Andrew Johnson was a man of many contradictions. He was a Southerner, and yet he firmly believed in the Union. He believed in the Union, yet he believed that many political decisions should be left to the individual states. He was a slave owner who was a product of his time, but he was also a man called a "Moses" for the freedom of slaves in Tennessee.
On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in states still in rebellion against the United States. Tennessee, although a seceded state, did not fall under the provisions of the proclamation. Tennessee was under Union control, and Andrew Johnson was serving as Military Governor.
During the Civil War, Andrew Johnson's previous idea of slavery shifted:
"Before the rebellion, I was for sustaining the Government with slavery; now I am for sustaining the Government without slavery, without regard to a particular institution. Institutions must be subordinate, and the Government must be supreme." October 13, 1864
While he was very much against the Southern aristocracy, Johnson revealed his sentiment on work ethic in the following statement. His primary concern was for the preservation of the Union, and he believed all else would fall in place afterwards.
"In my opinion, freedom will not make negroes any worse, and will result in their advancement. I am for an aristocracy of labor, of intelligent, stimulating, virtuous labor; of talent, of intellect, of merit; for the elevation of each and every man, white and black, according to his talent and industry." October 13, 1864
According to tradition, Military Governor Andrew Johnson freed his personal slaves on August 8, 1863. By September 8, 1863, even the New York Times stated that "Gov. JOHNSON thus plants himself on the extreme Anti-Slavery ground --"
On October 24, 1864, Johnson freed all the slaves in the state of Tennessee.