Brian Dirck just finished a series of posts on Abraham Lincoln’s greatest “flubs.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Brian singled out Lincoln’s choice of Andrew Johnson as his vice-presidential candidate as his greatest flub. Seems reasonable given what transpired following Lincoln’s assassination and Johnson’s opposition to the Radical Republican’s preferred vision of Reconstruction. Of course, Lincoln could not have know that he would fall victim to an assassins bullet leaving the White House in the hands of a Unionist who proved to be hostile to the idea of black civil rights. The whole question, however, hinges on the assumption that another choice would have led to a different outcome. Well, of course it would [Imagine that somehow Thadeus Stevens got the nod and that somehow Lincoln managed to win.], but as Elektratig [click here for his blog] noted in the comments, what if we stay within the political parameters that governed the choice:
So who, then, should Lincoln have chosen? I’m assuming we keep to the same parameters: a Democrat or very “conservative” Republican, from a border state or (if no other choice) the “lower” north.
What a wonderful question and one that I’ve never really considered. The commenter is forcing us to keep in mind the political considerations that would have shaped the choice of Lincoln (to whatever extent he was actually involved) and the Republican Party.
I’m not a big fan of counterfactuals, but this one is certainly intriguing. In what way would the short-term effects have been different given the choice? And in light of my recent post on Marc Egnal’s new book, how might the long-term consequences have been different? Finally, does careful reflection about this counterfactual force us to shift our popular memory of Andrew Johnson in any way?