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From Tailor Shop to the White House: Life of Andrew Johnson

From Tailor Shop to the White House: Life of Andrew Johnson

[This very small pamphlet was published at unknown date by Mother’s Club of Greenville, Tennessee, Custodians of the Andrew Johnson Tailor Shop Memorial]

Mrs. Andrew Johnson
Wife of the President

ANDREW JOHNSON was born December 29, 1808, in Raleigh, North Carolina, and died July 31, 1875, in Carter County, Tennessee, near the town of Elizabethton, at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Mary J. Stover. He had gone to the home of his daughter on a visit and was stricken with paralysis soon after his arrival. His body was removed to his home at Greeneville, and because of his oft repeated request, was wrapped in the flag of his country. His head was pillowed upon its constitution, and from there he was buried on the crest of a hill which he had purchased years before for his burial place on the outskirts of the town of Greeneville. Through the efforts of Hon. Walter P. Brownlow, representative in Congress from the First Tennessee District, the hill upon which President Johnson was buried and some additional ground was created by act of Congress a national cemetery and is officially known as the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery. This plot of ground, comprising about 15 acres and nearly all situated within the corporate limits of Greeneville, was given to the United States Government by the heirs of President Johnson.

Mrs. Martha J. Patterson
As Lady of the White House

Mrs. Johnson was an invalid during President Johnson’s term of office and the duties of Lady of the White House devolved upon Mrs. Martha J. Patterson, eldest daughter of the President and wife of Senator David T. Patterson of Tennessee.

Shortly after assuming her duties as Lady of the White House she was complimented by a newspaper reporter on its republican simplicity, to which she replied, “We are plain people from Tennessee, called here for a little time by a nation’s calamity, and I hope too much will not be expected of us.”

Birthplace of
Andrew Johnson
Raleigh, North Carolina.

Andrew Johnson was only four years of age when his father died, the latter’s death having resulted from the rescuing of two men from drowning. When ten years of age he became the bound boy of Mr. J. J. Selby, a tailor in Raleigh, North Carolina, who, by the terms of the contract, was to have the services of the lad until he gained his majority. In return for these services, he was to feed and clothe him and teach him the tailor’s trade. In his seventeenth year an unfortunate occurrence, as it then seemed, terminated rather suddenly his career with his master. As a matter of sport, he and an associate about his own age stoned the house of a citizen of Raleigh, but they found the next day that the joke had been turned upon them, for they had been identified, and the outraged citizen was to have them arrested the following day. That night, the future president of the United States packed his scanty wardrobe in his tailor’s apron and started for South Carolina. We next find him at Laurens Court House, South Carolina, where, as a journeyman, he worked at his trade for about one year. Thence, returning to Raleigh, he found, to his great consternation, that he had been advertised as a runaway by his old master, and that every door in his native state was closed against him, and no one might harbor him. Such were the laws with reference to bound boys in the state of North Carolina.

This building is now preserved by the Colonial Dames of Raleigh, North Carolina and stands in Pullen Park of that city.

He offered to work the balance of his time with his master, but he would not accept this unless be gave bond. This he could not do. Beset with difficulty which he could not overcome for at least three years, he determined to go west. The next we hear from him is on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of September, 1826, when he entered the town of Greeneville, with his mother and a middle-aged man, his stepfather. The men were walking, while the woman rode in a cart drawn by a blind pony. They had come from North Carolina across the Blue Ridge into Tennessee over the course that had been blazed by Boone and countless other pioneers who sought their fortunes to the westward of the Blue Ridge.

He was given employment here by George Boyle, the only tailor of the town. After a time he went to Rutledge in Granger County, and remained there some six months. Learning that Mr. Boyle had left Greeneville, he returned, and from that time until the time of his death he made Greeneville his home.

In his nineteenth year he was married to Eliza MeCardell. At the time of his marriage he knew the letters of the alphabet, but was unable to write. His wife taught him to write and assisted him in his early education. With her help he came to the point where he could help himself, and it was by his own laborious study and concentration that he acquired the large fund of information that enabled him to meet and successfully combat the strongest intellects of his day, but he was never in school a day in his life.

Old Tailor’s Shop of Andrew Johnson, Greenville, Tennessee

This is now enclosed in the Memorial Building as shown in the cut on the last page of this booklet. It is standing on the same site as originally placed by Andrew Johnson. This one-room house originally stood on the back of the lot now occupied by the new First National Bank building and was brought and moved to its present location about 1830. It is probably over a hundred years old–was an old building when Andrew Johnson bought it.

Andrew Johnson’s Tailor Bench, Now in the Tailor Shop at Greenville


His political career began with his election as alderman of the town of Greeneville, and he ascended the ladder of political preferment round by round as follows: He became mayor of Greeneville, then a member of the legislature from Greene County, then a member of the State Senate, then for ten years a member of Congress from the First Tennessee District, then Governor of Tennessee for two terms then a member of the United States Senate from Tennessee during a part of the period of the Civil War. At President Lincoln’s earnest solicitation he resigned his seat in the Senate to accept the appointment as Military Governor of Tennessee and Brigadier-General in the United States Army. Then he became Vice President and finally President of the United States. His was a singularly unbroken career of progression in political preferment.

In the National Union Convention, composed of all the leaders opposing secession, held in Baltimore in 1864, Andrew Johnson was nominated for the vice presidency as a war Democrat on the ticket with Abraham Lincoln. This ticket was overwhelmingly successful, and upon the death of President Lincoln on April 15, 1865, Andrew Johnson became President of the United States, which office he held until the fourth of March, 1869. After his retirement from the presidency he was elected by Tennessee to the Senate of the United States, being the only ex-president who ever served in the Senate after retiring from the presidency.

It is a common error to believe that Andrew Johnson was nominated for the vice presidency in a Republican convention and thus was elected on a Republican ticket. The truth is that the Baltimore convention, in which he was nominated, was officially known as the National Union Convention, being composed of all leaders opposed to secession and favoring a continuance of the war without regard to their distinctive political affiliations. Andrew Johnson was placed on the ticket with Lincoln as a war Democrat, Mr. Lincoln desiring a running mate of Democratic affiliation to counteract the McClellan candidacy of the straight Democratic ticket.

The official proceedings of the Baltimore convention show that the chairman of the convention, in announcing the nomination of Andrew Johnson, used the following words:

“Gentlemen of the convention: Andrew Johnson having received a majority of all the votes, is declared duly nominated as the candidate of the National Union Party for the vice presidency.”

Residence of Andrew Johnson, Greenville, Tennessee

This house was unfinished when it was purchased by Andrew Johnson in 1851.

It was during Andrew Johnson’s term as Governor of Tennessee that the Hermitage was purchased. It was his intention at that time to seek to have the United States make a second West Point at the Hermitage, but, the war coming on, he was compelled to abandon this plan.

The identical building, the old tailor shop in which Andrew Johnson worked at his trade as a tailor in his early days in Greeneville, while he was laying the foundation by hard study for the wonderful career that was to unfold before him, still stands in Greeneville on the corner of Fast Depot and College streets. The state has taken over this historic place and erected a brick building around the old shop to protect and preserve it for future generations.

For persons who desire to know more about this wonderful man who was never in school a day in his life and the only tailor who ever filled the Presidential chair, Jones’ Life of Andrew Johnson, Savage’s Life of Andrew Johnson, DeWitt’s History of the Impeachment Trial, Schouler’s History of the United States, 7th Volume, and Oberholtzer’s History of the United States, 2nd Volume, will be interesting reading.

Andrew Johnson as Mason


After Mr. Johnson’s death there was found among his papers a note written by him some two years before, when he had an attack of cholera, which was then raging in the community, and from which he expected to die. To those who knew him well, this note epitomized Andrew Johnson’s life, both that which is seen by the world and that which is revealed only to those to whom the heart unlocks its secret chambers. The note reads:

“All seems gloom and despair. I have performed my duty to my God, my country, and my family. I have nothing to fear. Approaching death to me is the mere shadow of God’s protecting wing. Beneath it I almost feel sacced. Here I know no evil can come; there I will rest in quiet and peace, beyond the reach of calumny’s poisoned shaft, the influence of envy and jealous enemies, where treason and traitors in State, backsliders and hypocrites in Church, can have no place, where the great fact will be realized that God is truth, and gratitude is the highest attribute of man.”

This pended note is now framed and hanging on the wall in the parlor of the old Johnson residence.

A portion of the house where Andrew Johnson died, it then being the residence of his daughter Mrs. Mary J. Stover, one mile above Elizabethton, in Carter County, Tennessee, on the Watauga River. The house at that time was quite a pretentious farmhouse, and the part remaining, shown in the illustration, was occupied by Andrew Johnson at the time of his death. The upstairs room (two second story windows) was the chamber in which he died.

Carthage, Moore County, North Carolina

THE monument is in the Court House Square in Carthage, the county seat of Moore County. It is of Mount Airy granite, about ten feet high, and upon the eastern side is a bronze tablet, upon which is engraved a likeness of Andrew Johnson and the following words:

“Erected by the citizens of Moore County in honor of Andrew Johnson, seventeenth president of the United States, one time resident of Carthage. A stalwart Union man, yet he threw himself into the breach as a bulwark in favor of the prostrate South against fanaticism in the bitter days of reconstruction. Let his memory be embalmed in everlasting fame.”


Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, Greenville, Tennessee

THIS monument stands some twenty-six feet from the base to the top, its apex being crowned by the noble figure of an American eagle, poised as for flight and looking away to its native mountains. Cut into the side of the shaft is a copy of the Constitution, while draping the upper half is the flag of our country. The inscription reads:

Seventeen President of the
United States
Born December 29, 1808
Died July 31, 1875
His Faith in the People Never Wavered

Born October 4, 1810
Died January 15, 1876
In Memory of our Father and Mother

This fitting monument marks the resting places of the grand old Commander and his wife, his teacher and adviser.

Tailor Shop Memorial of Andrew Johnson, seventeenth President of the United States. Property of the State of Tennessee. Dedicated May 30, 1923.