Andrew Johnson: 10 Noteworthy Achievements

Achievements of Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson’s first political milestone came when he got elected as a mayor in Greeneville, Tennessee in 1834. He followed this up with elected offices in both houses of Tennessee’s legislature. All in all, he spent about 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives before moving to the U.S. Senate. In 1864, he was elected to run as the vice presidential candidate of President Abraham Lincoln. Upon the assassination of Lincoln, Johnson was sworn into office as the 17th president of the United States.

We bring to you 10 noteworthy achievements of Andrew Johnson. It also includes the conflict he had with the Republican-controlled Congress, which almost removed him from the White House during the impeachment trial of 1868.

Quick Facts about Andrew Johnson

Born – December 29, 1808, Raleigh, North Carolina

Death – July 31, 1875, Elizabethton, Tennessee

Parents – Jacob Johnson and Mary (“Polly”) McDonough

Spouse – Eliza McCardle Johnson (married in 1827)

Children – Martha, Charles, Mary, Robert, and Andrew Jr

Education – None

Apprenticeship – Tailor

Political Party – Democratic Party

U.S. Vice President – March 4, 1865 – April 15, 1865

U.S. President – 17th president of the United State (April 15, 1865 – March 4, 1869)

Predecessor – Abraham Lincoln

SuccessorUlysses S. Grant

Other Offices held – Tennessee Senate (March, 1875 – July, 1875), Military Governor of Tennessee (1862 -1865), 15th Governor of Tennessee (1853 – 1857), U.S. House of Representatives (1843 – 1853), Tennessee House of Representatives (1835), Mayor of Greeneville, Tennessee (1834 – 1835)

Nickname – “The Veto President”

Major Achievements of Andrew Johnson

Alderman and mayor in Tennessee

Andrew Johnson burst onto the political scene as an alderman in Greeneville municipality. His time as an alderman was not very memorable. He even supported the passage of a new constitution that in some way curtailed the political rights of freed African Americans.

Using the popularity he gained during his tenure as an alderman, he was elected mayor of Greeneville in January 1834. About a year later, he swept himself to victory, winning a seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives at Nashville. While serving as a state legislature, he became a member of the 90th Regiment in the Tennessee Militia, rising to the rank of colonel.

In his early political days, he was very apolitical, voting purely on his convictions. Regardless of that, he still had strong admiration for then U.S. President Andrew Jackson. His membership in the Democratic Party came towards the latter part of 1839. After the Democrats lost the White House to the Whig Party in the 1840 presidential election, Johnson worked very hard to keep the state of Tennessee a stronghold for the Democratic Party. The following year, he contested and won a seat in the Tennessee Senate in Nashville

He built a successful tailoring business

Born to parents Jacob Johnson and Mary McDonough, Andrew Johnson grew up in a very poor family of Scottish and Irish descent. Both his parents were illiterates. But for his voracious appetite to read and self-educate himself, Johnson would have ended up being an illiterate. Right from an early age, he was particularly keen on self-educating himself. Most of his literacy skills were acquired while serving as an apprentice at a tailor’s shop in Raleigh.

With experiences gained from apprenticeship training in Raleigh and Columbia, Tennessee, Johnson went ahead to establish his own tailoring business in Greeneville, Tennessee. He was so successful that he invested some of the business proceeds in real estate, buying some very good parcels of land in the state.

Won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives

Andrew Johnson | Image by Vannerson, 1859

Johnson’s political career was one of steady and gradual progress. After a few years serving as a state legislator in Tennessee, Johnson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, defeating John A. Aiken. His time in the House saw him lend his support to controlled federal government spending. He also supported policies that helped the poor.

Another very important contribution he made in the House was to support the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad. Johnson spent a total of 10 years as a House representative. Thus, he was elected five times.

Streamlined Tennessee’s judicial system

In 1853, Andrew Johnson contested the Tennessee governorship election. He defeated Gustavus Henry, a Whig state senator, to become the 15th governor of Tennessee. As governor, he used the position to promote his political ideas. Some of his notable initiatives came in the form of increased funding for schools in the state. As part of his effort to boost the quality of education in the state, he established a public library for the state. During his four-year stay as governor of Tennessee, he also worked hard to streamline the state’s judicial system.

Voted to the U.S. Senate in 1857

In 1857, Andrew Johnson set his attention on gaining a seat in the U.S. Senate. He opted not to stay on as governor of Tennessee. To the surprise of many opposition figures in Tennessee, Johnson was elected by his state to serve as a senator in the U.S Senate.

Johnson’s biggest support came from small farmers and the economic marginalized in the state. As a U.S. senator, he came out in 1859 to criticize the Harpers Ferry raid, which was perpetrated by radical abolitionist John Brown.

He was committed to keeping the Union intact at all cost

Just prior to the Southern states seceding from the Union, Jefferson Davis (Mississippi senator and later president of the Confederate States of America) and Johnson were at loggerheads. The issue was over Southern states’ senators’ decision to resign from the U.S. Congress. Johnson was against such moves. He gave a number of speeches in the Senate defending the need to keep the Union intact.

I will not give up this government … No; I intend to stand by it … and I invite every man who is a patriot to … rally around the altar of our common country … and swear by our God, and all that is sacred and holy, that the Constitution shall be saved, and the Union preserved.

He campaigned vigorously in his state, defending his stand on why Tennessee should remain in the Union. In spite of his efforts, Tennessee conducted a referendum and voted to leave the Union. Shortly after the secession, Johnson had to flee the state, leaving behind his family in Greeneville, Tennessee.

While his fellow Southern senators abandoned the U.S. Senate, Andrew Johnson made a bold move by not resigning from the U.S. Senate. This made him the only Southern senator to stay in the Senate prior to break out of the American Civil War.

Fought bravely as a Southern Unionist during the Civil War

Between 1862 and 1865, Andrew Johnson was in the U.S. Army. He fought for the Union during the American Civil War. He attained the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Army.

In March 1862, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln appointed him to the position of military governor of Tennessee. And upon his appointment, his lands and properties were confiscated by the Confederates. Regardless of those intimidation tactics carried out by the South, Johnson remained resolute in his fight for the Union.

For most part of his early political career, he was against the abolition of slavery. However, when it came to choosing between the continuation of slavery and keeping the Union alive, Johnson was all in favor of abolition slavery. As a devoted Unionist, Johnson was involved in the recruitment of about 20,000 African Americans to fight for the Union during the American Civil War.

If the institution of slavery … seeks to overthrow it [the Government], then the Government has a clear right to destroy it.

As a military governor of Tennessee, Johnson exerted so much effort to remove the last remnants of Confederate positions in Tennessee. He proceeded to shut down all Confederate newspaper houses.

16th Vice President of the United States

The Lincoln-Johnson pairing sent a message of reconciliation to the South | Image by Currier and Ives

Owing to the amazing work he did while serving as military governor of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson was tapped by Abraham Lincoln as his running mate in the 1864 presidential election. He defeated Hannibal Hamlin to clinch the nomination for vice president.

Additionally, the Lincoln-Johnson pairing sent a message to the South that the North was prepared to take in the South back after the Civil War. In order to show their capacity for reconciliation, the two politicians even contested the election under the National Union Party. Lincoln and Johnson got elected quite easily.

As vice president, Andrew Johnson focused on transferring the reins of governance in Tennessee from a military regime to a civilian one. Before his swearing in as vice president, Johnson’s final act as military governor saw him abolish slavery in Tennessee. He certified Tennessee’s ratification of a new constitution that abolished slavery on February 22, 1865.

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Andrew Johnson’s Accomplishment during his presidency

Andrew Johnson’s ascension to the top position in Washington came after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a radical confederate sympathizer. Johnson was sworn into office on April 15 1865, a day after Lincoln’s death. Thus, he stayed as vice president for just six weeks. As president, he maintained all the staff that he inherited from his predecessor.

Did you know that the conspirators that carried out the shooting of President Lincoln on April 14, 1865 also intended shooting Johnson and Secretary Seward? George Atzerodt is believed to be the man that was aiming to shoot Johnson. Fortunately, Atzerodt got drunk on booze the previous day.

In addition to working very hard to bring the seceded states back into the Union, Andrew Johnson can boost of the following achievements:

–    Reconstruction and Reconciliation

He worked to ensure that the seceded Southern states reform their civil governments. He was not quick to exact the harshest form of punishments to the Southern states. On so many occasions, he turned down the requests from radical Republicans who wanted to enforce the political and economic rights of freed slaves in the South. Johnson vehemently disagreed with them. He wanted the states themselves to handle issues pertaining to black suffrage and rights for freedmen.

The voting rights of African-Americans were not of a big priority to Johnson. He thought of them a distraction to his re-election bid. Therefore, he ordered that the South arrange for constitutional conventions. Initially, this move of his was seen by both the North and the South as a step in the right direction. However, as time went by, Northern politicians started to feel that the South was treated a bit too lenient by President Andrew Johnson. The North wanted the South to atone for the misery it caused during the Civil War. They wanted the South to apologize and immediately bring an end to slavery. They also wanted the South to quicken the process of lifting the freedmen from their deplorable conditions.

Realizing that President Johnson was not interested in punishing the South too severely, some Southern states decided to pass Black Codes. The codes went against everything the North stood for when it came to empowering freedmen. To add insult to injury, some Southern states even elected former Confederates to serve in the U.S. Senate.

Although he was very saddened by the actions of the South, Andrew Johnson decided not to act, reasoning that the South be giving the freedom to handle their internal state affairs all by themselves. As a result, he vetoed many Republican-dominated Congress bills that sought to force the Southern states to grant civil liberties to the freed slaves. Congress in turn overrode his vetoes.

Did you know: Andrew Johnson was called "The Veto President" due to his over usage of presidential veto?

Ultimately, the back and forth exchanges he had with Congress culminated in him being impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. But for a single vote in the Senate, President Andrew Johnson would have been removed from office.

             Alaska purchase

During his presidency, he signed the treaty to buy Alaska – Russia’s North American colony. On  March 30, 1867, Russia’s ambassador to the US Eduard de Stoecki and Secretary of State William H. Seward finalized the agreement for the purchase of Alaska for $7.2 million. On April 1, 1867, the U.S. Senate approved the treaty 37 to 2. The deal to buy Alaska was considered a monumental failure back. However, history has vindicated Andrew Johnson. Aside its vast natural resources, Alaska today occupies an important geopolitical position for the United States.

             Appointed nine Article III federal judges

Andrew Johnson’s presidency saw him appoint a total of nine federal judges to the U.S. districts courts. Also, he appointed Samuel Milligan to the US Court of Claims in 1868.

         He established the eight-hour workday for laborers and mechanics on the Federal payroll.

Got elected to the U.S. Senate for a second time

Senator Andrew Johnson in 1875

Andrew Johnson holds the distinguished honor of being the only former president in U.S. history to serve in the U.S. Senate post his time in the White House. Sadly, five months into his tenure, on July 31, 1875, he died of stroke. He was 66. His body was buried at Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in Greeneville, Tennessee.

Historians and scholars have stated that Andrew Johnson ranks as one of the worst presidents in the history of the United States because he was afraid to crack the whip on Southern states that opposed granting civil liberties to African Americans.

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