Born to nearly illiterate parents, Andrew Johnson was born on December 29, 1808, in a log cabin in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Jacob and Eliza Johnson. His father, Jacob, worked as a porter in an inn, sexton in a Presbyterian Church, bank janitor, and eventually as a constable. He died as he attempted to save two wealthy employers from drowning when Andrew Johnson was only three years old.
Meanwhile, his mother worked as a spinner to feed Andrew and his older brother, William. Their family finances did not improve even when she married Turner Daugherty.
At the age of fourteen, Andrew and William apprenticed to a local tailor who he served for a long time before running away. Andrew Johnson was on the run for two years with a reward on his head. In 1826, he returned to Raleigh to reunite with his family; then, they moved to Greeneville, Tennessee, where he put up his tailor shop at seventeen.
Andrew Johnson taught himself to read and write from books he received as a gift. One of them was the books of great orations. He even hired someone to read it to him while he was sewing. He never mastered English grammar, reading, or arithmetic. He never had formal education until he married Eliza McCardle. She was the only daughter of the village shoemaker. She mentioned to her friends that it was almost love at first sight when he fell for Andrew Johnson. Andrew Johnson was lucky to have her because she was well-educated and ace handling finances. She would read to him while he worked and even taught him to spell, write, read, and do the arithmetic. She also taught Andrew how to invest his money wisely in real estate and farmlands in town.
Eventually, Andrew Johnson’s tailor shop became a center of political discussion in their town. His opportunity to hone his public speaking and debating skills became his powerful political tool when his colleagues selected him to be the first alderman at the age of twenty-one. He even served as the mayor of Greeneville. He claimed to be a Jacksonian Democrat and followed the ideology of President Andrew Jackson.
He showed fond interest in politics and eventually became popular and paved his way to be elected as a state legislature from 1834 until 1838 under the Democratic Party. Andrew Johnson emerged as the representative of small farmers, laborers, and mountaineers. His promising political outlook earned him a seat in the United States House of Representatives; however, he was gerrymandered and lost his position when the district followed the census of 1850. It did not stop him from public office and served as Tennessee’s governor from 1853 until 1857.
He claimed to support Jacksonian policies; however, it was evident that his political outlooks oppose it, such as the federal funding of internal improvements. He even raged the interest of Tennessee’s interest of planters’ class to the brink of creating a separate mountain state from the pooper regions of Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. Although, he favored the Compromise of 1850 and barred the consideration for the antislavery petitions in the House of Representatives.
Andrew Johnson exerted extra effort to support Texas and Oregon’s annexation, Kansas-Nebraska Act as a support to his co-Democrat, Stephen Douglas, and the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Meanwhile, he does not tolerate any suggestions of breaking up the Union. He even disparaged James Buchanan for his failure to act in any meaningful way to prevent the southern rebels from his administration’s last months. Andrew Johnson also championed religious freedom; however, his speeches often contain despicable racist remarks against the blacks.
As Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, southern secessionists formed the confederate government; however, Andrew Johnson was caught in the middle as he wriggled to keep Tennessee in the Union. He remained loyal to the Union and became Abraham Lincoln’s most stalwart supporter since he cannot get back to his family to Tennessee. He refused to join the offers to join the Confederate government. The president acknowledged his unwavering support and appointed him as Military Governor of Tennessee in May 1862.
Because of his resistance to his hometown, Andrew Johnson was considered a traitor. His private properties were confiscated. His family was forcefully driven out of the state. Due to his unrelenting support, he became an overnight hero for the northerners. He was praised as a patriot who’s willing to risk his fortune and life to fight side by side with the Union during the Civil War.
Even though he also owned a handful of slaves and supported the proslavery agendas. Eventually, he was persuaded that emancipation is a practical war measure. Soon after, he freed his slaves in August 1863 and delivered speeches to diminish slavery and appealed to Tennessee’s citizens to pass a state constitutional amendment to abolish slavery.
President Abraham Lincoln convinced the Republican Party to consider Andrew Johnson to become his vice president during the National Union Convention. The Republicans were split into two, moderates and radicals. The moderates enthusiastically supported Andrew Johnson. Also, he was prominent for embracing farmers and skilled village workers.
After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency and faced vexing problems of putting the Union together and settling the fate of the former Confederate States. Andrew Johnson did not successfully execute his reconstruction policies and even faced impeachment charges during his presidency.
After his presidential term, he returned to Tennessee and remained involved in politics and even unsuccessfully attempted to run for the United States Senate and House of Representatives. Eventually, he was able to win a senate seat in 1875, which made him the first president to serve in a public office after his presidential tenure. As a senator, he was a vocal opponent of the policies and corruption of the administration of Ulysses Grant.
Andrew Johnson did not finish his tenure as a senator. He died in July 1875 after he suffered a stroke.