1938 17¢ Andrew Johnson
Issue Date: October 27, 1938
First City: Washington, DC
Quantity Issued: 313,922,600
Printing Method: Rotary press
Perforations: 11 x 10 ½
Color: Rose red
Known affectionately as the “Prexies,” the 1938 Presidential series is a favorite among stamp collectors.
The series was issued in response to public clamoring for a new Regular Issue series. The series that was current at the time had been in use for more than a decade. President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed, and a contest was staged. The public was asked to submit original designs for a new series picturing all deceased U.S. Presidents. Over 1,100 sketches were submitted, many from veteran stamp collectors. Elaine Rawlinson, who had little knowledge of stamps, won the contest and collected the $500 prize. Rawlinson was the first stamp designer since the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began producing U.S. stamps who was not a government employee.
Andrew Johnson (1808-1875)
Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. Johnson’s father died when Andrew was just three years old. His mother supported the family by taking in washing and sewing. At the age of 13, Andrew was apprenticed to a tailor. Soon after, he was taught to read. Johnson first became interested in history, politics, and the United States Constitution. After just two years of his apprenticeship, he ran away to Carthage, North Carolina, to start his own tailoring business.
Johnson’s early political career was marked by vigorous support of the institution of slavery. A slave owner, he believed the U.S. Constitution protected a citizen’s right to own slaves, and that the states had the authority to protect this right. But, he also loved the Union, so when states began to secede in 1861, Andrew Johnson spoke out against them. He was the only Southern senator who did not secede with his state.
As a Southerner, a strong Unionist, and a leading member of the War Democrats, Andrew Johnson was an ideal candidate to run for Vice-President in 1865. The Lincoln-Johnson ticket was elected by both an electoral and popular landslide. Johnson’s term as Vice-President lasted six weeks. On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot while attending a play. Johnson took the oath of office the following morning.
President Johnson favored a moderate course of Reconstruction, granting full pardons to all Southern citizens except for military and political leaders, and plantation owners whose estates were valued at over $20,000. Congress favored a more radical Reconstruction, one that would limit the power of former Confederate leaders, protect the former slaves, and give voting rights to blacks. Because Congress was not in session when Johnson assumed the presidency, he began his more moderate plan of Reconstruction. However, when Congress returned, all of President Johnson’s Reconstruction laws were repealed, and the more radical measures were voted in – even over presidential veto.
The tension between the President and Congress came to a head when Congress passed two more laws that Johnson felt were unconstitutional. One law, the First Reconstruction Act, put the South under strict military rule, denying citizens the right to vote for constitutional convention delegates. Also, the Tenure of Office Act made it illegal for the President to remove from office any cabinet member who had previously been approved by Congress.
When President Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act by removing Secretary of War Stanton from office, Congress took action against the President by adopting eleven articles of impeachment. The most important article charged Johnson with violating the Tenure of Office Act and conspiring against Congress and the Constitution. On March 13, 1868, a two-month long presidential impeachment trial began. However, Congress had a weak case against Johnson, and the President was found not guilty on all articles – by one vote. Johnson’s last official act was to pardon all Southerners who had taken part in the Civil War – even the three men in prison for assassinating President Lincoln.