Presidents of the United States

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Andrew Johnson

From: Portrait and Biographical record of Rockland and Orange Counties, New York
By: Chapman Publishing Company
Published: 1895


ANDREW JOHNSON, seventeenth President of the United States. The early life of Andrew Johnson contains but the record of poverty, destitution and friendlessness. He was born December 29, 1808, in Raleigh, N. C. His parents, belonging to the class of "poor whites" of the South, were in such circumstances that they could not confer even the slightest advantages of education upon their child. When Andrew was five years of age, his father accidentally lost his life, while heroically endeavoring to save a friend from drowning. Until ten years of age, Andrew was a ragged boy about the streets, supported by the labor of his mother, who obtained her living with her own hands.

He then, having never attended a school one day, and being unable either to read or write, was apprenticed to a tailor in his native town. A gentleman was in the habit of going to the tailor's shop occasionally, and reading to the boys at work there. He often read from the speeches of distinguished British statesmen. Andrew, who was endowed with a mind of more than ordinary ability, became much interested in these speeches; his ambition was roused, and he was inspired with a strong desire to learn to read.

He accordingly applied himself to the alphabet, and with the assistance of some of his fellowworkmen learned his letters. He then called upon the gentleman to borrow the book of speeches. The owner, pleased with his zeal, not only gave him the book, but assisted him in learning to combine the letters into words. Under such difficulties he pressed onward laboriously, spending usually ten or twelve hours at work in the shop, and then robbing himself of rest and recreation to devote such time as he could to reading.

He went to Tennessee in 1826, and located at Greenville, where he married a young lady who possessed some education. Under her instructions he learned to write and cipher. He became prominent in the village debating society, and a favorite with the students of Greenville College. In 1828, he organized a working man's party, which elected him Alderman, and in 1830 elected him Mayor, which position he held three years.

He now began to take a lively interest in political affairs, identifying himself with the working-class, to which he belDnged. In 1835, he was elected a member of the House of Representatives of Tennessee. He was then just twentyseven years of age. He became a very active member of the Legislature, gave his support to the Democratic party, and in 1840 "stumped the State," advocating Martin Van Buren' s claims to the Presidency, in opposition to those of Gen. Harrison. In this campaign he acquired much readiness as a speaker, and extended and increased his reputation.

In 1841, be was elected State Senator; in 1843, he was elected a Member of Congress, and by successive elections held that important post for ten years. In 1853, he was elected Governor of Tennessee, and was re-elected in 1855. In all these responsible positions, he discharged his duties with distinguished ability, and proved himself the warm friend of the working classes. In 1857, Mr. Johnson was elected United States Senator.

Years before, in 1845, he had warmly advocated the annexation of Texas, stating, however, as his reason, that he thought this annexation would probably prove "to be the gateway out of which the sable sons of Africa are to pass from bondage to freedom, and become merged in a population congenial to themselves.'' In 1850, he also supported the compromise measures, the two essential features of which were, that the white people of the Territories should be permitted to decide for themselves whether they would enslave the colored people or not, and that the free States of the North should return to the South persons who attempted to escape from slavery.

Mr. Johnson was never ashamed of his lowly origin: oti the contrary, he often took pride in avowing that he owed his distinction to his own exertions. "Sir," said he on the floor of the Senate, "I do not forget that I am a mechanic; neither do I forget that Adam was a tailor and sewed fig-leaves, and that our Savior was the son of a carpenter."

In the Charleston-Baltimore convention of 1860, he was the choice of the Tennessee Democrats for the Presidency. In 1861, when the purpose of the Southern Democracy became apparent, he took a decided stand in favor of the Union, and held that "slavery must be held subordinate to the Union at whatever cost." He returned to Tennessee, and repeatedly imperiled his own life to protect the Unionists of that State. Tennessee having seceded from the Union, President Lincoln, on March 4, 1862, appointed him Military Governor of the State, and he established the most Btringent military rule. His numerous proclamations attracted wide attention. In 1864, he was elected Vice-President of the United States, and upon the death of Mr. Lincoln, April 15, 1865, became President. In a speech two days later he said, "The American people must be taught, if they do not already feel, that treason is a crime and must be punished; that the Government will not always bear with its enemies; that it is strong not only to protect, but to punish. * * The people must understand that it (treason) is the blackest of crimes, and will surely he punished." Yet his whole administration, the history of which is so well known, was in utter inconsistency with, and in the most violent opposition to, the principies laid down in that speech.

In his loose policy of reconstruction and general amnesty, he was opposed by Congress, and he characterized Congress as a new rebellion, and lawlessly defied it in everything possible to the Utmost. In the beginning of 1868, on account of 'High crimes and misdemeanors," the principal of which was the removal of Secretary Stanton in violation of the Tenure of Office Act, articles of impeachment were preferred against him, and the trial began March 23.

It was very tedious, continuing for nearly three months. A test article of the impeachment was at length submitted to the court for its action. It was certain that as the court voted upon that article so would it vote upon all. Thirty-four voices pronounced the President guilty. As a two-thirds vote was necessary to his condemnation, he was pronounced acquitted, notwithstanding the great majority against him. The change of one vote from the not guilty side would have sustained the impeachment.

The President, for the remainder of his term, was but little regarded. He continued, though impotently, his conflict with Congress. His own party did not think it expedient to renominate him for the Presidency. The Nation rallied with enthusiasm, unparalleled since the days of Washington, around the name of Gen. Grant. Andrew Johnson was forgotten. The bullet of the assassin introduced him to the President's chair. Notwithstanding this, never was there presented to a man a better opportunity to immortalize his name, and to win the gratitude of a nation. He failed utterly. He retired to his home in Greenville, Tenn., taking no very active part in politics until 1875. On January 26, after an exciting struggle, he was chosen by the Legislature of Tennessee United States Senator in the Forty-fourth Congess, and took his seat in that body, at the special session convened by President Grant, on the 5th of March. On the 27th of July, 1875, the ex-President made a visit to his daughter's home, near Carter Station, Tenn. When he started on his journey, he was apparently in his usual vigorous health, but on reaching theresidence of his child the following day, he was stricken with paralysis. which rendered him unconscious. He rallied occasionally, hut finally passed away at 2 A. M., July 31, aged sixty-seven years. His funeral was held at Greenville, on the 3d of August, with every demonstration of respect.

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