Guest Author - Carol Taller
Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, was the least educated president to hold office. He was the only president not to have any schooling, and he was 17 years old before his wife taught him to read. He was also the first president to be impeached, and he was acquitted in the senate by just one vote.
Johnson was born in Raleigh, NC on December 29, 1808. His father died when he was three years old, and by the time he was 14 he was apprenticed to a tailor. At age 16 he settled in Greensville, Tennessee and eventually set up his own tailor shop.
He met his future wife, Eliza McCardle, here in Tennessee. Eliza helped him to improve his reading, writing and mathematics. Together they had five children, and his tailor shop prospered into a favored meeting place for town people to gather and discuss politics. Johnson became the leader of the group and discovered that he had a flair for public speaking.
Johnson entered the political arena. He stood up for small merchants and local farmers, and enjoyed a rapid rise from mayor to congressman, to governor, to senator. He was a Democrat in favor of the Civil War, which gained the attention of President Lincoln. Hoping to win votes from Democrats, Lincoln (a Republican) named Johnson the military governor of Tennessee. Two years later, in 1864, President Lincoln named Johnson as vice presidential running mate and they won the election.
On April 15, 1865 he took the oath of office as President of the United States after President Lincoln was assassinated. Intense disagreements began between Johnson and Radical Republicans. The Radicals wanted to grant full citizen rights to the slaves including voting rights. They were afraid that Southern Whites would somehow preserve the old slavery system after the war.
Radical Republicans gained strength in Congress and were the majority by the end of 1866. Johnson believed the Radical Republicans were invading stateís rights and would cause racial unrest. This disagreement led to many personal attacks. Johnsonís power dwindled. Eventually papers were written up to impeach the 17th president, Andrew Johnson.
The court failed to convict Johnson. The vote was 35 to 19; one short of the constitutional two thirds required to remove Johnson from office. Although much of Johnsonís tenure in office consisted of fighting with a group of people over Civil Right Issues, he did achieve progress with foreign relations: the United States purchased the state of Alaskan 1867 under the negotiations of Secretary of State William Seward.
Upon completion of his term Johnson returned home to the Senate in Tennessee, but he died a few months later.
A fascinating letter that Johnson wrote to his wife can be seen here: