Dr. Holt, Dr. Graf, Mr. Smith, Mr. Iglehart, ladies and gentlemen:
It is difficult to reach a clear judgment of the presidency of Andrew Johnson. Scholars are still fighting out some of the issues.
He was unexpectedly thrown into the fearful whirlpool of postwar Civil War politics. A war Democrat, rather than a Republican, he had no natural relationship with the Republicans, who dominated the Congress.
He was a man of deep conviction. He was sometimes blinded by his passion into taking an unwise and unnecessary course for the dominant political realities of that time.
But we are interested in men as human beings. There can be little argument about his greatness. A critical historian once wrote: "He was born in the midst of degrading influences. He was brought up in the misery of the poor white class. He had no chance for breeding and none for book education; none for that half-conscious betterment which comes from association with cultivated and morally excellent people."
As if to answer this, Andrew Johnson, who spent his childhood as a tailor's apprentice, as you have just observed, proudly told his fellow Congressmen once: "If being poor was a crime, I should have to plead that I was guilty. Yes, I have wrestled with poverty, that gaunt and that haggard monster, and I have met it in the day and the night."
That is one of the principal problems that faces us today. We have come a long way in 100 years, but we are still wrestling with that gaunt and that haggard monster known as poverty.
Today I spent a large part of my morning trying to get adequate funds to face that problem. I hope the Congress will be cooperative in that respect later in the day.
But Johnson, by his courage, mastered poverty and illiteracy. He started out to build a political career. By the time he was 27, he had been elected to public office seven times. At age 38, he went to Washington as a Member of the House of Representatives. Ten years later, he was Governor of Tennessee.
Two episodes, I think, can best highlight Johnson's courage. You may have some better stories than these little ones, in this book. I will look forward with interest to perusing it.
In 1855, the Know-Nothings, those violent advocates of anti-Catholic prejudice, put up a candidate against the then Governor Johnson. It was a very savage campaign. Governor Johnson was told that if he came to a meeting, he would be killed. He went. He walked to the podium and he put a cocked pistol on it.
He observed: "My fellow citizens, it is proper when free men assemble for the discussion of important public interests that everything should be done decently and done in order. I have been informed that part of the business to be transacted is my assassination, and I beg respectfully to propose that this be the first business in order. If any man has come here for that purpose, then let him shoot."
After a minute or two of silence, Johnson turned to his speech, then, with this observation: "It appears that I have been misinformed."
It seems as if he had been reading Mark Twain, doesn't it?
"I will now proceed to address you on the subject which has called us together." And he was reelected.
The second example which displayed a different sort of courage took place in the Senate Chamber in the winter of 1860 and the spring of 1861.
As the drums of disunion began to beat and the Southern States began to follow South Carolina into secession, one Senator from below the Mason-Dixon line kept faith with the Constitution and kept faith with the heritage of Andrew Jackson, and that Senator was the Senator from Tennessee, Senator Andrew Johnson.
Senator Jefferson Davis accused him of being an abolitionist turncoat. But Johnson went to the basic level of American politics when he said: "If you are for preserving this Union, in its great and its fundamental principles, then I am your ally. If I could not unsheathe my sword in vindication of the flag of my country, then I would return the sword to its scabbard. I would never sheathe it in the bosom of my mother. Never ! Never ! Never !"
A month later he put it a little bit differently in a phrase that has sounded down through the years, and I know many of you recall it. "I trust in God that the old flag of the Union will never be struck."
So it is, President Holt, a very great pleasure for me this morning to accept these papers of Andrew Johnson. I think we will all take heart from the courage this man displayed, the accomplishments of this distinguished and authentic son of the Tennessee frontier.
Courage is synonymous with Tennessee. Many people in my State reverently believe, and I think can prove it, that there never would have been a Texas except for Tennessee.
The love of freedom and the courage to defend it have been born into the bosom of all the children who come into existence in that State. It is not only born into them; it is kept there until they are laid to rest.
So we welcome very much the thoughtfulness and the generosity of the educational people of your State in making it possible for those who want the truth and who want to review the progress of this Nation in some of its most critical periods to see the works that you have prepared here.
The Cabinet has grown some since Johnson's day--practically doubled--but the Cabinet Room where he met with his Cabinet sometimes is now used for various purposes-primarily we call it the Treaty Room, where we reach agreements with other nations and confirm that by our signatures.
I think that Luci may have used it for other purposes on occasions all the way from sparking to studying a very difficult mathematics course she had. But we never go in here without remembering that this is where Johnson first met with his Cabinet and we see the chairs that they sat in.
We thank you for coming here this morning. We ask you to express our gratitude to the people of your State, who are led by that noble, worthy, courageous Governor. We hope to be worthy of your thoughtfulness and your confidence.
Thank you very much.