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Impeachment Boosts Tourism To Home Of Andrew Johnson — The 1st Impeached President


The impeachment of President Trump has helped his campaign rake in donations. It's boosted ratings for some cable news networks. And it's drawn new visitors to a historic site in east Tennessee, the home and burial site of Andrew Johnson. Johnson was the first president to be impeached back in 1868. One of the new visitors to his former home was NPR's Jessica Taylor.

EMMA MURPHY: You're going to see funny jokes, games, professions of love, professions of hate.

JESSICA TAYLOR, BYLINE: Practically every inch of President Andrew Johnson's home is covered with graffiti.

MURPHY: We're going to see him deemed a traitor and committing treeson, spelled T-R-E-E-S-O-N. Treeson.

TAYLOR: That's park ranger Emma Murphy taking a tour group through the home in Greeneville, Tenn., recently. The markings are now covered with wallpaper, though a small section has been preserved so visitors can see what was scrawled by Confederates during the Civil War. That vitriol captures how many people felt about Johnson during his presidency as he tried to guide the country through reconstruction, a clash that would lead to his impeachment.

MURPHY: A lot of people, a lot of stories, a lot of drama.

TAYLOR: Tiffany Owen decided to drop by the Andrew Johnson Historic Site on this day after seeing all the impeachment coverage on the news.

TIFFANY OWEN: I find Johnson really interesting - and especially given the climate that we're in now - understanding, you know, what's happening in modern context in terms of historical context is really interesting.

TAYLOR: Owen lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., but was back home in Tennessee visiting family. She sees parallels between Johnson and Trump. She says they both deserved to be impeached by the House, but that was enough of a punishment in itself.

OWEN: Is it a strong enough offense that it rises to the level of removal? And in my opinion, it's not.

TAYLOR: Owen is just one of the latest visitors here to this small town about an hour east of Knoxville. The National Park Service saw a surge in visitors here in the late '90s after Bill Clinton's impeachment. And they say there's now a similar spike.

MURPHY: And so we do have a lot of people kind of veering off the highway when they see the brown sign because they recognize Andrew Johnson's name and that he's the first president to be impeached. And they come on in to learn about why.

TAYLOR: The why is pretty complicated. Johnson stoked tensions with Congress after blocking efforts to give basic rights to newly freed African-Americans. That tension eventually led to the House passing 11 articles of impeachment. And Murphy can list them all.

MURPHY: So Article 10 is that Johnson brought disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt and reproached to Congress.

TAYLOR: That might sound familiar. Johnson railed against Congress and went on a speaking tour to drum up support. Author Brenda Wineapple details the trial of Andrew Johnson in her book "The Impeachers," which was released last year.

BRENDA WINEAPPLE: He would become vulgar, coarse. He would rant.

TAYLOR: Wineapple imagines that if Johnson were president today, he would handle impeachment a lot like Trump.

WINEAPPLE: You know, Johnson would be on Twitter day and night to - I mean, again, he would not sleep. But Twitter would be his go-to medium for expression and reaching the people that he believed loved him.

TAYLOR: Johnson survived being removed by the Senate by just one vote. Just like 150 years ago, impeachment brings up lots of emotions. And at Andrew Johnson's former home, park ranger Emma Murphy is seeing that every day.

MURPHY: Bring it. Let's talk about it. Let's talk about Andrew Johnson. Let's talk about this process.

TAYLOR: Jessica Taylor, NPR News, Greeneville, Tenn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.