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History selectors, pages, etc.
Andrew Johnson's drunk vice-presidential inaugural address
By Curt_Anderson
June 30, 2024 11:51 am
Category: History

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With an example of poor public speaking in the news currently, it's good time to recall that there have been other examples of awful oratory.

Andrew Johnson was drunk when he made his inaugural address as Vice President of the United States on March 4, 1865. Multiple sources suggest Johnson had been drunk for at least a week prior, he drank heavily the night before the inauguration, and he consumed either three glasses of whisky or one glass of French brandy the morning of the ceremony. Witnesses variously described Johnson's speech as hostile, inane, incoherent, repetitive, self-aggrandizing, and sloppy.

There appears to be no surviving verbatim transcript of the entire speech.

The correspondent for the Buffalo Courier rendered Johnson's opening remarks as below. Italics have been added to the hiccups and editorial asides to further distinguish them from Johnson's verbiage.[71][e]

Fel' cizzens, this 's mos (hic) 'spicious mom't v' my zistence 'ni may (hic) say v' my l (hic) ife; ni' mere t' swear (hic) leshens t' ol Dabe 'nt' sport consushun, n' tseet consushun (hic) sported 'tall azurs. D'u (hic) know y am' [with emphasis] my name's And' Johnson' v Tensee n' im a pul a (hic) pul-le-an 'n ol Dabe's a pal-le-an n' im a plean (hic) an th' constushue d'rives 'ts (hic) cons't from pleeans. The consushun 's (hic) a stri (hic) ing sturment 'n I f'l'ere b'fore the Sen't that 'fi know (hic) my-sel I'm a man n'a (hic) broth'n Amekin cizzen, and [with distinctness] I'm a proud listration' v th' fac that a (hic) pleean'n a man from the (hic) ranks can be elv (hic) ated t' th' secon, t' th' secon [with marked emphasis] gif'in the place o' the Amekin people. Fel' cizzens, I'm a pleian 'n (hic) 'n two minitsnaf'n that point, f'r'i'm a pleean (hic) an 'twon time was a tailrs boy n'i teller wir rail (hic) pleeans 'n, Old Dabe 'n the (hic) n' spreme Court d'rive [with statesmanlike dignity] d'rive'r cons't' d'rive power from th' (hic) Amekin pleeans. But twom (hic) inits'naf on that point. Tensee's allers been loy'l'ni (hic) glore'n dressing my fel' twom inits'naf on that (hic) point.[71]

Another approximation comes from the Times of London, which described Johnson as behaving like an "illiterate, vulgar, and drunken rowdy," boasting of himself in "the language of a clown and with the manners of a costermonger," and consistently pronouncing you as yeooo:[48]

I am 'a-going for to tell you here—to-day—yes, l am a-going for to tell you all that I am a plebeian. I glory in it, I am a plebeian. The people, yes, the people of the United States, the great people have made me what I am; and I am a-going for to tell you here to-day, yes, to-day, in this place that the people are everything. We owe all to them. If it not be too presumptuous, I will tell the foreign ministers a-sittin' there that I am one of the people. I will say to senators and others before me, I will say to the Supreme Court which sits before me, that you all get your power and place from the people.[48]

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