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Andrew Johnson was the successor to Abraham Lincoln and was the first president of the United States to be impeached.
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Born on December 29, 1808, in Raleigh, North Carolina, Andrew Johnson became the 17th president of the United States upon the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. His lenient Reconstruction policies toward the South, and his vetoing of Reconstruction acts, embittered the Radical Republicans in Congress and led to his political downfall and impeachment, though he was acquitted.
"I feel incompetent to perform duties...which have been so unexpectedly thrown upon me."
"The goal to strive for is a poor government but a rich people."
"It's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word."
"There are no good laws but such as repeal other laws."
Andrew Johnson was born in a log cabin in Raleigh, North Carolina, on December 29, 1808. His father, Jacob Johnson, died when Andrew was 3, leaving the family in poverty. His mother, Mary “Polly” McDonough Johnson, worked as a seamstress to make ends meet. She and her second husband apprenticed Andrew and his brother, William, to a local tailor. As a young boy, Andrew felt the sting of prejudice from the higher classes and developed a white-supremacist attitude to compensate, a perception he held all his life.
Chafing under the constraints of apprenticeship, Johnson and his brother ran away from their obligation. The pair dodged authorities who sought to return them to their employer and worked as itinerate tailors. The boys later returned home, and the family moved to Greeneville, Tennessee. In a short time, Johnson established a very successful tailoring business and married Eliza McCardle in 1827. She encouraged him in his self-education and counseled him on business investments. Eliza suffered from tuberculosis but remained a constant supporter of Johnson through their 50-year marriage.
Johnson took a strong interest in politics, and his tailor shop became a haven for political discussion. He gained the support of the local working class and became their strong advocate. In 1829 he was elected alderman, and five years later was elected mayor of Greeneville. After the 1831 Nat Turner Rebellion, Tennessee adopted a new state constitution with a provision to disenfranchise free blacks. Johnson supported the provision and campaigned around the state for its ratification, giving him wide exposure. In 1835, he won a seat in the Tennessee state legislature. He identified himself with the Democratic policies of Andrew Jackson, advocating for the poor and being opposed to non-essential government spending. He was also a strong anti-abolitionist and a promoter of states’ rights while still being an unqualified supporter of the Union.
In 1843, Johnson became the first Democrat from Tennessee to be elected to the United States Congress. He joined a new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, declaring that slavery was essential to the preservation of the Union. This was a slight departure from his fellow Southerners, who were beginning to speak of separation if slavery was abolished. During his fifth and final term in Congress, the Whig party was gaining ground in Tennessee, and Johnson saw that his chances for a sixth term were slim.
In 1853, Johnson was elected governor of Tennessee. During his two terms, he tried to promote his fiscally conservative, populist views, but found the experience frustrating, as the governor’s constitutional powers were limited to giving suggestions to the legislature, with no veto power.
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