Manus Hand

Visiting Andrew Johnson's Grave

Here I am on December 3, 1996 in Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in Greeneville, Tennessee, where the cemetery's namesake is interred beneath an impressive eagle-topped monument. We stayed in Greeneville the evening before, and the morning dawned on, as you can see, a perfect blue-sky day in President Johnson's hometown. We spent the morning visiting the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, where the humble log cabin that Johnson used as his tailor shop, and which became the town's hub for political conversation, has been preserved and enclosed within a brick structure in which you can stand and gaze at the tailor shop and into the past. There in that very building was where townsmen that Johnson had paid to do so would sit and read newspapers and political speeches to him while he stitched and mended clothing. It was from these, the most humble and, to my mind, the most noble, of all Presidential beginnings, came the 17th President of the United States, the man who preserved the integrity of the Constitutional form of government. Johnson, applying all he had learned in his tailor shop, stubbornly refused to relinquish the powers of the Chief Executive to a hostile Congress that sought to turn the Presidential chair into nothing more than a rubber stamp. For this, he was impeached by the House of Representatives (the first of two Presidents to be impeached, and the only one of the two who broke a law that was later held unconstitutional and who was therefore deemed justified in resisting it; the other President was impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice), then acquitted in the Senate by only a single vote short of the two-thirds majority required. Only this single vote allowed him to complete the term of the office he assumed on the assassination of President Lincoln. Hated by contemporaries for refusing to yield to Congress, Johnson lived to see his own vindication, becoming the only ex-President to return to Washington to serve in the Senate, where his triumphal entry into the chamber that nearly wrecked him was announced by a standing ovation for the man who, by then, was acknowledged as having saved the federal system of government. This great man now lies beneath the turf of steep Sackett's Hill, his body wrapped in the American flag, his head resting on a copy of the Constitution he preserved. I admit to having a great respect for Andrew Johnson; my visit to his gravesite filled me with a sense of his true greatness, and I was gratified to see that his memory is kept so well and yet so quietly in his proud hometown.

...White House Biography of President Johnson...