Saturday, December 29, 2007

December 29, 1808:

Andrew Johnson's Birthday

In the annual cycle of presidential birthdays, the last belongs to Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States, Unionist Senator and War Democrat of Tennessee, successor to Lincoln and, until 1998, the only president to have been impeached. Much to-do is starting to be made about the upcoming bicentennial of Lincoln's birth in 2009; but the 200th anniversary of Johnson's birth, only about six weeks earlier, will probably receive about as much attention as the bicentennial of President Filmore's birth in 2000 or President Pierce's in 2004. (The other President Johnson, Lyndon, will have a centennial in August 2008.)

Andrew Johnson is also the only president who was inarguably born dirt poor, though others, such as Lincoln and Nixon, have come from very modest circumstances. The 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica put it this way: "His parents were poor, and his father died when Andrew was four years old. At the age of ten he was apprenticed to a tailor, his spare hours being spent in acquiring the rudiments of an education. He learned to read from a book which contained selected orations of great British and American statesmen. The young tailor went to Laurens Court House, South Carolina, in 1824, to work at his trade, but returned to Raleigh in 1826 and soon afterward removed to Greeneville in the eastern part of Tennessee.

"He married during the same year Eliza McCardle (1810-1876), much his superior by birth and education, who taught him the common school branches of learning and was of great assistance in his later career. In East Tennessee most of the people were small farmers, while West Tennessee was a land of great slave plantations. Johnson began in politics to oppose the aristocratic element and became the spokesman and champion of the poorer and labouring classes."

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