Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808 – July 31, 1875) was the 17th President of the United States (1865–69), succeeding to the Presidency upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He was the first U.S. President to be impeached.
At the time of the secession of the Southern states, Johnson was a U.S. Senator from Greeneville in eastern Tennessee. As a Unionist, he was the only southern Senator not to quit his post upon secession. He became the most prominent War Democrat from the South and supported the military policies of US President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War of 1861–1865. In 1862 Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of occupied Tennessee, where he proved to be energetic and effective in fighting the rebellion and beginning transition to Reconstruction. Johnson was nominated for the Vice President slot in 1864 on the National Union Party ticket. He and Lincoln were elected in November 1864. Johnson succeeded to the Presidency upon Lincoln's assassination on April 15, 1865. As president he took charge of Presidential Reconstruction – the first phase of Reconstruction – which lasted until the Radical Republicans gained control of Congress in the 1866 elections. His conciliatory policies towards the South, his hurry to reincorporate the former Confederates back into the union, and his vetoes of civil rights bills embroiled him in a bitter dispute with some Republicans. The Radicals in the House of Representatives impeached him in 1868 while charging him with violating the Tenure of Office Act, a law enacted by Congress in March 1867 over Johnson's veto, but he was acquitted by a single vote in the Senate. He is the most recent President to represent a party other than the Republican or Democratic parties, having represented both the Democrats and the National Union Party. He is consistently ranked by historians as being among the worst U.S. presidents.
Johnson was elected governor of Tennessee, serving from 1853 to 1857. He was then elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate, serving from October 8, 1857 to March 4, 1862. He was chairman of the Committee to Audit and Control the Contingent Expense (Thirty-sixth Congress). Before Tennessee voted on secession, Johnson – who lived in Unionist east Tennessee – toured the state speaking in opposition to the act, which he said was unconstitutional. Johnson was an aggressive stump speaker and often responded to hecklers, even those in the Senate. At the time of the secession of Tennessee, Johnson was the only Senator from the seceded states to continue participation in Congress. His explanation for this decision was "Damn the negroes, I am fighting those traitorous aristocrats, their masters."
Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of occupied Tennessee in March 1862 with the rank of brigadier general. During his three years in this office, he "moved resolutely to eradicate all pro-Confederate influences in the state." This "unwavering commitment to the Union" was a significant factor in his choice as vice-president by Lincoln. Johnson vigorously suppressed the Confederates and later spoke out for black suffrage, arguing, "The better class of them will go to work and sustain themselves, and that class ought to be allowed to vote, on the ground that a loyal negro is more worthy than a disloyal white man." According to tradition and local lore, on August 8, 1863, Johnson freed his personal slaves.
Currier and Ives print of the National Union Party presidential candidates, 1864. Lithograph and watercolor. As a leading War Democrat and pro-Union southerner, Johnson was an ideal candidate for the Republicans in 1864 as they enlarged their base to include War Democrats. They changed the party name to the National Union Party to reflect this expansion. During the election Johnson replaced Hannibal Hamlin as Lincoln's running mate. He was elected Vice President of the United States and was inaugurated March 4, 1865. At the ceremony, Johnson, who had been drinking to offset the pain of typhoid fever (as he explained later), gave a rambling speech and appeared intoxicated to many. In early 1865, Johnson talked harshly of hanging traitors like Jefferson Davis, which endeared him to the Radicals.