President Andrew Johnson's Domestic Policy

Instructor: Brittney Clere

Brittney, a National Board Certified Teacher, has taught social studies at the middle school level for 15 years.

After the Civil War, the US was faced with readmitting the Confederate states into the union. But, how? Andrew Johnson dealt with this uncertainty during his presidency. Let's look at how he addressed this, as well as other domestic issues.

The Reconstruction Era

The Civil War ended in 1865, but feelings of distrust and anger still existed between the North and South. Those feelings became clear during the Reconstruction Era as the government tried to develop a plan for bringing the South back into the Union.

Abraham Lincoln hoped for a quick and painless reunification with his Ten Percent Plan. It promised southerners amnesty, or an official pardon if they would swear an oath of loyalty and agree that slavery was illegal. Once ten percent of a state's voters did, it could form a new government and rejoin the Union.

Sadly, Lincoln was assassinated before he could implement his plan. This left Vice President Andrew Johnson in charge. Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee, was a former slave holder who had strongly opposed secession.

President Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson

Johnson's Plan

Johnson's plan required every southern voter to swear an oath of loyalty to receive amnesty. Some groups, such as Confederate leaders and their wealthy supporters, had to be personally pardoned by the president. By the end of 1866, he had pardoned thousands of former Confederates.

Johnson appointed a temporary governor for each southern state. To rejoin the Union, they would have to revise their constitutions, abolish slavery, declare secession illegal, elect new representatives and cancel their war debts.

A drawing of Johnson pardoning former Confederates.
Confederate Pardons

Congress wasn't satisfied with Johnson's plan, however. They argued it was too lenient and allowed for Confederate leaders to regain political positions. So, Congress refused to re-admit the states he had approved.


While the debate over admittance played out in Congress, the Southern legislatures were enacting new state laws. Among them were the Black Codes, which created harsh working conditions and denied African-Americans many of their civil rights, such as owning guns or congregating in groups.

Republicans were furious over the Black Codes. Johnson, on the other hand, felt it was the right of the states to decide how to treat African- Americans. Plus, he didn't support black suffrage or equal rights, which he demonstrated throughout his presidency.

Civil Rights Act of 1866

The Republicans hoped to end the Black Codes with the Civil Rights Act of 1866 which guaranteed equal rights for African- Americans. Johnson vetoed this bill, claiming the law gave the federal government too much power. For the first time ever, Congress overrode a presidential veto.

The 14th Amendment

To ensure the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, Republicans proposed the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing citizenship and equal protection regardless of race. Johnson also opposed it, but to no avail.

Freedman's Bureau

The Freedman's Bureau helped freed slaves with such things as education and finding employment. Congress proposed a bill that also gave them the power to oversee court cases concerning violations of African-American rights.

Johnson vetoed the bill, stating that it interfered with state rights and favored one group over another. Congress disagreed and, again, overrode his veto.

A school ran by the Bureau.
Southern School

Military Reconstruction Acts

After the Republicans secured a two-thirds majority during the congressional elections of 1866, they enacted the Military Reconstruction Acts, which divided the South into five districts. They were put under military control until each state wrote a new constitution that supported the 14th Amendment and gave African-Americans the right to vote.

Johnson argued the act was unconstitutional since these powers were not granted to the federal government and treated the southern states like conquered territories. He warned that it would only create hatred in a time when they should be trying to gain loyalty from the south.

Depiction of an African-American voting for the first time.
Black Suffrage


To thwart his unsupportive attitude, Congress passed laws that limited his power. One prevented him from removing officials from office without the Senate's approval. In a display of defiance, Johnson violated the law by firing his secretary of war.

This led to a monumental moment in history-- the first time Congress impeached a president. They failed in their attempt by just one vote, however, and Johnson remained president.

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