United States Presidents – Andrew Johnson

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Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson rose up from an impoverished family to serve as a Tennessee Governor, Representative and Senator and, finally, as the 17th President of the United States.

Andrew Johnson was a man born in humble surroundings but who achieved what many Americans believe to be the ultimate dream: becoming President of the United States. Johnson was the third Tennessean to serve as the U.S. President

Early Years of U.S. President Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson was born on December 29, 1808, in Raleigh, North Carolina. His father died when he was three years old leaving the family impoverished. Johnson was apprenticed to a tailor but when he was 16 years old he ran away from home with his brother. He found his way to Greeneville, Tennessee where he opened a tailor shop, married Eliza McCardle, and became the father of five children.

It was during this period of time that Johnson began participating in debates at a local academy which led him into politics. He served the public in a variety of offices:

  • 1829-1833 – Alderman
  • 1833-1835 – Mayor
  • 1835-1836 – Tennessee House of Representatives
  • 1838-1840 – Tennessee House of Representatives
  • 1841-1842 – Tennessee Senate

Andrew Johnson won the first of five consecutive elections to the U.S House of Representatives in 1843. While in office, Johnson was a strong advocate of a bill to provide a free farm to farmers who did not own land. Johnson left Congress when he ran for and won the 1853 election for Governor of Tennessee.

Serving one term as Governor, Johnson won election to the U.S. Senate in 1857as a Democrat, serving until 1862. It was during his Senate term that the conflicts between the northern and southern states came to a breaking point. When Tennessee seceded from the Union on June 8, 1861, to join the Confederacy, Johnson, who was a strong Union supporter, was the only southern senator to remain in the Senate. His decision made him very popular with northern residents while many Southerners considered him to be a traitor.

Andrew Johnson Becomes President After Lincoln Assassination

President Abraham Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson as the Military Governor of Tennessee in 1862. He kept that position until 1864 when he was nominated to run as a vice-presidential candidate on the National Union Party ticket with Abraham Lincoln who was seeking his second term as President. They won the election and Johnson was sworn into office as Vice President on March 4, 1865.

Five weeks later, on April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was attending a play at the Ford Theater when John Wilkes Booth shot him in the back of the head. The President was carried across the street and clung to life until the following morning when he died. Later that day, on April 15th, Andrew Johnson took the oath of office and became the 17th President of the United States.

President Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction

While Congress was out of session, Johnson began the reconstruction of southern states. He favored leniency toward the former Confederate States with the goal of bringing them back into the Union. He accepted Southerners who took the oath of allegiance although wealthy individuals and former leaders required a special presidential pardon. While slavery was abolished some southern laws were beginning to appear that imposed restrictions on the freed slaves.

Johnson’s leniency did not sit well with Radical Republicans when Congress returned to session and they were concerned with prewar leaders being voted back into office and the new restrictions being imposed on blacks. Congress passed a series of civil rights bills, which Johnson vetoed, but most of the vetoes were over overturned. Republicans pushed through passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments which abolished slavery, guaranteed equal protection under the law and the right to vote for all men.

President Andrew Johnson Impeachment

The Radical Republicans also passed laws designed to restrict Johnson’s powers as President. One of the laws was the Tenure of Office Act which prevented a United States President from removing a government official who had been appointed by a previous President without congressional approval. Andrew Johnson dismissed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who had been appointed by Lincoln but, when Congress rejected his removal, Johnson ignored them and proceeded to appoint a new Secretary of War

As a result, the House of Representatives adopted eleven articles of impeachment which were sent to the Senate for trial. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presided over the impeachment trial in 1868 which ran for nearly a month, from March 30 to May 26. Seven Republican senators broke with their party and voted not guilty on three ballots. Johnson was acquitted when the ballots fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority required for his removal from office.

After the trial, Secretary of War Stanton stepped down from office and President Andrew Johnson finished the remainder of his term.

Final Years of U.S. President Andrew Johnson

Johnson’s impeachment trial damaged him politically. He ran for another term in the U.S. Senate in 1868 but lost and was defeated in his 1872 campaign for a return to the U.S. House of Representatives. The Tennessee legislature elected him to the Senate in 1874.

Johnson only served for four months in the Senate before he died at the age of 76 in Carter’s Station, Tennessee on July 31, 1875. Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States was buried in his hometown of Greeneville, Tennessee.

Sources:

  1. Tennessee Presidents. Tennessee Trivia.
  2. The Presidents – Andrew Johnson. White House.gov