The first president to be impeached, and the first to ascend to the office following an assassination, Andrew Johnson is one of the little understood American presidents, with the misfortune of following the almost sainted Lincoln and followed by the war hero Grant. Johnson is usually referred to as a tailor, which he was for a time, but he was also a skilled political operator and an experienced legislator and governor. He was also a Freemason.
Johnson entered Apprentice in 1843, upon the conclusion of a term in the Tennessee State Senate, in Greeneville (Tennessee) Lodge #119. By 1851 he was a Master Mason. In 1859 he joined the Nashville York Rite Commandery of Knights Templar. As President of the United States he received Scottish Rite degrees, taking them in the White House in 1867.
Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina and endured a childhood of poverty and malicious gossip which implied that he was not a child fathered by his mother’s husband, as he did not resemble his siblings. Eventually settling in Greeneville, Tennessee he prospered at his tailoring business and eventually rose in status to be both a slave owner and elected official. He developed the reputation as a politician who voted his conscience rather than party line, a position which invariably creates political enemies.
After several terms in Congress Johnson was elected Governor of Tennessee, under the state constitution a weak executive with no veto power over legislation. He then ran for and won election as a Senator from Tennessee. When Tennessee seceded from the Union Johnson remained in the Senate for the remainder of his elected term before being tapped by Lincoln as Military Governor of Tennessee. When he was selected to be Lincoln’s second Vice-President he was famously drunk on the morning of the inauguration, an event which he never lived down.
His single term as president was rancorous and eventful, leading to a constitutional crisis and impeachment, in which he was acquitted by a single vote, much to the surprise of the Senate which tried him. The final vote needed to acquit was cast by Senator Edmund G. Ross of Kansas, a Freemason, despite warnings that an acquittal would lead to the Senator being investigated for bribery. None of the Republican senators who voted to acquit Johnson, including Ross, were re-elected.