Biography of Andrew Johnson


Johnson, Andrew (1808-1875), the seventeenth president of the United States. He was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, December 29, 1808. He died at Elizabethton, Tennessee, July 31, 1875, and was buried at Greeneville. Johnson's youth was passed in poverty. During his apprenticeship to a tailor he learned to read. While making a living by trade his wife taught him to write and do arithmetic. He settled at Greeneville, Tennessee, and while managing his shop became interested in local politics. At that time state affairs were managed almost exclusively by certain aristocratic families. Johnson espoused the popular side and assisted in organizing a workingman's party. He possessed no little ability as a platform orator. He was elected to several local offices, served in the state legislature, was sent twice to Congress, and was elected governor of Tennessee. In 1857 he took his seat in the United States Senate. Although elected as a Democrat he was from the first independent. He supported the Homestead Bill, which was opposed by the rank and file of slaveholders. In 1860 he supported Breckenridge for the presidency, yet opposed secession when the issue rose. In 1862 Lincoln appointed him military governor of Tennessee, a position in which he displayed tact and ability.

Being a Southern man with Northern views the Republican convention of 1864 nominated Johnson to run with Lincoln for the vice-presidency. Lincoln served but a few weeks of his second term when he fell before the bullet of an assassin. Johnson took the oath of office as president April 15, 1865. The Civil War was over. The great problem before the country was the reconstruction of the Union. Contrary to expectation, Johnson showed a lenient spirit toward the seceding states. A controversy arose at once between him and Congress, which grew more and more bitter as time went by. Johnson favored restoring the states to their former rights with slight formality. Congress desired to impose humiliating conditions, and to render a Republican control of Congress certain for some time to come. One disagreement led to another. February 24, 1868, the House of Representatives passed resolutions of impeachment, the first count being that he bad removed Secretary of War Startton from office and appointed General Thomas in his stead. Party feeling ran high. Chief Justice Chase presided at the trial. On May 16 the first vote was taken. Thirty-five senators voted for conviction, nineteen against. The impeachment was notoriously a partisan affair. As it failed only because a few Republicans had the independence to vote for acquittal, the remark made by a historian of the period seems quite apt: "The single vote by which Andrew Johnson escaped conviction marks the narrow margin by which the presidential element in our system escaped destruction." Johnson served out his term of office. In 1875 he was sent by Tennessee to the Senate. He occupied his seat for a few weeks before his death. Johnson was a man of integrity and ability.