In ranking the Presidents of the United States we are at #41 the 17th POTUS Andrew Johnson. { So far we have William Henry Harrison not ranked due to his only serving a month as POTUS and James Buchanan at #42- the worst president now Johnson} Andrew Johnson became president when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

No president has started out in more humble of a background that Andrew Johnson. He was born into extreme poverty in 1808. His father died when he was three. He became an apprentice to a tailor when he was ten years old. He is the only president who received no schooling- he never went to school for a day. He learned to read as a teenager. He is the president who married at the youngest age, he was eighteen when he married Eliza McCardle who was sixteen at the time, the daughter of a local shoemaker.

In his teens he had left his native North Carolina for Tennessee and in his early 20’s started his political career as a town alderman in Greeneville, Tennessee. He would go on to become the mayor of the town. He is the first president who had been a mayor. Then moving up to the Tennessee state legislature and state senate. From 1943-53 he served in the U.S. House of Representatives and from 1953-57 was the Governor of Tennessee. He served as U.S. Senator from 1957-62. Remaining loyal to the Union in the American Civil War he was the Military Governor of occupied Tennessee from 1862 until he became the Vice President.

When Abraham Lincoln ran for a second term he dropped his first term Vice President Hannibal Hamlin and named Andrew Johnson his new VP to get a more balanced ticket. On Inaugural Day Johnson who had been ill drank too much whiskey and before taking the oath in the senate chambers gave a long rambling incoherent speech which embarrassed Lincoln. Due to this incident there were always rumors that Johnson was a drunk but he wasn’t. Johnson didn’t do much else for the next six weeks until Lincoln was assassinated and he became POTUS on April 15, 1865. The John Wilkes Booth plot had involved also having Johnson assassinated but his potential assassin George Atzerodt thought better of it and never made an attempt.

As POTUS Johnson was facing an uphill battle from the start. The American Civil War was ending and President Lincoln had been assassinated. Never mind that for most of his presidency Lincoln was one of the most unpopular presidents ever. With the Union winning the war- and then with Lincoln’s death, Lincoln was transformed into Father Abraham. How do you follow that act? Even the most capable of men would have had a hard time and Johnson was not that. The one thing that can be said about Johnson is he was for the Union.

Johnson was considered a fine public speaker. His style was blunt, direct and to the point. Some historians have said that Lincoln left at the right time for his legacy. If anyone could have handled the post-war turmoil it would have been Lincoln but who knows how it would have worked out. Lincoln’s plan was- the war is over, the south is back as part of the country- in one word, forgiveness. Johnson’s goal was to carry out  Reconstruction as Lincoln had planned.. The problem was the Radical Republicans in Congress wanted the south to suffer for the war, to really stick it to them. Andrew Johnson didn’t have to political or personal skills to deal with the radicals. Johnson was a southerner and although he was a Unionist he held typical southern views of the time on African-Americans. He was for letting southerners rejoin the Union by taking a Oath of Allegiance but he wasn’t interested in the rights of African-Americans. Congress passed the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill and the Civil Rights Act which gave every American equal rights and protected the rights of the former slaves. Johnson vetoed both bills but Congress had enough votes to override his vetoes.

Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act which made it so a president couldn’t remove officials from office without the approval of Congress.In August 1967 a defiant Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton without notifying Congress. This would cause Congress to bring charges of Impeachment against Johnson and he became the first POTUS to be impeached. After the trial in the U.S. Senate the vote was 35-19 in favor of impeachment- Johnson barely survived one more vote would have found him guilty and thrown out of office. After this Johnson had no influence at all, he was just playing out the string until his presidency was over.

After leaving the presidency Johnson would return home to Tennessee and would do what few presidents have done, return to office. In 1875 he would win election to the U.S. Senate from Tennessee but would die on July 31 of that same year at the age of 66. No other former President has done what Johnson did- in returning as a US Senator. John Quincy Adams after his presidency would serve in the US House of Representatives for many years and William Howard Taft after his presidency would be named Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Some presidents legacies go up and down over time. Johnson’s reputation was low when he office and has remained so over the years.

So far one the countdown of Worst to First- Unranked- William Henry Harrison. 42nd-[the worst} the 15th POTUS James Buchanan and 41st-the 17th POTUS Andrew Johnson. The two worst in my opinion bookend #16 POTUS Abraham Lincoln.

Some interesting facts about the 17th president Andrew Johnson,

  • Andrew Johnson was the first president to be impeached. William Jefferson Clinton is the only other impeached president. Richard Milhous Nixon if he hadn’t resigned would have no doubt been impeached, found guilty and removed from office.
  • After Johnson fired Edwin Stanton he replaced his with Ulysses S. Grant as Secretary of War. Later when Grant ran for president Johnson opposed him. That I am sure for some served as an endorsement for Grant.
  • During Johnson’s time in office, nearly four full years he appointed no justices to the US Supreme Court. The only president who served a full term that didn’t get the chance to name someone to the Supreme Court was Jimmy Carter.
  • One great accomplishment of the Johnson years was Secretary of State William Seward’s purchasing of Alaska from Russia for $7, 200,000. At the time it was thought of by most as a foolish move and was called “Seward’s Folly.” Later on when they discovered all the natural resourses that the land has it turned out to be a move of brilliance. Give Seward the credit but it came under Andy Johnson’s watch.