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We stopped at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, Tennessee on our road trip down to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This site encompasses a couple of blocks in the town, preserving Johnson’s early home, tailor shop, presidential museum and his larger homestead.
Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, chose Johnson, an anti-secessionist Southern Democrat, as his running mate for his re-election campaign in order to promote his message of unity following the Civil War. Their ticket easily won the election. Johnson became the 17th president of the United States, only six weeks after being sworn in as VP, following Lincoln’s assassination.
Johnson was deeply unpopular, at odds with the Republican Congress over Reconstruction policies. His strict constitutionalism and opposition to civil liberties for the freedmen ultimately culminated in his impeachment by Congress. He was acquitted by one vote and served the duration of his term as a ‘lame duck.’
We began at the visitor center where we signed up for the next guided Homestead Tour. We watched the short film and browsed the adjoining presidential museum while we waited. Johnson’s original, tiny tailor shop is contained within the Memorial Building.
Then we walked a couple of streets over to the Homestead for the ranger-guided tour. Andrew Johnson owned this large home for 24 years. The home was occupied by soldiers during the Civil War and pretty much trashed. When Johnson and his wife returned from Washington they renovated the home and redecorated in a Victorian style.
The Homestead passed on to two more generations and was then donated to the National Park Service with many original furnishings and memorabilia.
On our way back to the car, we stopped in the ‘Early Johnson Home’ across the street from the Visitor Center. The Johnsons lived here before moving to the larger Homestead in 1851.
I had mixed feelings about this park unit. It’s easy to write off the man who opposed the 14th amendment (giving citizenship to the freed slaves) as the worst president in history. But the park service does a good job in presenting all facets of this man who raised himself up out of extreme poverty, with no education, to become a defender of the Union and of the Constitution. They leave it to the visitors to judge him by casting a ‘vote’ in the impeachment trial after touring the site.
Location: 101 N College St, Greeneville, TN
Designation: National Historic Site
Date designation declared: 12/11/1963
Date of my visit: August 12, 2013