Given the two were from different parties, I was curious as to why Lincoln would choose a man like Johnson from the opposing party when running for reelection. In addition, I'm curious as to why Lincoln would choose Johnson out of all available Democrats.


5 Answers 5


There were electoral and administrative reasons for Lincoln to balance the ticket with a Democrat. He did legitimately fear that he might lose the election to McClellan, and Lincoln would do what it took to win. Lincoln did not much respect McClellan at this point. Furthermore, the Democrats had endorsed a peace plank at their convention. Thus Lincoln was willing to balance his ticket with a Southern Democrat in order to ensure that the Democrat's didn't win the election outright and compromise the war effort and his war aims.*

There was also an administrative consideration. In 1864, it was time for Lincoln's administration to consider how to integrate the South back into the Union. The South had seceded in part because the Republicans (with exclusively Northern support) had been elected to the presidency. The Republicans knew that Reconstruction would be easier if they could claim some support from the South. Lincoln signaled his leniency and willingness to welcome the South back into the fold by (temporarily) renaming his party the "National Unity Party" and selecting a Southern Democrat as a running mate.

Why Johnson? Well, he was from Tennessee for one thing. Lincoln was beginning to undertake the wartime reconstruction of occupied southern states, including Tennessee. If Tennessee were smoothly integrated back into the Union, it would provide Southern states with evidence of Lincoln's sincere lack of interest in retribution. From this perspective, Johnson's selection is an extension of the rhetorical approach Lincoln took in his Second Inaugural ("With malice toward none...").

Also, Johnson seemed like a good choice on paper. He was experienced:

In terms of sheer political experience, few men have seemed more qualified for the Presidency than Andrew Johnson. Beginning as a Greenville, Tennessee, alderman in 1829, he held office almost continuously, rising to the state legislature and Congress , serving two terms as governor, and in 1857 entering the Senate. Even more than Lincoln, Johnson gloried in the role of tribune of the common man. Both in Washington and the rough -and-tumble world of Tennessee stump speaking, his speeches lauded “honest yeomen” and thundered against the “slaveocracy”— a “pampered, bloated, corrupted aristocracy.”

He was tough on rebellion (though this was not an unambiguous positive):

After the Union capture of Nashville early in February 1862, Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson military governor. Johnson’s decision to remain in the Senate after Tennessee seceded had made him a national symbol of what both he and the Republican North supposed to be a legion of courageous Southern Unionists. Having risen to prominence in the Democratic party, Johnson now found himself heading a Union movement composed largely of former Whigs. He quickly won their admiration and outraged secessionists by removing Nashville’s mayor and city council for refusing to take an oath of allegiance. When, shortly thereafter, a supporter of the Confederacy won election as circuit judge, Johnson ordered his arrest and appointed his rival to the office. Johnson soon took to using the phrase that won him a national reputation for Radicalism: “Treason must be made odious and traitors punished.”

But Johnson turned out to have no political touch. Needless to say, history might have been pretty different if Lincoln had chosen someone else.

* It should be noted that the parties weren't always so concerned with ideological congruence between candidates. Every Whig to win an election died in office and was replaced with someone ideological dissimilar: William Henry Harrison and John Tyler; Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. And if you count Lincoln (a former Whig), that's 3 for 3. It's an incredible streak of bad luck.

Source: Eric Foner's Reconstruction

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    The Whigs had that disjunction because they were really a loose union of 2 "Anti-Democrat" factions. Southern Anti Democrats were more pro-Slavery than Dems, Northerns were Free Soilers and the like. The only thing they could agree on was that Democrats sucked. Thus they tended to run military men that had no fixed views that would irritate the opposing faction.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 1:07
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    @Oldcat: Yup, definitely the case. Because of Clay's American System, one Whig faction was the strongest nationalists. And because of Jackson's anti-nullification stance, the other faction of Southern Whigs was actually the most radical states-rights advocates. It was a weird party.
    – two sheds
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 1:24
  • Tennessee was a border state. Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 17:38
  • It would have been difficult to sell “no retribution” when Sherman has already completed it.
    – TomO
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 16:02

Abraham Lincoln chose Johnson because of his loyalty to the union after Tennessee seceded. Johnson was a senator from Tennessee but when it seceded, he joined the Union and defended the slaves.


Lincoln ran in 1864 on a National Union ticket. He wanted to "balance" this ticket with one Republican and one Democrat.

Johnson's selling point was that he was a Democrat from Tennessee, that is from a southern state and Lincoln wanted to reach out to the South. Tennessee was one of two states more or less under Union control, and Johnson was a "loyal" southerner.


The election in which Lincoln chose Andrew Johnson as his vice president occurred during the Civil War. Lincoln’s main concern during the Civil War was to stay in power so he that he could accomplish his political goals and win the war. If another party won, such as the Peace Democrats led by MCclellan there would be no guarantee that the war would continue on. To win as many votes as possible Lincoln chose Andrew Johnson as his vice president to balance the ticket. Choosing Andrew Johnson made it so that that Lincoln represented the Union because it contained a Northerner and a Southerner. Additionally, if Lincoln won the election having Andrew Johnson as a vice president would make southern reconstruction far easier.

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    Welcome to History:SE. Sources to support your assertions would greatly improve this answer. Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 20:44
  • Which informs why the radical reconstructionists (Thaddeus Stephens et al) had such a raging urge to take him down... Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 22:40

Probably because Johnson was a good competitor that President Lincoln thought would be able to stand up to him and would have about the same knowledge range as him or even more. You guys might think my answer is not reasonable but I am sorry if it isn't but in history we are learning about Lincoln's presidency right now and that is what our teacher has told us.

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    Backing this up with sources which others can look at would improve this answer :) Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 22:29

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