Location: Greenville, Tennessee
Webpage: National Park
General Description: Born in poverty in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1808, Andrew Johnson was apprenticed at age 10 to James Selby, a tailor. A reproduction of his childhood cabin is located across the street from his first home in Greenville. Fleeing his apprenticeship at age 15, he moved and worked as a tailor in a number of frontier towns in North Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee until he settled in Greenville, Tennessee. Never having attended public school, Andrew Johnson received his education from readings as an apprentice and from his wife, Eliza McCardle who also tutored him in mathematics and writing. His first home in Greenville is a part of the Historic Site in the downtown area, across the street from the Visitor Center. He established a successful tailor shop, which is enclosed within the Visitor Center. The tailor shop became a popular location in Greenville to debate local, state, and national politics, which young Andrew Johnson became known for. Beginning as town alderman in 1829 and major of Greenville in 1834, he climbed up the political ladder from the Tennessee House of Representatives and State Senator to the US House of Representatives in 1843. Andrew Johnson also served as the Governor of Tennessee from 1853-1857, from which he won a seat as a US Senator. Andrew Johnson was not opposed to slavery at the time of the Civil War, since he believed in strict interpretation of the Constitution that protected private property and slaves were considered to be property with real value. He also opposed secession along Constitutional grounds and believed it important enough that he maintained his seat in the Senate after Tennessee voted to secede from the Union, the only Southern Senator not to leave. President Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson to be the Military Governor of Tennessee in 1862 after most of the central and western Tennessee had been recovered by the Union. As the Military Governor he was responsible for the defense of Nashville and dealing with local governments and shutting down newspapers that supported the Confederacy. With a desire to show unity, President Lincoln ran under the new National Unity Party instead of the Republican Party and choose Andrew Johnson, a southern Democrat, as his running mate. Upon Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Andrew Johnson became President of the United States. Believing in Lincoln’s plans for reconstruction following the end of the Civil War, which included a speedy restoration of the Confederate States once 10% of the population had taken an oath of loyalty and political power in the Southern states pass from the planter class to the plebians. The Radical Republicans in the North believed this to be too lenient and passed a number of bills to force voting rights and other civil rights to former slaves in the South and a much more difficult test for loyalty and readmission to the Union. After having to veto a number of bills, Congress managed to pass the Tenure of Office Act over President Johnson’s veto that required Senate approval for the removal of any Cabinet member appointed by the President. When President Johnson removed Secretary of War Stanton in 1868 claiming he was appointed by Lincoln and therefore did not apply to the Tenure of Office Act, the House of Representatives voted to impeach the President. The Senate, however, failed to convict the President by one vote and President Johnson was able to complete his term. After failing to be nominated by the Democratic Party in 1868, President Johnson returned to Greenville to large public celebrations. His home in Greenville, known as The Homestead, had been restored following the Civil War when it was used as a Confederate hospital for much of the war and had suffered severe damage from the Confederate soldiers that did not agree with Andrew Johnson’s support of the Union, even though much of eastern Tennessee did not support the Confederacy. The Homestead is also part of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site which includes all original furnishings from his time following his return. Highlights are also the changes Andrew Johnson made in the house to increase the number of bedrooms for family including grandchildren.
1) The organization of the multiple buildings that make up the National Historic Site in downtown Greenville, is well thought out. Parking is limited at the Visitor Center, but we were there when the Visitor Center opened during the week and did not have a problem. The short movie they had covering the life of Andrew Johnson was very well done and I learned a lot about his early life which I did not know. The museum is small, but well done. The main focus of the museum was his accomplishments as President leading to his impeachment. The biggest surprise was to find his tailor shop to be completely enclosed by the Visitor Center. This is certainly helping them preserve the building.
2) I was not impressed with the reconstructed cabin, which was partly due to the fact that it was off site, being downtown Greenville. His first home in Greenville, was a little bit more interesting as they show how it was constructed.
3) However, The Homestead, is an impressive home. To tour the house you have to get a ticket at the Visitor Center so they can control access. The many furnishings in the home were interesting from the furniture to the few pieces he brought with him from Washington D.C. Be sure to take note of the patch of the wall in Eliza’s bedroom from which they removed the wallpaper to show the graffiti left by the Confederate soldiers during their use of the house as a hospital in the Civil War. I really enjoyed the changes made to the house to increase the number of bedrooms. The dining room became a bedroom for the grandchildren, the kitchen became the dining room, and a new bedroom over a new kitchen was added behind. This added bedroom did not have an entrance into the main house, with a separate entrance from the second floor balcony. The grounds behind the house were also beautifully maintained with a garden and spring house.