Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008

Hannibal Hamlin

A notorious do-nothing politician, Hamlin preferred to use his office to grant favors and have fun on the government's dime. The Republican Party picked him to be Abraham Lincoln's running mate mostly for geographical reasons; they needed an East Coast politician to balance Lincoln's Midwest roots, and Hamlin's non-existent legislative record as a House representative, a U.S. Senator and Maine's Governor made him a safe choice. (The man had a short attention span; he served as governor for two months before deciding he preferred the Senate). Before his nomination, Hamlin had never met Lincoln. During his term the Civil War raged across the country — although Hamlin must have barely noticed; he spent most of his time with his family in Maine. Finally, in 1864, he joined the war effort, serving for three months as a cook in the Coast Guard before quitting. Later, Hamlin would complain to his wife that he was "the most unimportant man in Washington, ignored by the President, the cabinet, and Congress." Lincoln must have agreed; he dropped Hamlin from his ticket when he ran for a second term, replacing him with Tennessee Senator Andrew Johnson. On April 15, 1865, the morning after Lincoln's assassination, Johnson was sworn in as commander-in-chief. Nevertheless, Hamlin could not be completely dislodged from public office. He remained in politics, cavorting around Europe with his wife as a diplomat to Spain, until the age of 75.

M.J. Stephey