Page images
[graphic][merged small]

Andrew Johnson

ANDREW JOHNSON was born in Raleigh, N. C., December 29, 1808. His parents were very poor. When he was 4 years old his father died of injuries received in rescuing a person from drowning. At the age of 10 years Andrew was apprenticed to a tailor. His early education was almost entirely neglected, and, notwithstanding his natural craving to learn, he never spent a day in school. Was taught the alphabet by a fellow-workman, borrowed a book, and learned to read. In 1824 removed to Laurens Court-House, S. C., where he worked as a journeyman tailor. In May, 1826, returned to Raleigh, and in September, with his mother and stepfather, set out for Greeneville, Tenn., in a two-wheeled cart drawn by a blind pony. Here he married Eliza McCardle, a woman of refinement, who taught him to write, and read to him while he was at work during the day. It was not until he had been in Congress that he learned to write with ease. From Greeneville went to the West, but returned after the lapse of a year. In 1828 was elected alderman; was reelected in 1829 and 1830, and in 1830 was advanced to the mayoralty, which office he held for three years. In 1831 was appointed by the county court a trustee of Rhea Academy, and about this time participated in the debates of a society at Greeneville College. In 1834 advocated the adoption of a new State constitution, by which the influence of the large landholders was abridged. In 1835 represented Greene and Washington counties in the legislature. Was defeated for the legislature in 1837, but in 1839 was reelected. In 1836 supported Hugh L. White for the Presidency, and in the political altercations between John Bell and James K. Polk, which distracted Tennessee at the time, supported the former. Mr. Johnson was the only ardent follower of Bell that failed to go over to the Whig party. Was an elector for the State at large on the Van Buren ticket in 1840, and made a State reputation by the force of his oratory. In 1841 was elected to the State senate from Greene and Hawkins counties, and while in that body was one of the "immortal thirteen" Democrats who, having it in their power to prevent the election of a Whig Senator, did so by refusing to meet the


house in joint convention; also proposed that the basis of representation should rest upon white votes, without regard to the ownership of slaves. Was elected to Congress in 1843 over John A. Asken, a United States Bank Democrat, who was supported by the Whigs. His first speech was in support of the resolution to restore to General Jackson the fine imposed upon him at New Orleans; also supported the annexation of Texas. In 1845 was reelected, and supported Polk's Administration. Was regularly reelected to Congress until 1853. During this period opposed all expenditures for internal improvements that were not general; resisted and defeated the proposed contingent tax of 10 per cent on tea and coffee; made his celebrated defense of the veto power; urged the adoption of the homestead law, which was obnoxious to the extreme Southern element of his party; supported the compromise measures of 1850 as a matter of expediency, but opposed compromises in general as a sacrifice of principle. Was elected governor of Tennessee in 1853 over Gustavus A. Henry, the 'Eagle Orator" of the State. In his message to the legislature he dwelt upon the homestead law and other measures for the benefit of the working classes, and earned the title of the "Mechanic Governor." Opposed the Know-nothing movement with characteristic vehemence. Was reelected governor in 1855, defeating Meredith P. Gentry, the Whig-American candidate, after a most remarkable canvass. The Kansas-Nebraska bill received his earnest support. In 1857 was elected to the United States Senate, where he urged the passage of the homestead bill, and on May 20, 1858, made his greatest speech on this subject. Opposed the grant of aid for the construction of a Pacific railroad. Was prominent in debate, and frequently clashed with Southern supporters of the Administration. His pronounced Unionism estranged him from the extremists on the Southern side, while his acceptance of slavery as an institution guaranteed by the Constitution caused him to hold aloof from the Republicans on the other. At the Democratic convention at Charleston, S. C., in 1860 was a candidate for the Presidential nomination, but received only the vote of Tennessee, and when the convention reassembled in Baltimore withdrew his name. In the canvass that followed supported John C. Breckinridge. At the session of Congress beginning in December, 1860, took decided and unequivocal grounds in opposition to secession, and on December 13 introduced a joint resolution proposing to amend the Constitution so as to elect the President and Vice-President by district votes, Senators by a direct popular vote, and to limit the terms of Federal judges to twelve years, the judges to be equally divided between slaveholding and nonslaveholding States. In his speech on this resolution, December 18 and 19, declared his unyielding opposition to secession and announced his intention to stand by and act under the Constitution. Retained his seat in the Senate until appointed by President Lincoln military governor of Tennessee, March 4, 1862. March 12 reached Nashville, and organized

[ocr errors]

a provisional government for the State; March 18 issued a proclamation in which he appealed to the people to return to their allegiance, to uphold the law, and to accept "a full and complete amnesty for all past acts and declarations;" April 5 removed the mayor and other officials of Nashville for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the United States, and appointed others; urged the holding of Union meetings throughout the State, and frequently attended them in person; completed the railroad from Nashville to the Tennessee River; raised twenty-five regiments for service in the State; December 8, 1862, issued a proclamation ordering Congressional elections, and on the 15th levied an assessment upon the richer Southern sympathizers "in behalf of the many helpless widows, wives, and children in the city of Nashville who have been reduced to poverty and wretchedness in consequence of their husbands, sons, and fathers having been forced into the armies of this unholy and nefarious rebellion." Was nominated for Vice-President of the United States at the national Republican convention at Baltimore June 8, 1864, and was elected on November 8. In his letter of acceptance of the nomination Mr. Johnson virtually disclaimed any departure from his principles as a Democrat, but placed his acceptance upon the ground of "the higher duty of first preserving the Government.' On the night of the 14th of April, 1865, President Lincoln was shot by an assassin and died the next morning. At 11 o'clock a. m. April 15 Mr. Johnson was sworn in as President, at his rooms in the Kirkwood House, Washington, by Chief Justice Chase, in the presence of nearly all the Cabinet officers and others. April 29, 1865, issued a proclamation for the removal of trade restrictions in most of the insurrectionary States, which, being in contravention of an act of Congress, was subsequently modified. May 9 issued an Executive order restoring Virginia to the Union. May 22 proclaimed all ports, except four in Texas, opened to foreign commerce on July 1, 1865. May 29 issued a general amnesty proclamation, after which the fundamental and irreconcilable differences between President Johnson and the party that had elevated him to power became more apparent. He exercised the veto power to a very great extent, but it was generally nullified by the two-thirds votes of both Houses. From May 29 to July 13, 1865, proclaimed provisional governors for North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida, whose duties were to reorganize the State governments. The State governments were reorganized, but the Republicans claimed that the laws passed were so stringent in reference to the negroes that it was a worse form of slavery than the old. The thirteenth amendment to the Constitution became a law December 18, 1865, with Mr. Johnson's concurrence. The first breach between the President and the party in power was the veto of the Freedmen's Bureau bill, in February, 1866, which was designed to protect the negroes. March 27 vetoed the civil-rights bill, but it was passed over his veto. In a message of June 22, 1866, opposed the

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »