Wednesday Weisblog: A dubious runner-up designation

President Andrew Johnson

President Andrew Johnson

In yesterday’s Weisblog, I focused on James Buchanan. He came in dead last in C-Span’s rankings of all United States Presidents in terms of effectiveness. As I sat down to do today’s blog, I began thinking to myself that the runner-up for every poll, contest or ranking never gets his or her proper fanfare. That’s why I decided to focus today on the runner-up for worst President – Andrew Johnson, who served from 1865 to 1869, following Lincoln’s assassination. Talk about some big shoes to fill!

Long story short (and for reasons too complex to explain in a blog), there were two attempts to impeach Johnson. The first occurred in 1867, when the House Judiciary committee produced an impeachment document that included a long laundry list of complaints against Johnson. When it went to vote, it failed 108-57 – and Johnson remained in office.

The second, more messy try at impeachment happened in 1968. Long story short, President Johnson decided to remove Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War and replace him with Lorenzo Thomas. Stanton refused to leave until Congress reconvened that December, citing the Tenure of Office Act, which was passed despite Johnson’s veto. Johnson then attempted to suspend Stanton, but the Senate overturned the suspension.

This caused a furious debate in the Senate and House; meanwhile, Thomas decided to try to move into his new office and Stanton promptly had him arrested!

Eventually, impeachment proceedings were brought about and Johnson became the first President ever to beandrew-johnson-22 impeached … but for him to be forced to leave office there had to be a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate.

There were three separate votes in the Senate. All three came out 35-19 “guilty.” Unfortunately for the senators, they needed that two-thirds majority – meaning one more guilty vote would have been enough to impeach President Johnson from his post as the country’s leader. (Upon the failed attempt to remove Johnson from office, Stanton then stepped down.)

One fascinating footnote to Johnson’s post-Presidential career: He unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 1868 and the House of Representatives in 1872. He than ran a successful campaign for the Senate in 1874 representing Tennessee, and served from March 4 to July31, 1875 when he died of a stroke.

If you want to read more about Johnson’s policies and beliefs – some of which I find revolting – suit yourself. Just do a Google search on him and you’ll find out all you want to know. Though he was well before my time, from everything I read it certainly seems as though he deserves the spot carved out for him in the bottom five.

So to recap: The guy who preceded Lincoln (the top-ranked President ever), was Buchanan, thought to be the worst President ever; and the guy who followed Lincoln, Johnson, was the second-worst President ever. It makes one wonder if Lincoln seems even better than he really was just because he was literally surrounded by ineptitude?


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