In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln chose Andrew Johnson as his Vice Presidential candidate. As Johnson was a Democratic senator from Tennessee, Lincoln hoped that he will appeal to those Southerners who never wanted to leave the Union.
Johnson was coming from a poor family, and he didn’t learn to write until he was 20 years old. He was a backer of the small farmer, and when he came to political power, he talked against “slaveocracy” and “Southern Aristocracy” that had little use for working white men.
At that time, Vice Presidents’ saying rarely mattered, unless something happens to the president, and with Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson’s words mattered. He thought that southerners should do what is best for them. In his opinion, African Americans were not capable of managing their lives, and he was completely against giving them a right to vote.
He was giving pardons and amnesties, returning properties to the Confederates who pledged to the Union and who accepted the 13th Amendment. He didn’t return their slaves of course.
Those Confederate officials, together with owners of large properties, were obligated to submit an individual application for a Presidential Pardon. His version of Reconstruction wasn’t that harsh. Many Confederates, around 7,000, got a Presidential pardon, and many got a full power they had before. Only a few were prosecuted.
Now again African Americans were in a bad position. They were free but not as they thought they would be. They were under a very harsh law, better known as “black codes,” and if they don’t supply any evidence that they were employed, even free, they had to go back and work on plantations. African Americans were beaten up a lot frequently too.
In South Carolina, they were banned from all public facilities, including parks, preschool, school, orphanages, etc. That wasn’t all as African Americans had to pay a special tax if they weren’t farmers or servants, they weren’t allowed to hunt or fish, not to own a gun, and even their dogs were taxed.
The freedman’s bureau, a federal agency created to help the transition from slavery to emancipation, had limited power in helping African Americans to adjust to their new ways of living, and all those rules forced even free slaves to stay and work on plantations.
Most Northerners welcomed Johnson’s policies, but there was no consensus on the rights that African Americans received with Emancipation. Some Radical Republicans urged that the rights granted with Declaration of Independence were applied for all free men, including those formerly slaves.
A battle for political power was in the offing.