To Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, fell the task of overseeing the restoration of the Union. Born in poverty in North Carolina, as a youth Johnson worked as a tailor’s apprentice. After moving to Tennessee, he achieved success through politics. Beginning as an alderman (a town official), he rose to serve in the state legislature, the U.S. Congress, and for two terms as governor of Tennessee. Johnson identified himself as the champion of his state’s “honest yeomen” and a foe of large planters, whom he described as a “bloated, corrupted aristocracy.” A strong defender of the Union, he became the only senator from a seceding state to remain at his post in Washington, D.C., when the Civil War began in 1861. When northern forces occupied Tennessee, Abraham Lincoln named him military governor. In 1864, Republicans nominated him to run for vice president as a symbol of the party’s hope of extending its organization into the South.
In personality and outlook, Johnson proved unsuited for the responsibilities he shouldered after Lincoln’s death. A lonely, stubborn man, he was intolerant of criticism and unable to compromise. He lacked Lincoln’s political skills and keen sense of public opinion. A fervent believer in states’ rights, Johnson insisted that since secession was illegal, the southern states had never actually left the Union or surrendered the right to govern their own affairs. Moreover, while Johnson had supported emancipation once Lincoln made it a goal of the war effort, he held deeply racist views. African-Americans, Johnson believed, had no role to play in Reconstruction.