Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States. He served from 1865 to 1869. Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1808. He came from an impoverished family. His father, Jacob, was a porter at an inn. He died when Andrew was 3. His mother Mary was a laundress and a seamstress. As a boy Andrew was apprenticed to be a tailor. In 1826, he ran away to Greenville, Tennessee. There he opened a tailor shop and the following year on 17 May, he married Eliza MacCardle. He was 17 and she was 16!
Eliza was the daughter of a shoemaker. Unlike Andrew, Eliza was well educated and taught her husband writing and arithmetic. He was an eager pupil and was soon participating in debates at the local academy. They had five children, three boys and two girls.
Andrew Johnson entered politics and in 1829 at about the same time that Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States assumed office. Both the Andrews, the 7th and the 17th were elected from Tennessee to the House of Representatives and both served in the Senate. Both championed the cause of the common man.
He excelled at stump speaking. Stump speakers advocate a cause. Johnson was against the plantation aristocracy. The Homestead Act that he actively supported became a law in May 1862. Under this law, any American, including a freed slave, could claim 162 acres of Federal Land. This law was in force for more than 100 years, with the final claim for 80 acres in Alaska, being settled in 1988!
In the election of 1860, the Republican Party won the majority of electoral votes and their candidate Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican President, without the support of a single Southern State. As a result many Southern States including Tennessee seceded from the Union. Johnson however remained in the Senate. This made him a hero in the North and a traitor in the South.
In 1862, President Lincoln appointed Johnson the Military Governor of Tennessee. He was rewarded for his loyalty and in 1864 the Republicans nominated him Vice President of the Union, despite the fact that he was a Southerner and a Democrat!
On April 9, 1865, General Lee of the Confederacy surrendered and a few days later on April 14, Lincoln was shot at. He died the next day and Johnson became the 17th President of the United States. Almost 100 years later, in 1963 the 35th President John Kennedy was assassinated, and his Vice President Lyndon B Johnson, became President. Andrew Johnson faced a nation recovering from the Civil War, Lyndon Johnson faced a nation on the brink of the Vietnam War. During Andrew Johnson’s term there were bloody race riots as former slave owners refused to accept the rights of freed slaves. During Lyndon Johnsons term there was unrest and rioting in black ghettos, against segregation
During his Presidency his Secretary of State William Steward negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia, for $7.2 million. In 1867, this was considered a folly, but is now recognized as one of the most judicious real estate deals ever!
Johnson’s policy of reconstruction was based on pardon. Any Confederate who took the oath of allegiance was automatically pardoned. Leaders and wealthy people however were required to get a special Presidential Pardon. However Radical Republicians did not agree with this, and passed legislation against this. Johnson vetoed this legislation but the Congress got enough votes to pass legislation over his veto. This was the first time that the Congress had overridden the President on an important bill.
The Radicals then passed laws placing restrictions the President. When Johnson violated one of these by dismissing the Secretary of War, the House voted to impeach him. He was tried by the Senate, but was acquitted by one vote in the spring of 1868.
He did not run for a second term and died in 1875 after Tennessee returned him to the Senate.