The Swing Around The Circleby Garry Boulard
In 1866, President Andrew Johnson was trying to find solutions to a bewildering array of immediate post-Civil War challenges: what to do about the recently liberated slaves, how to bring the South back into the Union, whether or not former members of the Confederacy should be pardoned and forgiven for their war time acts and building a thriving national economy that would provide jobs for millions of new veterans.
Confronted with an increasingly assertive Congress that had been frustrated by its lack of influence during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, Johnson decided to take his case directly to the American people for the fall mid-term elections of 1866, becoming the first president in history to actively engage in a political campaign.
In a trade ride in which he was joined by the hero Ulysses S. Grant, the very young George Armstrong Custer, and the legendary William Seward, the secretary of state who was viciously attacked on the same night that Lincoln was murdered, Johnson spoke to hundreds of thousands of voters from New York to Chicago and St. Louis.
But because of his confrontational, intemperate rhetorical style and habit of engaging hecklers in direct verbal battle, Johnson alienated more people than he won over, resulting not only in a thumping defeat for his cause at the polls, but a move to impeach and remove him from office by opponents who were convinced that Johnson's behavior on the Swing Around the Circle showed that he was mentally unbalanced.
Repeatedly referred to by historians and reporters in the decades since, the Swing Around the Circle has never been explored in one single book until now.
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Years ago I read Eric Foner's monumental book on Reconstruction and left it feeling let down because the author was so biased in favor of the Radical Republicans. This book, by author Garry Boulard, give a more balanced view of the Radical Republicans, both their civil rights vision as well their mean-spirited quest for power. Obviously a president like Lincoln, had he lived, could have dealt more fruitfully with the Radicals, especially because he agreed with many of their goals. Andrew Johnson, however, did not agree with hardly anything the Radicals stood for, and only made matters worse by belittling them. While the book is devoted to Johnson's insane 1866 political trip, the author also goes into fast detail about the events of that year that give Johnson and the Radical Republicans so much to work with: race riots in New Orleans and Memphis, the French occupation of Mexico, even a weird Irish-American invasion of Canada, which Johnson, incredibly, initially seems to give support to when he thinks it might win him the votes of Irish-Americans. A good read all the way around. N. Murphy of New York
What a jerk Andrew Johnson was. The author makes a great case that Johnson was simply unfit for office, and perhaps a little nuts. In the fall of 1866 he embarked upon a two-week campaign trip across the North and by the time it was over had lost nearly all his support. Why? Mainly because Johnson was out of control, yelling at people in the crowds along his journey and just in general making a donkey's behind out of himself.
A well-researched and written book.