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Andrew Johnson and the Civil War Amendments

50 min
  • How did President Andrew Johnson interpret the Constitution with respect to restoring the Union after the Civil War?

Students will:

  • Trace the constitutional controversies of Andrew Johnson’s presidency.
  • Understand Johnson’s constitutional objections to the Fourteenth Amendment and other elements of Reconstruction.
  • Evaluate Johnson’s understanding of the Constitution.

  • Handout A: Andrew Johnson and the Civil War Amendments
  • Handout B: Johnson’s First Annual Message to Congress, December 1865

To create a context for this lesson, have students complete Constitutional Connection: Slavery and the Constitution.

Have students read Handout A: Andrew Johnson and the Civil War Amendments and answer the questions.

Show the thematic documentary All Other Persons: Slavery, the Constitution, and the Presidency found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmMOvLCCO0c.

Distribute Handout B: Johnson’s First Annual Message to Congress, December 1865. Depending on students’ reading skills, you may wish to:

  • Have students analyze each section individually.
  • Have students work in pairs to analyze each section.
  • Have students work in pairs to analyze one section, and then have students jigsaw into new groups to share their responses.
  • Project Handout B and go over all the chart sections together.

Reconvene the class and conduct a large group discussion to answer the questions:

  • Why do you think Johnson’s plans for “restoration” failed?
  • Were his objections to the forced-ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment legitimate? Why or why not?
  • In your opinion, did Johnson understand the Constitution correctly?

Have students analyze the Fourteenth Amendment and write a brief essay with one of the following thesis statements:

  • The Fourteenth Amendment radically altered the Constitution.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment merely emphasized principles that were already in the Constitution.

Develop a timeline that shows legislation vetoed by President Johnson. For each law, summarize the following:

  • name & date of bill
  • purpose of bill
  • why Johnson vetoed the bill
  • further Congressional action, if any
  • outcome of the law, if applicable

Students can begin their research at: www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/vetoes.php and www.usconstitution.net/pres_veto.html