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.