Amanda Macias

Andrew Johnson showed up loaded to Lincoln's inauguration and ruined everything

Amanda Macias
Andrew Johnson showed up loaded to Lincoln's inauguration and ruined everything

On one of the most important days of his political career, Vice President-elect Andrew Johnson got drunk and embarrassed himself in front of everyone who's anyone in Washington.

The night before his inauguration in 1865, Johnson downed a few stiff drinks to combat a fever — which wasn't all that uncommon in those days.

By the next morning he was still sick and now hungover and so, Johnson decided to approach Inauguration Day with the 'hair of the dog' strategy, writes Mark Will-Weber in "Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt." 

There's some debate as to whether Johnson continued to drink more whiskey or if he switched to brandy. Either way, he was wasted and unprepared and proceeded to deliver a bizarre accusatory speech to a mortified audience. 

"The speech was outlined for approximately five minutes, yet Johnson rambled on much longer—pillar to post—like a drunk unable to find his own house," writes Will-Weber.

Obviously, Johnson's inebriated state at Lincoln's inauguration gave Washington something to talk about. 

As Will-Weber notes, future president Rutherford B. Hayes witnessed Johnson's little episode and wrote to his wife, "It was lucky you did not come to the inauguration. The bad weather and Andy Johnson's disgraceful drunkenness spoiled it."

Similarly, Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler wrote, "The inauguration went off very well except that the Vice President-elect was too drunk to perform his duties and disgraced himself and the Senate by making a drunken foolish speech."

"I was never so mortified in my life, had I been able to find a hole I would have dropped through it out of sight."

Following the incident, Johnson was asked to get out of town while Lincoln quarterbacked concerns on behalf of his VP.

"I have known Andy Johnson for many years; he made a bad slip the other day, but you need not be scared. Andy ain't a drunkard," Lincoln said according to Will-Weber.