With the disruption of the Democratic party at Charleston, and the defeat of the Homestead bill, on which he had staked his all, Andrew Johnson was a man at sea without chart or compass. Out of tune with southern sentiment, without the backing of a political party, and having no ability to organize, he was now playing a lone hand. So far, the best he had been able to do was to raise his voice against special privileges and for the absolute equality of persons of the white race. The negro he did not consider entitled to the blessings of freedom. This attitude on slavery, though an error, was an error of the times. In 1858, when he voted for the Lecompton Constitution to fasten slavery on the free State of Kansas, he made a mistake, but he was following the highest court in the land. Slaves were not persons, they were but things, and "they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Thus the Dred Scott opinion was interpreted by the people.
Though Johnson was willing to protect slavery as property, he was unwilling to imperil the Nation's life on the issue, and he was equally unwilling to fall down before slavery, worship it and call it an institution of God. He considered it an evil, but to get rid of it by setting the negroes free and leaving them a source of constant irritation was as great an evil as slavery itself. The argument of southern men, like Alex Stephens, that there was no such thing as slavery and that the question was "one relating to the proper status of white and black" sounded strange and specious to Andrew Johnson.
Almost any day he could go down to slave pens and auction sales in Washington and see negroes sold as if they were cattle or sheep. And yet he knew from his own experience that southern masters were kind and indulgent and that house