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The Last Time America Forgave Traitors

The Last Time America Forgave Traitors

After the Civil War we allowed traitors to America to return to the South and once again hold positions of power.

While many of my friends and peers might point to Donald Trump as the worst president in American history, that’s been an idea I’ve often rejected. I’m more than happy to give the orange one the second place award or that title, but there was someone worse, someone whose mistakes we’re still suffering from today: Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States of America.

Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, picked a Southern Democrat as his running mate when running for a second term. Historians largely agree that Lincoln chose Johnson to secure him the win. Johnson was from Tennessee, and Lincoln began to undertake the wartime reconstruction of occupied southern states, including Tennessee. If Tennessee were smoothly integrated back into the Union, it would show the Southern States that Lincoln was sincere in not wanting retribution.  

Of course, at the time, no one knew Lincoln’s impending fate.

Until Trump came along, most people referred to Andrew Johnson as America’s worst president. I still refer to Andrew Johnson as the worst president.

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson shared a lot of similarities with Trump.

There have been four presidential impeachment trials in American history. The last two belonged to Trump, Bill Clinton’s blowjob, and Andrew Johnson.

Johnson was the first president ever impeached. He was impeached for being a racist demagogue. Although the orange one was impeached for something different, he was also a racist demagogue.

A historical moment I always found amusing was Andrew Johnson’s drunk and belligerent inauguration speech. He had typhoid fever leading up to the speech and tried to cure it with whiskey. Of course, Trump was never drunk, but his speeches often resembled a rambling frat guy after a couple of keg stand.

While historians likely chuckle about Johnson’s famous speech, undoubtedly, at the time, it caused outrage and embarrassment, just as people in modern days are outraged and embarrassed by Trump.

Andrew Johnson wanted a white man’s government, like Trump. And like Trump, he often tried to use “executive privilege” to go around the will of Congress.

The Confederate States of America committed treason.

The definition of treason is the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill the sovereign or overthrow the government.

And on January 6, 2021, Republican congresspeople and a mob of brainwashed, blood-thirsty, Trumpers tried to overthrow the government.

Detrumpify, an online database documenting and keeping track of the insurrectionists and congresspeople who assisted in trying to overthrow the election. They’ve identified 107 organizers, 906 invaders, and 133 congresspeople who played a part in the January 6 insurrection.

While those numbers pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of men who committed treason under the Confederacy, it’s important to note what happened in the years and decades following the South’s betrayal to America.

On December 25, 1868, President Andrew Johnson issued pardons to all Confederate soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The president extended “unconditionally, and without reservation … a full pardon and amnesty for the offence [sic] of treason against the United States, or of adhering to their enemies during the late Civil War, with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws.”

Andrew Johnson was the worst president because he pardoned all of the Confederate soldiers, restored their constitutional rights, and sent them back to the South to unleash a reign of terror.

What that meant is not only were the soldiers and civilians who participated in the Confederacy no longer considered traitors. As a result, they would not have to pay for the crime of treason against the United States and were restored all of their Constitutional rights. Most significantly, that included the right to hold political office.

Between 1865 and 1915, almost half of all of the government in the South (if not more) were ex-confederate soldiers. This included governors, senators, police, judges, city council, and every other position of authority. 

Although Black Codes were in place before the Civil War in both southern and northern states, the southern states adopted more after the war ended. It was once said that the conditions of the freed slaves under Black Codes, post Civil War, were only slightly better than slavery.

Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Florida passed laws that prohibited freedmen from employment, except fieldhands. After slavery was over and the plantation owners and former slaveholders were suddenly left with fields that needed plowing, this was a way to continue having Black people harvest their lands, and they gave them small wages. In some states, Black people could work other jobs if they paid an annual tax, which was $10 to $100.

Soon after the Civil War, the southern legislature, full of ex-Confederates, implemented free public education. However, Black children were excluded. They also passed laws that prevented Black men from voting or serving on juries. Ultimately, that put the 15th Amendment into motion, ending the Black suffragette. Yet, it would be another 100 years before schools even begin to integrate, and 155 later, voter suppression attempts continue.

The white legislators of the South did not see a reason to treat Black people equally and feared that if the freedmen did not work for the white landholders, the entire Southern economy would collapse.  

Mississippi and South Carolina both had laws that stated a Black man must have written proof of employment each January for the coming year. If they quit their job before the end of the year, they could face fines or arrest. In addition, their terms of employment and wages had to be in writing and signed by a judge.

Every southern state passed some form of vagrancy laws. A “vagrant” is someone unemployed. In Virginia, the vagrancy law said if a Black man is unemployed for more than three months, he would be arrested and forced to work with no compensation, often wearing a ball and chain. These vagrancy laws only applied to Black men.

In many states, like South Carolina, if a white man was unemployed, he could take an oath of poverty and not be punished for being unemployed.  

(Ironically, Texas recently brought back vagrancy laws.)

Many white southerners, angry war loss, directed their anger towards Black people. These fears and beliefs carried on for decades. 

Black Codes led to Jim Crow Laws.

The south successfully created a system where Black men were arrested, then lent out to the local government and local farms and plantations for free labor. 

Although the 15th Amendment was passed in 1870, throughout the remainder of the 1800s, Black Codes prevented Black people from voting in many ways. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and residency and record-keeping requirements were all put in place to keep Black people and poor whites from being able to cast a ballot. 

By 1910, less than 1% of the Black population was registered to vote in southern states. From 1896 to 1904, in North Carolina, not one Black man voted, as all Black men were purged from the voting rolls. 

Because of the Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws in the South, by the end of the 1800s, millions of Black Americans were returned to de facto slavery and were pushed out of the political process.

Ex-Confederates and ex-Confederate sympathizers wrote all the laws and codes written at state and local levels. This prolonged their position of white dominance for decades to come and allowed the nurturing of Confederate culture in the South. During the period after the Civil War, many ex-Confederates also took on the role of police, lawyers, and judges. This was the birth of systematic racism within our justice system, which still prevails today.

The people who participated and fought for the Confederate States committed treason.

Andrew Johnson pardoned them, and America forgave them. But, unfortunately, those forgiven traitors spent the rest of their lives ensuring that Black Americans didn’t share the same Constitutional rights as white people. The forgiven traitors started the KKK and murdered thousands of Black people for decades. The forgiven traitors taught their children to carry their legacies and continue injustice.

Because we allowed the people who committed treason against America to return to the South and hold positions of power and take political office, it took 100 years after the Civil War ended to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

To put that in perspective, that was only 57 years ago.

In 2022, America still grapples with the ripple effects of the order Andrew Johnson signed on Christmas in 1868. Then, the ex-Confederates who were allowed to return to political office instituted white supremacy in nearly every aspect of American life.

Imagine how different America would be today if the people who committed treason weren’t allowed to return to power in the South.

If we’re still dealing with the consequences 154 years later, how long will we deal with the consequences of January 6 if the congresspeople who participated are allowed to remain in office?

As this week marks the first anniversary of the Insurrection at the Capitol, we need to realize that most of the elected officials who participated in trying to overthrow the American government still hold office today. Over the last year, several of them jumped leaps and bounds to continue trying to end American democracy.

Suppose the Senators and Congresspeople who participated in the Insurrection are not removed from office, and under the 14th Amendment, section 3, barred from holding federal office again. In that case, it may be the end to America as we know it.

One thing we should all know after four years of Trump is never to say, “it can’t get any worse.” Because it can.

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