President Andrew Johnson: Early Life & Education

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

While not the most popular president, you have to give Andrew Johnson some credit for his rise in politics. Find out why as you learn about his early life and education in this lesson.

Rags to Riches

Both President Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson were two of America's best 'rags to riches' stories. They both grew up poor and both had little formal education. But while Lincoln is regarded as America's greatest president, Johnson is anything but. He was the first president to be impeached.

But this lesson isn't about the debate over his legacy. It's about his early life and education. Let's take a closer look.

Birth & Family

Andrew Johnson, the 17th U.S. president, was born in a log cabin on December 29, 1808. His birthplace? Raleigh, North Carolina. His parents were basically illiterate. His dad, Jacob Johnson, barely made a living working various odd jobs, such as a hotel porter. Things got worse financially when Jacob died trying to save his well-off employers from drowning. Andrew never got to really know his dad since he was three when Jacob died. His mom, Mary McDonough Johnson, worked as a weaver and spinner in order to make ends meet.

Johnsons boyhood home.

Early Life & Education

Andrew never had a formal education. He never went to school. At age 14, his mom and stepdad sent Andrew and his brother, William, to apprentice at a local tailor. There they worked for seven years but couldn't take it anymore and ran away. Andrew was on the run for two years, working as an itinerant tailor, before he came back to Raleigh in 1826. There, he reunited with his mom and stepdad. Not long after, he moved west using a one-horse cart to Greeneville, Tennessee. Here, at 17 years of age, he opened up his own tailor shop. He called it 'A. Johnson, tailor.' Pretty catchy, huh?

And what a lucky move that was for Andrew. See, in the village he moved to lived a 16 year old girl named Eliza McCardle, his future wife. She fell head over heels for him at first sight. And good thing too. Unlike Andrew, who was barely literate, Eliza was well educated and was good with finances. While Andrew worked at his shop, Eliza honed the reading, writing and spelling skills Andrew had picked up himself over the years. She read to him as he worked so he could learn about law and history. She also taught him how to do arithmetic and to invest his money well. The couple married in 1827.

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