In this biography of Andrew Johnson he rises from a runaway apprentice to become President after Lincoln, surviving an attempt to remove him office.
In 1830 Andrew Johnson (Van Heflin) runs away from apprenticeship to Tennessee, where blacksmith Mordecai (Grant Withers) removes his leg iron. Librarian Eliza (Ruth Hussey) teaches the town's new tailor Johnson how to read. He complains that the landless do not have the vote. Johnson marries Eliza. The sheriff warns him not to speak for voting rights. Johnson takes a gun to his meeting. Eliza finds him injured, and Mordecai is dead. Johnson regrets pointing a gun and tells others not to kill. He suggests electing a new sheriff, and they propose him.
In 1860 Johnson is a U.S. Senator and opposes Lincoln but favors staying in the Union. Jefferson Davis (Morris Ankrum) announces that Mississippi has seceded and leaves the Senate with the other southern Senators; but Johnson stays and is called a traitor, because Tennessee seceded. Johnson raises troops for the Union and saves Nashville. In 1864 Lincoln wants Johnson as Vice President, and Senator Jim Waters (Charles Dingle) tells Thaddeus Stevens (Lionel Barrymore) to make it unanimous.
When sworn in, Johnson is drunk. Eliza says he is ill, and Johnson gets a letter from Lincoln warning about alcohol on an empty stomach while sick. People celebrate the victory, and Johnson speaks to a crowd. Johnson learns that Lincoln was shot and becomes President. Johnson tells Eliza he is not fit. Stevens and Waters want to confiscate southern land to give some to ex-slaves and pay for the war. Johnson says he will follow Lincoln's policies respecting southern rights. Stevens threatens that Johnson may be impeached, and Johnson gets angry. Ailing Stevens tells War Secretary Stanton to stay in office, because they passed a law that Johnson cannot fire cabinet officers without Senate approval. When Stevens sees Johnson pardon all the rebels, he offers to withdraw the impeachment; but Johnson refuses to change his mind.
Impeached Johnson is tried in the Senate and is prosecuted by Stevens; but Eliza persuades him not to appear. Johnson is told that the Senate won't hear his witnesses. Johnson goes to the Senate. Chief Justice Chase (Montagu Love) is overruled by the Senate but manages to restore order. Johnson argues his case and blames Stevens for still being at war while Johnson hopes they can be a united country again. Waters votes guilty, but Senator Huyler collapsed and can't vote. Stevens warns of riots. Huyler is carried in but says "not guilty." Johnson is acquitted by one vote. Years later Johnson is elected to the Senate again, and he is glad the southern senators are back in the Union.
Substantially accurate, this drama shows how a poor
man of integrity can rise to a high position despite obstacles.
President Johnson fired Stanton to test the constitutionality
of the Tenure of Office Act, which was declared unconstitutional
by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1936.