Monday, June 14, 2010
Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) became President when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at the end of the Civil War. Johnson was a Democrat from Tennessee who fought much with Congress. The division between them about how to treat the South became so wide that the House of Representatives voted to impeach Johnson. The Senate failed to remove him from office by one vote. Johnson was a typical stocky man of the frontier. He was a tailor by profession. He lacked formal education and became a self-taught man with help from his wife who taught him to write and to do arithmetic. Johnson was a serious man with limited tact and patience who used humor with his family and friends only. He was honest, brave and intelligent but lacked Lincoln's ability in convincing people to work together. He had an unshakable faith in the Constitution, which guided him for twenty years as he served as a United States Representative, a governor, and a United States Senator. At his impeachment trial, one of his attorneys wrote: "He is a man of few ideas, but they are right and true, and he could suffer death sooner than yield up or violate one of them." During the Johnson presidency, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia and made Nebraska a state. The South worked at repairing all their ruined towns and farms and learning to live without slavery. The first oil pipeline, the first practical typewriter, and the first refrigerated railroad car were part of his time period. Andrew Johnson was born December 29, 1808, in Raleigh, North Carolina, the younger of two sons. His father worked as a handyman at a tavern, and his mother worked as a maid at the tavern. After the death of his father, his mother sewed and took in washing to provide for her family. When Johnson was thirteen, he became an apprentice to a tailor. He was probably taught to read by the foreman of the shop as tailors usually hired someone to read to workers who were stitching clothes at tables. Because Johnson read newspapers and a few books, he became well acquainted with the Constitution, American history, and politics. Johnson ran away from his apprentice job after serving two of the required six years. He was a tailor in Carthage, North Carolina, and then at Laurens, South Carolina, before moving west to Tennessee. He took his mother and step-father with him to settle in Greeneville. Johnson married Eliza McCardle, the daughter of a Scottish shoemaker, on May 17, 1827. She taught him to write and to do simple arithmetic as well as encouraged him to read and study. They had five children. Johnson worked hard and was thrifty and built a profitable tailoring business. He bought property in town and was a devoted father. Johnson admired Andrew Jackson, a fellow Tennessean and Democrat, and used him as a political role model. Both men had firm faith in the common people. Johnson was proud of his humble beginning and saw himself as the champion of small white farmers and craft workers opposed to the great landowners who controlled Tennessee. John had a powerful voice and a quick mind, which helped him to sway large crowds and soon attracted a following. Johnson's first political position was a Greeneville alderman (1829). He also served as mayor (1834), Tennessee House of Representatives (1835), United States Representative (1843), Governor (1853), United States Senator (1857), and United States Vice President (March 4, 1865). He was sworn in as President of the United States on April 14, 1865. Because the gloomy war years were over, life in the Johnson White House was livelier. Living with the President and Mrs. Johnson were their two surviving sons, two daughters, one son-in-law, and five grandchildren. Mrs. Johnson was an invalid of about twenty years, and her daughter served as White House hostess. The grandchildren played and held parties in the White House. Johnson was both pro-slavery and pro-Union and believed until the last minute that the South would not secede. He said about Abraham Lincoln, "I voted against him; I spoke against him; I spent my money to defeat him; but still I love my country; I love the Constitution; I intend to insist upon its guarantees." Johnson stood by his principles when the Southern States began leaving the Union. He called the secessionists traitors in March 1861. He was the only Southern senator who refused to secede with his state. When Lincoln was killed, Johnson became President. He had the responsibility to unify and rebuild the nation. Congress and the President argued over bills. Radical members of the House of Representatives voted to impeach Johnson 126 to 47 on February 24, 1868. A trial began in the Senate on March 13, 1868. The Senate acquitted Johnson by one vote. His acquittal demonstrated that more than political opposition to Congress was necessary to remove a President from office. Johnson remained in office until the end of his term and was not nominated for a second term. He remained interested in politics after he left the White House in 1869. He ran unsuccessfully for several offices before being elected to the United States Senate in 1875. He was the only former President to serve as a Senator. He attended a short session in March 1875, and many Senators greeted him with applause and covered his desk with bouquets of flowers. He suffered a paralytic stroke while on a visit to Tennessee and died a few days later on July 31, 1875. He was buried in Greeneville with his body wrapped in a United States flag and his well-worn copy of the Constitution under his head. Events in the presidency of Andrew Johnson included: 1) Two Amendments to the Constitution were ratified. The Thirteen Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to all former slaves. It also forbade all states to deny equal rights to any person. 2) Antiseptic surgical methods were developed by Joseph Lister, an English physician (1865). 3) Literature published included Alice in Wonderland b Lewis Carroll of England (1865) and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott of the United States (1868). 4) The first successful transatlantic telegraph cable was laid in 1866 between New Foundland and Ireland. 5) The United States purchased Alaska from Russia for $7,200,000 in 1867. 6) Dynamite was invented in 1867 by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist. Facts for this post came from an article by James E. Sefton in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 17, pp 136-142.
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