Johnson, Andrew

Johnson, Andrew

biographical name


Andrew Johnson.—Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

(born Dec. 29, 1808, Raleigh, N.C., U.S.—died July 31, 1875, near Carter Station, Tenn.) 17th president of the U.S. (1865–69). Born in poverty, he never attended school, and he taught himself to read and write. After a short apprenticeship as a tailor, he moved with his family to Greeneville, Tenn., where he opened his own tailor shop. Before he was 21 he organized a workingman's party. Elected to the state legislature (1835–43), he became a spokesman for small farmers. He then served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1843–53) and as governor of Tennessee (1853–57). Elected to the U.S. Senate (1857–62), he opposed antislavery agitation, but, in 1860, after the election of Pres. Abraham Lincoln, he vehemently rejected Southern secession, a position he maintained even after Tennessee seceded in 1861. During the American Civil War he was the only Southern senator who refused to join the Confederacy. In 1862 he was appointed military governor of Tennessee, then under Union control. In 1864 he was selected to run for vice president with President Lincoln; he assumed the presidency after Lincoln's assassination. During Reconstruction he favoured a moderate policy of readmitting former Confederate states to the Union with few provisions for reform or civil rights for freedmen. In 1867, Johnson's vetoes of legislation to establish a Freedmen's Bureau and other civil rights measures angered moderate as well as Radical Republicans; in response, they united to pass the Tenure of Office Act (1867), which forbade the president from removing civil officers without senatorial consent. In 1868, in defiance of the act, Johnson dismissed secretary of war Edwin M. Stanton, an ally of the Radicals. The House then voted to impeach the president—the first such occurrence in U.S. history. In the subsequent Senate trial, the charges proved weak, and the necessary two-thirds vote needed for conviction failed by one vote. Johnson remained in office until 1869, but he had lost the ability to lead. He returned to Tennessee, where he won reelection to the Senate shortly before he died.

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