History & Culture

"No public man in the United States has been so imperfectly understood as Andrew Johnson. None has been so difficult to understand." Hugh McCulloch, Johnson's Secretary of the Treasury

Johnson Brady portrait
Andrew Johnson

Courtesy of the NPS

Who Was Andrew Johnson?

Born into poverty in 1808, Andrew Johnson was the first President of the United States who had neither been a military hero nor studied law. In the aftermath of the hardships and antagonism endured during the Civil War, the country’s political, social and economic landscape changed, ushering in a new era where the face of the presidency was evolving as well.

Known in his time both as the "courageous commoner" and an "accidental president," this former tailor's apprentice worked to rise from his poverty-stricken circumstances to our Nation’s highest office. On his journey to the Executive Mansion, this self-taught man held nearly every political office available - without attending a single day of school.

Andrew Johnson's life is marked by passionate debate and controversy. Decisions he made during his presidency, based on his interpretation of the Constitution and his belief in the limits of the federal government, were often in direct opposition to Congressional measures legislated to enable the freedmen during the era of Reconstruction.

Many of the decisions and policies argued during his Presidency still impact the country today. Topics such as civil rights, citizenship, and enfranchisement were taking their first breaths along with the "new birth of freedom" emerging with the emancipation of over four million slaves.

On this page you will find a brief overview of Johnson's life, as well as a time-line and several topics that are trademarks of his complicated legacy. Discover more about your 17th President as you explore these links, several transcribed from Johnson's own words.



View a timeline of Andrew Johnson's life and political career.


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"'The execution of Mrs. Surrat [sic] was a crime of passion without justice or reason..." Andrew Johnson, 1875
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Andrew Johnson stated "there is no such thing as reconstruction."

Andrew Johnson and Congress were unable to agree on a plan for restoring the ravaged country following the Civil War. There was a marked difference between Congressional Reconstruction and Andrew Johnson's plan for Presidential Restoration. Learn more about the different manifestations of Reconstruction and what Andrew Johnson meant by this statement.


The structure of American society changed radically with the Civil War. Four million slaves were now free people. The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the United States Constitution attempted to deal with this enormous change in the country.

The 13th Amendment
The 14th Amendment
The 15th Amendment


Andrew Johnson vetoed more bills introduced by Congress than any other President before him.

Below you will find a partial list of Bills vetoed by Andrew Johnson. At first glance it is not easy to understand why Johnson vetoed much of what appeared to be such beneficial legislation. To understand Johnson's reasoning, click on the highlighted bills to discover the explanations Johnson supplied when he returned his vetoes to Congress.

Freedmen's Bureau Bill
Civil Rights Bill
Colorado Statehood Bill
District of Columbia Franchise Law
Nebraska Statehood Bill
Tenure of Office Act
First Military Reconstruction Act
Second Military Reconstruction Act
Third Military Reconstruction Act

Judiciary Act Amendment
Arkansas Statehood Bill
Admission of Six Southern States
Restrictions of Electoral Votes

Green impeachment ticket
A ticket to Andrew Johnson's trial - the tickets were color coded according to date. This one is dated the day after the final Senate vote.

A NPS Photo


Andrew Johnson was the first American president to be impeached.

Learn more about impeachment here.

A carved basket from Queen Emma
A carved basket from Queen Emma's visit to the White House

A NPS Photo


During Andrew Johnson's administration, the United States purchased Alaska, annexed Midway Island, and communicated with Europe by telegraph following the completion of a successful Transatlantic Cable. The British Novelist Charles Dickens and Queen Emma of the Sandwich Islands both paid visits to the White House. Andrew Johnson was also the first President to hold the Easter Egg Roll at the White House, and when he turned 60, he invited 300 children to the White House for his birthday party.

Johnson speech from train

Return to Politics

Andrew Johnson remains the only president to return to the Senate. He made unsuccessful bids for the Senate and House of Representatives in 1869 and 1872 before finding success in 1875.

Learn more of the stories behind these campaigns:

The 1869 Senate Race
The 1872 House Campaign
The Senate Election of 1875
Andrew Jonson sews on tailor table while Eliza reads to him
Eliza reading to Andrew as he works

NPS Image

Who Was Eliza Johnson?

Most people know that Eliza tutored Andrew Johnson in the early days of their marriage, or that she was a reclusive First Lady. There is much more to her story

-Read more about this quiet yet strong force behind Andrew Johnson.

Last updated: July 20, 2023

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site
121 Monument Ave.

Greeneville, TN 37743


423 638-3551

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