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American Andrew JOHNSON

17th President of the United States

Source :  Tim DOWLING

Born: on December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
Died: on July 31, 1875 in Elizabethton, Tennessee, USA


Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Jacob Johnson (1778–1812) and Mary ("Polly") McDonough (1783–1856), a seamstress and the daughter of Andrew McDonough. He had a brother William four years his elder and an older sister Elizabeth who died in childhood. Johnson's grandfather William was poverty stricken, and left his son Jacob landless and illiterate. In Raleigh, Jacob became town constable and suddenly died shortly after rescuing three drowning men, leaving his family in poverty when Andrew was three. Johnson's mother then took in work spinning and weaving to support her family, and she later was remarried to Turner Doughtry. She bound Andrew as an apprentice tailor; Johnson had no formal education but taught himself how to read and write, with some help from his masters, as was their obligation under his apprenticeship.

As a youngster living in poverty, along with his childhood friends, Johnson was an object of ridicule from members of higher social circles; as such, he was commonly referred to as "poor white trash" by the elite in Raleigh. Nevertheless, he and his peers were acutely aware that they were one step above the lowest on the socio-economic ladder, i.e. the black community. As a consequence, Johnson assumed an attitude of white supremacy typical of one in his position in his town, and he was unable to ever shed this perspective during his life.

At age 16 or 17, Johnson left his apprenticeship and ran away with his brother, landing ultimately in Laurens, South Carolina for two years, where he found work as a tailor. Here he found his first love, Mary Wood, for whom he made a quilt. His marriage proposal to her was rejected however, and he returned to Raleigh but could not remain there, as his master J. Selby refused to release him from his apprenticeship obligation. He made his way to Mooresville, Alabama, where Joseph Sloss taught him how to tailor frock suits.

Johnson returned to Raleigh and from there traveled with his mother, stepfather and brother to Greeneville, Tennessee and established a very successful tailoring business in the front of his home; he was joined by a partner, Hentle W. Adkinson. At the age of 18, Johnson married 16 year-old Eliza McCardle in 1827; she was the daughter of a local shoemaker. The couple were married for 50 years and had five children: Martha (1828), Charles (1830), Mary (1832), Robert (1834), and Andrew Jr. (1852). Though she suffered from consumption, Eliza was consistently supportive of Johnson's endeavors; she taught Johnson arithmetic up to basic algebra and tutored him to improve his literacy, reading, and writing skills.

His reading about famous oratory sparked in Johnson a natural interest in political dialogue and private debates with customers having opposing views on issues of the day. Johnson then initiated public debates and organized a debating society with a customer Blackston McDannel. He also participated in debates at Tusculum College in Greeneville, and later helped organize a mechanics' party ticket that elected him as a town alderman in 1829, a position he retained until he was elected Mayor in 1834. In 1831 he became a member of the 90th Regiment of the Tennessee militia. Neither the Democratic or the newly formed Whig party was then well organized in that part of Tennessee. At that time, a state convention was called to pass a new constitution, including provisions to disenfranchise freedmen and to reform real estate tax rates; the constitution was submitted for a public vote and Johnson successfully campaigned in favor of it, which provided him with additional positive statewide exposure.

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See Also :

- Category American politician