Andrew Johnson's Obituary

[From page 1 of The New York Times, August 1, 1875]




     Andrew Johnson, ex-President of the United States and member of the Senate from Tennessee, died at the house of his daughter, Mrs. W.R. Brown, near Elizabethtown, Carter County, Tenn., at 2 o'clock yesterday morning. The history this man leaves is a rare one. His career was remarkable, even in this country; it would have been quite impossible in any other. It presents the spectacle of a man who never went to school a day in his life rising from a humble beginning as a tailor's apprentice through a long succession of posts of civil responsibility to the highest office in the land, and evincing his continued hold upon the popular heart by a subsequent election to the Senate in the teeth of a bitter personal and political opposition. Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, N.C., Dec. 29, 1808. His father, Jacob Johnson, who was in the humblest circumstances, was drowned while attempting to save the life of Editor Henderson, of the Raleigh Gazette, in 1812, and six years later young Andrew, at the age of ten, was apprenticed to a tailor named Selby. School was then out of the question, of course, and the outlook was that the young man would grow up to an illiterate life. But the intellect that was in him was aroused through the instrumentality of a Raleigh gentleman, whose practice it was to read aloud to the tailor's employees from books of published speeches. The speeches of some of the British statesmen particularly attracted his attention, and he set about learning to read with the same determination which characterized his later life. By resolute application after work hours and in moments taken from sleep, he soon succeeded and was able to read the speeches and other books for himself. He left Raleigh in 1824, before his apprenticeship had expired, and went to Laurens Court House, S.C., where he worked two years at his trade, and then, after a return to Raleigh and a brief stay there, he removed with his mother to Greenville, Tenn. He soon married, and was fortunate enough to get a wife who was a help-meet to him in every sense of the word. She set herself at once to supply his greatest lack, became his teacher, giving him such oral instruction as was possible while he was at work, and teaching him writing, arithmetic, and other branches at night. Under her faithful tuition he acquired a fair education. The native forces of his mind supplied the remaining elements of his success.
     We find him early in politics. In natural sympathy with the laboring classes, he became their local champion, and organized a Working Man's party in 1828, and, as its candidate for Alderman of Greenville, defeated the more aristocratic party and broke their rule in the town. In 1830 he was chosen Mayor, and held that office for three years. Four years later he gained a more than local prominence by active exertions to secure the adoption of a new State Constitution, and offering himself the next year as a Democratic candidate for the lower branch of the Legislature, he was elected, winning support mainly by his vigorous speeches. A grand and costly scheme of internal improvement which came before the Legislature incurred his earnest opposition, and though his denunciation of it made him temporarily unpopular and defeated him in the canvass of 1837, yet his course was vindicated by the deplorable working of the enacted bill, and he was returned to the Legislature in 1839. He was one of the Democratic electors in the Presidential year of 1840, and canvassed Tennessee for Martin Van Buren. His powers of oratory were then first publicly revealed, and they proved very effective even against some of the noted public men of the day. He was elected to the State Senate in 1841, and gained much credit for the introduction and advocacy of a judicious plan of internal improvement of the eastern portion of the State. But he was destined to a broader sphere of influence. In 1843 he was elected to Congress in the First Tennessee District, defeating Col. John A. Asken, a Democrat of the United States Bank stamp. By successive re-elections he was continued in Congress for ten years. He was during the time a prominent supporter of the national measures of his party, favoring the annexation of Texas and the Mexican war, and being a conspicuous advocate of the Homestead bill, to give 160 acres of the public lands to any one who would settle upon and till them. It is curious and suggestive to find him in 1848 making a long and powerful speech in favor of the veto power. By a redistricting of his State a Whig majority was created in his district, and in 1853 he was defeated in the Congressional canvass. Compensation came in his election as Governor of the State the same year, over Gustavus A. Henry, the Whig and "Know-Nothing" candidate. The canvass was unusually spirited, even for Tennessee, and on one occasion when he was to address a large gathering, Mr. Johnson appeared on the platform with a pistol in his hand. He was re-elected Governor in 1855, and his administration of the State affairs, both in that and the preceding term of office, was marked by a regard for the public interest, rather than party fealty. A higher honor came to him in his election to the United States Senate by the Legislature of 1857. In his Senatorial career he was generally found upon the side of retrenchment and the interests of the laboring classes. He opposed the increase of the Army and the Pacific Railroad bill, and, as in the House, urged the passage of the Homestead bill -- which, however, was lost by President Buchanan's veto -- and took an active part in the discussion concerning retrenchment. Coming from a slave State, and himself owning slaves, he held slavery to be protected by the Constitution and beyond the interference of Congress; nevertheless, he believed in its ultimate overthrow. He denounced the John Brown raid, and in those early mutterings of the coming tempest he urged concessions to the South to calm the rising discontent, and new guarantees for the protection of slavery.
     It was in the era of the rebellion that Andrew Johnson achieved his greatest distinction. It was not necessary for him to weigh the chances of the coming struggle, or to nicely estimate its moral elements, like some others of the less radical class of Southern statesmen. He was by principle and training unreservedly for the right, and he declared without hesitation for the Union, and strove with all the strength of his rugged soul against the secession faction. In the Presidential campaign of 1860, he at first supported Breckinridge and Lane, who represented the ultra-Southern Democrats, but at the first unmasking of the secession designs of this wing of his party he quitted their camp and vehemently denounced their unhallowed purpose. He saw no threat of injustice to the South in the election of Abraham Lincoln, and in the memorable Senate debates which preceded the withdrawal of the Southern members his powerful appeal to them to remain and "fight for the constitutional rights on the battlements of the Constitution," defined most clearly his position, and will be remembered as a noble and patriotic effort. But secession had then too vigorous a growth to be checked by any forensic effort, however moving. One after another the Southern States seceded, and finally Mr. Johnson's own State, Tennessee, was declared out of the Union by its Legislature, though the people had voted against holding a convention to consider the question of secession. Out of this discord a condition of mob law and anarchy was speedily developed, and when Senator Johnson returned home in April, 1861, at the close of the session of Congress, he found himself exposed to violence, and in the gravest personal peril. He was burned in effigy in nearly every city in the State, and on one occasion a mob entered a railroad car in which he was riding declaring that they were going to lynch him. He met them with a pistol in his hand and cowed them. At the East Tennessee Union Convention of May 3, 1861, he was prominent, and a little later, while on his way to attend a special session of Congress, he was honored by an enthusiastic public reception in Cincinnati. Through his efforts the Unionists of East Tennessee, persecuted and driven from their homes by the rebels, were given shelter, food and protection at Camp Dick Robinson, established by the Government.
     President Lincoln nominated Mr. Johnson Military Governor of Tennessee March 4, 1862, and on the 12th he assumed the trying responsibilities of that office at Nashville. The rebel State Government had been driven from that city to Memphis. Mr. Johnson's wife and child had only a little while before been driven from their home and his property and slaves confiscated, but in a proclamation announcing his appointment, he said that, though it might be necessary to punish conscious treason in high places, no merely vindictive or retaliatory policy would be pursued. It required no common courage to rule with the firmness he displayed in that dark and perilous time. Civil officers who refused to take the oath of allegiance were at once removed and their places filled by Union men. He even imprisoned the disloyal clergymen of Nashville after they had expressed their determination not to take the oath. He levied a tax upon prominent secessionists to maintain the women and children whose husbands and fathers had been "forced into the armies of this unholy and nefarious rebellion." In the Summer of 1863 the entire State of Tennessee was brought under Federal military control, and a convention was held at Nashville in September to consider the question of restoring the State to the Union. Gov. Johnson then expressed the belief that it had never been out of the Union, holding that there was no constitutional provision permitting secession. In January, 1864, the machinery of the State civil government was set in motion again by an election of State and county officers ordered by him. The National Republican Convention of June 7, 1864, held at Baltimore, renominated Abraham Lincoln for President, with Andrew Johnson as the nominee for Vice President. In September he ordered an election in Tennessee for the choice of Presidential Electors, and made a rigid test oath the condition of suffrage. He was inaugurated with Mr. Lincoln March 4, 1865.
     Undoubtedly the greatest misfortune that ever befell Andrew Johnson was the assassination of President Lincoln, April 14, 1865. It promoted him to the eminent position of President of the nation, it is true, but the student of history is forced to conclude that his posthumous fame would have been brighter without this high honor and the consequences it entailed. Up to this time Mr. Johnson's public life had been such that he incurred, in weightier matters, only the hostility of men whose opposition was, to an upright and honest man, more honorable than their approval; but his Presidential acts were of a kind that speedily alienated from him the party whose votes elected him, and left him only the questionable and lukewarm support of the opposition. In a speech of welcome to a delegation of citizens of Illinois who called on him on the 18th of April, President Johnson said:
     "The times we live in are not without instruction. The American people must be taught -- if they do not already feel -- that treason is a crime and must be punished; that the Government will not always bear with its enemies; that it is strong not only to protect but to punish."
     These words seemed to foreshadow a reconstruction policy which would deal with the leading secessionists severely, as the people were then in a mood to demand. He offered $100,000 for the arrest of Jefferson Davis, and large sums also for other leading Confederates. Early in May rules were issued governing trade with the States lately in rebellion, but on the 24th of June all restrictions were removed. Then rapidly followed orders restoring Virginia to her Federal relations, establishing provisional governments in the Southern States, and (on May 29) granting a general amnesty to all persons engaged in the rebellion, except certain classes who could receive pardon by special application. When Congress assembled the popular opposition to this hasty method of reconstruction took shape in a quarrel between Congress and the President. The Republican majority held that some substantial guarantee of good faith should be required of the rebellious States before they were admitted to their former rights and privileges, and that some provision should be made for protecting the freedmen. The difference of opinion between the Executive and Congress led to his vetoing the first Civil Rights bill and an act extending the Freedmen's Bureau. The bills were both passed over his veto, and President Johnson, certainly with questionably taste, repeatedly asserted in public that Congress was in an attitude of rebellion. It was not possible for the Cabinet chosen by Mr. Lincoln to be in harmony with his successor's policy, and in July, Postmaster General Dennison, Attorney General Speed, and Secretary of the Interior Harlan resigned, and the President at once filling their places. In the latter part of August President Johnson with Secretaries Seward and Welles, and Gen. Grant and others, set out for Chicago to attend the ceremonies of laying the corner-stone of the monument to Stephen A. Douglas. It was this trip that gave rise to the well-known expression "swinging around the circle." The President spoke very freely of his policy in the different places on the route, openly denouncing Congress and saying many things that were decidedly inconsistent with the dignity of his position, and unquestionably injurious to him. The Fall elections showed incontestably that the popular approval was with Congress. On the reassembling of Congress the President vetoed bills denying the admission of States that had not ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, and giving the right of suffrage without distinction of color in Territories and the District of Columbia. Congress passed the bills over his veto, however. That body having also passed over his veto a bill establishing military districts in ten of the seceding States and making the civil authority therein subordinate to the military commanders, representing the United States Government, there arose a difficulty that widened the breach between the Executive and the Congress.
     Attorney General Stanbury decided, on application of the President, that some provisions of the act were unconstitutional, whereby its enforcement by the military commanders was greatly impeded. Congress passed another act in July, 1867, making these commanders responsible only to the General of the Army, and after its passage over his veto President Johnson removed the commanders and substituted others. On the 12th of August, the same year, Edwin M. Stanton was removed from the office of Secretary of War by the President, and Gen. Grant appointed. The Tenure-of-office bill, passed the previous March, made the consent of the Senate necessary to such removals, and provided that its sanction was required, at the next ensuing session, in the case of appointments made in recess. Accordingly Secretary Stanton vacated his office under protest. The Senate, at its reassembling, refused to sanction his removal, and Gen. Grant at once resigned in his favor, but it was not in the nature of so determined a man as Andrew Johnson to yield the point thus, and he again removed Mr. Stanton, and appointed Gen. Lorenzo Thomas in his stead. The Senate at once declared that the President had exceeded his authority, and the House of Representatives passed a resolution -- 126 yeas to 47 nays -- that he be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. The House agreed to the articles of impeachment March 3, 1868, and the Senate received them two days later. They specified his removal of Secretary Stanton, his publicly-expressed contempt for the Thirty-ninth Congress and his hindrances to the execution of its measures as acts calling for his impeachment. The trial began in the Senate, sitting as a high court of impeachment, on March 23. The managers of the trial on the part of the accusation were Thaddeus Stevens, B.F. Butler, John H. Bingham, George S. Boutwell, J.F. Wilson, T. Williams, and John A. Logan, all members of the House; for the President appeared Attorney General Henry Stanbury, Benjamin R. Curtis, Jeremiah S. Black, William M. Evarts, and Thomas A.R. Nelson. The votes on the two articles were taken May 16 and 26, standing, in each case, thirty-five guilty and nineteen not guilty, which acquitted the President, as a two-thirds vote is required to convict. Mr. Stanton at once resigned, and Gen. Schofield was made Secretary of War.
     The remainder of his Presidential career is not especially noteworthy. He issued a full pardon to everybody who had taken part in the rebellion, on the 25th of December. On the expiration of his term, in March, 1869, he retired to his home at Greenville, Tenn. In 1870 he was a candidate for the United States Senate, but was defeated by two votes; in 1872 he was defeated on independent nomination for Congress. He came again into public life, however, in the beginning of the present year, being elected to the United States Senate by the Tennessee Legislature after an exciting contest, receiving on the fifty-fifth ballot fifty-two votes, which was only four more than was necessary for a choice. The popular demonstrations and rejoicings in the cities and towns of his vicinity were very flattering to him, and only expressed the genuine satisfaction that was felt all over the country at his return to the councils of the nation, in which, just then, the Louisiana affair and financial questions were in active discussion. It is needless to review this latest public service of Mr. Johnson, as it is recent, and fresh in the memory. Suffice it to say that he was honest and courageous as ever. Whatever else may be said of him, his integrity and courage have been seldom questioned though often proved. He was by nature and temperament squarely disposed toward justice and the right, and was a determined warrior for his convictions. He erred from limitation of grasp and perception, perhaps, or through sore perplexity in trying times, but never weakly or consciously. He was always headstrong and "sure he was right" even in his errors.



     Cincinnati, Ohio, July 31. -- The Gazette's Greenville special says: This morning at about 2 o'clock ex-President Johnson died at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. W.R. Brown, formerly Mrs. Col. Stover, in Carter County, from a paralytic stroke. He had been in rather bad health since the adjournment of the last session of Congress, but nothing serious was anticipated. On Wednesday morning he left the train for Carter's Station, and from thence he went on horseback to his daughter's residence, a distance of about seven miles, riding in the hot sun. Arriving there he felt very fatigued, and the same afternoon, about 4 o'clock, his right side was paralyzed, rendering him speechless. His wife was with him at the time, and his son, Frank, and daughter, Mrs. Patterson, were at once sent for and left Greenville on Thursday. On Thursday about noon he became conscious and had a partial use of his side again, but it was evident that the great commoner could not live long, and thus surrounded by his entire family and neighboring friends he passed away about 2 o'clock this morning. Much feeling is manifested here and at Knoxville.
     It is expected that a large delegation will arrive from Knoxville to attend the funeral. A public meeting is in session in the Court-house, which will make arrangements to receive visitors from abroad.
     The funeral will take place at Greenville, on Tuesday, Aug. 3. Several Masonic lodges, military companies, and civil associations from adjoining towns will join with the citizens in paying the last tribute to his remains. The body will arrive here to-morrow. A great many distinguished men from all sections of the United States are sending telegrams to this place, stating their desire to be present at the funeral.
     The family are greatly overcome with their sad bereavement, in which they have the sympathy of the whole community.


     Nashville, Tenn., July 31. -- A public meeting of the citizens of this city, held this evening for the purpose of expressing condolence and sympathy for the nation's loss in the death of ex-President Johnson, passed the following resolutions:
     First. -- That we have heard with sorrow of the sad bereavement of the people of Tennessee in the loss of a guide, who has for so many years pointed out the right way to political safety, and whose services at this time appeared to us so important to the Republic.
     Second. -- That we deeply sympathize with his aged and afflicted wife in her bereavement, and with his daughter and son and their families in the loss they are called to mourn.
     Third. -- That in view of the exalted character, great labors, and the sublime lessons taught by him to this generation of his countrymen, a committee from the various counties of Middle Tennessee be appointed to select some suitable place and day for appropriately celebrating the obsequies of our departed countryman, and that the committee be authorized to select some person who shall prepare an address embodying the lessons which Andrew Johnson has given to his countrymen, and that the following persons be appointed as such committee upon the obsequies of Andrew Johnson.
     The committee is composed of over 100 of the most prominent citizens of Middle Tennessee. Every arrangement is made for the funeral to take place at Greenville, Tenn., on Tuesday, but this may be changed, and the remains brought to this city for interment.