I’m writing this post in the hopes that in the next 24 hours I can finish this biography on Andrew Johnson.  We’re moving tomorrow and I’ll have to return this library book tomorrow morning and then I’m unsure as to when I’ll be able to get my hands on another Presidential biography.  Hopefully President Grant isn’t lost to the chaos of our moving across the state.  But for now:

Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States of America.  He became President in 1865 after the assassination of President Lincoln and barely eked out of impeachment to finish his term in 1869.

The book I read was Andrew Johnson: A Biography by Hans L. Trefousse, said to be the uncontested biography on Johnson and boy is it thorough.

Nicknames: The Tennessee Tailor, Sir Veto, The Grim Presence, Father of the Homestead Act

Quotes: “Legislation can neither be wise nor just which seeks the welfare of a single interest at the expense and to the injury of many and varied interests.”

“I am for my Government with or without slavery, but if either the Government or slavery must perish, I say give me the Government and let the negroes go.”

Here are some facts about our 17th President:

  • he was born on December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina as the third child of Jacob and Mary Johnson
  • his father drowned when he was three, presumably from dry drowning, after saving three people from drowning in Hunter’s Mill Pond
  • his father was the city constable
  • he was apprenticed to a tailor in 1818
  • never went to school of any sort
  • was often called poor white trash by Raleigh’s elite and often harassed and beaten by them
  • loved learning and taught himself to read
  • formed his own street gang
  • ran away from his apprenticeship in 1824
  • got a job in a tailor shop in Laurens, South Carolina
  • courted a woman named Mary Wood, but her family rejected him because he was poor
  • tried to return to Raleigh and settle up on his apprenticeship but his master refused.  So Johnson went to Tennessee, then Mooresville, Alabama – then returned to Columbia Tennessee
  • moved his entire family to Greenville, Tennessee in 1826
  • met, fell in love with, and married Eliza McCardle
  • Andrew and Eliza married on May 17, 1827 and were married for almost 50 years despite being separated much of the time.  They had five children: Martha (1828), Charles (1830), Mary (1832), Robert (1834), and Andrew Jr or Frank (1852).
  • was a talented tailor, businessman, real estate mogul, and public speaker
  • elected as an alderman of Greenville, Tennessee in 1829 and 1830, then elected mayor in 1834
  • joined the Tennessee militia but was court martialed out in 1831
  • was elected to the TN state legislature in 1835
  • declared himself to the Democratic party in 1837
  • was strongly anti-railroad for the first half of his political career
  • infamous for making strong personal verbal attacks on his political opponents, to the point where he was once challenged to a duel
  • served in the TN House of Representatives in 1843
  • was a staunch defender of the poor
  • hated government spending and constantly fought against it
  • established a newspaper called the “Greenville Spy”
  • was a devoted member of the Masons
  • fought for 3 terms to get the Homestead Bill passed
  • elected governor of TN in 1853
  • had strong Jeffersonian politics his entire life (pro-farmer/agrarian economy, opposition to aristocracy)
  • missed his daughter, Martha’s wedding in 1855 because of his gubernatorial duties
  • arranged for several liberated slave families to be returned to Africa
  • nearly died in a fire at the Nashville Inn in 1856 while helping a woman escape
  • was instrumental in destroying the Know-Nothing/American party
  • in 1857, was in a train crash on his way to Atlanta that crushed part of his right arm, it bothered him the remainder of his life
  • was elected to the Senate in 1857
  • visited his wife only once while he was a Senator
  • during his Senate term, the Senate moved to their new chambers
  • fought to get his son, Robert, elected to the TN state legislature
  • worked to be a Presidential candidate in 1860, but his party (The Democrats) chose Stephen Douglass instead
  • his son Charles was a serious alcoholic, his son Robert also struggled with it
  • took a moderate position against secession in 1860
  • after secession began in the southern states, he was attacked and nearly lynched by two separate mobs on his way home to TN
  • campaigned tirelessly against a secession from TN, and was successful in his home half of the state
  • had to flee the state because of his Unionist views and leave his family behind, where they were persecuted and ridiculed – some even killed for his anti secession beliefs
  • was the only Senator from a seceding state to remain loyal to the Union, which helped get him on the Presidential ticket as Lincoln’s Vice President in 1864
  • pleaded with President Lincoln to send troops to “save” East TN, where his followers were being harassed
  • joined the Joint Committee on the Conduct of War to try and get support for military involvement from the Union in TN – it actually became a radical propaganda agency
  • his family barely managed to escape through Confederate Army lines to be reunited with him – though his daughters and their families stayed behind
  • his house was taken over for a Confederate military hospital and all his property was seized
  • argued to give the President extra wartime powers because of the uniqueness of the situation of the Civil War
  • was appointed military governor of TN by President Lincoln in 1862 after its recapture, and given rank of brigadier general
  • had no mercy for traitors and urged Lincoln to take the same stance
  • took a hardline stance against those who had retained power in confederate TN, including arresting the mayor of Nashville and several ministers, taxing wealthy secessionists, and forced many people to swear an oath to the Union/United States
  • held secessionists hostage and threatened to destroy all secessionist property if the Confederate army so much as fired on Nashville, it was harsh but it worked
  • his wife was expelled from her home in 1862 by Confederates and shuttled around by opposing forces until a proclamation from Governor Harris allowed her to cross front lines safely in TN to be reunited with Johnson
  • raised several regiments for the liberation of East TN by himself
  • despite his anti-traitor stance, he tended to respond favorably to requests from condemned soldiers when they asked for a death sentence commutation
  • supported slavery and was only a Union supporter b/c he hated the thought of Southern aristocracy and the dissolution of the Union
  • signed  petition asking Lincoln to exempt TN from the list of “rebellious states” which Lincoln actually granted, this also protected TN from the Emancipation Proclamation.  Johnson changed his stance on the Proclamation in 1863.
  • favorite foods were hoppingjohn, red rice, wild turkey, pine bark stew, popcorn, and sweet potato pie
  • his son Charles had entered the army as a surgeon and died after falling from his horse in 1863
  • helped raise some of the first black Union regiments
  • after the first elections under his military governorship, he gave the winners their commissions then arrested them for disloyalty and replaced them
  • refused to hold legitimate elections until all of TN was freed, even after President Lincoln ordered him to
  • was selected by President Lincoln as his running mate in 1864 because of 1. his position as a “War Democrat” to represent both sides, 2. his position in TN to affirm its re-entry to the Union, and 3. his overwhelming popularity in the Northern States
  • required anyone voting in TN to take an oath supporting the Union, the Union army, and against any peace with rebels
  • so few TN voters turned out for the 1864 election that Congress refused to count their result
  • attended his own inauguration sick and drunk, after trying to cure his hangover with straight whiskey, where he gave a drunken speech haranguing all the President’s cabinet as aristocrats until he was physically removed by Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s previous VP.  He then proceeded to physically and theatrically kiss the Bible as he took his oath of office
  • he was so humiliated by his performance and following evisceration by the press that he went into seclusion for several days.  It was the only time in his life he was publicly inebriated and after that he was constantly accused of being an alcoholic
  • despite fears that he was a target for assassination after both President Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward were shot, he went alone and unprotected to Lincoln’s side where he was overwhelmed by the intensity of emotion and soon left so people wouldn’t get the impression he was eager for Lincoln to succumb to his wounds
  • was inaugurated as President on April 15, four hours after Lincoln died and publicly stated he felt overwhelmed and not prepared for the office that he had just taken
  • he waited several weeks to move into the White House in order to give Mrs Lincoln ample time to move out without pressure in her time of grief
  • decided to keep Lincoln’s cabinet on, despite being much more radical than they were when it came to Reconstruction
  • was initially friends with Secretary of War Edwin M Stanton, who would eventually betray him and bring about his impeachment
  • immediately called for his family to join him in Washington for appearance’s sake, but they did not reach the White House until June
  • offered a (successful) $100,000 bounty for the apprehension of Jefferson Davis after the Civil War was ended
  • refused to pardon any of the eight conspirators in the assassination of Lincoln, allowing the death sentence to be carried out for four: David Herold, George Atzerodt, Lewis Paine, and Mrs Mary Surratt
  • worked to readmit all the secessionist states without even addressing suffrage for the now freed black men
  • suffered from a lingering illness his first year in office
  • was apt to grant pardons for any Confederate who was willing to swallow his pride and come ask for one, which angered and disgusted many Northerners after his many speeches against leniency for traitors
  • he refused to interfere in states rights to the point that slavery was basically re-instated under different terminology in several states
  • would pardon known secessionists just so they could take offices they were voted in to, and he could claim Reconstruction was coming along
  • effectively presented a weak Northern government, allowing Southern states that had seceded to believe they could get away with the same structure of white power and ignore the necessity for black suffrage, setting up over 100 years of prejudice and racial violence against black freemen as well as a simmering hostility toward the North
  • broke with the Senate in 1866
  • refused to grant black suffrage in the District of Columbia in 1866, and also rebuffed a delegation of free black men, including Frederick Douglass, when they asked for impartial suffrage and told them to go talk to the states
  • gave a speech on Washington’s birthday at the White House, despite being asked not to by his cabinet, that called out people he considered traitors and talking about his own sufferings during the war and his great part in ending it (a blatant over-exaggeration)
  • vetoed the Civil Rights Bill (making everyone born in the US a citizen) because he felt it would adversely affect whites in Southern States, his veto was overridden by the Senate which was turning against him and the Bill was passed in 1866.  He refused to recognize it and publicly stated he wanted to raise funds personally to have it overturned.
  • vetoed a bill in 1866 to make Colorado a state because he believed the Southern states still weren’t adequately represented (Several still hadn’t ratified the 14th Amendment and therefore weren’t fully re-integrated into the Union)
  • vetoed the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill and had his veto overridden that same day
  • most of his cabinet resigned in June 1866, though his biggest enemy, Secretary of War Stanton stayed
  • when he sensed he was losing popularity with the country, he went on an ill-fated speaking tour where he responded harshly and in a humiliating manner to hecklers with personal attacks and non-sensical statements about his popularity
  • after a deadly riot in New Orleans where militiamen and police officers killed nearly 40 men, women, and children indiscriminately, he failed to recognize it and blamed it on a radicalized Congress
  • was so hesitant in addressing the Maximilian Affair (the French tried to invade Mexico) that he was accused of failing to defend the Monroe Doctrine (the US wouldn’t tolerate any European country invading any North or Central American country and would consider it a hostile act towards the US) – the final nail in his coffin with the public
  • because of his inability to alter his views and methodology, the Republicans (the party opposing him) swept most state elections and took most of the seats of Congress in 1866
  • vetoed a bill granting black suffrage in District of Columbia in 1867, stating 1. it would set to strong a precedence for other states and 2. he feared it would make a black majority and threaten white politicians.  His veto was struck down.
  • once again vetoed a bill to admit Colorado into the union in 1867, as well as a bill to admit Nebraska because both territories had populations too small to allow for an elected representative.  Colorado had to wait to become a state, but his veto for Nebraska was overturned.
  • had his power to pardon revoked by Congress because of his liberal policy on pardoning
  • removed 1,655 post masters from their positions in less than six months, most of them for opposing political views.  Congress responded by passing the 1867 Tenure of Office Act (no political officers can be removed from their position unless the Senate consents – this was repealed in 1887).
  • unsuccessfully but vehemently fought the Reconstruction Acts, which placed the Southern states under military control and deployed 20,000 troops to enforce their acceptance of the Bills through martial law
  • movement towards impeachment began in 1866, when Congress began to fear Johnson would again tear the Union apart in trying to protect Southern states rights
  • the first caucus on impeachment met January 5, 1867
  • all inquiries by the Judiciary Committee for impeachment were monitored by Allan Pinkerton, the founder of the detective company
  • when Johnson found out about the committee, he was livid, his health declined (possibly from typhoid) and people feared for his life
  • despite all their disagreements, Johnson and his Senate managed to both approve the purchase of Russian America  (Alaska) in March of 1867 for 7.2 million dollars
  • when his Secretary of War refused to oppose the Reconstruction Acts he finally decided to oust Stanton
  • to circumvent the Tenure of Office Act, Johnson acted while Congress was not in session and suspended Sec. of War Stanton, as well as attempting to remove one of the military commanders he had placed in the South – Philip Sheridan who presided over Louisiana and Texas and was a Union army hero – and thus leaving both states without a head of government at the state level
  • Had a Colonel write a letter to Stanton accepting his resignation, even though Stanton had not offered it.  Stanton obviously rejected the letter.
  • lied about signing the death warrant for Mrs Surratt in the Lincoln assassination case, saying he’d never seen them before, in order to cast suspicion on Stanton and his friends
  • offered Stanton’s job to General U.S. Grant and suspended Stanton on August 12
  • forced through the replacement of both Philip Sheridan and another military general in charge of southern states, Daniel Sickles (North and South Carolina)
  • when Secretary Grant refused to support him in everything, Johnson tried unsuccessfully to replace him with General Sherman
  • the impeachment committee reconvened in November 1867 and voted by a majority of 5-4 that Johnson be impeached on grounds of: pardoning notorious Confederate traitors, profiting from illegal disposal of railroads in Tennessee, defying Congress, and responsibility for the 1866 New Orleans riot, denying Congress’ right to reconstruct the South, and actively working to prevent the ratification of the 14th Amendment.  None of these were indictable crimes and for fear it would cripple the US economy, the resolution fizzled.  They also feared who would take office if Johnson was removed -a radical Republican
  • Congress voted not to concur with Johnson’s removal of Stanton on January 13, 1868 and Stanton resumed his duties as Secretary of War
  • Johnson offered U.S. Grant $10,000 to pay the fine for him illegally continuing to serve as Secretary of War but Grant wisely refused
  • Johnson retaliated at Stanton by instructing everyone to ignore any orders from the War Department
  • constantly fought with Grant trying to get him to return to the office, the letters between them were used in his impeachment process
  • on February 21, 1868, he reached his breaking point and wrote a letter appointing Lorenzo Thomas to the position of Secretary of War, and removing Edwin Stanton, citing that he was acting under the Constitution instead of Congress.  Stanton had Thomas arrested the next day and refused to physically leave his office.  Support from across the country poured in for him.
  • on Sunday, February 23, 1868 the House passed a resolution of impeaching the President on high crimes and misdemeanors by a party vote of 128-47.  Impeachment proceedings began March 30.  Johnson refused to attend his own trial.
  • tried to sway Senators votes in the trial by giving assurances of favors in the future
  • the vote failed to reach a two-thirds majority and Johnson was acquitted
  • despite nearly being impeached, Johnson still hoped and worked toward re-election, with strong support from Southern states
  • after leaving office, he went on a speaking tour promoting his political beliefs and disparaging President Grant.  It was ended by the suicide of his son Robert.
  • tried unsuccessfully to run for a Senate seat
  • was mortified when his daughter Mary mentioned divorcing her second husband, William Brown, so they waited until Johnson died to file for divorce
  • fought rumors of infidelity his entire life
  • contracted cholera during an epidemic that raged through Tennessee in 1873 and nearly died
  • lost $73,000 by investing it in the First National Bank of Washington which went under in 1873 during the first depression
  • ran again for Senate in 1875 and was elected by a single ballot
  • suffered a stroke on July 28, 1875 and refused treatment.  suffered a second stroke on July 30 and passed away at 2:30 in the morning on July 31.

 

 

*title taken from Jonathan Coulton’s song “The Presidents”

<—Abraham Lincoln                Ulysses S Grant –>

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