Andrew Johnson - Seventeenth President of the United States

Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States
Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States. PhotoQuest / Getty Images

Andrew Johnson's Childhood and Education:

Born on December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina. His father died when Johnson was three years old and was raised in poverty. He was and his brother William were bound out as an indentured servant to a tailor. As such, they both worked for their food and lodging. In 1824, they both ran away, breaking their contract. He worked in the tailor's trade to make money. Johnson never attended school. Instead, he taught himself to read.

Family Ties:

Johnson was the son of Jacob, a porter janitor, and sexton in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Mary "Polly" McDonough. His father died when Andrew was three. After his death, Mary married Turner Dougherty. Johnson had one brother named William. 

On May 17, 1827, Johnson married Eliza McCardle when he was 18 and she was 16. She tutored him to help him improve his reading and writing skills. Together they had three sons and two daughters. 

Andrew Johnson's Career Before the Presidency:

At seventeen, Johnson opened his own tailor shop in Greenville, Tennessee. By 22, Johnson was elected the Mayor of Greenville (1830-33). He served in the Tennessee House of Representatives (1835-37, 1839-41). In 1841 he was elected as a Tennessee State Senator. From 1843-53 he was a U.S. Representative. From 1853-57 he served as Governor of Tennessee. Johnson was elected in 1857 to be a U.S. Senator representing Tennessee. In 1862, Abraham Lincoln made Johnson the Military Governor of Tennessee.

Becoming the President:

When President Lincoln ran for reelection in 1864, he chose Johnson as his Vice President. This was done to help balance the ticket with a southerner who also happened to be pro-Union. Johnson became president upon Abraham Lincoln's death on April 15, 1865.

Events and Accomplishments of Andrew Johnson’s Presidency:

Upon succeeding to the presidency, President Johnson attempted to continue with Lincoln's vision of reconstruction. Lincoln and Johnson both felt it important to be lenient and forgiving to those who seceded from the Union. Johnson's reconstruction plan would have allowed southerners who swore an oath of allegiance to the federal government to regain citizenship. This along with a relatively quick return of power to the states themselves was never really given a chance since the South did not want to extend the right to vote to blacks and Radical Republicans wanted to punish the South.

When the Radical Republicans passed the Civil Rights Act in 1866, Johnson tried to veto the bill. He did not believe that the north should force its views on the south but instead allow the south determine its own course. His veto on this and 15 other bills was overridden. Most white southerners opposed reconstruction.

In 1867, Alaska was purchased in what was called "Seward's Folly." The United States purchased the land from Russia for $7.2 million upon Secretary of State William Seward's advice. Even though many saw it as folly at the time, it was truly an amazing investment in that it provided America with gold and oil while increasing the size of the United States drastically and removing Russian influence from the North American continent.

In 1868, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson for dismissing his Secretary of War Stanton against the order of the Tenure of Office Act which had passed in 1867. He became the first president to be impeached while in office. The second president would be Bill Clinton. Upon impeachment, the Senate is required to vote to decide if a president should be removed from office. The Senate voted against removing Johnson by only one vote.

Post-Presidential Period:

In 1868, Johnson was not nominated to run for presidency. He retired to Greeneville, Tennessee. He attempted to reenter the U.S. House and Senate but lost on both accounts until 1875 when he was elected to the Senate. He died soon after taking office on July 31, 1875 of cholera.

Historical Significance:

Johnson's presidency was full of strife and dissension. He disagreed with many on Reconstruction. As can be seen from his impeachment and the close vote which almost removed him from office, he was not respected and his vision of reconstruction was ignored. During his time in office, the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments were passed freeing the slaves and extending rights to slaves.