Andrew Johnson (1808 -1875) was born in North Carolina to a family of modest means and lived in a tiny house in Raleigh. His father was the local constable who heroically rescued three people from drowning , but then fell ill and died while Andrew was only three years old.As he grew up, his mother struggled to feed the family and young Andrew was apprenticed to a tailor where he learned the craft and got a rudimentary education.
By the time he was 18, his skills as a tailor had allowed him to get married and move with the family to Tennessee. His young bride, who was only 16, was supportive of continuing his education and career. They were married for 50 years and had 5 children. Although he lacked formal schooling , Johnson had a knack for public speaking and was formidable in debates.This talent helped his rise in local politics until he served in the Tennessee House of Representatives during the time that Andrew Jackson was the US president. He progressed to five consecutive terms in the US Congress and two terms as the governor of Tennessee. He was a US Senator in 1861 when Tennessee seceded from the Union .Although he was pro slavery, he was a dedicated Unionist and was the only Senator who retained his seat among the Confederate states.
Although Andrew Johnson was unrepentant in his views as a white supremacist, his pro slavery viewpoints did not prevent Lincoln from relying on his dedication to the Union. Lincoln appointed him as the military governor of Tennessee and chose him to run as Vice President in 1864. The pair won the election handily although the inaugural ceremony was somewhat marred when Johnson caused a minor scandal by making a rambling , drunken speech .
As Vice President, Johnson began to moderate his views on slavery, speaking for it’s abolishment and in favor of black suffrage based on a merit system. When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by a conspiracy,the plot also included Johnson and Secretary of State Seward who was wounded seriously. In his early efforts at assuming the office of the President, Johnson at first moved with confidence to reassure the country. Lincoln had initiated the Reconstruction of the country, but now the North was bent on revenge for the assassination . Johnson had a different approach that called for the states to reform their governments and for each of them to decide on the extension of rights to the Negro population.
The policies of Johnson seemed like leniency towards the rebel states. The relationship between the President and the Congress grew worse. When the Civil Rights Bill would have granted citizenship to the freedmen, Johnson vetoed it in 1866 although the Senate over rode his veto.
Johnson presidency and his personality went into a downward spiral as he became more disagreeable and uncompromising. He made speeches insulting to his political opponents and compared himself to Jesus. His uncivil antics led to his impeachment proceedings over political disagreements with his Secretary of War. Although he was acquitted by a single vote, the three months of the hearings unearthed a can of worms regarding political corruption, influence peddling and even lobbying by gambling interests. The term of Andrew Johnson finally ended to the relief of everyone and his name is often placed on the list of worst presidents.On the plus side, Johnson and his Secretary of State Seward did purchase Alaska from the Russian Empire. After his release from the burden of the Oval Office, Johnson seemed to recover some of his statesmanship and was elected as a Senator from Tennessee. He died of a stroke and was buried wrapped in the American flag and with a copy of the Constitution under his head.