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A Birthday Wreath for Andrew Johnson

Associated Press
Wednesday, December 30, 1998; Page A17

A routine ritual turned into a media event today when a wreath from President Clinton was laid on the grave of Andrew Johnson to mark the 190th birthday of the 17th president.

Clinton and Johnson are the only presidents to have been impeached.

At a nearby visitors center where the National Park Service protects Johnson's 19th-century home and tailor shop, the words "and only" had been taped over on a plaque that identified Johnson as "the first and only president to be impeached by the House of Representatives."

Presidents have been sending flowers to mark the birthdays of their deceased predecessors since Lyndon Johnson began the practice in 1967. The wreath ceremony at Johnson's grave normally passes with little fanfare.

Not this year. The dozen or so spectators who climbed a small summit overlooking Greeneville to pay tribute to Johnson were joined by a larger group of reporters.

"It is amazing that little Greeneville has finally hit the big time. Johnson and President Clinton," said Wayne Pettijohn, who was making his first pilgrimage despite living just 100 yards away.

A wreath decorated with red, white and blue flowers and carrying a note that simply said it was from "The President" was laid at the grave by a Tennessee National Guard unit.

Johnson, who became president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, was impeached by the House for firing his secretary of war over the wishes of the Congress. The deeper issue was Republican opposition to Johnson's efforts to ease the South back into the Union after the Civil War.

The Senate failed by one vote to drive him from office after a two-month trial in 1868.

The House impeached Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice related to an affair with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky. The Senate could begin a trial in January.

© Copyright The Associated Press

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