Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson pre-Civil War photograph by Jessie Whitehurst

Andrew Johnson pre-Civil War photograph by Jessie Whitehurst

Andrew Johnson was the seventeenth President of the United States. He served from 1865 to 1869.l He was born on December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina. His father was a laborer who died when Johnson was three. His mother was a seamstress and washerwoman who supported her four children, but could not afford to send them to school.

Johnson was apprenticed to a tailor at the age of fourteen and one of his fellow apprentices taught him to read at seventeen. He ran away and convinced his mother and step-father to move with him to Tennessee where he opened his own shop. At eighteen he married Eliza and she taught him to write and do arithmetic. They had five children during their marriage.

Johnson was elected to the Village Council in 1828 at the age of nineteen, serving two years as Alderman. In 1830, he was elected Mayor of Greenville, Tennessee. He was an outstanding public speaker and took an active part in the debating society of Greenville College. He remained close to his upbringing and was known as a friend of the common man and defender of the rights of laborers. He served as Mayor for three years.

Johnson was elected to the state legislature in 1835 but was denied re-election in 1837 which was a time of economic depression. He ran again in 1839 and was elected. In 1841, he was elected to the state senate. There he took on the salve-holding aristocracy and made enemies. He was then elected to the Congress in 1845, and then re-elected four more times. He was valued by President Polk for his help in the Mexican War, and tried hard to gain passage of a homestead act, which would have allowed poor farmers to obtain land in the West.

Johnson returned to Tennessee in 1853, after redistricting in Tennessee made it impossible for him to win again. He ran for Governor and was elected. Johnson still tailored his own clothes, a fact that endeared him to his constituents. He remained very active in protecting the rights of all, denouncing the anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party in 1854. He was re-elected by a large majority in 1855. From there, the Tennessee legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1857. His homestead act was finally passed in 1862.

In 1860, Johnson’s name was put forth as a candidate for President by Tennessee, but he withdrew it. Many assumed he, being from Tennessee, was a secessionist but after Lincoln was elected, Johnson denounced both the movement and slavery, saying he would remain loyal to the Union. When Tennessee left the Union in 1861, Johnson remained in Washington, leading him to be called a traitor in the South.

In 1862, Johnson was appointed Military Governor of Tennessee. He proved to be very capable, earning the respect of those with whom he came in contact. While granting amnesty to Confederate sympathizers, he also pushed through an amendment to the state constitution outlawing slavery.

Johnson was put on the ticket as the Vice Presidential candidate for Lincoln in 1864. His presence helped Lincoln carry the state of Tennessee by a wide margin. Along with Lincoln, he was inaugurated on March 4, 1865. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox soon after, on April 9, 1865. Then on April 14, Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth and died the next day, April 15, 1865. Johnson was ten sworn in as the seventeenth President.

President Johnson was determined to continue the “soft peace” that Lincoln had proposed. The reconstruction was to be carried out by the states themselves by the white citizens. But the Radical Republicans, in control of Congress wanted former black salves enfranchised and wanted to bar all former Confederates from office, thus giving them continued control.

Johnson resisted this and declared a general amnesty and removed the blockade of southern ports. Congress then passed legislation to reinstitute military government in the South and established a Freedman’s bureau. Johnson vetoed the legislation. By April 1866, congressional Republicans had generated enough strength to override his vetoes and began to pass a series of punitive laws, including in 1867, the Tenure of Office Act, which forbade the President from removing from office any official who had been appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Johnson was certain that this was unconstitutional so removed Edward Stanton from his office of Secretary of War in August 1867 and appointed U.S. Grant. In defiance of Johnson, Grant turned the office back to Stanton in February of 1868. Johnson again removed Stanton form office and three days later, on February 24, the House voted to impeach Johnson on eleven counts, the most important being the violation of the Tenure of Office act (which, in fact, was declared unconstitutional fifty-nine years later).

Johnson’s trial began in the Senate on March 13, 1868 and lasted two months. It was obvious that the Radical Republicans wanted Johnson out for their own political reasons. They wanted to continue their stranglehold on the South. It was not clear whether the Republicans could hold the necessary two-thirds majority needed to convict and the backroom dealing and pressure was immense.

At the end it all came down to one vote. Six Republicans had tired of the game and had joined the Democrats. They saw it as a raw grab for power by the Radical Republicans and their leader Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, who had gone so far as to select a new cabinet and written his own inauguration speech.

When the roll was called, there were thirty five votes for conviction and eighteen not guilty. Senator Edmund Ross was the final voter and, although a Republican, voted “not guilty: on that and subsequent votes. Johnson was exonerated, but the deadlock resumed between the President and Congress. Johnson did not run again in 1868 and, other than the impeachment, the most significant aspect of his Presidency was the purchase of Alaska.

Johnson returned to Tennessee and ran for Congress in 1869 and 1872, where he lost. In 1874, he regained his Senate seat and a measure of vindication. His first and only speech was met with great applause. The New York Tribune, which had previously been oppositional, reported that he was “regarded as a dignified, considerate and long-hearted gentleman”. But on July 31, 1875, he died of a stroke.

Andrew Johnson Facts

  • President No.: 17th
  • When did Andrew Johnson serve? 1865-1869
  • What was Andrew Johnson’s party? Democrat
  • Where was Andrew Johnson from? Tennessee
  • Who was Andrew Johnson’s wife? Eliza McCardle Johnson
  • When was Andrew Johnson born? December 29, 1808
  • Where was Andrew Johnson born? Raleigh, North Carolina
  • When did Andrew Johnson die? July 31, 1875
  • Where did Andrew Johnson die? Carter’s Station, Tennessee
  • Which college did Andrew Johnson attend? Did not go to school.
  • What was Andrew Johnson’s Jobs Before President? Tailor, Mayor, Congressman, Senator, Governor of Tennessee, Vice President
  • What was Andrew Johnson’s height? 5 feet 10 inches
  • What was the population when Andrew Johnson was president? 39,818,449
  • What pets did Andrew Johnson have? White mice
  • What transportation did Andrew Johnson use? Train & Horse
  • How did Andrew Johnson communicate? Letter, telegram


Andrew Johnson State of the Union Addresses

Can't find what you were looking for? Try searching our site: