Title Reviewed:
Andrew Johnson, Military Governor of Tennessee

Author Reviewed:
Clifton R. Hall

[Author Unknown]


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 189-191

Article Type:
Book Review

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Reviews and Notes

Andrew Johnson, Military Governor of Tennessee. By CLIFTON R. HALL, Assistant Professor of History and Politics in Princeton University. Princeton Press, 1916, pp. iv 234, $1.50.

THIS volume deals, as its title indicates, with the career of Andrew Johnson in Tennessee during the years 1862-1865. It contains a careful and detailed history of the civil and political life of that State during the Civil War. The history contained in the volume is of more than State and local interest, because it deals with the secession and restoration of a State that was essentially unionist in its antecedents and constituency, as well as with one of the most remarkable men produced in that era of bitter and strenuous strife. The unionism of Andrew Johnson during the Civil War made him President of the United States. He did not "go with his State" when Tennessee seceded. He acknowledged a higher allegiance and remained in the United States Senate to represent his State together with Parson Brownlow, Horace May-nard, T. A. R. Nelson and others. He stood up stoutly and put up a manly fight for the Union cause in East Tennessee. He spent a life of strenuous political conflict but his "eyes never beheld the man who inspired his heart with fear."

His fighting character and career, and especially his attachment to the Union under adverse circumstances led President Lincoln to name Johnson as military governor of Tennessee, during the second year of the war. His experience in that office forced him to deal with the problems of military control and the reconstruction of his State. This experience gave Johnson some preparation for the problems with which he afterwards had to deal as President. So much for the historical importance of the man and his work with which this volume deals.

Johnson's life had been spent in the Union section of Tennessee where the people voted five to one against a convention to consider secession. After Sumter the "issue of coercion" brought a change and the Union men of East Tennessee were overcome by the irresistible tide for secession after John Bell and other Whig and Constitutional leaders had given way. However, in spite of pressure and the executive influence of Governor Harris, East Tennessee remained loyal to the Union, voting two to one against secession and a compact with the Confederacy. Johnson was one of "the little batch of disaffected traitors who hovered around his home" in Greenville, as the secession sheet, The Memphis Appeal, said.

This volume under review contains a good brief sketch of Johnson's political career, from his election as alderman of Greenville in 1828 to his election as governor of Tennessee and United States senator in 1853 and 1857. There is an excellent characterization of the man as a man of brilliant incisive mind, of insatiable ambition, but "breadth of view he never attained."

Johnson was a States rights Democrat who voted for Breckenridge in 1860 as the best way to save the Democratic party from disruption, in the hope that the party might be saved as an organ for saving the Union. Later he thought the Southern Democrats assumed the role of destroyer and he was ready to fight them to the bitter end. He held that the Union could not coerce a State, but also that the compact of Union was perpetual and that no State could be released from its obligations without the consent of all. The State consisted of its loyal citizens, one or many, and the United States should guarantee to each State a republican form of government. In becoming governor in 1862 Johnson announced his platform to be that of the famous Crittenden Resolution, to protect and defend the constitution and the law and to suppress insurrection. He sought to recall to the people the better days under the federal bond.

The volume contains a detailed and careful discussion of the defense of Nashville; of military and political reverses in 1863; of the early reorganization of the State; of the presidential campaign of 1864, and of the final rehabilitation of Tennessee. The political conflicts for the control of the State between the radicals and conservatives are described. In these conflicts under Johnson's leadership the Union element of Tennessee succeeded in reorganizing the civil government of the State and in bringing it into the old relation to the national government. Confederate leaders were disfranchised by the oath of allegiance. The peace Democrats contested the State with the "unconditional Unionist" in 1864, and their leaders protested in Washington against the intolerant policy of Johnson's party in excluding by military interference so many of their opponents from participating in the voting. Johnson, while he was still military governor, supported Lincoln's policy of reconstruction. As the volume opens with a consideration of Johnson's character and public career, so it closes with further treatment of the personal side of this notable southern leader. He had to withstand vituperation and insult, but he himself was vituperative and insulting. Like begets like, and perhaps in no other period of American history did the coarse personal habits and disposition of a single man have so bad an effect on his country's public life as under the era of Andrew Johnson. Professor Hall's book is a valuable contribution to Civil War history.

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.