Our 17th President: 1865-1869
Just the Facts:
- Johnson never attended school. His wife, Eliza, taught him how to read and write.
- His nickname was “The Little Tailor.”
- He took over as President after Lincoln died.
- Johnson was the first president to be impeached.
- He bought Alaska!
- The 13th and 14th Amendments were passed during his term, which freed the slaves and protected their rights.
Johnson grew up in Tennessee – like Lincoln, he was born poor and mostly educated himself. His first job was a tailor, but eventually he found politics more interesting. He started in local politics as the mayor of his town, Greenville, Tennessee when he was 22 years old. Then he moved on to state politics, and eventually represented the state of Tennessee in Congress. He disagreed when Tennessee seceded from the Union and insisted on keeping his seat in the Senate.
Johnson took over after president lincoln was assassinated. He suddenly had the big job of trying to reunite the Union. People in his government disagreed how to treat the southern states after the civil war. Congress wanted to punish them, but Johnson wanted to be easy on them. They fought so much that Congress tried to impeach him. He was the first president to be impeached. But, Congress didn’t have the votes to kick him out of office.
His biggest accomplishment was to purchase Alaska from Russia – only 7 million dollars for all that land! His Secretary of State, William Seward, negotiated the purchase. People thought he was crazy and called it “Seward’s Folly.” In addition, the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution were passed during his term.
Johnson and Eliza married (he was 19 and she was 16 years old). Eliza was the daughter of a shoemaker. They lived in a small two bedroom house, with the front being Andrews tailor shop. Eliza taught Johnson how to read and write – she would read to him while he sewed.
While Johnson was president, Eliza read all the newspapers she could find and cut out articles she thought Andrew should read – she would give him the good ones at night and the bad ones in the morning. She didn’t really like being First Lady, so she asked their daughter, Mary, to host all the parties.
Johnson didn’t get the nomination to run for a second term, so he and Eliza retired to their home in Tennessee He died a few months later.
“Who, then, will govern? The answer must be, Man – for we have no angels in the shape of men, as yet, who are willing to take charge of our political affairs.”
“Honest conviction is my courage; the Constitution is my guide.”