When he was in the U.S. House, he voted against the Smithsonian, against expanding the U.S. Patent Office, against federal spending for improved roads and railroads. He felt people who used the roads and railroads should pay for them, not everyone else. He supported cutting salaries of Congressmen, including himself. He proposed a homestead bill that would give small plots of undeveloped land to new settlers in the west. If they cleared it and farmed it for five years, they would receive full ownership. Business opposed this bill, however, so it did not pass.
As Governor of Tennessee, he proposed expansion of public education and the homestead act, but the governor of the state had little power, so he could not get anything through the state Congress.
In the U.S. Senate, he still wanted to pass his homestead bill. This time railroad companies opposed his bill because they were getting grants from the federal government for the land. Southern political leaders were also still opposed to the bill. They thought the bill would be a way to break up potential plantations that might be cultivated property with slaves. Both houses passed it, but President Buchanan vetoed it. Two years later, Congress passed it again and Lincoln signed it into law.
Johnson generally voted with the south, but he disagreed on secession.