• Andrew Johnson with Sioux delegation at White House

    Andrew Johnson

    National Historic Site Tennessee

Andrew Johnson and Emancipation in Tennessee

Andrew Johnson was a man of many seeming contradictions. He was a Southerner, and yet he firmly believed in the Union. He believed in the Union, yet he believed that many political decisions should be left to the individual states. He was a slave owner who was a product of his time, but he was also a man called a "Moses" for the freedom of slaves in Tennessee.

On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in states still in rebellion against the United States. Tennessee, although a seceded state, did not fall under the provisions of the proclamation. Tennessee was under Union control, and Andrew Johnson was serving as Military Governor.

According to tradition, Andrew Johnson freed his personal slaves on August 8, 1863. On October 24, 1864, Andrew Johnson freed all the slaves in the state of Tennessee.

The Knoxville Chronicle of August 9, 1871 recorded an August 8th anniversary celebration in Greeneville.

"A procession was formed in the following order:
1st. Officer of the day, Sam Johnson, late a slave of President Johnson.
2nd. Greeneville Brass Band, in four horse wagon, horses suitably bedecked with flags, &c.
3rd. Citizens in wagons, buggies, carriages, on horseback, and on foot.
Afterwards the colored Sabbath School of the city, children also formed in procession, carrying the American flag in front.
They all marched out from town some distance when they were addressed by ex-President Johnson, Col. Bob Crawford, and others.
President Johnson went out about 11 o'clock in a two-horse buggy, in company with several other gentlemen.
The procession commenced moving at 9 o'clock down Irish street to Maine, and on to Tusculum College, near which the speaking and picnic exercises were held."

Johnson's Legacy Continues

August 8th has continued to be recognized as a holiday in the African-American community in Tennessee and surrounding states, and in 2007, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen signed legislation acknowledging August 8th as "Emancipation Day" in the state...

"… to honor and recognize the celebration of the action of Andrew Johnson, seventeenth president of the United States and then military governor of Tennessee, in freeing his personal slaves on August 8, 1863, and the significance of emancipation in the history of Tennessee.”

Did You Know?


Mordecai Lincoln, a relative of Abraham Lincoln's, performed the marriage ceremony for Andrew Johnson and Eliza McCardle.