Andrew Johnson, the 17th U.S. president, assumed office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Johnson, who served from 1865 to 1869, was the first American president to be impeached. A tailor before he entered politics, Johnson grew up poor and lacked a formal education. He served in the Tennessee legislature and U.S. Congress, and was governor of Tennessee. A Democrat, he championed populist measures and supported states’ rights. During the U.S. Civil War , Johnson was the only Southern senator to remain loyal to the Union. Six weeks after Johnson was inaugurated as U.S. vice president in 1865, Lincoln was murdered. As president, Johnson took a moderate approach to restoring the South to the Union, and clashed with Radical Republicans. In 1868, he was impeached by Congress, but he was not removed from office. He did not run for a second presidential term.
Thaddeus Stevens was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Pennsylvania and one of the leaders of the Radical Republican faction of the Republican Party during the 1860s.
The 15th amendment to the Constitution granted African American men the right to vote by declaring that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Although ratified on February 3, 1870, the promise of the 15th Amendment would not be fully realized for almost a century. Through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means, Southern states were able to effectively disenfranchise African Americans. It would take the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the majority of African Americans in the South were registered to vote.
America’s Reconstruction era was a turbulent time, as the nation struggled with how to rebuild the South and transition the 4 million newly freed blacks from slavery to a free-labor society. “There was no tradition of government responsibility for a huge refugee population and no bureaucracy to administer a large welfare, employment and land reform program,” according to “The Freedmen’s Bureau and Reconstruction,” edited by Paul Cimbala and Randall Miller. “Congress and the army and the Freedmen’s Bureau were groping in the dark. They created the precedents.”