Andrew johnson and the politics of character

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By late fall of 1866, the usually staid Atlantic Monthly had had enough. Benefit of the doubt had been extended; novel circumstances acknowledged; regional habits respected. But this was too much: President Andrew Johnson- this "accident of an accident"-had just finished a three thousandmile journey-ostensibly to commemorate a statue to Stephen Douglas in Chicago-and thus plead his case to the American people. It proved in the end an exercise so futile, so embarrassing, so lacking in any sense of dignity or decorum, that it served only to lower the new president into the "grave of his own reputation." And no clearer evidence of the premature death of Andrew Johnson could be summoned than in the rhetorical disaster with which the tour was attended. "His speeches on the route," the magazine reported, "were a volcanic outbreak of vulgarity, conceit, bombast, scurrility, ignorance, insolence, brutality, and balderdash." The view was hardly isolated: "Touched with insanity, corrupted with lust, stimulated with drink," The Independent warned, "let the President of the United States, standing for a half hour by the grave's edge, calm his blood and chasten his thoughts, till he can reflect . . . how a chief magistrate who betrays his country shall become a handful of dishonored dust." James Russell Lowell imagined the tour an "indecent orgy," Thomas Nast skewered Johnson in the pages of Harper's, and even General Grant, his own traveling companion, murmured, "I am disgusted at hearing a man make speeches on the way to his own funeral.".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationBefore the Rhetorical Presidency
PublisherTexas A&M University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9781603440714
StatePublished - 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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