THE MOST ACCIDENTAL OF PRESIDENTS
Like Donald Trump, hardly anyone expected Andrew Johnson to become president of the United States. If Trump seemed destined for stardom in business, young Andrew Johnson, born into poverty and apprenticed to a tailor at the age of ten, seemed destined to sew buttons and cut cloth for the rest of his days. What Johnson lacked in sophistication he compensated for in ambition, grit, and bravado. With help from his wife and customers at his shop, he first learned to read and eventually became a compelling speaker who had a say-anything style that confounded the conventional politicians of his time.
Johnson scratched his way up the sand hill of Tennessee politics as a Democrat in the early and middle years of the nineteenth century. He eventually became a United States senator in 1857. Johnson campaigned as the champion of the common people of America, who he said the political elites of his time had scorned and ignored.
Four years later, Johnson’s political career seemed over when the nation plunged into civil war. Seven southern states, threatened by the election of Republican president Abraham Lincoln on a platform opposed to the expansion of slavery, seceded from the Union before his inauguration. The Civil War began when Confederate batteries fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and in June, Tennessee seceded, becoming the last of the eleven states of the Confederacy.
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