President Johnson's Political Life in National and International Gifts

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site

This exhibit contains mementos of Johnson's political life. Most people are aware that Alaska was purchased during Andrew Johnson's Presidency, but not of the many other affairs of state that took place during his 40 years in political life.

These pieces were crafted from the marble being used to build the stairwell at the Tennessee state Capitol building and given to Andrew Johnson while he was Governor.

This particular gift was to Mrs. Johnson - it was a cedar water bucket made by inmates in the Nashville penitentiary during Andrew's military governorship.

President Johnson was the first President to host a visiting queen at the White House. Queen Emma of the Sandwich Islands, now Hawaii, brought this ivory basket as a gift when she visited in 1866.

This beautiful wax fruit basket was a gift to Mrs. Johnson from the Northeast Girls Grammar School, Philadelphia, PA. They presented it with signatures and essays in 1866. Andrew and Eliza Johnson were strong advocates of education. Johnson established the first state supported public schools in Tennessee while Governor and gave land for a Freedmen School in Greeneville following the Civil War. Eliza Johnson is famous for furthering her husband's education in the early days of their marriage.

This card holder was a gift to Mrs. Johnson from a Chinese delegation visiting the White House. The Burlingame Treaty of 1868 was signed in Washington during this time. The treaty established formal friendly relations between the two countries, with the United States granting China “most favored nation” status and encouraging immigration.

An ornate candy box was a gift from France. During Johnson's administration, Napoleon III attempted to establish a French government in Mexico. 50,000 US soldiers were sent to Mexico following the Civil War to back up the demand that Napoleon remove his forces. He did so, and the principles of the Monroe Doctrine were upheld.

Delos Lake, California District Attorney during Andrew Johnson’s administration, sent a snuff box to Johnson made from “the product of our State of California, the workmanship by one of our citizins, and the quartz gold forming the cover represents the mining District of Grass Valley.” The expansion of the West was booming during Johnson's presidency.

This gaming table contains over 500 pieces of inlaid Irish wood. During Andrew Johnson’s presidency, a Brigade of Fenians, or Irish Republicans, used the ruins of Fort Erie as a base for raids into Ontario. They thought Canada could be easily captured, won over to their cause, and then would serve as a base for Fenian operations in Ireland. On June 6, 1866, Johnson “issued a neutrality proclamation, warning all Americans against taking part in illegal invasions.” Nevertheless, the Fenians fought the Battle of Fort Erie before retiring across the river and surrendering to the American authorities. The raids accelerated the push toward Confederation and contributed to Canada becoming a nation in 1867.

This small gold ornament was likely decoration for a Japanese sword scabbard. Family tradition states that it was presented to Commodore Perry during his 1850’s expedition to Japan, and that it had once belonged to the Mikado of Japan. The Consulate at Kanagawa, Japan, burned during Johnson’s presidency, on November 26, 1866. In Johnson’s 1868 address to Congress, he affirmed that the U.S. had maintained neutrality in the face of Japan’s “theater of Civil War.”

The Culmination
In Andrew Johnson's time, presidents were allowed to keep the political gifts they received. All these treasures returned to Greeneville, TN with the family, and can now be seen at the Andrew Johnson National Historic site. Begin your journey at the Visitor Center, and travel through the museum and Homestead to see these objects - and more - that help tell the story of Andrew Johnson's life and times.
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Images courtesy of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site

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