When Abraham Lincoln, aware that the civil war was turning and coming into the Union’s favor, started to look towards the future and how he was going to embrace the south back to the union. He had taken the 7th president, (speak of the devil..:)) Andrew Jackson’s “never forsake the union” stance to heart and knew that he had quite the challenge ahead of him in his second term with the Northern Republicans wanting nothing more than the South to pay for the civil war in blood….even after the war was about to be won. These folks were angry and they wanted the confederacy to pay for a very long time…
To address this, he chose a Southern Democrat, former Tennessee Senator Andrew Johnson, who was one of the few who had stayed loyal to the Union even after his home state of Tennessee had seceded to the confederacy. The 1864 election upon him, Lincoln counted on the next four years to take Johnson under his wing, have him help enfold the south back into the Union successfully, without the terrible plans of vengeance planned by those around him. Many questioned Lincoln’s choice, but no one dared to challenge him on it. Lincoln knew that without Johnson, a Southerner, along with him in the White House, the chance of the Confederacy trusting him, would be unlikely. He foresaw Johnson as someone who might be able to ascend to the presidency after his second term and do so successfully and trusted him only as ol’ Abe would.
Johnson was known for drinking heavily, but few knew why or why he was so against slavery. His pro-abolitionist views had sparked many a fight with his Southern neighbors. What most didn’t realize is that Andrew Johnson was the only president to comprehend slavery from a personal perspective. At the age of 8 yrs old, he and his older brother were legally sold into apprenticeship to a local tailor due to the unfortunate loss of his father and financial difficulties of his mother to make ends meet even after remarrying. For a number of years, he and his brother endured the situation until they found a chance to escape and traveled throughout the south to escape the bounty on his head. He truly understood some of what slaves were experiencing and understood why it could not go on or allowed to simply “die out” as some of the Confederates had claimed would occur if just left alone. Lincoln had become aware of his history and found it incredibly moving, as well as important to the cause.
There was one thing that Lincoln, nor Johnson considered though- Lincoln’s assassination. This unexpected turn of history rewrote all the Lincoln’s well-laid plans. Johnson was left in a less than hospitable environment. The Northern Republicans expected after Lincoln’s assassination that Johnson would just go back to Tennessee, but he didn’t. He fought and won his right to be president- one, that many of the existing cabinet had accused under whispered breaths, might be behind Lincoln’s assassination, confederate plots and any other political espionage they could consider. They were more taken aback when he planned on going forward with Lincoln’s plans to embrace the south and bring our American brothers back into the Union. This was unacceptable for Northern Republicans and they chose at that time to put Andrew Johnson through, what might be, the most miserable four year term any president has endured.
Not only did they lock him out of his own cabinet meetings, they proceeded to leave him locked in the middle of a tug-of-war between the North and the old-South, attempting to rebuild what it once had. The south had very few men left to lead, but many of the ones who could, had been those that had been part of the former south. The north wanted none of this and demanded Union generals be put in place. Johnson fought this with vetoes and battles on capital hill. As the congressional fights intensified, with what they viewed as a “Pro-Southern” president, (while the south viewed Johnson as a traitor), The Congress passed measures so that Johnson couldn’t even elect or terminate his own cabinet officials. This lead the way to Johnson being the only other president, outside of Bill Clinton to be impeached. He only avoided removal from office by one vote.
Johnson has been long vilified as this president that was against the North post the Civil War and against civil liberties. The truth was, he was one man against terrible odds that could not proceed with Lincoln’s plans or any plans for that matter. His failure left a long line of former civil war generals as future presidents, more failures in the reconstruction of the south and left it open to the carpet-bagger area, one of the most historically interesting times in Southern history, but a time that shows its impacts even today.
Johnson’s time in office is as pivotal to American history as Lincoln’s in many ways. We just choose to remember Lincoln with monuments and book upon book in libraries and book stores. Johnson was remembered when he finally came home, a defeated man post his presidency to find that his home town, the one that had called him a traitor on his departure for Washington as vice-president, had hung a sign, “Welcome Home Andrew Johnson, Our Hero”.