President Andrew Johnson
Few communities are fortunate enough to experience the drama, excitement, and notoriety generated by a presidential visit. Monroe has experienced the honor during visits by four presidents through its history.
Monroe’s first presidential visit occurred on September 4, 1866 when President Andrew Johnson’s (1865-1869) train route brought him to the city. Hoping to influence November’s Congressional elections and promote a more conciliatory reunification of the South with the North after the Civil War, the nation’s 17th President boarded a train in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1866 for a trip that would take him to the Midwest. President Johnson’s train trip became known as the Swing Around the Circle, a term Tennessee politicians (like Johnson) were familiar with when they wanted to campaign face-to-face with the public.
President Johnson felt strongly that the former Confederate States of America should be reintegrated into the Republic as quickly as possible and without any of the vindictiveness and retribution that many members of Congress advocated. So President Johnson decided to plead his case directly to the people and ask them to elect a Congress that would favor his policy of a quick and forgiving reunification of the Confederacy into the Union. A number of dignitaries joined President Johnson on his Swing Around the Circle tour of the Midwest. Among the invited guests were: Secretary of State William Seward (organizer of the train trip), Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Admiral David Farragut, General Ulysses Grant (18th President, 1869-1877), Ambassador from Mexico Don Mateos Romero, and Major General George Armstrong Custer.
With the ultimate destination being Chicago for a monument dedication, the presidential train left Toledo, Ohio after a short stop there and headed north to Monroe where it arrived at 4:45 p.m. on September 4, 1866. While it is not known with certainty why the presidential train made an unscheduled stop in Monroe, it is possible President Johnson wanted to let General Custer visit with friends and others who knew him from his adopted home town. It is reported that a crowd gave General Custer “three cheers when he appeared.” Residents built a platform in the public square near the Monroe County Courthouse where the President spoke from. President Andrew Johnson would become the first of three presidents to address audiences gathered in Loranger Square. Secretary of State Seward also spoke to the audience. It is reported that some people were disappointed because they did not get to see General Grant, who had left the presidential train in Cleveland. After Secretary Seward spoke, the presidential party boarded the train and left for Detroit.
Presidential Visits Photo Credits
President Andrew Johnson:
National Park Service, Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Greeneville, Tennessee; National Archive and Records Administration, Still Picture Branch.