Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson

17th President, 1865-1869

Early Life and Pre-presidency

Andrew Johnson Official Presidential portrait by Eliphalet Andrews, 1880

Andrew Johnson Official Presidential portrait
by Eliphalet Andrews, 1880

  • Born on December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • Parents: Jacob Johnson and Mary McDonough. Siblings: William and Elizabeth.
  • Was apprenticed to a tailor at age 10, where he learned to read, write, and about public speaking.
  • Ran away at age 15 to Carthage, North Carolina then Laurens, South Carolina where he found work as a tailor. He returned to Raliegh to buy out his apprenticeship to which he was still legally bound. Unable to do so, he journeyed to Tennessee.
  • Worked as a tailor in Columbia, Tennessee then returned to his family in Raleigh. The family then moved to Greeneville, Tennessee where Johnson was able to set up a successful tailoring business.
  • Married Eliza McCardle (1810–1876) on May 17, 1827. Children: Martha (1828–1901), Charles (1830–1863), Mary (1832–1883), Robert (1834–1869), and Andrew (1852–1879).
  • His wife, Eliza, taught him grammar, writing, and mathematics.
  • Elected town alderman in 1829, then mayor in 1834.
  • Elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1835 but lost the re-election in 1837. He was re-elected in 1839. In 1841, he was elected to the Tennessee Senate.
  • Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1842 and served from 1843 to 1853.
  • Elected Governor of Tennessee and served from 1853 to 1857.
  • Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1856 and served until 1862. In the Senate, he supported President Lincoln and was against secession even when his own state, Tennessee, voted to secede.
  • He was the only senator from the South who did not resign his seat when other southern senators did as their respective states joined the Confederacy.
  • When the Union armies won in Tennessee and reclaimed the state, Johnson was appointed Military Governor of Tennessee by President Lincoln with the rank of brigadier general.
  • Chosen as President Lincoln’s running mate in the 1864 election because of his position as a “War Democrat,” a Southern Democrat who opposed the Confederacy and supported President Lincon’s policies.

Presidency

Andrew Johnson Image by Matthew Brady, ca. 1870-1880

Andrew Johnson Image by Matthew Brady, ca. 1870-1880

  • Took his oath of office on April 15, 1865 at Kirkwood Hotel, Wahington, D.C. just three hours after the death of President Lincoln.
  • The most challenging task he faced soon after taking office was the question of what to do with the former Confederacy states.
  • Issued two proclamations to reconstruct the Confederate states and restore them to the Union. One granted amnesty to all white southerners if they took an oath of loyalty. He appointed a temporary governor for North Carolina and provisional governors in other southern states who would oversee new constitutions that abolished slavery and renounced secession.
  • Because Congress was not in session during Johnson’s first eight months as president, he was left to plan the reconstruction himself with the help of his Cabinet using the plan outlined by Lincoln.
  • Former Confederacy states replaced their provisional governors with former Confederacy leaders who opposed reconstruction.
  • Mississippi enacted a Black Code on December 2, 1865 that limited the rights of free African–Americans and bound them to servitude, only slightly above slavery. Other former Confederate states followed suit with their own Black Codes.
  • Congress reconvened in December 1865. Led by a majority of Radical Republicans opposed to Johnson’s leniency when dealing with the southern states. They would clash with the president throughout the remainder of his term.
  • In February 1866, Johnson vetoed a law extending the Freedman’s Bureau, a government agency created by Lincoln to assist freed slaves. The bill was set to end in 1867. Congress would overturn the veto five months later.
  • Johnson also vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which, among other rights, granted citizenship to all people born in the United States including the freed slaves. Congress voted to pass the act despite the veto in April 1866.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment was passed by Congress on June 16, 1866. This Amendment was passed to ensure that the Civil Rights Act would not be found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The Amendment gave the government the duty to protect the rights of U.S. citizens. When southern states rejected the Amendment, Congress made its passage a requirement for southern states’ readmission to the Union. Johnson’s home state of Tennessee approved the Amendment and is readmitted to the Union.
  • Congress passed the First Reconstruction Act in March 1867, overriding the President’s veto. The Act divided eleven former Confederate states into five military districts controlled by a military governor and subjected to martial law.
  • Congress ordered states under martial law to hold new constitutional conventions to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. When whites declared a boycott, Congress passed legislation to declare that a convention would be valid if approved by a majority of the votes cast. Pro-amendment voters ensured the passing of the Amendment, and, through this, seven states were readmitted to the Union.
  • The U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. Congress approved the purchase on April 1, 1867.
  • Congress moved to limit President Johnson’s powers by passing the Tenure of Office Act of 1867, which prevented the President from removing federal officers without Senate approval.
  • Congress attempted to impeach Johnson for violating the Tenure of Office Act when he tried to remove the Secretary of War from his post. The Senate failed to impeach him by one vote. He sought the Democratic Party nomination for re-election in 1868 but lost.

Post-presidency

Andrew Johnson at age 66

Andrew Johnson at age 66

  • Returned to his home in Greeneville, Tennessee.
  • Ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1870 but lost.
  • In 1872, he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as an independent candidate but lost.
  • Contracted cholera in 1873 but recovered.
  • Ran again for the U.S. Senate in 1875 and won, becoming the first and only former President to be elected to the U.S. Senate. He was sworn in on March 5, 1875 but only served for four months.
  • Died on July 31, 1875 at Carter’s Station, Tennessee of a stroke.
  • He is interred in Greeneville, Tennessee. The place of his burial was renamed Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in 1906.
  • The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, designated as such in 1963, includes the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, his tailor shop, and two of his homes.