Presidential review: Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Simpson Grant, Rutherford Birchard Hayes
|September 15, 2011||Posted by Oliver Nott under presidential reviews, reviews|
Andrew Johnson, 1865 – 1869
VP: N/A, First Lady: Eliza McCardle
Andrew Johnson was the most unfortunate man to ever grace the office of president of the United States. His premiership was doomed from the start, as his country demanded the same level of leadership Lincoln offered before him, something Washington would have struggled to match, let alone Andrew Johnson. Furthermore, Johnson succeeded Lincoln in a devastating and unfamiliar way – the first presidential assassination – and he was handed the reins of leadership mere days after his country fought a bitter civil war, which left a deep and permanent scar in its history, arguably dividing the north and the south of the United States forever. What made everything worse for Johnson, Congress and the people of the United States was that Johnson himself was a pretty lousy leader.
Andrew Johnson was born on the 29th December 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was from an impoverished background and from a young age he trained as a tailor. When Johnson was of age, he moved to Tennessee to start his own business but had more success in local politics. He moved through the public office ranks, from a town councillor and a city Mayor right up to a United States Congressman for Tennessee in 1843. When Johnson reached Capitol Hill, he had a pretty dismal time; he wanted to rattle a few cages and get his voice heard, however he struggled to do either and eventually left politics weak and disillusioned.
Nevertheless, after a few weeks of whiskey and self-pity, Johnson jumped back onto the horse and started working in local politics again. This is where Johnson started to impress people, as he ran for Tennessee Governorship on two separate occasions, winning both by a landslide. Lincoln took note of Johnson’s success and formally asked him to become his vice-presidential candidate for the 1864 election, as a way for Lincoln to ‘balance the ticket’ and win the support of some northern Democrats. Although Johnson was from Lincoln’s opposing party, he was committed to the Union and accepted his offer, working extremely hard in the Senate in support of Lincoln’s war. Johnson did however earn a reputation for idiocy, when on (Lincoln’s) inauguration day in 1865, he drank a lot of whiskey, which was followed by a slurred rant to thousands of Lincoln supporters blaming some unknown politician from his past for the start of the Civil War.
When Lincoln was then assassinated 5 days after the end of the Civil War, Johnson took over straight away and turned pissing off Congress into an art form. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate were full of Republicans, while Johnson, as a Democrat, was a strict constructionist and gave few guidelines on how southern states could re-join the Union. The North thought he was traitor to the Union and to his predecessor, and radical Republicans, such as the (by this time) ancient Thaddeus Stevens, worked sadistically hard to push through bills Johnson despised and then override his vetoes whenever he enacted Article I, Section VII, Clause III of the Constitution. Then when Johnson dismissed his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, the Republicans in Congress went so far as to impeach him – the first ever presidential impeachment – failing to remove Johnson from office by only one vote.
Although Johnson was poor at running the nation and working with Congress, he knew how to take a hint and after he scraped through the impeachment process, he led a quiet presidency and decided against running for another term. He retired to his beloved Tennessee and lived a pretty simple life, before dying at his home on the 31st June 1875. Johnson was ill-tempered, stubborn and simply nothing compared to Lincoln. However, he attempted to lead his nation at the worst possible time and had he taken office maybe 50 years later, he might have been remembered as a decent man and politician, and not as one of the worst presidents in US history.
Ulysses Simpson Grant, 1869 – 1877
VP: Schuyler Colfax, Henry Wilson, First Lady: Julia Boggs Dent
Ulysses S. Grant entered office on completely different terms from Andrew Johnson; he followed an unpopular president, Republicans loved him and the reconstruction period was beginning to show signs of improvement. Grant received the nomination for presidency from the Republicans for one very important reason: he won the Civil War for the Union. He was an experienced and truly brilliant military general, and he was Lincoln’s finest choice during the whole conflict, as he demonstrated determination at the sacrifice in Richmond, but also clemency and compassion at General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court in 1865. Despite this success, Grant did a bit of a Zachary Taylor and proved to be not as good as president as he was a military commander.
Ulysses Simpson Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant on the 27th April 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio. Grant was a bad student and an even worse worker, which was why he was sent into the army. This was where Grant’s name was changed after an administrative error and also where he found himself. Although he proved himself a natural military leader during the Mexican War (a war to which he was personally opposed), when Grant married Julia Boggs Dent in 1848 and produced 4 offspring with her, he couldn’t cope with leaving his family for such long periods of time and ultimately left the army.
However, when the Civil War broke out, Grant, who was as committed, if not more so, to the Union as Lincoln, volunteered for the army, capturing many forts and informally working his way up through military ranks, only receiving the attention of Lincoln 3 years after the war started. Lincoln appointed Grant Lieutenant General and Commander of Union armies, where he was working in his element, helping secure victory for the Union in more ways than any general before him.
When Grant decided to run for public office in 1868, he received a lot of support from the public and entered the White House on a wave of hope and hysteria. Unfortunately, Grant was not a politician. He was a passive president, who set few goals and simply let Congress get on with legislating and reconstruction of the Union. Grant also demonstrated erroneous judgement, as he appointed close friends and political allies to high positions of office, which created a new level of Washington corruption. His friends took advantage of his trust and there was a scandal of executive misuse every week, from cornering the gold market to stealing tax revenues. Grant was loved for his honesty and slight naivety, however it put him in a vulnerable position and Congress got a bit fed up with him.
After leading his nation through two terms of stalemate, Grant left office maybe questioning what impact he may have had, as reconstruction was still ongoing, with a noticeable split down the Mason-Dixon Line between north and south. He retired to New York and was restored to the position of Union General, when his prodigal lifestyle after politics nearly put him in poverty. Ulysses S. Grant died on the 23rd June 1885 and is fondly remembered by many Americans as a member of a small group of men who saved the Union and preserved the unalienable rights of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’
Rutherford Birchard Hayes, 1877 – 1881
VP: William A. Wheeler, First Lady: Lucy Ware Webb
Rutherford Birchard Hayes was inaugurated after possibly the dodgiest presidential election in US history. However, when in office, Hayes brought an end to the period of reconstruction, reuniting the North and the South, and ran the White House with an honesty not as naive as Grant’s, but nonetheless as pure. He is considered one of the most intelligent men to sit in the Oval Office and receives modest appreciation for few accomplishments.
Hayes was born into a wealthy family on the 4th October 1822 in Delaware, Ohio. He had a privileged upbringing and was pushed hard by his parents throughout his entire education. Although Hayes had a chip on his shoulder because of his pushy parents, his education paid dividends, as he studied at Kenyon College and then went onto Harvard Law. Hayes continued life in Ohio and started his own law practice. However, after a number of years of success, he volunteered for the Union army during the Civil War, receiving 4 wounds for the preservation of his country.
After the Civil War was over, Hayes was horrified by what had happened to his beloved country and decided to dedicate the rest of his life to ensuring such a conflict never happen again. Hayes’ courage in fighting helped him win his seat in the United States Congress, which then boosted him for his three terms as Governor of Ohio. Now that Hayes had gained some political experience, he was working his way onto the Republican Party platform and in 1876 was nominated by his party, after Grant refused to run again. In the General Election, Hayes’ opponent, Democrat Samuel B. Tilden, had won over 50% of the popular vote and initially had a higher ECV than Hayes. However, the Republicans claimed Hayes had carried the states of Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana, not Tilden, which in fact meant that Hayes won. A special tribunal was held, where Hayes was declared the winner, despite very suspect evidence, on the compromise that federal troops were removed from southern states. Hayes agreed to the Compromise of 1877 and entered the White House on a wave of controversy.
Although Hayes’ entrance into the Oval Office was unctuous and insincere, Hayes himself was an honest man and despite his personal reluctance to the Compromise of 1877, he kept his word and worked hard against a Congress controlled by his own party to ensure the removal of all federal troops from southern states, effectively bringing an end to the period of reconstruction. Hayes also tried to reform the civil service, however a variety of his bills on reform were instantly killed in Congress, as he started getting frustrated by the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill and was often reported, by staff who worked for him, for cursing their names. Hayes did have one major achievement during his one term in office, which was restoring confidence in paper money, which had been all but dropped during the Civil War.
After a slightly boring time in office, a disillusioned Hayes decided against running for a second term and instead retired to his home in Ohio. Hayes had few regrets in life and died on the 17th January 1893, as an honest and astute man, but as a mediocre president. He is often overlooked by historians, however the end of his presidency marked the end of reconstruction and the politics of civil war; the first chapter of the forthcoming era of history was to be written by Republican James A. Garfield and during this period the future of the Union was anybody’s guess.