Greenville, Tennesse and the Presidential History of Andrew Johnson

Tennessee is ripe with presidential history. Three presidents claim Tennessee as home. Andrew Jackson, James Polk, and Andrew Johnson.

Statue of Andrew Johnson in Greenville, Tennessee
Statute of Andrew Johnson, near the National Historic Site

Greenville, Tennessee

Greenville is the birthplace of the 17th U.S. President, Andrew Johnson, and the home of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. Unfortunately, the site had changed its hours on the day I arrived, so I could not see the National Park Service site except the outside.

I enjoyed seeing the charming town of Greenville. Andrew Johnson is everywhere, in statues, in building names. There’s even a Johnson statue in the Chamber of Commerce’s office, which used to be a bank. 

Johnson’s family gravesite in the National Cemetary overlooks Greenville. Johnson is buried with a copy of the constitution. 

Andrew Johnson's gravesite in Greenville, Tennessee
Johnson Gravesite

Both the Johnson Homestead and early home are open for tours.

I stopped at The Tannery, a short walk from the Johnson National Historic site. There were many regulars, so I knew I had stumbled into a good lunch spot. 

I walked around the General Morgan Inn in downtown Greenville. This historic hotel reopened in the Greenville downtown landmark district in 1996. It had previously operated since 1920 as the Hotel Brumley. The site originated as the DeWoody Tavern in the 1790s. It is a well-preserved and maintained hotel with a small art gallery area and many historical photographs throughout the lobby.

Tusculum University

Tusculum University, site of the Andrew Johnson Presidential Library

A Presbyterian University, Tusculum is the oldest College in Tennessee and the 28th oldest College in continuous operation in the nation.

Andrew Johnson Library at Tusculum

I spoke with Peter Noll, Ph.D., a history professor who oversees the Andrew Johnson Presidential Library. The library consisted of Johnson’s books and papers from Washington when he returned to Greenville. Several other artifacts include Johnson’s top hat, a desk that was made near Tusculum, and White House China pieces.          

Many books are reference material from the government printing office and books belonging to the Johnson family. There are also some papers from his administration as well as some correspondence. Books were a valuable commodity in the 1800s and represented wealth. 

Johnson’s humble beginnings and rise to the most prominent political role in the United States were remarkable.

The Presidency

Following the assassination of Lincoln, Johnson served as President from 1865-1869 during the height of reconstruction. He faced a more lenient approach to the South which put him at odds with Congress.

Reconstruction took up the most significant part of his presidency. His issue was, did American citizens need equal protection under the law? Johnson said no. While he relied on the constitution, he only used it when it was convenient.

He was the first president to face impeachment. The charge was due to the firing of his Secretary of War in violation of the Tenure of Office Act in direct opposition to Congress. He was impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.

His political goal was to recreate the Democrat party as it had been before Civil War. While Lincoln demonstrated the ability to grow while in office, Johnson did not. Although he became President at a critical time, he had been elected to do nothing and was a Democrat on the Republican ticket.  

Want to learn more about Tennessee presidential history? See my articles on other Tennessee presidential sites here.

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