On graduating from Bowdoin College John Andrew entered into law and worked diligently in behalf of those in need of legal assistance, whatever their crime or economic means. After the arrest of escaped slave John Brown in 1859, he challenged the courts and raised funds for Brown's defense. A powerful, highly effective public speaker, Andrew quickly became a forerunner in state politics and was elected to office on the same ticket as Lincoln, with whom he became closely allied.
Andrew's entire administration was consumed by affairs of the Civil War. Even before his inauguration, Senators Charles Sumner and John Quincy Adams sent warnings to the governor-elect of imminent crisis, whereupon he moved quickly to obtain funding and ready the State militia, and personally issued arms and regimental colors to the troops as they were called into service.
A tireless exponent of the rights of the black man and preservation of the Union, following the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863, Andrew organized the 54th, the first black regiment raised in the north, which was honored in the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial (1897), by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, opposite the State House.
Andrew died shortly after the close of the war, and a commemorative statue was authorized within the year. Thomas Ball modeled the statue in Boston and carved it in Florence where he maintained a large and active studio from 1865–1897. It occupies a place of honor in Doric Hall beside that of George Washington, which the artist recalled admiring as a child. These remain the only two full-length marble monuments at the State House. Andrew is also represented by a portrait in the gallery of governors.