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Hot on the tail of a forgotten president

An amateur historian heads to the woods for the ultimate discovery

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Alex, I'll take "American History" for $200.

He was the first US President to be impeached.

Who is Andrew Johnson?

If it weren't for Jeopardy, we might not ever hear his name. He enjoyed a little parenthetical attention during Bill Clinton's impeachment (finally, someone to feel his pain!), but otherwise, in the pantheon of American presidents, Andrew Johnson, No. 17, has become a figure of striking obscurity.

That's a shame because his biography is a tangle of remarkable events. A tailor taught to read by his teenage bride, he rose quickly through Tennessee politics. He entered the US Senate as the nation was breaking apart, and, though he defended slavery, he was the only Southern senator to remain after succession.

For his second term, Lincoln thought Johnson would make a conciliatory vice president, but John Wilkes Booth only gave him a month in that cushy job before thrusting him into the highest office of a nation ravaged by civil war.

Unfortunately, for people who had known Abraham Lincoln, he was - to coin a phrase - no Abraham Lincoln.

A funny little novel by James Whorton, called "Frankland," might do more than Jeopardy to raise Johnson's status - or at least your spirits. The title refers to a new state that Johnson once hoped to create from the Appalachian regions of North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Tennessee. His plan, as you may have guessed, didn't work out, but Whorton's does.

A kinder, gentler "Confederacy of Dunces," it's the story of John Tulley, an amateur historian who believes he can revolutionize American history by uncovering a scrapbook that once belonged to the scandal-ridden 17th president.

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