10 Facts to Know About Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on December 29, 1808. He became president upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln but only served out the term. He was the first individual to be impeached as president.

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Escaped From Indentured Servitude

Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States
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When Andrew Johnson was only three, his father Jacob died. His mother, Mary McDonough Johnson, remarried and later sent him and his brother out as indentured servants to a tailor named James Selby. The brothers ran away from their bond after two years. On June 24, 1824, Selby advertised in a newspaper a reward of $10 for anyone who would return the brothers to him. However, they were never captured.

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Never Attended School

Andrew Johnson's Tailor Shop

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Johnson never attended school at all. In fact, he taught himself to read. Once he and his brother escaped from their "master," he opened up his own tailoring shop in order to make money. You can see his tailor shop at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, Tennessee.

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Married Eliza McCardle

Eliza McCardle, Wife of Andrew Johnson
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On May 17, 1827, Johnson married Eliza McCardle, the daughter of a shoemaker. The pair lived in Greeneville, Tennessee. Despite having lost her father as a young girl, Eliza was quite well educated and spent some time helping Johnson increase his reading and writing skills. Together, the two of them had three sons and two daughters.

By the time that Johnson became president, his wife was an invalid, confined to her room all the time. Their daughter Martha served as hostess during formal functions.

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Became a Mayor at the Age of Twenty-Two

Statue of Andrew Johnson in Greeneville, Tennessee

 Wikimedia Commons

Johnson opened his tailor shop when he was just 19, and by the age of 22, he was elected the mayor of Greeneville, Tennessee. He served as mayor for four years. He was then elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1835. He later became a Tennessee State Senator before being elected to the Congress in 1843.

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Only Southerner to Retain His Seat Upon Secession

Engraved portrait of President Andrew Johnson
Library of Congress

Johnson was the US Representative from Tennessee from 1843 until he was elected as governor of Tennessee in 1853. He then became a US Senator in 1857. While in Congress, he supported the Fugitive Slave Act and the right to own enslaved people. However, when states started to secede from the Union in 1861, Johnson was the only southern senator who did not agree. Because of this, he retained his seat. Southerners viewed him as a traitor. Ironically, Johnson saw both secessionists and abolitionists as enemies to the union.

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Military Governor of Tennessee

Abraham Lincoln

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In 1862, Abraham Lincoln appointed Johnson to be the military governor of Tennessee. Then in 1864, Lincoln chose him to join the ticket as his vice president. Together they handily beat the Democrats.

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Became President Upon Lincoln's Assassination

George Atzerodt, Hanged for Conspiracy in the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
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Initially, the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln also planned on killing Andrew Johnson. However, George Atzerodt, his supposed assassin, backed out. Johnson was sworn in as president on April 15, 1865.

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Fought Against the Radical Republicans During Reconstruction

Andrew Johnson - Seventeenth President of the United States
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Johnson's plan was to continue with President Lincoln's vision for reconstruction. They both thought it important to show leniency to the south in order to heal the union. However, before Johnson was able to put his plan in motion, the Radical Republicans in Congress prevailed. They put into place acts that were meant to force the South to change its ways and accept its loss such as the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Johnson vetoed this and fifteen other reconstruction bills, all of which were overridden. The thirteenth and fourteenth amendments​ were also passed during this time, freeing enslaved people and protecting their civil rights and liberties.

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Seward's Folly Happened While He Was President

William Seward, American Statesman
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Secretary of State William Seward arranged in 1867 for the United States to purchase Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. This was called "Seward's Folly" by the press and others who felt it was just foolish. However, it did pass and would eventually be recognized as anything but foolish for US economic and foreign policy interests.

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First President to Be Impeached

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85) US general and 18th President
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In 1867, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act. This denied the president the right to remove his own appointed officials from office. Despite the Act, Johnson removed Edwin Stanton, his Secretary of War, from office in 1868. He put war hero Ulysses S. Grant in his place. Because of this, the House of Representatives voted to impeach him, making him the first president to be impeached. However, because of the vote of Edmund G. Ross kept the Senate from removing him from office.

After his term in office ended, Johnson was not nominated to run again and instead retired to Greeneville, Tennessee.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Castel, Albert E. "The Presidency of Andrew Johnson." Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1979.
  • Gordon-Reed, Annette. "Andrew Johnson. The American Presidents Series." New York: Henry Holt, 2011.
  • Trefousse, Hans L. "Andrew Johnson: A Biography." New York: Norton, 1989.
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Kelly, Martin. "10 Facts to Know About Andrew Johnson." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-andrew-johnson-104322. Kelly, Martin. (2023, April 5). 10 Facts to Know About Andrew Johnson. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-andrew-johnson-104322 Kelly, Martin. "10 Facts to Know About Andrew Johnson." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-andrew-johnson-104322 (accessed June 8, 2023).