ndrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. His father died when young
Johnson was only three years old, and he was raised by his mother who worked as a spinner
and weaver to support her sons. Johnson worked as a tailors apprentice from the age
of 14, then opened his own shop in 1827 after his family moved to Greeneville, Tennessee.
by the spirit of Jacksonian democracy, Johnson helped found the Democratic party in his
region and was elected to the town council in 1829, then as mayor in 1831. He was a strict
constructionist and an advocate of states rights who distrusted the power of
government at all levels. He won elections to the Tennessee state legislature in 1835,
1839, and 1841, before being elected to Congress in 1843. As a member of the U.S. House,
Johnson opposed government involvement in the economy through tariffs and internal
improvements. He lost his seat in 1852 because of gerrymandering by the Whig-dominated
state legislature. He won a narrow victory for governor in 1853 and served two terms. In
1857, he was elected to represent Tennessee in the U.S. Senate.
While in the Senate, Johnson became an advocate of the Homestead Bill, which was
opposed by most Southern Democrats and their slave-owning, plantation constituents. This
issue strained the already tense relations between Johnson and wealthy planters in western
Tennessee. He further alienated them when he initially endorsed Stephen Douglas for the
Democratic presidential nomination in 1860. After the party split into regional factions,
Johnson backed the Southern Democratic nominee, John Breckinridge, but by then the rupture
between Johnson and most Southern Democrats was too deep to heal. The break became final
when he allied himself with pro-Union Whigs to fight the secessionist Democrats in his
state for several months after Lincolns election.
When the Civil War began, Johnson was the only Senator from a Confederate state who did
not leave Congress to return to the South. During the war, he joined Republicans and
pro-war Democrats in the National Union party. In 1862, Union military forces captured
enough of Tennessee for Lincoln to name him as the remnant states military governor.
In 1864, Lincoln selected him as his Vice Presidential running-mate on the National Union
ticket. Johnson delivered his inaugural address while inebriated, lending credence to the
rumors that he was an alcoholic. Within six weeks of taking office as Vice President,
Johnson succeeded to the Presidency after Lincolns assassination. The new President
faced the difficult situation of developing a policy for the postwar reconstruction of the
Union. Committed to limited government and a strict constructionist interpretation of the
Constitution, Johnsons Reconstruction plan allowed the former Confederate states to
return quickly to the Union. This would have left the civil rights of the former slave
completely under the auspices of the former slave-owners.
Incensed at these policies, Radical Republicans in Congress wrestled control of
Reconstruction from the president and began passing their own program over Johnsons
vetoes. The implementation of military districts and supervision across the South in 1867
piqued the president to aid Southern resistance and to attempt to thwart the process by
firing Secretary of State Stanton, who was cooperating with Radical Republicans.
Stantons removal violated the recent Tenure of Office Act and prompted the
Republican-controlled House to impeach the president. The Senate trial resulted in his
acquittal by one vote.
Johnson remained in office as the lamest of lame-duck presidents, and unsuccessfully
sought the Democratic partys presidential nomination in 1868. At the end of his
term, he returned to Tennessee where he began rebuilding his political base of support and
unsuccessfully seeking the Democratic nomination for various offices. Finally in 1875, an
alliance of Republicans and a faction of the Democratic party in the Tennessee legislature
again elected him to the U.S. Senate. He served only five months before he died.