Andrew Johnson started the party too soon.
He was on his way to be inaugurated as Vice President for Lincoln’s second term and had been self-medicating with whiskey, possibly because of a bout of typhoid fever. Hannibal Hamlin, the VP Lincoln had dropped from the ticket for the sake of national unity, physically held Johnson up as he escorted him into the Senate chamber. Hamlin gave a gracious speech ending his one term as vice president, then stepped aside for Johnson to make a few short remarks before taking the oath of office.
Johnson gave a rambling and incoherent twenty-minute speech about his humble origins and his belief that “the people are everything.” His predecessor, trying really hard not to glare at the President who had thrown him over for this buffoon, tugged on Johnson’s coat, trying to get him to stop.
Johnson then addressed each member of the Cabinet by name until he got to Gideon Welles, whose name he couldn’t remember. Turning to Hamlin, he asked loudly, “What is the name of the Secretary of the Navy?” At this point, Senator Zachariah Chandler said that “had I been able to find a hole I would have dropped through it out of sight.”
The swearing in took a little longer than usual, as the new Vice President slurred his way through the oath. Then he put his hand on the bible and said, “I kiss this book in the face of my nation the United States.”
He gave the Bible a drunken smooch. President Lincoln ordered quietly, “Do not let Johnson speak outside.”
The veep was supposed to swear in the new members of the Senate after that but a clerk was hastily substituted, as the time to inaugurate Abraham Lincoln had come and gone and the proceedings needed to move outside.
Abe Lincoln, likely avoiding the gaze of his first-term running mate, went out to the Capitol steps to be sworn in and give his address. His speech is one of the most often-quoted Inaugural Addresses in American history:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all.”
One wonders if he was addressing the nation, or just the seething Hannibal Hamlin.
The day up to that point had been damp and overcast. As Lincoln got ready to speak, the sun came out from behind a cloud and lit up the Capitol.
This was considered to be a good omen for the future.
As it turned out, the real omen of the future was Andrew Johnson’s calamitous entry onto the national stage. Two Senators immediately called for him to resign. Within a few years, he became the first President to be impeached, by the same Senators who had sat through his disastrous inaugural performance.
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