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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Greenville Tennessee

Rarely does any American get the chance to step over the threshold into the home of an American president. Living in East Tennessee gives opportunity to do just that. The last home of the 17th president Andrew Johnson is about twenty minutes from where I live. A beautiful colonial style home with wide expansive wrap around porches that beg you to sit and stay awhile. Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1808, Johnson grew up in poverty. He was apprenticed to a tailor as a boy, but ran away. Johnson moved to Greenville and opened his own tailor shop near his home and soon married married Eliza McCardle. Johnson never attended schol so Eliza educated Andrew and helped him make wise investments in town real estate and farmlands. First Lady Eliza Johnson was a semi-invalid suffering from tuberculosis during her husband's term in office. She only made two public appearances during her entire stay in the executive mansion. (image from national archives)

Johnson was the first U.S president to be impeached. Greenville proudly accepts all the highs and lows of Johnson's political efforts. Everywhere you turn in you see streets, buildings, banks and many other locations named after Johnson. Impeachment came after battles between Johnson a democrat and radical republicans who once was on the side of Johnson became bitter. All of this of course was after the civil war and revolved around the reconstruction phases of the "New South". Johnson who was a slave owner stayed in office even after Tennessee left the union and continued to work on the side of the union cause.

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site honors the life and work of the nation's 17th President and preserves his two homes, tailor shop, and grave site. His presidency, from 1865 - 1869, illustrates the United States Constitution at work following Lincoln's assassination and during attempts to reunify a nation that had been torn by civil war. Classrooms attempt to teach students about the history of this nation, but nothing can take the place of experiencing the life of the people who has shaped the country in which we live. The story of Johnson holds true for many other early political leaders, poor, no education, self made men who had a vision of freedom for all people.


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