OK Guys This is the new shit. This is an all-president article. You're excited.
This is #2 in my series on redeeming terrible presidents in hopes of illustrating the absolute horribility of George Bush. Plenty has been made of Bush's cronyism, ineptitude, deceit, and there's even some shit coming out now that rejects conservatism as a governing philosophy (sit down with a libertarian some time and have them try to explain to you why it is a good thing the FDA is trimmed down, how the free market will take care of salmonella and e. coli, why you shouldn't be paying taxes to run FEMA, which failed in New Orleans because it's severely understaffed and underfunded, not because of rote cronyism. You'll have fun). But for some to argue he's the worst president in history, well, I'm sure Andrew Johnson has something to say about that.
So how can we redeem a drunkard who nearly was impeached twice? I'm trying to defend a man who once said, and I quote, "This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men."
Well, let's start with the good. Johnson ended up doing a good job in terms of foreign policy, forcing the French from Mexico and purchasing Alaska from the Russians - perhaps a baffling move at the time, but with the discovery of gold, oil, and the strategic importance of the region during the Cold War, it ended up being a valuable purchase. It's debatable how much credit that gives him - you could say it was just dumb luck that the territory ended up paying off, or you could just say he knew a good investment when he saw it.
Johnson was a man of compromise. He was the only Southern senator to remain in Washington D.C. when the South seceded from the Union, and Lincoln rewarded him for his loyalty. He freed his slaves and supported black suffrage, arguing that "a loyal negro is more worthy than a disloyal white man." He favored quickly readmitting southern states to the Union, a matter on which he clashed with congress but borrowed from Lincoln. He had grown up poor and uneducated, and resented the rich. He wished to punish the leaders of the confederacy and rob them of their social power, but at the same time offer reconciliation to the masses which they misled. He let them have elections in 1865 - a number of prominent former Confederates were elected, but congress would not seat them.
Then there was his opposition to a civil rights bill. He opposed it, at the time, because it infringed upon state's rights, and because it was trying to give blacks citizenship when the southern states were still without representation. Now, you know me. I'm all for centralization and civil rights and all that other big-government crap, but I think Johnson should be judged by the era he lived in. He was given the unique legislative task of reconstructing a nation, legislatively. His goal from the outset was to maintain the stability of the Union - it might be sad to say, but at the time, slavery had been outlawed, the big one was taken care of, and the law wasn't going to out-and-out de-racist the backwards-ass southerners who started this shit in the first place. The biggest concern was to try to get the Union back together and keep it together. Johnson did follow Lincoln's admirable policy of leniency and forgiveness, which was a smart one (hey, we all saw how that victor's quest for vengeance post WWI worked out. Hint: WWII). But leaders are a product of the people they represent and the eras in which they lived. He aligned with the Democrats for most of his time in office, but maybe that was for the best - I suspect that had Lincoln survived, he might have taken a similar stance and taken a little bit of flak - though perhaps he would have handled it more astutely. Johnson was not a good President, but he was an uneducated man faced with a monumental task. Let's not forget why he was picked as Lincoln's running mate in the first place - he was a pro-Union Democrat and symbolized a certain unity, showing whatever your party was, the most important part was the stability of the Union.
Johnson's goal was to be a Uniter, not a divider. Lincoln was the master, and Johnson tried to live up to his ideals. Lincoln was a Republican who empathized with the south, Johnson was a Democrat whose main goal was that of the north. Sure, maybe he was largely ineffective as a politician, but he was faced with extraordinary circumstances. So he was an average president, not much more harmful than any other small-government politician. I wouldn't say he fucked things up more than Bush. He improved things, albeit slightly. But he wasn't Lincoln, and that's what hurt him.
Labels: andrew johnson, presidents