On my way to Knoxville, Tennessee, I stopped in Greeneville, Tennessee to the home of Andrew Johnson. I found the Andrew Johnson Visitor Center, the Andrew Johnson Homestead, and the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery. It’s a story of humble beginnings and the road to the White House. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found and highly recommend this hidden gem in Tennessee.
I began with the visitor center. inside the visitor center is the memorial building which houses the presidential museum and Andrew Johnson’s original 1830’s Tailor Shop. Johnson began as a tailor’s apprentice and the shop is preserved inside of the building. There is a small museum that highlights his path to the presidency. Johnson began as vice president to Lincoln and became president after Lincoln was assassinated. The museum tells the story of his brief presidency. The visitor center is small but well laid out and the ranger was a great guide. I highly recommend that you start there.
I found Johnson’s history interesting. He took office after Lincoln was assassinated. He was charged with the task of unifying the country after the Civil War through Reconstruction into one country. To say it was not easy is an understatement. He fought many battles, lost many battles, and won many battles. One battle that he fought and won was his impeachment. Johnson was the first president in United States history to be impeached. The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia about his impeachment.
The Tenure of Office Act
The Tenure of Office Act, which passed over Andrew Johnson’s veto in 1867, stated a President could not dismiss appointed officials without the consent of Congress. Although President Johnson and Congress had been grappling with different ideas for reconstructing the country, the political backing to begin impeachment came when Johnson breached the Tenure of Office Act by removing Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, from his cabinet.
Edwin Stanton had been the hinge of this act for both sides. He was an ally of the Republicans in Congress, who wanted to protect his position, but he had also been a problematic cabinet member for Johnson, at one point withholding information from Johnson regarding the New Orleans riots.
Stanton’s removal, therefore, was not only a political decision made to relieve the discord between the President and his cabinet, but a test for the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson believed the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional and wanted it to be legally tried in the Supreme Court. It was the President himself, however, who was brought to trial.
Articles of Impeachment
The House of Representatives formulated eleven articles of Impeachment. Most of them had to do with Johnson’s removal of Stanton.
Read the full text of The Articles of Impeachment
The Trial and Outcome
The House of Representatives voted for impeachment and the Senate tried the case. From March to May in 1868, the prosecution and defense presented their arguments. The President did not attend or participate in the trial, upon the advice of his counsel.
On May 16, the Senate took a vote on the most wide-sweeping of the articles: the 11th. In a riveting count, the last undecided Senator, Edmund Ross of Kansas, cast a not-guilty vote. The outcome was acquittal by a margin of 35 guilty to 19 not guilty – one vote short of the two-thirds needed to convict. Although the Senate took votes on the 2nd and 3rd articles on May 26, the results were the same. The trial was over, and Johnson finished his term in office.
In 1926, the Supreme Court ruled all Tenure of Office Acts unconstitutional.
He was known as the veto president:
Freedmen’s Bureau Bill
Civil Rights Bill
Colorado Statehood Bill
District of Columbia Franchise Law
Nebraska Statehood Bill
Tenure of Office Act
First Military Reconstruction Act
Second Military Reconstruction Act
Third Military Reconstruction Act
Judiciary Act Amendment
Arkansas Statehood Bill
Admission of Six Southern States
Restrictions of Electoral Votes
The rest of the sites are his different homes. The small blue house was his boyhood home. Johnson is not originally from Tennessee. He was born in North Carolina and his family migrated there when he was around 16 years old. He met Eliza McCardle, who was an educated daughter of an innkeeper and sandal maker. After her father died, Eliza and her mother continued the tradition of making sandals. She met Johnson and saw something in him and began to educate him and read to him while he made shoes. They were married a year after they met by justice of the peace named Mordecai Lincoln. In a stroke of happenstance, Lincoln was actually a family member of Abraham Lincoln. The Johnsons settled in Greenville and went on to have five children.
The Johnson’s first settled in a small blue house that you see below. After several years, they built the brick house that sits across from the visitor center. They raise their five children, he purchased his first slaves, and made a path to the White House at the early Homestead.
The actual homestead that you see in the last pictures was their final home. Johnson owned the Homestead for 24 years, and lived there both before and after his presidency. While living in Washington during the Civil War, Confederate soldiers occupied the house, After the war, the Johnsons found the house in terrible disrepair and immediately began repairs and renovations. Three generations of the family lived in the Homestead before giving it to the National Park Service.
Johnson is buried in what is now the local cemetery. Johnson bought this land in 1852 and would regularly go to the hill for peace and meditation. During the Civil War, it was known as Signal Hill because of its heights and views of the area and the mountains. When Johnson was buried there in 1875, the cemetery became known as Monument Hill.
It is designated as a veterans cemetery and is currently closed to new burials unless the deceased is a veteran, spouse, and/or dependant with previously assigned locations through a predeceased spouse or dependent already interred in the cemetery. This practice will continue indefinitely.
The family erected the tall obelisk over Andrew and Eliza Johnson’s grave in 1878. It became known as Monument Hill after the dedication ceremony. During the ceremony, Johnson’s sons Charles and Robert were honored. Two years later, his son Frank (Andrew Jr.) was laid to rest at the site. He was the only son to marry and was a newspaper editor and later as manager of a cotton mill.
Two of Johnson’s son are buried side-by-side. There were brought from other cemeteries and buried by their parents during the Monument dedication ceremony. Charles had been buried in the Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville, Robert probably in the Old Harmony Cemetery in Greeneville. Charles and Robert died before Johnson. Charles was a surgeon during the Civil War. He died in 1863 at age 33 when he fell from a horse, Robert died in 1869 at age 35. Robert was his father’s private secretary. He died not long after the family returned to Greeneville from the White House.
Martha and Mary Johnson are also buried there. Martha had served as White House hostess and her husband, David Patterson, was a Senator from Tennessee. He had cast one of the “not guilty” votes during the impeachment trial. Martha lived longer than any of the other Johnson children. She died in 1901. Mary was widowed during the Civil War and accompanied her parents to the White House and then back to Tennessee. She later married a neighbor which ended in divorce after her parents death. With her inheritance, she bought property in Texas and Tennessee and traveled to each Homestead to manage them.
All in all, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed this stop. It’s really a hidden gem and a must see site if you’re anywhere in the area.