December 29, 1808 – July 31, 1875
Let peace and prosperity be restored to the land. May God bless this people: may God save the Constitution.
- Andrew Johnson in the U.S. Senate
March 22, 1875
Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1808, and like the previous North Carolina-born presidents, Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk, he was elected to office from Tennessee. Although a native of the South, Johnson was a firm supporter of the Union. During the desperate days of the Civil War, he served as the military governor of Tennessee and finally as vice-president under the second term of Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln's assassination, the heavy task of restoring a nation after the ravages of a civil war fell to the tailor from North Carolina.
Andrew Johnson began his life in a small wooden house, which is still preserved in Raleigh at the Mordecai Historic ParkAndrew Johnson's birthplace, Raleigh, NC. His parents, Jacob and Mary Johnson, maintained the home by working for Casso's Inn, a popular inn and stable. The Johnson home stood on the property of the inn. Both of Andrew's parents worked there--Mary as a weaver, Jacob as the hostler, while Jacob also acted as janitor for the State Capitol. Andrew was the younger of two sons born into the Johnson family. Jacob Johnson rescued two or three friends (recollections were unclear) from drowning in 1812, but the effort cost him his health, and he died within a year, leaving Mary to raise Andrew and his brother William. In an effort to provide a trade for her sons, Mary Johnson apprenticed her sons to a tailor in Raleigh when Andrew was fourteen.
Andrew Johnson never attended school. He began his informal education while serving as an apprentice. Frequent customers would read to Johnson from books of oratory while he worked, and occasionally gave him books. Johnson taught himself to read. Two years after beginning his apprenticeship, Johnson and his friends threw rocks at a tradesman's house out of mischief. When the occupant of the house threatened to call the police, Johnson left town and abandoned his apprentice work at the tailor shop of John J. Selby. Johnson fled to Carthage, North Carolina sixty miles from Raleigh. He found a market for his tailoring skills in Carthage but moved to Laurens, South Carolina to distance himself further from the trouble in Raleigh. After a year in Laurens, Johnson returned to Raleigh and sought to complete his apprenticeship under John Selby. Selby, however, no longer owned the tailor shop and had no need of an apprentice. With no available employment in Raleigh, Johnson led his mother, brother, and stepfather to Tennessee in 1826.
Andrew settled the family in Greeneville, Tennessee, and established a tailor's shop by nailing a sign over the door stating simply, "A. Johnson, Tailor." Soon Johnson met Eliza McCardle, and the two were eventually wed on May 17, 1827. Mrs. Johnson was better educated than her husband and used her education to improve his reading and writing skills. She also taught the future president arithmetic. She continued the established practice of reading to Johnson while he worked. Eliza (McCardle) JohnsonBusiness improved for Johnson, and his shop soon became a gathering place for political discussion. Johnson honed his debating skills further by joining a debate club at a small college four miles from his home, walking to the debates once a week. With encouragement from his wife and speaking experience gathered both in his shop and at his debate club, Johnson entered politics.
Andrew Johnson's political career advanced rapidly. He was elected as an alderman of Greeneville, Tennessee, in 1828, and two years later he became mayor of the town. In 1835 Johnson won election to the Tennessee House of Representatives. He was defeated for re-election in 1837 but won a subsequent campaign in 1839. After completing this second term, Johnson ran for a seat in the Tennessee Senate and won. Johnson continually supported the rights of free laborers. While in the state senate he sought to repeal a law providing greater representation to slaveholders, but his motion was defeated. Johnson was also unsuccessful in his effort to create a new state from the Appalachian regions of North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Tennessee to be named Frankland.
At the conclusion of his senatorial term in 1843, Johnson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and won four following elections to retain his seat until 1853. While in the U.S. House, Johnson supported President Polk and his handling of the Texas and Oregon settlements and the Mexican War. Although hailing from a Southern state, Johnson was often a staunch supporter of the Constitution over State's Rights, a position which conflicted with many Southern legislators. Turning his sights back to state politics, Johnson won the 1853 Tennessee gubernatorial election and re-election in 1855. Johnson's star continued to rise, and his term as governor of Tennessee provided such benefits to the state as a public school system and a state library. On the eve of the Civil War in 1857, Johnson was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Thought by many to be our worst president ever.