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."