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Andrew Johnson was a tailor long before he was president

5:26 PM, Feb 18, 2013   |    comments
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Andrew Johnson was born in North Carolina but moved to Greeneville when he was a teenager.

He had a life in East Tennessee before he was president.

Andrew Johnson's widowed mother apprenticed him to a tailor when he was nine years old.

"While he was working for the tailor, people would come in and read to the workers and it sort of impassioned Andrew Johnson," Kendra Hinkle said.

Andrew Johnson's history is a specialty of Kendra Hinkle with the National Park Service.

She said as a teenager, he moved his mother and his stepfather to Greeneville in 1826. It was the place where he had met his future wife.

"Opened a shop, married the girl, the rest as they say is history. This building he bought at public auction and his daughter always said he rolled it from Main Street down to this location on logs. And she said that everybody in town turned out to see it," Hinkle said.

It was right across the street from where he lived at the time.

"He continued the tradition of having people read to him while he worked. He paid 50-cents a day for someone to read," she said.

Andrew Johnson's wife also encouraged his reading skills but Eliza did so much more than that.

"She was the one who could mollify his temper, she would pat him on the back, she would say two words -- those were 'now Andy' -- so she could kind of calm him down and get him going on a different path if need be," Hinkle said.

His path to politics began in his tailor shop.

"This building became the hang out spot of town. This is where all the men gathered, they solved all the world's problems, debated all the issues, and before long Johnson realized he had a knack for it," she said.

He was elected alderman and mayor...

"He held nearly every elected office you can hold on the path to the presidency," she said.

After he was president he lived in a house down the street and took up gardening. But he missed politics.

"He ran twice for the Senate and the House and eventually on the third try to got back into the Senate. So far he is the only president ever to return to the Senate," she said.

He returned to Greeneville where he is buried. He was a tailor who became president.

"He considered himself on of the working class and he associated with the common man which he called it. And I think from then until now that's one of the things that makes him enormously popular with the people," she said.

Andrew Johnson's actual tailor shop remains in its original location enclosed in the museum building at the national park.

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