From Tailor to President: The Story of Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site

Follow Andrew Johnson's journey from his humble origins as a Tailor's Apprentice to the Executive Mansion as our 17th President

The American Speaker sparks it all...
A customer at the Raleigh, NC Tailor Shop where Johnson was apprenticed promised to give Andrew this book if he promised to learn to read it. The collection of speeches fueled young Andrew's desire to overcome his humble beginnings. Its preface promised to "fire the minds of our young men, by placing in their view some of the brightest examples of Genius; to enable them ‘With lips of fire to plead their Country’s cause!’”

Andrew Johnson ran away from his apprenticeship as a teenager. With a reward on his head, he traveled throughout the South honing his trade. He eventually returned to Raleigh, NC for his mother and step-father. They settled in Greeneville, TN, where Andrew opened his own shop and married a local girl, Eliza McCardle. The famed Tailor Shop is now protected inside this Memorial Building.

A pair of Johnson's thimbles

Large shears cut heavy wool and broadcloth to fashion suits for the men of town.

Andrew Johnson's brother, William, crafted this tailoring table.

A wedding coat kept as a local family heirloom remains as an example of Johnson's handiwork.

The 1834 Election
Residents of the small town of Greeneville, TN would gather in Andrew Johnson's Tailor Shop to debate current events of the day. When Johnson was found to have a knack for it, his peers encouraged him to run in a local election. His first office was serving as a member of Greeneville's Board of Aldermen. The stage was set for the next 40 years of public service.

When this portrait was painted, Johnson was a US Senator advocating the preservation of the Union. He was the only Senator from a seceded state to retain his position when his peers left to join the Confederacy.

In 1862 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton commissioned Andrew Johnson as Military Governor of Tennessee. Johnson's daunting task was to reestablish a Union government in the Confederate state.

Johnson worked long hours as Military Governor, and he used this lamp to walk back and forth from the Capitol building.

The "loyal men of Nashville" engraved this silver set and gave it to Johnson as testament to their support for his Governorship.

Andrew Johnson freed the slaves of Tennessee in October 1864. In February the freedmen presented this watch with the engraving ~ "FOR HIS UNTIRING ENERGY IN THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM FEBRUARY 22ND 1865"

The Vice-Presidency and Presidency
This campaign vase was an example of Presidential ephemera in 1864. Johnson's image was on one side, Lincoln's on the other. Lincoln chose Johnson as a running mate because of his loyalty to the Union and his success as serving as Tennessee's wartime Military Governor; their pairing was also used as an appeal to pro-Union Democrats. They ran under the National Union Ticket; it remains the only time a Republican and a Democrat have shared a ticket.

Andrew Johnson laid his hand on this Bible as he took the Presidential oath. The country was in turmoil with the assassination of President Lincoln and the end of the Civil War.

Many of Johnson's documents were stamped with his signature. His right arm had been broken in a train wreck and never set properly.

Although the Presidential seal is gone, Johnson used this stamping board to pardon 13,500 former Confederates. He issued more pardons than any President before or since.

Andrew Johnson was the first President to be impeached by the House of Representatives for "High Crimes and Misdemeanors." The basis for his impeachment began with the disagreements on Reconstruction policy between himself and Congress. The culmination of the conflict came when Johnson dismissed his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, in violation of the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson stood trial by the Senate and was acquitted by one vote needed for the 2/3rd majority to convict. Andrew Johnson finished his term in office. 

Despite the impeachment, Johnson received tokens of support from the American people. These coins came from the 1st Constitutional Club of Pennsylvania in support of Johnson's "courage and fidelity" in defense of the Constitution.

After this Tailor-made President returned to Greeneville, TN from Washington, D.C., he spent the last six years of his life in this comfortable house, which the family called the Homestead. The Homestead is filled with original furnishings and belongings that complete the story of this remarkable journey.

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Images courtesy of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site

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