Andrew Johnson: 17th President

Updated on February 24, 2017
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Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past or else be destined to repeat it.

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Andrew Johnson unexpectedly became the 17th President when Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed. He had served as Lincoln's Vice-President during his second term. After Abe's death, Johnson served the remainder of that term.

He was born of modest means on December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He had never attended a school because his parents were too poor to send him. Most of his education in reading and writing was acquired while he served as an apprentice to a tailor. Later, he worked as a tailor himself in Greeneville, Tennessee. He enjoyed debating and often participated in debates at the local school. His first political position was as the mayor of Greeneville. Later, he became a Congressman and was subsequently elected governor of Tennessee.

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Johnson's Political Career

At the age of 49, he became a United States Senator, where he advocated for the poor man. He pushed for a homestead bill that would provide a free farm for those living in poverty. He became known for his great ability at speaking and his willingness to speak against the plantation aristocracy. Despite being a Southern Democrat, he did not support the South's desire to secede from the Union. Many of his southern colleagues felt he was a traitor, while northerners commended him. When the Civil War broke out, every single Southern Senator quit, except Johnson. This meant that even when his home state of Tennessee seceded he remained in his seat.

In 1862, Lincoln took notice of this loyalty and appointed him as the Military Governor of Tennessee, where he continued to impress the President by beginning efforts of reconstruction.

When it was time for Lincoln to run for his second term, he decided to go against party lines. It was said that the National Union Party was for any man who was loyal to the union. Therefore, even though Lincoln was a Republican, he decided to take Andrew, a Southern Democrat, on as his Vice-President. Just a little over a year later, the Civil War ended, Lincoln was assassinated, and he became President.

As President, he began reconstructing the former Confederate States while Congress was not in session in 1865. Many Northerners felt that the ex-Confederates should be punished, but Johnson supported Lincoln's views that as a nation they needed to be pardoned as long as they were willing to take an oath of allegiance. Although he did give special Presidential pardons to all leaders and men of wealth.

Once Congress met again in December of 1865, most of the southern states were reconstructed. Slavery was officially abolished, although things did not become perfect. "Black codes" were created. These were codes that governed black Americans, such as separate drinking fountains, schools, bathrooms, etc. Although black men were free, they were kept separate from the white population.

This made Radical Republicans in Congress angry, and they tried to change Johnson's programs. They had the support of many of the Northerners, who were in disbelief that the Southern prewar leaders were still in power and that so many restrictions were still held upon black people.

Radicals refused to seat any Senator or Representative that came from the Confederacy. They attempted to pass protections for former slaves, but Johnson vetoed the legislation. They were able to get enough votes to override the veto, which was the first time Congress had ever overridden a President's veto on a major bill. They were able to successfully pass the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which stated that a black person was a United States citizen. This also forbid discrimination against them.

Soon after, Congress submitted the Fourteenth Amendment, which stated that no state should "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Unfortunately, all of the former Confederate States, with the exception of Tennessee refused to pass the amendment. Despite advancements in racial prejudiceness, the South remained hostile towards black Americans, resulting in many trials including bloody race riots.

Not only were Confederate and Union troubles still a problem, Johnson faced a lot of hostility. Radical Republicans won the majority in Congress during this time, and decided that they wanted to effect their own plan of Reconstruction. This resulted in southern states to be placed under military rule as well as placing restrictions upon the President.

Tensions between Johnson and Congress continued to escalate. Congress often passed bills over Johnson's veto. Although the biggest disagreement was when Johnson acted without Congress's permission when he decided to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. This went against a new restriction that was placed on Johnson, which was the Tenure of Office Act. Congress became very angry, and accused him of "high crimes and misdemeanors," then preceded to attempt to impeach him.

The trial went on for two months during the spring of 1868. Although the House of Representatives voted for impeachment, the Senate was a single vote shy of the two-thirds majority that it needed to remove Johnson from office; therefore, he was able to finish his term.

He did seek to run for a second term, but his party chose a different candidate. Four years later, he was elected as a U.S. Senator from Texas. Despite the trial and rejection seven years previously, he received a loud applause when he took his Senate seat. Unfortunately he did not serve much longer, as he passed away a few months later in 1875.

Impeachment Trial


Fun Facts

  • Johnson worked as a tailor before becoming president.
  • He never attended a school, because his parents were too poor to send him.
  • While president, Congress acted to impeach him, and he was accused of "high crimes and misdemeanors."
  • The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, was ratified during his term.

Excerpt from the History Channel

Basic Facts

December 29, 1808 - North Carolina
President Number
Military Service
United States Army and Union Army - Brigadier General
Wars Served
American Civil War
Age at Beginning of Presidency
57 years old
Term of Office
April 15, 1865 - March 3, 1869
How Long President
4 years
Age and Year of Death
July 31, 1875 (aged 66)
Cause of Death

List of United States Presidents

1. George Washington

2. John Adams

3. Thomas Jefferson

4. James Madison

5. James Monroe

6. John Quincy Adams

7. Andrew Jackson

8. Martin Van Buren

9. William Henry Harrison

10. John Tyler

11. James K. Polk

12. Zachary Taylor

13. Millard Fillmore

14. Franklin Pierce

15. James Buchanan

16. Abraham Lincoln

17. Andrew Johnson

18. Ulysses S. Grant

19. Rutherford B. Hayes

20. James Garfield

21. Chester A. Arthur

22. Grover Cleveland

23. Benjamin Harrison

24. Grover Cleveland

25. William McKinley

26. Theodore Roosevelt

27. William Howard Taft

28. Woodrow Wilson

29. Warren G. Harding

30. Calvin Coolidge

31. Herbert Hoover

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt

33. Harry S. Truman

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower

35. John F. Kennedy

36. Lyndon B. Johnson

37. Richard M. Nixon

38. Gerald R. Ford

39. James Carter

40. Ronald Reagan

41. George H. W. Bush

42. William J. Clinton

43. George W. Bush

44. Barack Obama

45. Donald Trump


  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). Andrew Johnson. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from
  • Sullivan, George. Mr. President: A Book of U.S. Presidents. New York: Scholastic, 2001. Print.
  • U.S. Presidential Fun Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2016, from


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