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Andrew Johnson

By

John T. Marck

 



 

 

 The Homes and Presidency of Andrew Johnson

 By John T. Marck

 

Andrew Johnson was born in the kitchen loft of a log cabin on December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina to almost illiterate parents.  Jacob Johnson, his father, barely made a living working as a hotel porter and bank janitor. When Andrew was three-years-old, his father died tragically trying to save two of his wealthy employers from drowning. His mother, now widowed, worked as a weaver and a spinner to feed Andrew and his older brother William. When Andrew was still a youngster, his mother married Turner Daugherty, but this addition to the family did not improve the family finances. 

At the age of 14, Andrew and his brother were apprenticed to a local tailor where they worked for several years before running away.  Being on the run for two years, with a reward on their heads, Andrew returned to Raleigh in 1826 where he reunited with his mother and stepfather before moving west in a one-horse cart to Greenville, Tennessee. Here he opened a tailor shop, and married Eliza McCardle.  Andrew soon gained respect and popularity in the community, leading to elected offices, including the governor of Tennessee and U.S. Senator. 

Andrew's birthplace in Raleigh is located at the Mordecai Historical Park.  At the time of his birth, this small dwelling served as a kitchen and residence behind Casso's Inn.  This building, built in the late 1700s, was part of a complex of buildings at Casso's, a well-known hotel of the period.  This inn is where Andrew's stepfather worked as a stable keeper, and his mother as a weaver. Tradition tells us that Andrew was born in the loft of the kitchen at the Inn.  On December 29, 1808, the tradition continues, that a wedding party was being held at the tavern when it was interrupted by the news of the birth of baby.  It is said that the bride went to the cabin area at the back of the Inn to visit with the newborn Andrew and his mother. 

In Greenville, Tennessee there is a replica of Johnson's birthplace, that represents an important part of Johnson's story, in that it speaks of a man who began his life in poverty, who later became the seventeenth President of the United States. 

Early in his political career in Greenville, Johnson became a skilled speaker, supporting the common man and maligning the plantation society.  When serving as a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the 1840s and 1850s, he advocated a homestead bill to provide a free farm for every poor man.  

When the secession crisis hit, Johnson remained in the Senate even though Tennessee seceded, making him a hero in the North, and a traitor in the eyes of the South.   In 1862, President Lincoln appointed him Military Governor of Tennessee. In 1864, the Republicans, nominated Johnson, a Southerner and a Democrat, for Vice President. 

Johnson's Early Home in Greenville 

During the 1830s, Johnson and his family moved to his residence, where they stayed until 1851. It was during these years that his life changed drastically, moving from the tailor trade to politics. Johnson rose quickly, beginning as an elected alderman in Greenville, to its mayor.  From here he became state representative, state senator, and U.S. representative.  In 1853 he was elected governor of Tennessee and was sent to the United States Senate in 1857.

The Johnson Homestead in Greenville

           In September 1851, when still a congressman; Andrew purchased this house, which would be his last, and its half-acre lot, from James Brannan.

 

Andrew's Bedroom

Wife's Bedroom

Dining Room

Kitchen

The house was built directly on the street in Northern Irish fashion, consisting of a two-story front and a one-story ell (the wings of the building at right angles to the main structure). In 1868 to 1869, the second story was added to the ell, in preparation of the retiring President's return to Greenville. While the house has characteristics of the Fashionable Greek revival period, it also reflects the older Federal style architecture, which was popular in the 1840s.  The facade of the "Homestead" shows a strict symmetry of traditional Federal design, and the simple window frames are adorned with louvered shutters.  Framed by pilasters, which support a flat entablature, the Greek revival doorway is bordered by small sidelights. Other Greek characteristics include the brick cornice, with dentils, and the transom. 

The house was restored in 1956 and today, the Homestead appears as it did during the last years of Andrew Johnson's life.

The Presidency

         Following Lincoln's death, the Presidency fell upon the old-fashioned Jacksonian Democrat of states' rights views. An honorable man, Johnson was one of the most unfortunate of Presidents. Lined against him were the Radical Republicans in Congress, who were ruthless in their tactics, and Johnson was no match for them.  

One of Johnson's first orders of business was to reconstruct the former Confederate States while Congress was not in session in 1865.  He pardoned all those who were willing to take the oath of allegiance, but required the leaders and those men of wealth to obtain special Presidential pardons. When Congress met in December 1865, most of the southern states were reconstructed, slavery was being abolished, however; "black codes," to regulate the freedmen were starting to appear. 

The Radical Republicans in Congress began their move to change Johnson's program.  They gained support of Northerners who were shocked to see Southerners maintaining many of the prewar leaders who imposed many of the prewar restrictions upon Negroes.  Their first measure was to refuse to seat any Senator or Representative from the old Confederacy, followed by their passing procedures that dealt with former slaves. Johnson quickly vetoed this legislation. The Radicals in turn, for the first time in history, gathered enough votes to overturn the President's veto. The bill passed, known as the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which established Negroes as American citizens and forbade discrimination against them.  Several months later, Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment, which specified that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

All the former Confederate states, except Tennessee, ratified the amendment, and two bloody race riots began in the South. When Johnson went to speak in the Middle West of the country, he faced very hostile audiences. 

By March 1867, the Radicals had their own plan for Reconstruction, which placed southern states under military rule, and passed laws that restricted the President.  When Johnson supposedly violated one of these "laws," the Tenure of Office Act, by dismissing Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, the House voted eleven articles of impeachment against him.  Tried by the Senate in the spring of 1868, he was acquitted by one vote. 

Late in the administration of Andrew Johnson, General Ulysses S. Grant argued with the President and aligned himself with the Radical Republicans. He was, as the symbol of Union victory during the Civil War, their logical candidate for President in 1868, who won election as the eighteenth President of the United States. 

After Johnson's Presidency, the people of Tennessee returned Johnson to the Senate in 1875.  He was the only man to serve as Senator after being President. A few months later, on July 31, Andrew Johnson died at the age of 66 of a stroke in Carter County, Tennessee.  

Johnson is buried at the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, in Greenville, Tennessee. He lies beneath the turf of a steep area known as Sackett's Hill. His body is wrapped in the American flag with a copy of the Constitution resting beneath his head.   His wife Eliza died the following year on January 15, 1876 and is buried beside him.  The family erected an impressive eagle-topped monument in 1878.  

The President's burial site was designated a National Cemetery in 1906, whereby the war Department maintained it until 1942.  The management was then transferred to the National Park Service becoming the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.  

Quick Biographical Facts 

Andrew Johnson

17th President

Term- April 15, 1865 to March 4, 1869

Democratic Party

 Birth: Raleigh, North Carolina, December 29, 1808.

Ancestry: Scotch-Irish and English

Marriage: Greenville, Tennessee, May 5, 1827 to Eliza McCardle, who was born in Leesburg, Tennessee, October 4, 1810. Eliza died in Greene County, Tennessee, January 15, 1876 and is buried at Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, Greenville, Tennessee

Children: Martha (1828-1901); Charles (1830-1863); Mary (1832-1883); Robert (1834-1869); Andrew (1852-1879)

Final Home: The Homestead, Greenville, Tennessee

Education: Self-taught

Religion: No specific denomination, however admired the Baptist principles of church government

Occupation before Presidency: Tailor, legislator.

Pre-Presidential Offices: Alderman; Mayor; Member of Tennessee Legislature; Member of U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate; Governor of Tennessee; Vice President

Age at Inauguration: 56

Johnson Administration: Vice President: None, Inauguration April 15, 1865, Kirkwood House, Washington, D.C.

Occupation after Presidency: Senator

Death: Carter County, Tennessee, July 31, 1875

Cause of Death: Stroke at age 66

Place of Burial: Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, Greenville, Tennessee

Interesting Facts:

 Johnson was the third Vice President who succeeded to the Presidency because of the death of his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln

 Johnson was the only President to serve as a U.S. Senator after being President. He was elected to the Senate in 1875

 Johnson was the first President of the United States to be impeached. The Senate tried him for "High crimes and misdemeanors", however he won his case by a single vote

 

This one vote was cast by Republican Senator Edmund G. Ross from Kansas


 

Copyright by John T. Marck.  Grateful appreciation and informational assistance from the Mordecai Historical Park, Raleigh, North Carolina; The Homestead, Greenville, Tennessee, and The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Greenville, Tennessee.  Information in part from the White House Historical association, and The Presidents of the United States of America written by Frank Freidel and Hugh S. Sidey (contributing author), and The Presidents of the United States, by John T. Marck.

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