From his humble beginning as a tailor’s apprentice to his rise as the nation’s top leader, the life of the 17th president of the United States is told through the newest exhibit at the President Andrew Johnson Museum & Library at Tusculum College.
“Andrew Johnson: Heritage, Legacy & Our Constitution,” tells the story of Johnson’s life through a varied collection of artifacts and documents from the different periods of his life. Artifacts, such as White House silver, son Robert’s sewing kit used during the Civil War, and the President’s collar box, which have been rarely displayed publicly, are part of this special exhibit, which is one of the many community events in Johnson’s hometown of Greeneville honoring him in commemoration of the bicentennial in 2008 of the 17th president’s birth.
A number of the items on display are from Johnson’s time in Washington including a rare invitation to the Lincoln and Johnson inaugural ball and an invitation from President and Mrs. Johnson to an event at the White House as well as papers signed by Johnson including a “Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon” granted to former Confederates as part of his Reconstruction program.
A campaign poster from the election of 1864 shows that political associations and marketing image were as important in the 19th century as they are now as the poster features a portrait of George Washington nestled between those of Abraham Lincoln and Johnson as well as noted Union generals.
The tumultuous time of the Reconstruction and the political struggles in Washington are reflected in a display of editorial cartoons and illustrations from Johnson’s time in office including one called “Uncle Sam’s Circus,” which has Johnson leaping through a hoop labeled “The Tenure of Office Act”.
Several artifacts on display are items that were used by Johnson’s family members including a slipper eye glass case and a colorful fan belonging to his wife, Eliza Johnson, and dresses worn by his granddaughter, and Mrs. Johnson’s rocking chair. The exhibit also has portraits of all five of Johnson’s children and a silhouette of Johnson, Eliza and their two daughters done when they first went to Washington in 1843.
Also on display are a number of items from the funeral for Johnson including a uniform worn by member of the Andrew Johnson Guard in the funeral procession, black lace fingerless gloves and a black and white net handkerchief, and presentation book presented to the family from the Common Council of the City of New York, and the front-page covering article about Johnson’s death from the Greeneville Intelligencer newspaper. The soldier’s uniform is one of the items on loan to the museum for the special exhibit from the Tennessee State Museum.
The exhibit contains information on the U.S. Constitution as Johnson knew it and the issues that surrounded Reconstruction. Also, on exhibit is a book that belonged to President Johnson that includes the Constitution. The room on the Constitution also features a rare image of abolitionist John Brown that was given to Johnson as well as one of his archenemies, Senator Charles Sumner. Also on exhibit is a display about the movie “Tennessee Johnson,” which was created by Tusculum students majoring in Museum Studies. The attractive display includes stills and other information about the 1943 movie, which is being shown on May 16 at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Greeneville as part of the bicentennial. Also part of the display is advertising from the World War II era, illustrating the nationalistic atmosphere in which the movie was produced and shown.
Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday. The exhibit will be on display through the end of the year.
Supporters of the exhibit and the Museums’ educational programs for Johnson’s bicentennial celebration include the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, the Andrew Johnson Bicentennial Committee, the State of Tennessee and State Rep. David Hawk (R-5), the Bartlett-Patterson Corporation, the Niswonger Foundation, the Tennessee State Museum, the Andrew Johnson Heritage Association, Tusculum College, the National Park Service, Judith Plucker, the Frame Shop – Ed and Betty Davis, Copies Unlimited – Jancie Painter and Randall McAmis, Austin & Company – Betsy Austin, and Turner Class Movies.
Commemoration of the Andrew Johnson Bicentennial is a focal point this year for the two museums at the college. In addition to the special Johnson exhibit, the museums have developed a new educational program for school groups that focuses on the Constitution and Johnson’s life. On September 17, the Museums are organizing a special commemoration of the Bicentennial and National Constitution Day with a performance by the 103rd U.S. Army Band. On September 18, the Museums will host a Symposium exploring Johnson’s life, his impact on his era, the presidency and the Constitution and featuring experts Dr. Paul Bergeron of the University of Tennessee, Dr. Michael Kent Curtis of Wake Forest University School of Law, Dr. Eric Foner of Columbia University and Dr. Robert Orr of Walters State Community College and Washington College Academy.
The Doak House Museum and the President Andrew Johnson Museum and Library are administered by the Tusculum College Department of Museum Program and Studies under the direction of George Collins, director of Museum Program and Studies, and Cindy Lucas, associate director of the department and director of the Doak House Museum. The department also offers one of the few undergraduate degree programs in museum studies in the country.
The Doak House Museum, which was the home of the Rev. Samuel Witherspoon Doak, co-founder of the college, hosted over 10,000 school children from East Tennessee last year for a variety of educational programs related to the 19th century and CHARACTER COUNTS! The Andrew Johnson Museum, located in the oldest academic building on campus, houses a collection of books, papers, and memorabilia of the 17th president of the United States. The museum also houses the Charles Coffin Collection from the original college library and the College archives containing documents related to the history of Tusculum. The museums are also two of the 10 structures on the Tusculum campus on the National Register of Historic Places.