Andrew Johnson: Inaugural Address

not a drunkard
Johnson was ill on March 4, 1865 -- the day he was to be inaugurated Vice-President and Lincoln president. He wanted to skip the ceremony, but Lincoln persuaded him otherwise 1a. To steady his nerves, Johnson had "three stiff drinks of whisky [sic]" and became drunk 2a. He walked into the inauguration ceremonies red-faced, on the arm of outgoing Vice President Hannibal Hamlin 3a. Then, during his speech, he talked too much and rather incoherently, leading to his reputation as the "drunken tailor." Lincoln defended him: "I have known Andrew Johnson for many years. He made a slip the other day, but you need not be scared; Andy ain't a drunkard" 1a.

Nevertheless, the consequences of this episode persisted. SEE BELOW

A witness said Lincoln "bowed his head with a look of unutterable despondency" as he listened to Johnson's "incoherent harangue" 4a. Outgoing Vice President Hannibal Hamlin "kept nudging Johnson from behind" while the rest of the Republican leadership struggled unsuccessfully to keep surprise and horror off of their faces 2b 3b.

Afterwards Lincoln gave an order: "Do not permit Johnson to speak a word during the exercises that are now to follow" (meaning the rest of the inaugural ceremonies) 4a.

Besides his slow recovery from typhoid fever and the whiskey, two other factors contributed to Johnson's embarassing performance: (1)  he had been to a party the night before 2c, and (2) his normal oratorical style when speaking extemporaneously tended toward the wild and uncontrolled 5a.

Cited Sources
  1. Boller, Paul F. Jr. Presidential Anecdotes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
    a  p.150
  2. Leech, Margaret. Reveille in Washington 1860-1865. Alexandria: Time-Life Books, 1962.
    a  p.453  b  pp.453-454  c  p.452

    Comment: A vivid account of Washington, DC during the Civil War. Won the Pulitzer Prize.

  3. Helm, Katherine. The True Story of Mary, Wife of Lincoln. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1928.
    a  p.244  b  pp.244-245
  4. Burlingame, Michael. The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994.
    a  p.168
  5. Kunhardt DM, Kunhardt PB Jr. Twenty Days: A Narrative in Text and Pictures of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the Twenty Days and Nights That Followed. New York: Castle Books, 1965.
    a  p.108

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