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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Up Jacob's ladder: Andrew Johnson's rise to power, 1835-1857 Williams, Raymond Brinley


The purpose of this study is to critically examine Andrew Johnson's early political career, from 1835 to 1857. Johnson remains today one of the most controversial figures in American history. His role as President during Reconstruction has initiated a century of debate over his character and behavior. In the process of this bitter controversy, few scholars have attempted to explain his personality and political behavior in terms of his early public life. This thesis will systematically investigate Johnson's career as a Tennessee representative and senator (1835-1843), United States Congressman (1843-1853), Governor of Tennessee (1853-1857). Through an intensive analysis of Johnson's letters and speeches, as well as contemporary accounts and newspaper sources, it will be established that throughout the period examined, Andrew Johnson behaved as a loyal Jacksonian Democrat and an ardent Southerner. In the process, the study will refute the modern historical interpretation which contends that Johnson was a political maverick and an abnormal personality. Through the use of recent social science methods such as roll-call analysis and attitude scaling, Johnson's voting pattern in Congress will be scrutinized and presented to determine political consistency and allegiances. Johnson's political progression from a minor border state politician to presidential aspirant will be discussed in terms of his participation in the slavery controversy, the debates over tariffs, internal improvements, land, and other divisive and national issues, to bring into focus his political behavior in relation to the behavior of his contemporaries. Andrew Johnson will emerge as an ambitious Southern Democrat, who followed his party, represented his people, and was loyal to his section, from the necessity of political expediency and from a sense of idealistic conviction. Although neither a contemner of the popular will nor a selfless consul of the people's interests, Johnson achieved reforms and benefits for the people that could only have been achieved as a result of his driving ambition. One fact will be obvious: he did not act as the paranoidal and masochistic apolitical fanatic that modern scholarship has pictured him.

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