Andrew Johnson Biography
JOHNSON, Andrew (1808-75). The seventeenth President of the United States of America. He was born at Raleigh, N. C., Dec. 29, 1808. His father lived only four years after Andrew's birth and left no funds for the education of the boy, who at the age of 10 was bound out to a tailor. Lack of education was a great grievance to Andrew, and he resolved to learn to read by himself. For this purpose he passed much of the time between labor and sleep in study. Just before his term of service was out, he went to work on his own account as a journeyman tailor at Laurens Court House, S. C. In 1826 he removed to Greeneville in east Tennessee, where he worked at his trade for about a year and married Eliza McCardle, who taught him writing and arithmetic.
When only 20 years old, Johnson organized a party of workingmen in opposition to the planters. The workingmen chose him alderman that year and reŽlected him in the two succeeding years. In 1830 Johnson was elected mayor, serving for three years. To qualify himself for public undertakings, he joined a debating society, most of whose members were students of Greeneville College. In 1834 Johnson took an active part in advocating a new constitution for the State greatly limiting the power of the large landholders: in 1835 he nominated himself. for the Assembly, declaring himself a Democrat. He was successful in the ensuing election, but in 1837 failed of reŽlection because of his opposition to a financial measure which, as was later proved, he rightly judged to be bad. In 1839 he was again chosen a member of the Legislature. In 1840 he was on the Democratic electoral ticket and made many speeches for Van Buren. The next year he was elected to the State Senate, and in 1843 he was elected a member of Congress, to which he secured four consecutive reŽlections. While in the House he supported the annexation of Texas, the Mexican War, the Tariff of 1846, and the Compromise of 1850. He favored the acceptance of the forty-ninth degree of latitude to settle the Oregon boundary dispute and was one of the foremost of the advocates of a homestead law. He was also a firm supporter of the President's veto power and on all occasions was in favor of the greatest economy in public expenditure. Having been gerrymandered out of a seat, he left Congress in March, 1853; but the same year he was chosen Governor of his State, and two years afterward was reŽlected after a very turbulent canvass.
In 1857 he was elected to the United States Senate, where he opposed the increase of the army and the legislation for the Pacific Railroad. He spoke little on slavery except to discourage all agitation of the question, his main interest being centred on the preservation of the Union. In the campaign of 1860, after being himself mentioned for the nomination, he supported Breckenridge until he found that secession was contemplated, when he repudiated him. When he went home in 1861, after opposing secession in the Senate, be was in great danger of his life. He worked hard for the Union cause, and at one time the secessionists turned his family out of their home. Early in March, 1862, Johnson was made military Governor of Tennessee. For a long time he labored earnestly to bring his State back into the Union. Near the beginning of March, 1864, under Johnson's special orders, Tennessee elected officers, both State and local. Three months afterward he was nominated for Vice President on the ticket with Lincoln. Six weeks after the inauguration Lincoln was shot, and Johnson became President. On taking the executive chair he made a brief speech, which was understood to mean that he would deal with the utmost severity with the leading secessionists. Instead of following this policy, his course, after he came under the influence of Secretary Seward, was the very opposite. He hastened to bring Virginia back to the Union; and near the close of June he brushed aside all regulations with regard to trade with the seceding States. He proclaimed general amnesty to all (except a few special classes) who would swear to be loyal to the Union. Under his proclamation provincial governments were set up in a number of the States but a few weeks before in rebellion, and he prepared the way for them to send members to Congress. These acts put him in opposition to the majority of the Republicans in Congress. Congress appointed a committee on reconstruction and on the admission of Southern members to the House, and adopted the Civil Rights Act, adding an act to increase the power and efficiency of the Freedmen's Bureau. These last two bills were vetoed by President Johnson, but they were readopted and passed. This action was severely denounced by the President, who characterized the course of Congress as another rebellion. Disaffection began to work in the cabinet, and three members resigned in consequence of differences with the President.
When Congress declared that the Fourteenth Amendment, giving the negroes citizenship, should be ratified by every seceding State as a preliminary to readmission to the Union, the President vetoed the resolution. During the next session acts were passed requiring the right of voting to be granted without regard to color in Territories applying for admission as States. These, too, were vetoed; but in all cases the bills were repassed and became laws. In March, 1867, in spite of the veto, an Act was passed dividing the Southern States, save Tennessee, into military districts, and trouble immediately arose over the appointments of the generals to command and their functions, Johnson's cabinet, with the exception of Secretary Stanton, supporting him in his obstruction of the legislation of the radicals in Congress. In August Stanton was displaced as Secretary of War, and General Grant was given the position. Stanton protested that his removal was in violation of the Tenure of Office Law which Congress had passed over Johnson's veto in March, 1867; and at the meeting of Congress in September the Senate refused to ratify the suspension, whereupon Grant resigned, and Stanton resumed his post. Five months afterward Johnson again removed Stanton, and put Gen. Lorenzo Thomas in his place. But Congress had taken from the President practically all power, and the Senate now resolved that "the President has no power to remove the Secretary of War and designate any other person to perform the duties of that office." The day after the adoption of the resolutions of the Senate, the House of Representatives determined upon the President's impeachment. The articles of impeachment recited many offenses, the principal of which were the removal of the Secretary of War; the public expression of disregard of and contempt for the legislative branch of the government; the declaration that the one in session was not a constitutional Congress; and particularly his obstruction to the execution of congressional acts. The main point of the defense was that Johnson's course in the work of reconstruction was merely the continuation of a plan resolved upon by President Lincoln and the members of his cabinet. In the Senate, sitting as the court of impeachment, the test vote was: guilty, 35; not guilty, 19. The requisite two-thirds vote not having been obtained, Johnson was acquitted-a result which is now considered just and fortunate by temperate historians. As soon as the trial was over Stanton voluntarily gave up his office and was succeeded by General Schofield.
At the Democratic National Convention in New York, July 4, 1868, Mr. Johnson's name was among the list of candidates for President. On the first ballot he had 65 votes, standing second on the list, George H. Pendleton having 105; but Johnson's vote diminished rapidly until on the nineteenth ballot his name did not appear. On Christmas Day, 1868, he proclaimed complete pardon to all who had been directly or indirectly concerned in secession. This was his last important official act. He was succeeded, March 4, 1869, by General Grant and at once repaired to his home in Greeneville. He was not satisfied with retirement and sought unsuccessfully to be sent to the Senate and also failed as an independent candidate for Congress. At last, in January, 1875, he was chosen United States Senator and leas in his seat during the short extra session in March. But his triumph was short, for he died on July 31, 1875. Johnson showed great ability, courage, and political acumen. His messages, which represent his views, whether or not he was their author in the fullest sense, are powerful documents. His bust is in the Senate gallery in the Capitol at Washington.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XII (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 736-737.