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Who Became President After Abraham Lincoln Was Assassinated?

Written By Denis Cummings
Last updated: August 3, 2023

The night of April 14, 1865, brought a tragic turn of events that forever changed the course of American history. On this fateful night, our beloved President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. by John Wilkes Booth. This horrific act left a nation in mourning and uncertainty about the future.

Yet, amid the chaos and sadness, there was one question on everyone’s lips – “who became President after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated?” This significant question marks an important transition in America’s leadership and is crucial in understanding how the country navigated through one of its darkest periods. Let’s dive into this intriguing historical puzzle together to explore what transpired after that dreadful night in April over 150 years ago.

Who Became President After Abraham Lincoln Was Assassinated?

After the tragic assassination of Abraham Lincoln, his Vice President, Andrew Johnson, became the President of United States. Johnson, becoming the 17th U.S. President, stepped into this role amidst unique and sorrowful circumstances.

Who Became President After Abraham Lincoln Was Assassinated?

Born on December 29, 1808, Andrew Johnson lived a life filled with hardships before entering the political arena. Shaped by these struggles, his political career was as rocky as it was controversial.

Following Lincoln’s tragic demise just over a month later, on April 15, 1865, Johnson was thrust into a position no one would have desired – assuming presidential duties from a leader whose death had left a nation in inconsolable mourning.

Understandably reserved and careful to respect the grief-stricken nation, Johnson took his presidential oath privately on April 15. He made no public appearances until April 21, when he gave his first presidential address to Congress. In this speech, he vowed to continue Lincoln’s policies for reconstructing the Union after the devastating Civil War.

During his Presidency (1865-1869), Johnson faced strenuous challenges with both domestic and foreign issues. On the one hand, he grappled with bitter opposition from Radical Republicans in Congress due to disagreements on reconstruction policy; on the other hand, he faced controversies overseas while dealing with diplomatic affairs like American interests in Mexico.

Meanwhile, public opinion about Andrew Johnson was deeply divided- while some denounced him for trying to integrate Confederate states back into Union too leniently or soon; others hailed him as a martyr for standing up against an aggressive Congress during an impeachment trial that almost ousted him from the presidency.

Thus began the drama-filled presidency of Andrew Johnson, steeped in political controversy and marked by endless debates about how best to heal a fractured nation after losing its beloved leader Abraham Lincoln.

Johnson’s Journey To The White House

Perhaps the path that led Andrew Johnson to the highest office in America’s history is not as celebrated or as well-known as Abraham Lincoln’s. Yet, it was a journey filled with intriguing political maneuvers and dramatic turns of events.

The Succession

As per the U.S. Constitution, when a President dies in office, the Vice President steps up to fill the void and continue their term. At this time when Lincoln was assassinated, the man next in line was none other than Andrew Johnson. Because of this unforeseen incident, Johnson transitioned from Vice President to President overnight. It should be noted that this marked the first time in American history that a president assumed office due to an assassination.

Meteoric Rise

Johnson had risen from pretty humble beginnings. Born into poverty in Raleigh, North Carolina, he apprenticed as a tailor before entering politics. He climbed progressively through various political roles – from alderman to mayor, then to Congress before finally becoming vice president under Lincoln’s second term presidency.

Bittersweet Victory

On April 15, 1865 – within hours of Lincoln’s demise – Johnson was sworn in as the 17th President of the United States by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase at Kirkwood House in Washington D.C. No doubt it was a bittersweet victory for him – stepping into shoes left by one of America’s most beloved figures under such tragic circumstances.

Presidency Under Andrew Johnson: A Country In Crisis

The era following the tragic death of President Lincoln was highly challenging for America. Bearing the demanding task of leading a country still recovering from the effects of the Civil War, none other than Andrew Johnson.

Johnson’s foray into leadership wasn’t greeted with universal acclaim. Indeed, his presidency was marred by tumultuous decisions that left an indelible mark on American history.

Major Policies under Andrew Johnson

Johnson, a staunch Unionist from Tennessee, pursued a leniency policy towards Southern states. His vision for reconstruction involved rapid reintegration, which led to significant backlash from Congress. His veto of bills aimed at protecting Black Americans’ rights built friction between him and the Republican-dominated Congress, widening the political schism in post-war America.

Johnson’s Approach Towards Reconstruction

Inheriting the colossal task of reconstructing a broken nation gave President Johnson an unfavorable hand to play with. Designed as an immediate response to mend intense racial and political divides, his lenient approach, ironically, only exacerbated them. Delving into details would reveal how his introduction of “presidential pardons” offered easy absolution to ex-confederates who swore fealty to Union laws, only fueling more resentment.

As turbulent as they came, Johnson’s presidency was synonymous with immense strain socially and politically. Not only did he preside over a time when America’s racial dynamics were frayed at best; but economically, too it wrestled with restoration post a devastating civil war – palpably making his Presidency truly representative of a country in crisis.

A Presidency Marked By Impeachment

Andrew Johnson’s presidency certainly wasn’t a walk in the park. In fact, it was steeped in controversy and contention from the get-go setting a path to what many consider history’s first impeachment of a U.S. President.

Johnson’s High Crimes and Misdemeanors

From day one, tension brewed between President Johnson and Congress, mainly due to their conflicting views on the Reconstruction process after the Civil War. Johnson adopted a lenient approach toward the defeated Confederate states, causing outrage among many Northerners and Republican stalwarts who advocated for more stringent policies.

The real overt conflict began with the violation of Tenure of Office Act when Johnson dismissed Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. The law required Senate approval for firing any officeholder who was initially appointed with its consent. Let’s visualize this event below:

February 21, 1868Dismissal of Secretary of War
March 2-3, 1868Approval of Impeachment resolution

Proceeding Toward Impeachment

Not only did this dismissal trigger political upheaval, it provided Congress with grounds to charge Johnson with Eleven Articles of Impeachment, asserting his misuse of power. The House vote passed drastically in favor of impeachment: 126 yeas against only 47 nays.

Imbued with drama, his subsequent trial lasted from March to May 1868. To simplify its timeline:

  1. March 30 – April 9: Presentation by prosecution
  2. April 9 – May 16: Defense presentation
  3. May 16 – May 26: Final votes

In a suspenseful finale that nearly toppled his presidency, Johnson barely escaped impeachment by just one vote! Clearly, his presidency had been a veritable storm seasoned by marked controversy and near removal from office.

Life After The Presidency: Andrew Johnson’s Legacy

Navigating life after the presidency often marks an essential chapter in the narrative of America’s leaders. Andrew Johnson was no exception; his personal journey post-presidency added further complexity to his legacy.

Upon leaving the office in 1869, Johnson returned to Greeneville, Tennessee. There, he maintained substantial influence over local politics while also dedicating his time to speaking against the policies that had driven his impeachment.

Bold in thought and action, Johnson even attempted to secure a place for himself in the U.S. Senate. His initial efforts failed, but he did not abandon his ambitions. In 1874, he was successful in getting elected as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee.

Johnson’s tenure was short-lived, though. He succumbed to a stroke and passed away on July 31st, 1875, roughly five months into his term as a senator – thus sealing an end to his vibrant, if controversial political career.

Tense chapters and controversial stances mark Andrew Johnson’s legacy. Despite the adversities and conflicts during his presidency, it’s profound how he managed to retain influence and maintain political participation until the end of his life.

Perhaps one imminent takeaway from exploring Johnson’s life post-presidency is understanding how persistence played out for him – both during and after holding one of the most powerful offices in the world. Regardless of individual opinions about him, it’s undeniable that Andrew Johnson remains a significant part of our country’s rich historical tapestry.


Weaving our way through history, we’ve unraveled the story of who assumed the mantle after the tragic end of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, the controversial figure that was Andrew Johnson. It’s fascinating to delve into these hallowed yet turbulent chapters in our nation’s past – they show us not just where we came from, but also illuminate underlying patterns that continue to shape our present.

Our past teaches us lessons about resilience, leadership, and the complexities of power transitions. Reflecting on it helps us appreciate how every event, no matter how unforeseen, can serve as a catalyst for change and growth. Undoubtedly, the story of Lincoln’s assassination and Johnson’s succession to presidency holds indelible lessons. America, from those harrowing times to this day, continues its relentless pursuit towards a ‘more perfect Union’. For more intriguing skips down memory lane or deep dives into other historical events, stay tuned!

Charles Eames

Denis Cummings is a history enthusiast and author, with a passion for uncovering the stories of the past. Through his writing, he seeks to share his love of history with others and provide a unique perspective on the events that have shaped our world.

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