We have seen the video from Tuesday of Chief Justice Roberts getting a serious case of…stage fright? Amnesia? Whatever it was, it resulted in a botched version of the Constitutionally-mandated Oath of Office. For most of us this was a source of comedy, embarassment, or complete insignificance. Fox News, conversely, is spoon-feeding its conspiracist fringe audience an "I'm not sure (he) is actually President of the United States" (actual quote) line. This incident qualifies as one of the more noticeable inaugural mishaps in our nation's history. But right now Andrew Johnson, from beyond the grave, is saying "You call that a blown inauguration? I'll show you fuckers a blown inauguration."

In 1864 Andrew Johnson, the Tennessee Democrat chosen by Abraham Lincoln as his Vice-President to emphasize north-south reconciliation, arrived in Washington to take his oath of office with a not-so-minor case of typhoid fever. Typhoid fever killed a lot of people. Still does. So for starters the guy was sick as a dog. If you know anything about medical theory and patent medicines from the mid-19th Century you realize that Andy treated his malady with absolutely heroic quantities of alcohol. The night before the inaugural he got John Bonham drunk on whiskey at a Senate party. Hung over, he redoubled his consumption of brown liquor on the morning of the Big Day. Outgoing Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, in a move he would soon regret, was particularly generous and enthusiastic about plying his replacement with "medicine." At the ceremony Hamlin briefly spoke before yielding the floor to his successor.

This is where things got awesome.

In contrast to the stately tone typical of elitist 19th Century politics and which dominated the ceremony, Johnson was glowing red, soaked in sweat, and approximately piss drunk. The official Senate record, in what I can only assume is a kind understatement, states that Johnson "rose unsteadily to harangue the distinguished crowd about his humble origins and his triumph over the rebel aristocracy." The record notes that Lincoln sat in the audience with an expression of "unutterable sorrow" while Senator Charles Sumner was noted to bury his face in his hands. Hamlin made a valiant effort to end Johnson's performance, eventually quieting him down long enough to move on to swearing in the incoming Congress.

Before we go any further I want to recap: Andrew Johnson's inaugural address consisted of him blind drunk and screaming at all three branches of government.

Johnson ineptly attempted to swear in the incoming Senators but was too drunk and disoriented to accomplish this simple task. A Supreme Court justice eventually took over and Johnson was mercifully escorted from the premesis. Senator Zachariah Chandler wrote that:

The inauguration went off very well except that the Vice President Elect was too drunk to perform his duties & disgraced himself & the Senate by making a drunken foolish speech.

That he did, Zachariah. That he did. He F'ed that inauguration in the A. Andrew Johnson took one look at the highest peak of American public service and went straight for the whiskey. And he is now looking at the "controversy" over the Obama/Roberts flub and thinking, "Back in my day, it wasn't a blown inaugural until someone in the line of presidential succession got ripped to the tits and told off all and sundry of Washington's elite."


  • This gave me a chuckle or twelve. I'm a bit dismayed that I didn't know this story, though.

    MAN, I wish they had retroactive youtube.

  • i really love the mental image i get of lincoln in the crowd with the look on his face that i get when jeremy passes out on the stairs at a party.

  • Just goes to show that Tyler Durden was right, and we're total namby-pambies, we modern-dayers. Teddy Roosevelt gets shot and apologizes to the crowd that he's going to have to give a shorter version of his speech because "the bullet is still in my body." Pitt the Younger is about to give a major policy speech in the House of Commons, gets piss-drunk (or rather, *stays* piss-drunk, given his daily habit of consumption which would make Winston Churchill mutter "Damn, son…"), and then, in the Chamber, realizes he's about to boot. So instead of, you know, leaving the room, he merely steps behind the Speaker's chair, pukes spectacularly and audibly, and then returns to give to the speech as the smell begins to waft across the room.

    Good times.

    But I winced when I heard about Roberts's gaffe, since it's just another coal on the fire of the paranoia-fest that surrounds Obama in the minds of the reality-impaired. Bad news, considering yesterday's post.

  • Anyone else at first think it was Obama's mistake? I assumed he was nervous and forgot what Roberts said, until I heard otherwise.

  • Nobody at Fox *really* thinks that Obama isn't President… but they are more than happy to turn this into a story for all the haters out there who are just desperate to have something to bitch about.

  • There's also Andrew Jackson's 1829 inauguration where drunk party-goers stormed the White House and wrecked up the joint. Truly a victory for the populists.

  • Man, they never cover this kind of stuff in American History courses! It's so funny (145 years later) that it's almost cartoonish.

  • if you cant smell booze coming out of their pores when they sweat, it's not quite right. liquor makes all speeches that much more emphatic and passionate… no matter what the political party, you are absolutely more inclined to believe it

  • See, this is the kind of stuff I take great pains not to omit from my presidency course. It's important to give people the reality and combat our tendency to assume that our political forefathers were figures of now-incomprehensible stateliness and regal bearing.

    Most of them were drunken hicks.

  • Great story. I had heard about Johnson being drunk at that inaugural, but didn't know it was because he was self-medicating a case of typhoid. The usual histories just paint him as a drunk, period.

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