Eccentricity At the Top:<br>Richard Mentor Johnson
And, sometime during that battle, the injured Johnson would be attacked by an Indian, weapon in hand. Johnson would lift his gun quickly enough to beat the Indian to the punch. But who was that Indian? There were conflicting opinions at the time, and the answer most likely will never be known. He was probably another faceless Brave, like so many other faceless soldiers who have died in so many wars, quickly forgotten by history. However, some people believed that Indian was none other than the great Chief Tecumseh himself. Johnson, while somewhat cagey about making actual claims, certainly never did anything to dispel that notion. While the claim is considered somewhat doubtful today, at the time most people were convinced that it was Johnson who killed the mighty Indian Chief. Clearly Tecumseh was killed by Johnson’s troops that morning, and what became of his remains is still a mystery.
The legend arose, and this legend, more than anything else, would propel Johnson all the way to the vice-presidency over two decades later. And it was from this day that the famous campaign slogan would be born: “Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Col. Johnson killed Tecumseh.” This slogan might not play that well today, but evidently in 1836, it was as powerful as “a chicken in every pot,” “morning in America,” or “he kept us out of war.”
Johnson returned to Congress a hero. Now very popular among his constituents he would be elevated to the senate in 1819. This despite his support for the unpopular Compensation Act of 1816 which for the first time granted members of Congress a regular salary. Johnson always needed money, which was the source of most of his shortcomings. He would serve in the senate for the next ten years, for the most part relatively undistinguished, with a couple of remarkable exceptions. It was also during this time that his name would become somewhat tarnished, though never truly darkened. Johnson suffered from the problems that many landowners experienced. While relatively wealthy, he never had enough cash. Along the way, he steered some government contracts his brothers’, his own, and his friends’ ways. He always seemed to be involved in some money-making enterprise. Certainly by today’s standards he would have been in deep trouble for conflict of interest. Even under the looser standards of his day, some found him ethically challenged. Johnson, like Nixon, was “not a crook.” He probably never thought he did anything wrong, but financial needs led him to stretch the boundaries on occasion.
Perhaps his own financial difficulties led Johnson to continue to identify with the “little man.” This naturally drew Johnson to Andrew Jackson, the champion of the common people. Johnson was a loyal Jackson supporter, and it was this loyalty that would eventually bring him his nomination for vice-president in 1836. And four years later, when even Jackson abandoned him, it was out of fear that Johnson had become a political liability, not because Jackson no longer liked him.