True Stories of Our Presidents - Charles Morris

Andrew Johnson


The Tailor who Became President

There are many things which have had to do with making men Presidents of the United States, but it was not until April, 1865, that murder was one of those things. In that fair month, just after the Civil War came to its end, and peace and happiness seemed ready again to settle down upon the land, the foul hand of an assassin took from us one of the best Presidents we had ever known, the revered Abraham Lincoln. Then according to law, Andrew Johnson, the Vice-President, became President.

He and Abraham Lincoln, who were elected together to these two great offices, both began life as very poor boys. Johnson began, in one way, lower than Lincoln, for he did not even know how to read and write until after he was sixteen years old, and by that age Lincoln had read many books and was getting to be what the people called learned.

Andrew Johnson was born in the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, on the 29th of September, 1808. Like Lincoln, he was born in a small log-cabin. His parents belonged to that class known as poor white trash," whom even the slaves of the South looked down on and despised. But his father must have been a good and brave man, for he was drowned in trying to save a friend who had fallen overboard.

Little Andrew was then only four years old. His mother had to work bard to keep both of them alive, and he had to help all he could, so he had no chance to go to school. He was only ten years old when he was made a tailor's apprentice, and he worked hard for five years before he ever heard a man read. In those days there was not much education for the poor, and hardly any at all in the South.

When the ignorant prentice boy heard a man read to the tailors he thought it was wonderful. It seemed to him almost like magic. A strong wish came to him to do this wonderful thing himself, and he got some of the men in the shop to teach him his letters. He was quick to learn them, for he had a very good mind.

But Andrew Johnson did not get what we may call an education until he was eighteen years old, and then he owed it to a good woman whom he made his wife. Ibis mother and he had moved to Greenville, a small town in the mountain part of Tennessee, and here he did the best thing in his life, for he met and married a bright young girl who was well educated and had read a great many books.

The young couple were poor enough, but they both wanted to get on in life, and the young wife, who was a very attractive and ambitious girl, set herself to teaching her husband. She read to him while he worked at his trade, and in the evenings she became an earnest teacher and he became an eager pupil. In that way he soon got something of an education. He had a very good memory and held on to all that was read to him or that he read himself, and few boys ever got along more rapidly than the poor young tailor under the careful teaching of his wife.

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