PRESIDENT ANDREW JOHNSON
Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth President of the United States, was
born in Raleigh, North Carolina, December 29, 1808. His father died while he was yet
scarcely advanced beyond infancy, and the family was thus left in extreme poverty. At ten
years of age Andrew was apprenticed to a tailor.
HarpWeek Commentary: From a column on "Our surviving
ex-Presidents": December 4, 1869, page 775.
"Greenville, Tennessee, November 7, 1818. This is to
certify that it is my desire that my son Andrew Johnson is bound an apprentice to James J.
Selby to learn the Taylors Trade, and that he is to serve him faithfully until he is
21 years old. Andrew Johnson was born in the year 1808, December 29." "Mary
Daughtry, by Turner Daughtry."
Here a casual circumstance gave direction to his whole after-life. Among
his masters customers was an eccentric gentleman who habitually visited the shop and
read aloud from books or newspapers to the journeymen. The boy soon learned to read from
this gentleman, and after the long days work was over he regularly devoted two or
three hours to study. Upon the expiration of his term of apprenticeship he was seventeen.
He then left Raleigh, and pursued his trade for two years at Laurens Court House, South
Carolina. Thence he returned to Raleigh, and very soon after moved westward with his
mother to Tennessee, and at Greenville again appears as a tailor. Here he married, and his
choice of a partner proved exceedingly fortunate for his future prospects. He knew now how
to read. But his wife taught him writing and arithmetic.
It was in 1829 that Mr. Johnson held his
first office that of Alderman. He was elected Mayor in 1830, and served in that
capacity three years. In 1835 he was sent to the State Legislature. His politics were
those of the party then known as Democratic. His first speech was against a measure for
internal improvement. In 1841 he was elected to the State Senate, and two years afterward
representative in Congress. In regard to the admission of Texas into the Union, the
Mexican war, the Tariff of 1846, and the Homestead Bill, Mr. Johnson took very strong
Democratic ground. In 1851 he was chosen Governor of Tennessee, to which office he was
re-elected in 1855. In 1857 he was elected to the United States Senate for the full term,
which ended in 1863.
Mr. Johnsons record during the
revolutionary period out of which we are now passing at first may be said to have
fluctuated in certain respects, but it was never for a moment doubtful as to the necessity
of the Union. In a speech of his delivered December 19, 1860, while he was defiant against
the threat of Southern States to force the Border States into the Confederacy, he also
gave some ambiguous utterances as to the insult which would be offered to any State by the
threat of coercion from the North. But in that speech his argument against secession was
very strong as affecting Southern interests. He predicted that disunion must destroy
slavery; that a hostile or even alien government upon the border of the slaveholding
States would be the natural haven of rest to the hunted slave. He said that if one
division was allowed others would follow; "and," said he, "rather than see
this Union divided into thirty-three petty governments, with a little prince in one, a
potentate in another, a little aristocracy in a third, a little democracy in a fourth, and
a republic somewhere else a citizen not being permitted to pass from one State to
another without a passport or a commission from his government with quarreling and
warring among the petty powers, which would result in anarchy I would rather see
this government to-day I proclaim it here in my place converted into a
In a speech made March 2, 1861, he said:
"Show me those who make war on the Government and fire on its vessels, and I will
show you a traitor. If I were President of the United States I would have all such
arrested, and, if convicted, by the Eternal God I would have them hung!"
On the 4th of March 1862,
after the capture of Nashville by the National forces, Mr. Johnson was appointed by the
President Military Governor of Tennessee, with the rank of Brigadier-General. The
acceptance of this position necessitated, of course, the resignation of his situation in
the Senate. As Military Governor Mr. Johnson was both just and firm. If he exacted a very
rigorous test-oath from the disloyal, it was because he was convinced that, in justice,
all government must be in the interest of loyal men. If he exacted from rich secessionists
large sums of money for the support of the poor citizens who had been impoverished by the
rebellion, it was because those men were responsible for the poverty which was thus
As to Mr. Johnsons future policy,
his explicit statements leave us no room for doubt. Against responsible, conscious
traitors the law must take its course as against other criminals. They must not only be
punished, but impoverished. The problem of restoration is one for loyal men to solve.
Except in the abolition of slavery, the States are to retain the character which belonged
to them before the war. We are pledged, according to the requirements of the Constitution,
to secure to these States a republican form of government. In reply to the question, What
constitutes a State? Mr. Johnson answers, "Its loyal citizens." It is into the
hands of these that the work of reconstruction be committed.
Mr. Johnson comes into power through a
most melancholy occurrence, but he has entered upon the duties of his office with a
dignity and firmness that elicits at the same time the confidence of the American people.
May God spare his life and guide his steps!
There are points in the policy of reconstruction that have hitherto been
little discussed, but which must very soon assume important phases. The emancipation of
four millions of slaves, it is thought, will but partially effect the work of political
regeneration in the South. If the reports which reach us have any truth, it is certain
that there is a large class in the South whose prejudice against the sentiments held at
the North is as strong as ever before. There are men and women there who will teach their
children to hate the name of Northern men. There are politicians of this class who will
strive again for power, which they will wield as unscrupulously as they have ever done. A
barrier against the possibility of such an exercise of power must be set at the very
first, or we shall have no tranquil peace for many years. The only remedy is to not simply
free but also to enfranchise the negroes. Give the negroes a vote and they will most
certainly be courted by both parties at the South. It may be objected that they will thus
become merely the tools of politicians. But it must be remembered that freedom will excite
new activities in these black men. They will have leaders of their own; they will have
sentiments of their own; and the policy which they will most naturally adopt will be that
which will bring them into alliance with the poor loyal whites of the South. Besides,
their memories of the past oppression of which they have been the victims, their memory of
the part which colored soldiers have played in the war for the Union all these will
bind them to a purely Democratic policy.
Articles relating to Johnson's Background:
Andrew Johnson (small bio)
June 25, 1864, page 402
The Union Nominations
June 25, 1864, page 402
President Andrew Johnson
May 13, 1865, page 289
The President and the Secretary
May 20, 1865, page 306
September 15, 1866, page 583
September 15, 1866, page 584
September 14, 1867, page 578
December 7, 1867, page 770