Johnson, Andrew (President)

Born: 1808-12-29 Raleigh, North Carolina

Died: 1875-07-31 Carter County, Tennessee

Flourished: Tennessee

Andrew Johnson was a city government official, state legislator, U.S. representative, U.S. senator, vice-president, and seventeenth president of the United States. The son of bank porter Jacob Johnson and seamstress Mary McDonough, Johnson lost his father at an early age and never attended school. After apprenticing with tailor James J. Selby in North Carolina, Johnson made his way to Greeneville, Tennessee. There he met Eliza McCardle and in 1827 they married, eventually having five children.

Johnson’s political career began in local government when he was elected alderman on a mechanics’ ticket in 1829. He then served as mayor of Greeneville in 1834, and again in 1837, before his election to the Tennessee General Assembly in 1835. He failed to win reelection to the legislature in 1837 but returned to his seat in 1839. It was at this point that Johnson firmly settled into the Democratic Party, espousing Andrew Jackson’s rule of the common man along with Thomas Jefferson’s concepts of agrarianism. He won election to the Tennessee Senate in 1841 before moving to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843. It was there that he remained for ten years.

As Johnson advanced in political offices, he began collecting enemies. In the House, he alienated himself from conservative members of the Democratic party as well as southern leaders, despite his insistence on the superiority of the white race. Others saw him as unreliable and extreme in his economic views. When he could no longer win reelection to the House, he served as governor of Tennessee in 1854 and 1855, even after opposition within his own party and a bitter campaign. Nevertheless, in 1857, Johnson became a U.S. Senator and continued to vote against internal improvement projects and federal expenditures. His hopes for a presidential nomination in 1860 were unfulfilled.

Andrew Johnson stepped out as a solid Unionist as the secessionist crisis broke out with the election of Abraham Lincoln. On December 18 and December 19, 1860, Johnson delivered a powerful speech to the Senate declaring that no state had the constitutional right to secede from the United States without the consent of the other states. He became a traitor to the South and a hero to the North. On March 3, 1862, Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of Tennessee. With the need to attract votes of “War Democrats,” the Lincoln ticket added Johnson as vice presidential candidate at the 1864 Baltimore National Union Party Convention. Upon the assassination of President Lincoln, Andrew Johnson was sworn in as the seventeenth president of the United States on April 15, 1865.

Johnson’s presidency meant failed promises of rights to freed persons and a permanent rift between him and the Republican-held Congress. The contentious administration culminated in the House of Representatives voting to impeach Johnson on February 24, 1868. The Senate, however, acquitted Johnson in May 1868. Johnson finished his term and returned to Greeneville, but he did not retire. In 1875, he returned to the Senate, dying a few months later at age sixty-six.

Hans L. Trefousse, "Johnson, Andrew," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 12:39-43; Gravestone, Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, Greeneville, TN.