“The goal to strive for is a poor government, but a rich people.”
Andrew Johnson was Vice President during Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency. He became President when Lincoln was assassinated. Interestingly, Lincoln was a Republican, but Johnson was a Democrat. People never expected him to become President.
Johnson inherited the problem of reuniting the North and the South after the Civil War. Many people in the North became “Radical Republicans.” They thought the South should be punished and they made rules that hurt white Southerners. Democrats in the South hated the Northern politicians. Although blacks were legally free, they were not allowed to vote or run their own businesses in the South. In some places, they could not walk into town without a white man’s permission.
Although Johnson said he wanted peace, he was hard to work with and gave fiery speeches that caused more contention. Northern politicians eventually became so angry that they tried to impeach him (remove him from office). He narrowly escaped impeachment by one vote.
- Andrew Johnson was born on December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
- His parents were poor laborers. They could not read.
- Johnson’s father died when he was three. His mother was a maid and took in washing.
- Johnson was sold as an apprentice to a tailor when he was 14. He ran away when he was 16.
- Johnson married Eliza McCardle Johnson. She taught him how to read and write.
- Probably because of his difficult childhood, Johnson was a stern, serious man. He had a booming voice and a sharp mind.
- He started his own tailoring business and joined the city council before he was 21. He became mayor, congressman, governor, senator, and finally Vice President and President.
- Johnson’s time as President was difficult. Not only were the North and South fighting, but settlers and Indians in the West were constantly at war.
- The Johnsons had five children. Eliza had tuberculosis and was rarely seen in public. Martha Johnson, the oldest daughter, often played the role of First Lady.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Was Johnson’s presidency successful?
Answer: Johnson became President at a difficult time. He lacked Abraham Lincoln’s ability to earn trust and establish relationships. He also lacked Lincoln’s speechmaking talent and thoughtfulness. Johnson was unable to successfully unite the North and South, and in some ways, probably made the situation worse.
Learn more about Andrew Johnson.