Who was Andrew Johnson?


Lieutenant General
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Managing Member & Webmaster
Apr 1, 1999
Martinsburg, WV
Andrew Johnson was a Jacksonian Democrat thrust into the Presidency after the assignation of Abraham Lincoln. What should have been a proud moment of achievement turned into a personal and political disaster.

Johnson was born on December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina. His father died when Johnson was three years old, leaving the family in poverty. Johnson’s mother made ends meet as a seamstress until she remarried.

Afterward, she and her new husband arranged for 14 year-old Andrew to work as a tailor’s apprentice. When Johnson was seventeen, he ran away with his brother for several years. He eventually reunited with his mother and the family all moved to Greeneville, Tennessee where Johnson opened his own tailor shop.


It was only after he married Eliza McCardle a year later that Johnson learned how to fully read and write. Eliza also suggested investments that helped Johnson become financially secure.

Johnson discovered an interest in politics and served as Greeneville’s mayor while still in his 20s. A self-described Jacksonian Democrat, Johnson was popular with blue-collar workers who appreciated his straight forward style. He rose through the political ranks of Tennessee quickly, serving in the Tennessee state legislature, , the U.S House of Representatives, and as the governor of Tennessee. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1857 as a pro-states’ rights, pro-slavery senator.

However, after Tennessee seceded, Johnson remained in the Senate – the only Southern Senator to do so – which was considered the ultimate act of betrayal by most Tennesseans. But even though he was pro-slavery, Johnson believed even more strongly that the Union should be kept intact. He supported the Emancipation Proclamation primary as a strategy to end the war.

Johnson’s unique political standing resulted in his selection as Lincoln’s running mate in the 1864 election, a move by the Republican party intended to show that “loyal” Southerners were still welcome to be part of American government.

After Lincoln’s assassination on April 15, 1865, Johnson became the 17th President of the United States and his troubles began almost immediately. The Civil War had been over less than a week and there was already heated debate in Congress about what procedures Southern states should have to go through to be readmitted into the Union and whether each state had the right to establish their own policies regarding former slaves.

In April, 1866, Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Act which would have guaranteed all blacks in all American states the rights of citizenship, such as voting and being allowed to own property. This infuriated supporters of Lincoln in the Congress.

Johnson’s veto was overturned—the first time in U.S. history a Presidential veto of a major piece of legislation was overridden. Things quickly went downhill for Johnson from there, with his fiercest opponents—known as the Radical Republicans—calling him an outlaw. His outspoken opposition to the proposed 14th Amendment, which would guarantee equal protection and due process for all citizens, didn’t help.

In January 1868 Johnson dismissed Edwin Stanton—who had served under Lincoln and was sympathetic to the black cause—as his Secretary of War and replaced him with Lorenzo Thomas. The problem was, a law in effect at the time called the Tenure of Office Act, forbid the President to replace any Cabinet member without the approval of Congress. Johnson broke the law hoping to force the Supreme Court to rule whether the Act was constitutional or not. Instead, three days later the House of Representatives agreed to impeach him for high crimes and misdemeanors.

The trial began in late March, 1868 and lasted almost two months. On May 16, 1868,the Senate voted. A two-thirds majority was needed to impeach Johnson but the final tally was only 35-19 against Johnson. The President had been acquitted by one vote.

Johnson’s last notable act as President was to grant unconditional amnesty to all Confederates on Christmas Day 1868. In 1874, the Tennessee legislator elected Johnson to the U.S. Senate once again. But he only served four months, dying of a stroke on July 31, 1874.

Historians are still divided on Johnson, frequently ranked as one of the worst U.S. presidents. Some feel Johnson abused the power of his office to further a fundamentally racist agenda; others view him as the victim of post-war partisan politics.


Mar 2, 2012
The south would have definitely been better off with Lincoln than Johnson. Booth did not do them any favors.