Tailors, Twain, and Presidents


Andrew Johnson’s Tailor shop
by Brian Stansberry (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” – Mark Twain


If Twain was right, then perhaps our greatest President would possibly be Andrew Johnson, Abraham Lincoln’s vice-president, a tailor by trade.  He knew a thing or two about clothing,

But Twain, so right about so much, was almost certainly wrong in this case.  Johnson was the born in poverty in Raleigh, North Carolina.  He apprenticed as a tailor, and received little formal education.  His first wife began teaching him to read at the age of seventeen.  He spent his public life in Tennessee, establishing himself as a tailor in Greeneville, Tennessee.  Through his political jaw-boning with customers at his tailor shop, he gained a reputation that led to a career in politics, as a state senator, and then governor of Tennessee.  He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1856.

With twenty-twenty hindsight, it is hard to make sense of Johnson’s politics.  He was an ardent supporter of the Union, yet favored state’s rights and opposed the franchise for slaves.  He believed slavery was essential to keep the Union together.  But, when Tennessee seceded from the Union, Johnson held onto his Senate seat, and was tapped by Lincoln to be the military governor of Union controlled Tennessee. In a bid for national unity,  Lincoln elevated Johnson to be his second term vice president.  Noticeably inebriated at the inauguration ceremonies, he made a mortifying speech and seemed content to remain inebreiated in the shadows of Honest Abe.

After Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson was thrust into office as the seventeenth President of the United States.  To say he did a poor job is a generous overstatement of his Presidential legacy.  He single-handedly tried to walk back rights of newly freed slaves, with a lenient response to Southern rebelliousness, and turning a blind-eye to the worst abuses of Reconstruction.  He waged a petulant war with Congress, eventually so inflaming the legislative branch that impeachment proceedings began.  He firmly believed that black Americans, freemen or former slaves, had no role to play in American politics.  He left office in disgrace, but with the support of recalcitrant slave-states.

We’ve had one Taylor as President, and one tailor.  Neither rank very highly in the pantheon of presidents.   There are some jobs that simply are not good preparation for Presidential office.

Written in response to a WordPress Daily prompt: Tailor


About Chris van Hasselt

I eat, sleep, play guitar...but wait, there's more!
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