Tennessee Presidents

Thus far, there have been three U.S. presidents from the state of Tennessee. One was called “Old Hickory”; one had humble beginnings, early on working as a tailor; one, as a lawyer in his first case, defended his father, winning his release for a one-dollar fine.

Andrew Johnson, 17th U.S. president, served 1865-1869

Born December 29, 1808, Andrew Johnson ran away from home with his brother to Greeneville, Tennessee, at age 16, where he became a tailor. Johnson married Eliza McCardle, and they had five children. Eliza tutored her husband in arithmetic, algebra, basic literacy and writing skills.

Participation in debates at a Greeneville academy, Johnson became alderman in a workers party he organized. Elected mayor in 1933, Johnson was then elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives. Afterwards, Johnson became a spokesman for farmers and mountaineers against the wealthier, elite planters that had held prior control in the state and nationally. He served another term in the house, then was elected to the Tennessee Senate in 1941. In 1843, he became the first Democrat to win election as the U.S. representative from Tennessees 1st congressional district. Among his activities for the common mans interests as a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, Johnson advocated a free farm for the poor bill, in which farms would be given to landless farmers. Johnson was a U.S. representative for five terms until 1853.

Johnson was elected governor of Tennessee, serving from 1853 to 1857; he was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate, serving from 1857 to 1862. Johnson was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as military governor of Tennessee in 1862 even though Tennessee had seceded from the Union. Johnson was a staunch Union supporter and gained popularity by people in the Union states. He was elected vice president of the United States, inaugurated March 4, 1865. He became president upon the death of Lincoln, the first vice president to succeed to the presidency upon the assassination of a President, the third to succeed upon the death of a President.

Johnson became the first president to ever be impeached. His impeachment came about due to his violation of the Tenure of Office Act of 1867. He was acquitted due to the Senate being one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict. Although he was found not guilty, the impeachment ended his public political career. Johnson was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the United States Senate in 1868, and to the House of Representatives in 1872. However, in 1874, the Tennessee legislature did elect him to the US Senate. Johnson served only 4 months before he died on July 31st, 1875, in Carters Station, Tennessee.

James Knox Polk, 11th U.S. president, served 1845-1849

November 2, 1795, marked James Knox Polks birth, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He moved to Nashville with his family at age 11. Polk attended college at the University of North Carolina, after which he moved back to Tennessee, studied law and became a lawyer. Polk entered politics in 1821, serving in the Tennessee legislature, and becoming a friend of Andrew Jackson. A Democrat, Polk served as Speaker of the House of Representatives between 1835 and 1839, leaving to become governor of Tennessee (1839 - 1841). Polk was the surprise (dark horse) candidate for president in 1844, defeating Henry Clay of the rival Whig Party by promising to annex Texas. Polk was a leader of Jacksonian Democracy during the Second Party System. In 1845, at age 49, he became the youngest man to assume the presidency at the time. Polk served one term.

Remembered for his foreign policy successes, Polk threatened war with Britain, then backed away and split the ownership of the Oregon region—the Pacific Northwest—with Britain. When Mexico rejected American annexation of Texas, Polk led the nation to a sweeping victory in the Mexican‚ American War, followed by purchase of California, Arizona and New Mexico. He secured passage of the Walker tariff of 1846, which had low rates that pleased his native South. He established a treasury system that lasted until 1913.

Polk oversaw the opening of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Smithsonian Institution, the groundbreaking for the Washington Monument, and the issuance of the first postage stamps in the United States. He promised to serve only one term and did not run for reelection, dying of cholera three months after his term ended.

Andrew Jackson, 7th U.S. president, served two terms, 1829-1837

Born March 15, 1767, in Waxhaw, South Carolina, Andrew Jackson moved to Tennessee as a young man and became a lawyer. He was the first man elected from Tennessee to the House of Representatives, and in 1797 served a year in the US Senate before resigning and becoming a Tennessee Supreme Court judge. He built a large mansion in Nashville, known as the Hermitage. He was a major general and war hero during the War of 1812, where he defeated the British in the Battle Of New Orleans.

Nicknamed Old Hickory due to his rough and tough behavior, Jacksons presidency saw controversial times. In his policy regarding American Indians. Jackson was a leading advocate of Indian Removal,” signing the Indian Removal Act into law in 1830, yielding a sad and bitterly contentious situation. This led to the deaths of over 4,000 Cherokee Indians as they suffered hardships on the Trail of Tears. A polarizing figure who dominated American politics in the 1820s and 1830s, his political ambition combined with widening political participation, shaping the modern Democratic Party.

His legacy is now seen as mixed—as a protector of popular democracy and individual liberty for American citizens, checkered by his support for slavery and Indian removal. As he based his career in developing Tennessee, Jackson was the first president primarily associated with the American frontier. Andrew Jackson died on June 8th, 1845, at home.