Andrew Yang Don’t Know Much About History
photo by Dominic Gwinn

Andrew Yang, a failed presidential and mayoral candidate, has opinions about politics. Specifically, he thinks the nation’s political parties are too divided and what we need is more unity with the fascist death cult. Monday, Yang tweeted this aspirational message from his "history trivia of the day” calendar:

Lincoln won the presidency on the brand new Republican ticket in 1860 with 39.8% in a four-way race. He took a Democrat, Andrew Johnson as his running mate in 1864.


The Republican Party first emerged in 1854 so it wasn’t exactly “brand new” when Abraham Lincoln was elected president. Anti-slavery California Senator John Fremont was the first Republican to run for president, losing to generally sucky pro-slavery Democrat James Buchanan. (Fremont would actually challenge Lincoln in 1864 as head of the Radical Democracy Party, which believed Lincoln was too moderate about racial equality.)

Slave-holding states started seceding from the Union shortly after Lincoln’s election in 1860. The Civil War waged throughout Lincoln’s first term. The Republican Party temporarily changed its name for the 1864 election to the National Union Party to win over War Democrats who supported the Union. The National Union Party nominated former War Democrat Andrew Johnson to serve as Lincoln’s vice president.

Johnson was a senator from Tennessee but remained loyal to the US even after his home state pulled a treason. That was the extent of his nobility. He was otherwise a garbage human.

Singer John Legend is also more aware of post-Civil War history than the guy who ran for president.

Here's what happened next: Lincoln was assassinated, and Johnson assumed the presidency. Johnson had grudgingly supported the 13th Amendment that ended slavery because he considered it necessary to restore the Union. However, he considered Northern Republicans “radicals” for wanting to legally recognize Black people’s humanity. He also didn’t think the Southern states had given up the right to govern themselves, even though they’d just waged a bloody war against the United States so maybe a time-out was in order. Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Bill of 1866, calling it "another step, or rather a stride, toward centralization and the concentration of all legislative power in the national Government.” Johnson was in many ways the first “modern” Republican.

Johnson openly opposed the 14th Amendment, which granted Black people citizenship. An avowed white supremacist, he wrote: "This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men.” His lenient approach to Reconstruction allowed Southern states to pass extremely restrictive "Black codes.” Congress was able to work around Johnson’s worst impulses and even passed the Tenure of Office Act to ensure that Johnson couldn’t replace Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who was committed to radical Republican reconstruction policies.

Congress eventually impeached Johnson and he avoided removal from office by a single vote. It pained me in 1998 whenever a Democrat would compare Bill Clinton’s impeachment to Johnson’s. Very different “radical Republicans,” guys!

Johnson’s “accidental” presidency demonstrates the problem with superficial demonstrations of unity, even when providing a short-term political benefit. Maybe Lincoln planned to keep Johnson out of the room where anything important happened, but John Wilkes Booth changed all that.

There’s been some chatter about Joe Biden running on a “unity” ticket in 2024. Thomas Friedman at the New York Times wrote:

Is that what America needs in 2024 — a ticket of Joe Biden and Liz Cheney? Or Joe Biden and Lisa Murkowski, or Kamala Harris and Mitt Romney, or Stacey Abrams and Liz Cheney, or Amy Klobuchar and Liz Cheney? Or any other such combination. Before you leap into the comments section, hear me out.

No, I don’t think I will.

Never Trumper Bill Kristol recommended even swifter action and laid out a four-point plan of utter silliness in which after the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Stephen Breyer would immediately resign so Biden could replace him with Kamala Harris. Biden would then pick Mitt Romney as his vice president because “national unity (is) needed for the world crisis.” This is especially ridiculous because when Romney ran for president in 2012, he supported overturning Roe.

Lincoln was 56 when he was assassinated. Biden is 79, so it’s insane to have a rightwing abortion opponent a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. It’s another Vice President Johnson — Lyndon Baines — who’s the model for replacing a fallen president. He advanced his predecessor’s agenda rather than actively sabotaged it.

That concludes this morning’s history lesson.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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