Andrew Johnson Biography
Seventeenth (17th) President of the United States
Years Served as President: 1865-1869
Vice President: None
Age at Inauguration: 56
Home State: North Carolina
Date of Birth: December 29, 1808
Died: July 31, 1875
Married: Eliza McCardle
Children: Martha, Charles, Mary, Robert, Andrew Jr.
Nickname: The Veto President
What is Andrew Johnson known for?
Andrew Johnson is one of only two presidents to be impeached (removed from office) in the history of the United States.
He is also known for taking office after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
Andrew Johnson was born in a log cabin in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1808. His father, Jacob, was a porter who died when Andrew was three.
Andrew’s mother, Mary, was a seamstress and laundress. He grew up poor and never attended school. In 1826, Johnson moved to Greenville and became a tailor.
A year after moving to Greenville, Johnson married Eliza McCardle. She helped her husband improve his basic reading and writing skills and tutored him in math.
Johnson eventually earned enough money to buy property and build a home for the couple, who went on to have five children.
In 1829, Johnson was elected alderman in Greenville. It was the same year that Andrew Jackson, who considered himself a champion of the common man, became the seventh president of the U.S.
Johnson became the mayor of Greenville in 1834. In 1835, he was elected to the Tennessee state legislature, where he served for almost a decade.
In 1843, Johnson was voted into the U.S. House of Representatives. He left in 1853 to become the governor of Tennessee, then took a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1857.
Throughout the slavery debate, Johnson supported the right to slave ownership. However, when some Southern leaders advocated for secession, he advocated for preserving the Union.
He traveled across the state of Tennessee speaking against secession. When Tennessee eventually did secede, Johnson was the only senator from the South to continue working for the U.S. government.
As a result, Lincoln appointed Johnson the military governor of Tennessee. He tried to re-establish federal authority in the state, with mixed results.
When Lincoln ran for re-election in 1864, he chose Johnson as his running mate. Lincoln became president for a second term, and Johnson became his vice president.
Five days after the Civil War ended and just a month after the inauguration, Lincoln was shot and killed by John Wilkes Booth while attending a play.
Johnson was sworn in as president at his Washington hotel by Salmon Chase, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Civil War was now over, but the country still needed to heal. Homes, businesses, and farms were destroyed, lives had been lost, and tension and resentment remained between the states.
As president, Johnson focused on bringing the Southern states back into the Union. He pardoned most of the Confederates and allowed the rebel states to elect new governments.
Johnson was trying to restore peace, but many felt that he was being too easy on the Confederates. The fact that Johnson was himself a Southerner didn’t help.
When the U.S. Congress convened in 1865, it refused to seat the newly elected Southern members. Johnson quickly found himself at odds with Congress.
In 1866, Johnson vetoed the Freedmen’s Bureau bill and the Civil Rights bill. Both bills were intended to protect the rights of African Americans. When Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment granting citizenship to former slaves, he urged Southern states not to ratify it.
Johnson vetoed so many bills that he became known as “The Veto President.” Congress felt that he was abusing his power.
The House of Representatives voted to impeach Johnson. Impeaching a president is like firing the president. Johnson was the first U.S. president to be impeached.
However, the Senate decided in a trial that Johnson could continue his presidency.
In 1868, Johnson didn’t run for re-election. He hoped that the Democrats would choose him as their nominee, but they chose Horatio Seymour, a former New York governor, instead.
After the Presidency
Johnson hoped to stay involved with politics after his presidency. He returned home to Tennessee and ran unsuccessfully for Senate.
In 1872, he also ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives. He kept trying and won election to the Senate in 1875. He is the only ex-president to be elected to the Senate.
However, Johnson’s time in the Senate was brief. While visiting family in Carter County, Tennessee, he suffered a stroke and died in 1875 at the age of 66.
Johnson was buried in Greenville, South Carolina with a copy of the U.S. Constitution and an American flag.
Fun Facts About Andrew Johnson
It turned out that Andrew Johnson had nearly met the same fate as Lincoln. The assassin Booth’s original plan had included the death of the vice president and secretary of state too. Johnson’s assigned assassin, George Azterodt, lost his nerve at the last minute.
It’s rumored that Johnson once said that God had Lincoln assassinated so that he could become president.
Because of his background as a tailor, Johnson made his own clothes for most of his life. He even sewed some of his own clothes while he was president.
When he was a tailor, Johnson would pay someone to read to him while he sewed. After he met his wife Eliza, she would read to him.
Johnson had most of the U.S. Constitution memorized.
During Johnson’s presidency, the Secretary of State William Seward arranged for the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. At the time, people thought the purchase was foolish and called it “Seward’s Folly,” but history has shown that the purchase was a good one.
In total, Johnson vetoed sixteen Reconstruction bills during his presidency. All sixteen of his vetoes were overridden.