By Mike Steely
The name of Andrew Johnson has popped up in local and national news recently.
Locally it’s the historic Andrew Johnson Building which was recently sold to BNA Associates for $6 million. That controversial sale finally concluded after years of negotiation and now leads to the Knox County School Administration offices being moved from there to the TVA Towers.
The sale made the news as the building had been appraised at almost twice the amount it sold for. The buyer made last minute deals for the use of the facility as apartments rather than hotel rooms and an in lieu of taxes agreement on the building.
Andrew Johnson’s name has popped up nationally during the impeachments of President Donald Trump. President Johnson was impeached, although not convicted, lost the re-nomination, returned to Greene County, Tennessee, and then was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Although a Southern Democrat Johnson was selected by Republican President Abraham Lincoln to be his running mate in his successful re-election. Johnson was strongly pro-union although he had been a slave owner and Lincoln thought he would be ideal in helping to reunite the nation.
Prior to becoming vice president, Johnson had served as military governor of Tennessee during the final days of the Civil War. During that tenure as military governor of Tennessee, Johnson freed his family’s slaves on August 8, 1863, and this event has come to be celebrated in our state as Emancipation Day. The following October he freed all the slaves in Tennessee.
Another accomplishment of Johnson that goes unheralded is his administration’s purchase of Alaska from Russia. The huge territory would not become a state until 1959 and, at the time of purchase, he was strongly criticized for the deal.
Johnson’s home, a museum, and his grave is just a couple hour’s drive from Knoxville and worth a visit anytime of the year.
A winter-time visit to Greeneville is worthwhile not only to visit the Johnson original home and grave but also to take a self-guided tour of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site is operated by the National Park Service and has Johnson’s Tailor Shop, a good museum, several videos, a visitor center and gift shop, a replica of his birth home from North Carolina, and the president’s home just off the Visitor Center grounds.
Winter hours at the site are Tuesday through Saturday 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 until 3:30. You can find more information about Johnson, his family and life, and his slaves online or on Facebook.
When my wife and I last visited the Johnson Museum we were invited to vote on the impeachment of Johnson. It was interesting and a forerunner of the actual impeachment of President Trump.