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Andrew Johnson National Historic Site

early home
Andrew Johnson's Early Home
National Park Service

The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site consists of four units: the Visitor Center Complex, which includes a museum and the Tailor Shop; an early Johnson home; the Andrew Johnson Homestead; and the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery. Together they represent the life of Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, from the beginnings of his political career to his death.  Johnson was a slaveholder who believed in States’ rights, but was also a committed Unionist before the Civil War.  When he succeeded to the presidency following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, he tried to follow what Lincoln’s policies would have been toward “reconstructing” the defeated Confederacy.  In doing so, he collided with the harsher policies advocated by the more radical Republicans in Congress.  Impeached by the House of Representatives, he escaped removal from office by only one vote in the Senate.

Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1808, Johnson grew up in poverty with no formal education.  He arrived in Greeneville, Tennessee, in the fall of 1826 as an almost illiterate tailor’s apprentice.  He opened his own tailor shop there later that year.  In 1827, he married Eliza McCardle.  The future president studied diligently under his wife's tutelage and paid people to read to him while he worked.  In about 1830, he moved his family to a two-story brick house at the corner of Water and Main Cross Streets.  In 1830, he also relocated his thriving tailoring business to a small building that he bought and moved to a lot across the street from his home.

The shop soon became a gathering place for political discussion and debate.  By this time, Johnson had embarked on his political career.  The town of Greeneville elected him alderman in 1829 and mayor the next year.  Elected to the Tennessee Legislature in 1835, Johnson continued his transition from tailor to politician.  By the 1840s, he owned a 350-acre farm outside of town, flour mills, and a number of town lots.  After he won election to the United States House of Representatives in 1843, he sold the tailoring business but retained the property.

historic Tailor Shop
Andrew Johnson's Tailor Shop
National Park Service

The Tailor Shop and the Andrew Johnson Early Home represent these early years at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.  The Tailor Shop is a small (14 by 21 feet) one-room frame building.   The Andrew Johnson Early Home, where he lived from the 1830s until 1851, stands across the street.  It is a small two-story brick building with a one-story ell in the rear.  The well-preserved interior woodwork is a good example of early 19th-century pre-Greek Revival styling.

The Andrew Johnson Homestead is associated with his later career.  In 1851, Johnson moved his growing family a block and a half away to a substantial two-story brick Greek Revival house with a one and one-half story ell in the back.  This would be his home for the rest of his life, although his rising political career often took him away.  He was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1843 to 1853.  A committed Jacksonian Democrat, he consistently favored the interests of the common man over those of the eastern aristocracy.  While serving in the House, Johnson fathered the Homestead Act.  This important piece of legislation, passed in 1862, opened public lands in the West to anyone who would farm 160 acres of land for five years.

As a senator, Johnson faced an agonizing decision when the southern States began to secede after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.  Although he owned slaves himself and believed in States’ rights, he was also a strong Unionist.  Immediately after President Lincoln’s inauguration, Johnson desperately tried to persuade his home State not to secede. At great personal risk, he traveled back to Tennessee, narrowly escaping a lynch mob in Virginia.  Tennessee seceded in June 1861.  Johnson was the only senator from the South who stayed in his seat, infuriating the South and making him a hero in the North.  In 1862, after Union forces captured much of the State, President Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of Tennessee.  The National Union Party, the name the Republican Party assumed during the war, nominated Johnson as Lincoln’s vice president in 1864.  The party thought having Johnson on the ticket would appeal to other pro-war Democrats.

Andrew Johnson statue
Andrew Johnson Statue
National Park Service

Johnson became president on April 15, 1865, following Lincoln’s assassination.  He entered office faced with the enormous challenge of “reconstructing” the States of the former Confederacy.  Johnson based his reconstruction programs on what he believed Lincoln would have done.  His primary objective was to restore the Union by bringing the seceded States back as quickly as possible, on condition that they forswear secession and ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery.  His policies also included pardoning all ex-Confederates who would take an oath of allegiance to the Union, except for former leaders and wealthy men, who could be pardoned only by the president.

Johnson’s stance placed him on a collision course with the radical Republicans who controlled Congress and were committed to punishing the South and securing full suffrage and legal equality for the freedmen.  In 1866, Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Bill, which provided citizenship to all men born in America, because he thought it was unconstitutional.  Congress overrode his veto, the first time that happened to a piece of major legislation, and the House of Representatives made an unsuccessful attempt to impeach him.  In 1868, a second impeachment trial occurred based on accusations that Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act when he tried to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.  Johnson maintained that the recently passed legislation, specifically intended to limit his power as president, was unconstitutional.  The Senate trial acquitted him by one vote.

The turmoil over Reconstruction overshadowed the foreign policy successes of the Johnson administration.  Chief among these was the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.  Johnson did not gain the nomination for re-election in 1868 and returned to the homestead in Greeneville.  Johnson’s wife managed to escape to join her husband during the Civil War, but the Confederates confiscated Johnson’s land, and the house suffered from being used as a hospital.  When the family returned, they repaired the wartime damage to the house and remodeled it, adding a second-story to the ell and new furniture, wallpaper, and gifts received in Washington.

In January 1875, Tennessee elected Andrew Johnson to the Senate, the only former president ever to serve as a senator.  His colleagues greeted him with applause.  He served only briefly before he died in July, at the age of 66.  His grave is on a hilltop site that is now at the center of the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.  Johnson selected the location for his grave for its peaceful feeling and restful views of the distant mountains.  His body was wrapped in the American flag and his copy of the Constitution was buried with him.  His wife’s grave is next to his.

National Cemetery
Andrew Johnson National Cemetery
National Park Service

In 1878, the Johnson family placed the Andrew Johnson Memorial over the graves of Johnson and his wife to commemorate his life and political career.  The elaborate monument consists of a 21-foot high marble column resting on an open granite base spanning the two graves.  The base of the column features a hand resting on a Bible and a scroll representing Johnson’s beloved Constitution. An American flag drapes the top of the column and above that are a globe and an eagle poised for flight.  The graves of 18 other family members surround the monument. 

The first part of what is now the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site to be preserved was the family cemetery.  Made a national cemetery under the War Department in 1906, it was transferred to the National Park Service in 1942 and is still an active cemetery today.  In 1923, the State of Tennessee built a two room brick Memorial Building to protect and house the Tailor Shop, which the State purchased from the Johnson family two years before. The second room houses the museum with information and exhibits.  Three generations of Johnson descendents occupied the Homestead after the former President’s death in 1875.  Their careful preservation of numerous personal belongings that belonged to Johnson enabled a high degree of accuracy in the restoration of the house.  The Homestead today stands as it did between 1869 and 1875.  The public can tour nine rooms that contain original furnishings and belongings.  The National Park Service purchased the early Andrew Johnson Home in 1963; it is currently used for exhibits, which explain Johnson’s early life and his rise in politics. 

Plan your visit

The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park System and includes the Memorial Building/Visitor Center and early Andrew Johnson Home across the street, the nearby Homestead, and the National Cemetery.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos

The Andrew Johnson Visitor Center is located at the corner of College and Depot Sts. in historic downtown Greeneville, TN. Visit the National Park Service Andrew Johnson National Historic Site website or call 423-638-3551 for more information, especially regarding tours of the Homestead. 

Andrew Johnson’s House has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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