December 29, 2012 - Happy Birthday, Andrew Johnson

He wasn't elected president—he became president when Abraham Lincoln was tragically assassinated.

He had no vice president—nobody had ever thought through what would happen if a VP had to step up to the top job, and then something had happened to him! (The Constitution has since been amended, so now there is a succession for vice presidents as well as presidents.)

Andrew Johnson was a Democrat—even though he ran for election with President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican! Lincoln was famous for consulting people with all sorts of opinions, especially those with ideas that opposed his own, but that wasn't the reason he selected a person from an opposing party as his running mate. Instead, Lincoln was looking forward to the end of the war and reunification, and he chose a running mate that would show the South that he was dedicated to welcoming Confederate states back into the nation rather than to punishing them for leaving.

Andrew Johnson was not only a Democrat, he was a Southerner—he was from the state of Tennessee, which had broken off from the Union and joined the Confederacy! At the time that Tennessee seceded (broke away), Johnson was a Senator from Tennessee—but he refused to quit his post in the Senate and join the Confederacy. He was convinced that, if the United States really did break up, there would be not just two countries, but many small countries, each with its own form of government. I guess he thought that scenario didn't lend itself to a peaceful future! So Johnson spoke up loudly against the Confederacy and for Lincoln.

Johnson was (like Lincoln) a self-educated man with a poor family and few formal schooling opportunities.

And I'm telling you all of this because today is his birthdayAndrew Johnson was born on this date in 1808.

Coincidence presented as mystery

Have you ever heard about that list of mystical connections between John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln? Both of these presidents were assassinated, and both were succeeded by Southern Democrats with the last name of Johnson. There are a lot of other similarities, as well – according to lists of 16 to 40 similarities that circulate on the internet and elsewhere.

Many people look at one of these lists and marvel at the eeriness of so many coincidences. “It can't be JUST coincidence!” they think. “There has to be some sort of weird cosmic connection between these two assassinations!”

Actually, these lists of Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences are examples of “cherry-picking” and fudging data. ANY two presidents (or anyone else, for that matter) would have as many similarities—but there are also millions of differences. For example, the fact that the names Lincoln and Kennedy have seven letters each is trivial but true; on the other hand, the two presidents' first names have different numbers of letters (Abraham has seven and John has four), their nicknames have different numbers of letters (Abe has three and Jack has four), and their middle names are a completely different situation, since Kennedy's middle name, Fitzgerald, has ten letters and Lincoln didn't even have a middle name! Furthermore, Kennedy is frequently referred to as JFK, and Lincoln is never referred to with initial letters. So the list just cherry picked the one similarity, name-wise, and didn't mention all the differences.

An example of fudging data (also known as lying) is the so-called coincidence that Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln and Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy. President Kennedy did, in fact, have a secretary named Evelyn Lincoln, but President Lincoln did not have a secretary named Kennedy. Several items on the list are either mistakes, lies, or worded so oddly (such as referring to a tobacco shed as a warehouse) that they may as well be lies.

If you want to see a thorough description of why lists of Lincoln-Kennedy similarities are flawed and misleading, check out this Snopes article

Also on this date:

Madame de Pompadour's birthday

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