Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

LeRoy Graf

Committee Members

John Muldowney, D. H. Carlisle, Harold S. Fink, Richard C. Marins


The Constitution bestows upon the president the right to make appointments "by and with the advice and consent of the Senate" to federal position at home and abroad. Over the passage of time, through free use of this power and the implied power of removal, the several chief executives constructed a vast patronage system, of which one primary goal was to reward the party faithful for their services. The purpose of this dissertation is to determine how well Andrew Johnson, the unexpected successor of Abraham Lincoln, used the seemingly powerful patronage weapon and the reasons why he used it as he did.

Prior to his elevation to the presidency, Johnson had been a Jacksonian Democrat with a great faith in the wisdom of the masses of people. As such, he had subscribed to the spoils system with its attendant principles of loyalty to the party and rotation in office. There is little evidence to indicate that he subsequently changed his views, despite the fact that they were of questionable validity in the unbalanced postwar political context of 1865-1869.

Andrew Johnson was also a decided individualist, a characteristic which showed itself on several occasions during his presidential career. This trait at times overshadowed his political convictions and, increasingly during the course of his presidency, dictated his actions. Nowhere was this tact more clearly evident than in his use of the patronage.

As president, Johnson initially was allowed a free patronage hand, but as he and the dominant element of the Republican party, the Radicals; increasingly clashed on the issues of reconstruction, the latter moved to wrest control of the system from him. Seeking endorsement for his policies, he appealed to the people in the 1866 congressional campaign. Many of his supporters urged that he use the federal patronage to affect the outcome of the elections, and a number of changes were made, but the Radicals emerged victorious. Some observers, both at that time and later, charged that this result occurred because Johnson misused his patronage powers, but he probably realized that he could not have changed the outcome of the elections regardless of how he might have used his powers of removal and appointment.

Having failed to win popular support for his position, Johnson then faced the alternative of either turning to the Democratic party and bolstering it with the federal patronage or becoming politically isolated. The leaders of that party both expected and encouraged him to return to the fold, but the chief executive steadfastly refused to do so. The people had not elected a Democratic president in 1864 and Johnson's integrity and honesty dictated that they were not to receive one against their will.

While becoming increasingly politically isolated, Johnson sought to reward those who had remained faithful to him. Close supporters were appointed to office, and despite demands from Democrats that changes be made, he refused to remove loyal cabinet members from their posts. At the same time, however, the president would not tolerate disloyalty. When his secretary of war proved unfaithful, Johnson, defying Radical legislative efforts to secure Edwin M. Stanton in his position, removed him from office. This move led to the chief executive's impeachment and trial, a process which the Radicals unsuccessfully attempted to turn into a condemnation of his entire patronage policy.

Both primary and secondary sources were used for this study. Heavy dependence was placed upon certain manuscript collections, particularly those of Andrew Johnson, Senators John Sherman and Lyman Trumbull, and Representative Elihu B . Washburne. The Congressional Globe, the United States Senate Executive Journal, and the official account of the impeachment trial were also of considerable value.

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