The Life of Andrew Johnson

The 17th President of the United States

Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1808 Andrew Johnson is regarded as one of the worst Presidents in American history.

As a child, Johnson was surrounded by poverty. He was apprenticed to a tailor by his father, but eventually ran away.

Andrew Johnson’s Early Career

When he was a little older, Johnson opened a tailor shop in Greenville, Tennessee. It was here where he met Eliza McCardle, who would eventually become his wife. Johnson also began to participate in local debates.

Upon entering politics, Johnson proved to be an excellent stump speaker and gained a reputation as a champion of the common man, while demonizing plantation owners. During the 1840s and 50s, Johnson was elected to both the House of Representatives and the Senate. He was also an advocate of a bill to provide poor families with free farms.

Andrew Johnson and the American Civil War

During the Secession Crisis, Andrew Johnson chose to remain in the Senate even though Tennessee had chosen to side with the Confederacy. To the north, this action made Johnson a hero, while in the South he was branded a traitor. In 1862, Johnson was appointed military governor of Tennessee, where he used the state as a laboratory for the reconstruction of the South following the end of the American Civil War. In 1864, the Republicans formed the National Union Party and nominated Johnson as Abraham Lincoln’s Vice President.

President Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson became the 17th President of the United States following the assassination of President Lincoln in April, 1865. After Lincoln’s death, Johnson proceeded to begin the reconstruction of the South while Congress was not in session in the summer of 1865. He was willing to pardon any man who had served in the Confederate Army, providing that they were willing to swear an oath of loyalty. For the senior Confederate leadership, such as General Robert E Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, special presidential pardons were required.

By the time Congress reconvened in December, 1865 most of the southern states had begun to recover from the war and slavery had been abolished. However, in many areas of the South, “black codes” began to appear, placing restrictions on newly-freed slaves.

Meanwhile, in Congress, the Radical Republicans moved quickly to change elements of Johnson’s program for Reconstruction. They were successful in gaining the support of Northern voters, who were dismayed by the many prewar leaders returning to power in the South, as well as the many prewar restrictions being placed on freed slaves.

Their first step was to refuse to seat any congressman or senator from the former Confederate states. They also passed legislation protecting the former slaves, overriding Johnson’s presidential veto. It was the first time in American history that a presidential veto had been voted down on an important bill. The result was the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The Civil Rights Act established the recently freed slaves as being American citizens and made it illegal to discriminate against them.

Congress also passed the Fourteenth Amendment, declaring that no state could “deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of the law.”

With the exception of Tennessee, all the former Confederate states refused to ratify the Amendment and there were bloody race riots in the South as a result. Johnson was also confronted with hostility in the Midwest. In the meantime, the Radical Republicans gained a majority in Congress.

Beginning in March, 1867, the Radical Republicans began to implement their own program for the reconstruction of the South. The Radical Republicans began by reinstituting military rule in the southern states. They also placed limits on the power of the President. When Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act by dismissing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, he was impeached by the House of Representatives. Johnson was put on trial in the Senate and acquitted by one vote.

In 1875, the state of Tennessee returned Johnson to the Senate. He died on July 31 following complications from a stroke.


Andrew Johnson. The White House. US Governmnet. May 31/ 09

President Andrew Johnson

President Andrew Johnson

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