Born: December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina
Died: July 31, 1875 in
Carter's Station, Tennessee
Married to Eliza McCardle Johnson
With the Assassination of Lincoln, the Presidency fell
upon an old-fashioned southern Jacksonian Democrat of pronounced states'
rights views. Although an honest and honorable man, Andrew Johnson was
one of the most unfortunate of Presidents. Arrayed against him were the
Radical Republicans in Congress, brilliantly led and ruthless in their
tactics. Johnson was no match for them.
Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1808, Johnson grew up in poverty.
He was apprenticed to a tailor as a boy, but ran away. He opened a tailor
shop in Greeneville, Tennessee, married Eliza McCardle, and participated
in debates at the local academy.
Entering politics, he became an adept stump speaker, championing the
common man and vilifying the plantation aristocracy. As a Member of the
House of Representatives and the Senate in the 1840's and '50's, he advocated
a homestead bill to provide a free farm for the poor man.
During the secession crisis, Johnson remained in the
Senate even when Tennessee seceded, which made him a hero in the North
and a traitor in
the eyes of most Southerners. In 1862 President Lincoln appointed him
Military Governor of Tennessee, and Johnson used the state as a laboratory
for reconstruction. In 1864 the Republicans, contending that their National
Union Party was for all loyal men, nominated Johnson, a Southerner and
a Democrat, for Vice President.
After Lincoln's death, President Johnson proceeded to reconstruct the
former Confederate States while Congress was not in session in 1865.
He pardoned all who would take an oath of allegiance, but required leaders
and men of wealth to obtain special Presidential pardons.
By the time Congress met in December 1865, most southern states were
reconstructed, slavery was being abolished, but "black codes" to
regulate the freedmen were beginning to appear.
Radical Republicans in Congress moved vigorously to change Johnson's
program. They gained the support of northerners who were dismayed to
see Southerners keeping many prewar leaders and imposing many prewar
restrictions upon Negroes.
The Radicals' first step was to refuse to seat any Senator or Representative
from the old Confederacy. Next they passed measures dealing with the
former slaves. Johnson vetoed the legislation. The Radicals mustered
enough votes in Congress to pass legislation over his veto--the first
time that Congress had overridden a President on an important bill. They
passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which established Negroes as American
citizens and forbade discrimination against them.
A few months later Congress submitted to the states the Fourteenth Amendment,
which specified that no state should "deprive any person of life,
liberty, or property, without due process of law."
All the former Confederate States except Tennessee refused to ratify
the amendment; further, there were two bloody race riots in the South.
Speaking in the Middle West, Johnson faced hostile audiences. The Radical
Republicans won an overwhelming victory in Congressional elections that
In March 1867, the Radicals effected their own plan of Reconstruction,
again placing southern states under military rule. They passed laws placing
restrictions upon the President. When Johnson allegedly violated one
of these, the Tenure of Office Act, by dismissing Secretary of War Edwin
M. Stanton, the House voted eleven articles of impeachment against him.
He was tried by the Senate in the spring of 1868 and acquitted by one
In 1875, Tennessee returned Johnson to the Senate. He died a few months