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Legacies of Losing in American Politics$
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Jeffrey K. Tulis and Nicole Mellow

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226515298

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226515465.001.0001

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Andrew Johnson’s Politics of Obstruction

(p.68) 3 Reconstruction
Legacies of Losing in American Politics

Jeffrey K. Tulis

Nicole Mellow

University of Chicago Press

Andrew Johnson is generally regarded as one of America's worst Presidents. His major legislative initiatives were defeated and his vetoes overridden. He was a pariah within his own party. Even his own cabinet opposed many of his most important policies. He was impeached and nearly convicted. Yet from his defeats came triumphs. In this chapter, we muster substantial evidence that Johnson’s actions—his rhetoric as well as his executive and political decisions—facilitated the establishment of policies that bore the stamp of his vision. Southern politics and political culture were shaped for over a century by his "failed" vision. To achieve this success, Andrew Johnson adopted a style of leadership that is hard to understand in conventional terms. This chapter describes this style as one of preemption and obstruction. These efforts account for Johnson’s historic failures when in office but also allow one to see how these same mechanisms of defeat allowed his vision to prevail in the long run by rebuilding the political capacity of defeated southern elites and furnishing a new ideological frame for southern advocacy and identity.

Keywords:   Reconstruction, Andrew Johnson, obstruction, preemption, ideological disruption, Southern politics

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