There are reasons for the absence of smiles and the prevalence of furrowed brows in the photographs of Andrew Johnson. His life was not easy. Born into poverty, his family was plunged deeper into it when his father died when Johnson was just three years old. Johnson’s mother did her best to provide for Andrew and his older brother, William, but her work as a weaver and spinner was ultimately not enough. At the age of 14, he and his brother were bound as apprentices to a tailor in Raleigh, North Carolina. An indentured servant, Johnson was living only a little better than a slave, and despite learning a valuable trade, could hardly bear his life. Two years after he was bound to the tailor, Johnson and his brother broke their contract and escaped to South Carolina, returning briefly to Raleigh to gather up his mother and move to Greeneville, Tennessee where he opened his own tailor shop at the age of 17.
Because of his situation, Andrew Johnson never attended a day of school. During his apprenticeship in Raleigh, several men who frequented the tailor shop read to Johnson as he worked and with a book he received as a gift, Johnson labored hard in free moments at night to teach himself how to read. Upon moving to Greeneville, the 17-year-old Johnson met 15-year-old Eliza McCardle. A student at a local school, Eliza and Andrew were married less than a year after they met and since she was thoroughly educated in comparison with Johnson, Eliza taught him how to write, do basic arithmetic, and improve his reading skills.
Johnson was a quick learner, a skilled orator, and had a gift for politics which he began to exploit early, relying on his ability to connect with common people and his popularity as a first-class tailor with a thriving local business. Elected an Alderman in Greeneville just two years after moving to Tennessee, Johnson became Mayor in 1830 at the age of 22. By his 27th birthday, Johnson was serving in the Tennessee House of Representatives. At 33, he was elected to the Tennessee State Senate. In 1843, Johnson headed to Washington as a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he would serve five terms.
In 1852, Johnson’s rapid rise in politics led him to Nashville as Governor of Tennessee where, in two terms, he championed education and agricultural advancements at home and supported pro-slavery Democrats and the Kansas-Nebraska Act nationally. In 1857, the Tennessee State Legislature unanimously elected Johnson as Tennessee’s newest United States Senator.
Johnson’s Senate term became historic and not just because he was the architect of the Homestead Act — the most influential, lasting accomplishment of the Lincoln Administration not directly related to the Civil War. As the Civil War approached, Johnson was a steadfast defender of slavery, unsurprising due to the his Southern roots and his unabashed white supremacy. What was unique about Andrew Johnson was his vehement opposition to secession. Johnson harshly criticized President Buchanan (a fellow Democrat) for his inaction in the face of secession and his failure to suppress the Confederate insurrection. In a stunning reversal, Johnson — who supported Stephen A. Douglas in the 1850’s and John C. Breckinridge for President in 1860 — voiced his support for Abraham Lincoln.
As the nation headed to war, Johnson worked with passion and diligence to keep Tennessee in the Union — a battle he ultimately lost. Despite constant threats to him and his family and being labeled a traitor in his beloved South, Johnson defied his state and became the only Southern Senator who refused to join the Confederacy. In the North, Johnson’s actions made him a courageous hero; back in Tennessee, he was burned in effigy and his hometown of Greeneville erected a banner over it’s main street which read “Andrew Johnson, Traitor”.
In March 1862, Johnson was appointed the Military Governor of Tennessee by President Lincoln and given the rank of brigadier general. Johnson returned to his home state, now occupied by Union forces, with orders to establish law and order and return Tennessee to federal authority. With virtually dictatorial powers, Johnson slowly and bravely restored order to Tennessee by shutting down anti-Union newspapers, seizing railroads and bridges, arresting priests for sermons that sympathized with the Confederate cause, enacting martial law, requiring state officeholders to swear oaths of allegiance to the federal government, levying and collecting taxes, and gaining a measure of support in the state by urging Lincoln to exempt Tennessee from the Emancipation Proclamation. Johnson didn’t rule from afar or hide from a disgruntled population, either — he valiantly remained in Nashville, which was frequently under siege by Confederate forces, declaring that “I am no military man but any one who talks of surrender I will shoot.”
In 1864, President Lincoln urged Republicans to dump Vice President Hannibal Hamlin from Lincoln’s re-election bid and form a coalition party (the National Union Party) with pro-Union Democrats. With an eye to the future and the need for quick national reconciliation Lincoln dumped Hamlin in favor of Johnson, partly as a reward for Johnson’s unwavering loyalty to the Union and partly to balance the coalition ticket with a Democrat who just happened to be a Southerner.
Johnson’s Vice Presidency got off to an inauspicious start. Ill from typhoid fever, Johnson took a few shots of whiskey prior to his inauguration in order to get through the long ceremonies. Unfortunately, the effect was a long, drunken rant against aristocrats and wealthy businessmen and politicians as Johnson spoke to the Senate chamber (Vice Presidents gave their own inaugural addresses at that time) which ended only when outgoing Vice President Hamlin yanked on Johnson’s coattails and steered him away from the speaker’s lectern. Lincoln was embarrassed and the nation was worried that their new Vice President might be an alcoholic.
The nation’s worries grew larger less than a week after the happy news that the Confederates had surrendered at Appomattox and ended the Civil War and not quite six weeks after Johnson became Vice President. Shortly after his alcohol-infused outburst at his inauguration, the New York World worriedly said of Johnson, “To think, that one frail life stands between this insolent, clownish creature and the Presidency.” On April 15, 1865, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln led to Andrew Johnson becoming the 17th President of the United States. Johnson’s ascension to the Presidency was not what anyone wanted or hoped for, including Johnson himself. A stunned nation suddenly found itself with a very different leader as its chief executive. The thoughts of many Americans echoed the words that Benjamin F. Butler would later say, “By murder most foul, he succeeded to the Presidency, and is the elect of an assassin to that high office, and not of the people.”
Johnson’s Presidency was dominated by the challenges of Reconstruction, the opposition of Radical Republicans in Congress opposed to Johnson’s conciliatory policy towards the conquered South, and his staunch refusal to recognize the basic human rights of blacks whom Johnson saw as an inferior race. Johnson had a long history of vivid racism, punctuated by his bombastic speaking style. Among his comments on African-Americans, Johnson had said “You can’t get rid of the negro except by holding him in slavery” and asked “If you liberate the negro, what will be the next step? It would place every splay-footed, bandy-shanked, humpbacked negro in the country upon an equality with the poor white man.”
As his unpopularity in the country and in the Capitol grew, Johnson faced an unprecedented challenge from the Congress. In 1867, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, which prohibited the President from firing his Cabinet members without the approval of the Senate. On paper, this meant that the President not only required Senate confirmation of his appointments, but Senate confirmation of any potential change in his government’s top officials. In reality, the Tenure of Office Act was a clear provocation of Johnson’s authority, basically daring Johnson to violate the law and face impeachment. It was a legislative coup d’état. Johnson didn’t respond well to challenges; he quickly violated the act, firing Secretary of War (and favorite of the Radical Republicans) Edwin Stanton for “disloyalty”. Every bit as stubborn as the President, Stanton barricaded himself in the War Department and the Congress impeached Johnson on February 24, 1868.
The first President to be impeached (Bill Clinton would join the dubious club 130 years later), Andrew Johnson prepared for a trial in the Senate. Needing a two-thirds majority to convict Johnson and remove him from office, Republicans worked zealously to secure the 36 votes necessary for conviction. Facing eleven articles of impeachment (nine more than President Clinton was tried on in 1999), Johnson narrowly escaped conviction and removal from office. The Senate voted 35-19 to convict Johnson on three articles of impeachment, but as they were 1 guilty vote short of a two-thirds majority, Johnson was able to remain in office and finish out his term. After the first three articles of impeachment successfully went Johnson’s way, the other eight articles were abandoned and the case was closed. Johnson’s Presidency was salvaged by seven courageous Republican Senators who risked their careers by voting with Democrats to acquit President Johnson. Those seven Senators — William P. Fessenden (Maine), Joseph S. Fowler (Tennessee), James W. Grimes (Iowa), John B. Henderson (Missouri), Edmund G. Ross (Kansas), Lyman Trumbull (Illinois), and Peter Van Winkle (West Virginia) — were later lauded in John F. Kennedy’s Profiles of Courage for acts of Senatorial bravery.
Andrew Johnson cried upon hearing the news of his exoneration. While his Presidency was salvaged, he had little real power and no support remaining. Like John Tyler before him, Johnson was also a President without a party and though he hoped to seek election in his own right in 1868, no party was willing to nominate him as their candidate so the former tailor returned to Tennessee, declaring that “I intend to devote the remainder of my life to the vindication of my own character.”
It was his return home, however, that changed his spirits forever. When Johnson refused to support the Confederacy and remained the only Southern Senator in the United States Senate during the Civil War, Johnson’s hometown of Greeneville had famously adorned its main street with a banner that read “Andrew Johnson, Traitor”. Now, as the former President rode back into Greeneville, he found that the burning effigies were gone, the insults were no longer flying, and the banner over his hometown’s main street said something entirely different: “Andrew Johnson, Patriot”.
Johnson remained active in local and state Democratic politics in his final years and in 1875, he was rewarded with what he considered the highest honor of his life. The Tennessee Legislature once again elected Johnson to the United States Senate. Not only was Johnson returning to Washington as the only former President to serve in the Senate, but in one of history’s great coincidences, he was returning to the very legislative body that had nearly ended his political career and removed him from office less than a decade earlier. When Johnson learned that he had been elected to the Senate in 1875, he told his family, “I’d rather have this information than to learn that I had been elected President of the United States. Thank God for the vindication.”
Sadly, Johnson’s resurgent political career didn’t last long. Returning home to Tennessee during a Senate recess, Johnson suffered a series of strokes in the final days of July 1875 while visiting his daughter in Carter County, Tennessee. On July 31, 1875, the former President and loyal Unionist died at the age of 66. In his will, Johnson requested one last act of patriotic devotion: “Pillow my head with the Constitution of my country. Let the flag of the Nation be my winding sheet.” With his body blanketed in the American flag and his head resting on a copy of the United States Constitution inside of his pine casket, Andrew Johnson was buried under a willow tree on a hill he personally chose in what is now known as Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in Greeneville, Tennessee.
The two opposing Presidents of the Civil War both spoke respectfully of Andrew Johnson during the great war between the states. Confederate President Jefferson Davis ignored Johnson’s stubborn opposition against the Confederacy and recognized Johnson’s connection with the common people. “One of the people by birth, he remained so by conviction, continually referring to his origin…He was indifferent to money and careless of praise or censure.” Prior to choosing Johnson as his running mate in 1864, Abraham Lincoln understood his sacrifices: “No man has a right to judge Andrew Johnson in any respect who has not suffered as much and done as much as he for the Nation’s sake.”
No, I can’t picture Lincoln looking at any other Democrats other than Andrew Johnson in 1864. He pushed pretty hard to replace Hannibal Hamlin, who wanted to remain Vice President, with Johnson specifically.
Oh, hello, best question of the week!
I’m always partial to the Shawn Michaels “Sweet Chin Music”. There’s something beautiful about the sudden impact of a sidekick to the mouth.
Of course, if we’re talking about Franklin D. Roosevelt as the President dishing out the punishment, that would obviously not be ideal for post-1921 FDR. In his case, I’m thinking he might be able to figure out some way to use his wheelchair to do a Stone Cold Stunner. Not as cool as HBK’s superkick, but it’ll do the job.
If it was first suggested by Alex Jones, or someone connected to Alex Jones, it’s probably not worth delving into too deeply.
Aside from a reputable author or solid sources — either primary or secondary — look at history like a puzzle. Does the subject that you’re studying and the string that you’re pulling seem like it fits in the puzzle? If not, is it because you don’t know what puzzle you’re actually building?Is it because you’re placing the piece in the wrong spot? Is it because the piece is from a different puzzle? Or is it because you’re trying to plug a Hot Wheels car into a fucking puzzle?
I know a lot about a lot.
Unless we’re talking about math.
Probably nothing out of the ordinary. I mean, it’s not like FDR was going to pimp slap him, or Hitler was going to dump FDR out of his wheelchair. There are diplomatic niceties that are followed even amongst belligerent nations. Hitler was pure evil, but he was capable of having meetings with people like Neville Chamberlain, Edward VIII (as Duke of Windsor after the abdication) and Wallis Simpson, Herbert Hoover, and others.
There always been a story that former President Hoover told Hitler, who was Chancellor by then, to “Sit down and shut up!” because Hitler was just babbling some anti-Semitic crap, but Hoover never confirmed or denied that it was true. He did write that Hitler “was forceful, highly intelligent, had a remarkable and accurate memory, a wide range of information and a capacity for lucid exposition”, which was the opposite of what Hoover had expected as he had been briefed that Hitler was “a dummy front man for some group of Nazis”. Hoover wrote, “He was unquestionably the boss.” He noted that discussions of Communism and Democracy “set him off like a man in furious anger”, but nothing about Hitler’s views on Jews. He simply noted that those incidents “convinced me that [Hitler] was also a dangerous fanatic”. But they didn’t drop gloves or anything.
I’m not quite sure that I completely understand the question, but I think the biggest disaster — maybe not scandal, but just plain disaster — has been the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. The Administration and Democratic Party never should have tried to take ownership of the “Obamacare” label and they shouldn’t have rolled out the system if it wasn’t ready. I’m still stunned that Kathleen Sebelius has a job in the Cabinet. The Obama Administration took its biggest success story (outside of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden), something Americans were largely supportive and appreciative of, and turned it into an albatross that might just lose the Democrats the Senate in November. Vice President Biden wasn’t kidding when he said that passing health care reform was a “big fucking deal”. It was huge! And it was upheld by the Supreme Court with a deciding vote from a Chief Justice who was appointed by a Republican President and who then-Senator Obama voted against confirming! Yet, they STILL screwed it up.
You make it sound like there’s a reason to not just listen to the Beastie Boys over-and-over again.
Not really. I mean, I’m willing to answer questions about anything, anytime, but I’m pretty sure I’d start hemorrhaging followers after I started constantly trumpeting 1990’s Bay Area hip-hop for even a few hours. I can just imagine how many “DO YOU REALIZE IT’S 2014?” messages I’d get after posting lyrics to '93 Til Infinity all day.