1865: "Traitor" Andrew Johnson departs unhappy Tennessee for Washington.

Tributes to a Traitor President


"A. Johnson, Traitor" reads a big banner hanging from a Greeneville, Tennessee, building. The banner is part of an oil painting, hanging in a Greeneville museum, depicting Andrew Johnson's departure from his hometown in 1865 to become Abraham Lincoln's Vice President. Johnson, a Democrat from a Confederate state, was picked by Lincoln, a Republican from a Union state, to form a new "National Union" party that would unite the nation after the Civil War. Then Lincoln died, and under Johnson everything fell apart.

Andrew Johnson.
Johnson said the Constitution justified his controversial decisions. A lot of people disagreed.

As more than one authority told us on our tour of Andrew Johnson attractions, when it comes to judging Johnson's worth as a President and human being, "It's complicated."

Johnson achieved the remarkable feat of, at one time or another, making everybody mad at him. Modern historians rank him among the worst of U.S. Presidents, particularly for abandoning the freed slaves in the War's aftermath. He supposedly showed up drunk to his inauguration, was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, put on trial in the Senate, and survived by a single vote -- some say because the Congressman in line to replace him was even worse than Johnson.

Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.
Buried on the hilltop next to the flagpole, in a Fourth Class National Cemetery.

Yet despite all of Johnson's screw-ups, there's never been a wider variety of Johnson sites to visit than right now. Various Johnson relics, preserved by loyal descendants and local historians, have surfaced in fits and starts over the years, so his mementoes and memorials are scattered across several locations. Most are within an hour's drive of each other in East Tennessee.

The passage of time has not improved Andrew Johnson's reputation; neither has it diminished the public's curiosity about this accidental President. He really wanted the job, but he was not very good at it.

Johnson depicted taking a stroll with his slaves, who later said he chose this spot for his grave.
Johnson takes a stroll with his slaves, who later said he chose this spot for his grave.

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