ANDREW JOHNSON: TAKING POWER

Though the somewhat unionist Eastern part of Tennessee was under Confederate rule before long, Union forces came to occupy somewhat tightly the Western part of Tennessee, though daring raids by figures such as Nathan Bedford Forrest still threatened the land. After the capture of Fort Donelson and Fort Henry, Nashville soon fell and with it the formal occupation began. Johnson was placed as military governor of the state given his ruthlessly Unionist sympathies. His task was to begin “restoration”. This “restoration” meant crushing free speech, freedom of religion, and enforcing oaths on dissidents, all under the guise of “liberation”. Six clergymen were once kidnapped after preaching “treason”, one being put in jail and the other beings sent up north. On May 22, 1862, Johnson allowed an election for judge of the Nashville circuit to take place. To Johnson’s dismay, the secessionist candidate won by 200 votes but was arrested the next day and the unionist was puy in his stead.

Brave Tennessee stood firm against unionist scalawags like Johnson and throughout the war Confederate armies tried liberating the occupied state. Nashville experienced routine threats by the Confederates, occasionally coming under siege. In such an environment, elections were tedious. Lincoln and Johnson wished for them, reasoning that the successful election of loyal candidates would mean reconstruction had been successfully implemented, at least in part. It was tried in two West Tennessee districts but the Union only got insults in the way of candidates. Candidates came about advocating for war reparations from the North and resistance to emancipation. Then Forrest raided West Tennessee and the polls remained closed. Once emancipation came the unionist ranks began to falter and many men accused Johnson and Lincoln of prioritizing slaves over peace. The unionists in Tennessee were not at all wholeheartedly loyal as Johnson was.

1863 brought Tennessee a new wave of occupation. Knoxville went under siege by Ambrose Burnside and Rosecrans maneuvered Bragg into Georgia, though he himself was pushed back into Tennessee later in the year. 1864 brought much of the same as raids continued, elections attempted, and yet another Confederate incursion. Meanwhile Johnson was nominated as vice-president on the side of Lincoln since his nomination would help bring the copperheads to Lincoln’s side. He did little meaningful campaigning however, hardly leaving Tennessee. What votes were cast in Tennessee were mostly unionist as secessionists realized their vote would be overode anyway. Tennessean votes in general were dismissed by congress however.

Lincoln and Johnson still won their respective elections and so Tennessee was free of a scalawag, though it only got another. Six weeks after his inauguration, on April 14, 1865, an actor by the name of John Wilkes Booth crept into Ford’s Theater where Lincoln was watching a play. He stealthily revealed his gun and shot the president in the head before making a hasty escape. Lincoln died the next day. Johnson was subsequently propelled into the presidential seat, the highest office in the land, and one he most likely never expected to acquire.

The war was over and a Southern president, albeit unionist, presided over the United States and the newly occupied Southern states. The next few years would prove a hassle for the Republicans as Johnson battled with them over the role of the federal government and how harsh reconstruction must be. Johnson was a conservative and did not care for “progress”, not like the Republicans. The old order did just fine as he saw it or was at the very least preferable. Under Johnson’s government of choice, Blacks would not be equal, though they would be free. The Republicans wouldn’t be having it though.

The strange alignments of the loyalties surrounding the aftermath of the war surely played against Johnson’s favor. His presidency was to be one of constant bickering and debate; a tug of war between him and the Radical Republicans that had come to dominate the congressional field.

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