tv Politics of Reconstruction CSPAN February 7, 2016 10:45am-11:44am EST
there's suspected speech. >> new hampshire takes its first in the nation primary status really seriously. >> this is one of a whole series of town hall meetings will be having. >> this is my 20th town hall meeting. >> welcome to our 115th town hall meeting here in new hampshire. ♪ >> up next on american history tv, a discussion between historians on the process of reconstruction on both national and local governments. they talk about political party divisions at the time and the impact of the reconstruction amendments. the event was hosted by the national constitution center in philadelphia and is about an hour. [applause]
>> thank you for that introduction. i feel like going to door number one or door number two. thank you for coming. i am the pitching machine, he is the slugger tonight. the immediate peg for this evening is the ratification of the 13th amendment. let's begin by backing up a bit. april 18, 65. richmond falls and the army of northern virginia surrenders. the civil war is over. what do the victors, what are the unions plans for the south for the freed men? , >> i don't think there was any single fixed plan, even though president lincoln had put forward various ideas, plans of reconstruction during the civil war. these were primarily geared to winning the war, so to speak,
and maybe detaching states from the confederacy. which would be a considerable aid to the union cause. nobody had really thought through exactly what the status of the freed people was going to be. in a sense, at the time of lee's surrender and shortly afterwards followed by lincoln's assassination, this was the fundamental question facing the country. you might say, what are the consequences? slavery was still legal in certain parts of the united states. in delaware, in kentucky. if you took the emancipation proclamation literally, maybe certain parts of virginia. nonetheless it was pretty clear by this point that slavery was doomed. what were the implications of that for all americans, black and white? what system of labor would replace slavery, what political system would replace the political system of slavery, and what rights with the 4 million emancipated slaves have?
everyone was kind of groping in a way. the day before lincoln was killed, might have been the actual day of there was a , cabinet meeting in which they talked about the need to start planning for reconstruction. there wasn't a fixed set of ideas in place. >> but the 13th amendment was already on its way. it had passed both houses of congress and been sent out to the states. >> right. the 13th amendment was working its way toward ratification. when lincoln was shot, about 21 states had ratified -- i think you needed 27 to get the 3/4 necessary. ironically, it was andrew johnson who subsequently gets into a giant fight with congress, who kind of required the southern states to ratify if they wanted to get back into representation in congress. johnson in the summer of 1865 set up these new governments in
the south that he said, you guys have to ratify for the 13th amendment or you are never getting back. by the time congress met in december 1865, 150 years and a couple of days ago, secretary seward was able to announce that the required 27 states had ratified. therefore, at that moment, slavery is irrevocably abolished throughout the entire united states. >> that is 4 million people. >> that's right. that's a lot. the largest slave society in the history of the modern world. >> if you don't count russia. >> well, serfdom and slavery are not the same thing. there were far more serfs in russia. >> a lot of historians are disdainful of biography.
you are not one of them. tell us of the effects of the change from abraham lincoln's -- abraham lincoln to andrew jackson. >> we do not know what precisely would have done had he not been assassinated. it is fair to say that lincoln would never have gotten himself into the fix that andrew johnson did where he completely alienated the large majority of congress, cut himself off from northern public opinion and came within one vote up being removed from office through impeachment . lincoln was far too savvy a politician, far too plugged into the republican party, far too able to work with congress to get himself into that fix. johnson was just not prepared for the job. johnson comes into office in a gigantic crisis, and he has no real connection with the
republican party of the north. he was very deeply racist and did not have any conception of rights for the former slaves. he thought they should go back to work on the plantations and not have any particular civil or political rights. obviously they are free, they can no longer be bought and sold. they have to be paid wages, but he could not really conceive of citizenship inc. something that -- being something that applied to black americans as well. that led directly to a collision with congress which wanted to at least make sure that the basic rights of the former slaves were protected. had lincoln lived, this is what we call counterfactual history, some kind of reconstruction plan would have been worked out between lincoln and congress. that is what happened in the civil war over and over again. even though there was difference of opinion. johnson and congress very quickly were at odds completely, and this had important implications for what could be
passed. every reconstruction measure had to get a 2/3 majority in congress because johnson vetoed, and that put a tremendous premium on unity in the republican party. whatever passed had to have the approval of basically everybody, radical, moderate, etc. because , you had to pass it over johnson's vetos. >> they found him a civil rights bill in 1866 which he vetoed. what were they trying to accomplish? >> the civil rights bill of 1866 is a critically important law by history. it is still on the books. it was passed under the 13th amendment. there was no 14th amendment yet. it was a billion might say to implement the freeing of slaves, to delineate what basic rights
came along with being a free person in america. first of all, this is obviously a controversial issue today -- anybody born in the united states is a citizen. african-americans are citizens. that may seem obvious but the dred scott decision stated that no black person, free, enslaved, could be a citizen of the united states. it went on to say that the citizens have to enjoy basically equal protection of the law, although that language is not in there until the 14th amendment, but it doesn't talk about the right to vote. it's basically the rights of what we call free labor, the right to own property, the right to compete in the labor market, the right to sign contracts, go to court, to enable you to compete as a free person and make a living in the united states. part of the motivation was to overturn laws that johnson's government had passed, the black
codes, which try to use the power of state government to force blacks back to work on the plantations for white employers with no other option. this seemed like not really free labor. >> peonage. >> it was sort of peonage. those laws made it a legal requirement for every black adult male to sign a labor contract with a white person. you could not work for yourself. if you try to work for yourself, you were violating the law. that didn't seem like -- republicans that offered, they're trying to restore slavery in the south and johnson's veto of the civil rights bill really was the breach between congress and the president, after that congress said, we cannot cooperate with him, we will create our own plan of reconstruction without the president being involved. >> so the next step after they
do pass the civil rights bill -- >> is the 14th amendment, which is a complicated one. the 14th amendment is the longest amendment. it had five clauses. they throw everything they are trying to deal with. some of it is immaterial today, although actually it popped up, like the national debt popped up recently. it says the validity of the national debt cannot be questioned, whatever that means, and not long ago there was talk of exceeding the debt limit. that did not happen. there are things about not paying the confederate debt. the key is the first clause, which constitutionalize us many of the things in the civil rights bill, birthright citizenship now in the 14th amendment, equal protection of the law, the law cannot discriminate between black and white, if something is a crime for a white hearse and or a
-- white person or a black person. it also has to be a crime for a , white person. it is needed. obviously a law of congress can be repealed by another congress. they want to put the basic principle of civil equality into the constitution, but another thing about the 13th and 14th and 15th amendments that is important to point out is that they all have this final clause saying congress shall enforce these amendments to by appropriate legislation. compare that to the bill of rights, the bill of rights is a set of restrictions on congress. congress shall make no law. the states were not bound by that. some of them had their own bills of rights in their state constitutions. >> there's a supreme court
ruling about that. >> the 14th amendment says congress -- it now sees the states as the danger to liberty and congress can override the states when they try to deprive american citizens of their basic rights. it's a fundamental shift in the federal system from a state centered system before the civil war to one in which the federal government has far more power, particularly when it comes to defining the basic rights of all citizens. in the 20th century, little by little, the core incorporated, said ok, because of the 14th amendment the states now have to abide by the provisions of the bill of rights. this went on until very recently, the second amendment in the heller case. this process goes on over a long period of time. states now have to respect all those civil liberties in the bill of rights, which originally were meant to restrict the
federal government and not the states. that's another important thing. the civil war greatly enhance the power of the federal government. that also goes into the constitution. this new sense of national power. >> the first instance is to deal with the issues of these freed men from the south. how popular is that in the north? >> that's a big question. the republicans are not sure how popular it is. the 14th amendment does not give black people the right to vote. there were radical republicans who said, we must give black men -- unfortunately, almost no one was giving women the right to vote at that time -- we must give black men the right to vote in the south otherwise they will never be able to protect their rights, otherwise the x rebels will come back into power, but it was not popular in the north.
only four or five allowed black men to vote. illinois didn't pennsylvania , didn't. new york had a high property value which excluded almost all of them. they were nervous, the republicans. in the election of 1866, the congressional elections, these two things got merged together. one was protecting the rights of the freed people, but also keeping the rebels from coming back into power. there were many northerners who did not care that much about the freed people but sure did not want these ex confederates coming back to any semblance of power in washington. johnson is empowering the rebels. so you get these two issues which merged together and lead to a big republican victory, which is seen as an endorsement of the 14th amendment in the congressional election of '66. >> then they go after johnson.
>> then they go after johnson. >> first they say, we are getting rid of johnson's governments and creating new ones. this is the reconstruction act of 1867. we are giving the right to vote to black men in the south. new governments have to be created for the first time in american history, you get functioning interracial democracy with many hundreds of thousands of black men voting for the first time, many holding office for the first time, and you get this experiment of radical reconstruction in the south after the 1866 election gives republicans this very big majority in congress. and then they impeach johnson trying to get rid of him. >> and narrowly failed to evict him, and he tries to get renominated. >> the impeachment trial takes place like in may 1868, just a
few weeks before the republican-democratic national conventions. johnson's lead attorney, william everett of new york, told the more moderate republicans look, if you acquit johnson, i promise you he will behave himself from now on. he will not try to interfere with reconstruction. he only has six more months in office or eight more months. i promise you he will behave. he did. up to that point he was telling white southerners to ignore these laws, that they weren't really laws. the president is telling people to ignore the law, that creates a difficult situation. >> so his lawyer said let him off the hook and he will behave? >> yes. then ulysses grant is nominated and elected.
by a fairly narrow margin, in 1868 graham runs against seymour, the x governor of new york, and he wins, but in the popular vote it's not that big a margin because most of the southern states are voting again, the blacks are all voting for grant, but the whites are all voting for the democrats. the reconstruction situation is fairly fragile. after 1868, republicans controlled the presidency and congress and all the southern states for the moment. that is the height of radical reconstruction. >> what do the reconstructed southern state governments do? it was certainly a big image in the american mind. it was presented by birth of a nation, a little bit by gone with the wind, but just the notion of -- it's good we don't have slavery anymore, but they ran his corrupt governments.
>> for a long time, this view that you just mentioned dominated both scholarly writing and popular imagination, birth of a nation. there's a little bit. there are some scenes in go with the wind -- gone with the wind that reconstructed governments were a travesty of democracy. the reason was black suffrage. this concept was basically thought of the ideological justification of the jim crow south, that after the right to vote was taken away from blacks in the south around 1900, the argument was you give them the right to vote act, you will have powers of reconstruction again. birth of a nation chose this vividly, with blacks running amok and raping and the legislature of south carolina is
sitting there with their feet up, throwing chicken bones. they are not prepared to take part in american democracy. we know that's a complete travesty of the history. what did they do? they faced enormous obstacles. the south had been devastated by the civil war, they needed economic rebuilding, they were trying to deal with the transition that needed to be a new labor system put in place in the south, they were demands among african americans for civil rights laws and equal access to public accommodations and transportation, they set up the first school systems in southern history. these governments created -- for both black and white children, the first public school systems. in the north you had general common education systems. that was probably their greatest success, getting public
education started in the south for black and white children. there was corruption. a lot of it came through this railroad building, where they try to attract northern investors to start building railroads to help build up the south. if you were a northerner with money to invest in 1870, you had honey of opportunity in the west -- even though the indian wars are going on, in the south things were so chaotic, then violence was very its head with the clue clucks clan quickly making an appearance. you're not going to invest there until things calm down. people invested tended to be fly-by-night operators, and there was a good bit of corruption. corruption is, sad to say, not unknown in american politics.
the question is not whether there was corruption. the question is, was corruption caused by black suffrage? there i would say no. new york city at this very time was stealing a lot more money than they had in the south. some people say that's because of irish voting and the immigrants. but they also face this serious question of how to deal with violence. >> i want to focus on that. the reconstructed governments also had southern white support, did they not? >> yes. >> what kind of people were they? >> in very's from state to state. the largest number of these so-called scallowags, that's a term of abuse, but it has gotten into our language and hard to avoid, were poor white farmers
in the hill country like eastern tennessee, where andrew johnson came from, western carolina, the ozarks, the piney woods. very little slavery in those regions. many of them had not been in favor of the confederacy. they were jacksonians before the civil war. strong unionists. >> every seceded state except south carolina had a unit in the union army. >> people say, what is it with south carolina? there's something weird with that place. you can go back to the secession, whatever. it's rather small. it does not have an upcountry of non-slaveholders like all the other states did. south carolina -- only south
carolina and mississippi, the majority of white families own slaves. south carolina had 60% of the population was slaves. they were white southerners who fought for the union army as well as many tens of thousands of black southerners slaves who fought for the union army also. the most commonly known was alcorn of mississippi. big plantation. he figured out, we have to cooperate with the north. he said, we should ratify the 14th amendment. he said, we have to accept that
blacks are voting. people like me, the leader, should join up. we need a harnessed revolution. people like him can keep things under control while still respecting the basic rights. alcorn and some of these planters also became scalawags, particularly in mississippi. the states with the largest number were north carolina, tennessee. texas had a bunch of german immigrants who joined the republican party. the vast majority of white southerners did not except the legitimacy of reconstruction, did not except the legitimacy of like voting, and that helped to produce the violence of the ku klux klan. >> the ku klux klan, the white leagues. it is terrorism. >> this is something on our minds lately. unfortunately, there is a history of terrorism in this
country that is homegrown reconstruction -- homegrown. they had various names. they use violence to change policy. >> what does the federal government do in response? >> we skipped over the 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, intended to give black men the right to vote throughout the entire nation, although the 15th amendment is worded in an odd way. radical republicans wanted a declaratory amendment. any male citizens 21 years of age has the right to vote. that's not what they got.
they got an amendment saying no state can deprive a person of the right to vote because of race. what's the difference? it left open many other grounds for depriving people of the right to vote, not necessarily intentionally, but that's how it worked. literacy tests, poll taxes, understanding clauses. when the klan starts being very active, congress passes the enforcement acts, 1870, 1871, giving the federal government the power to crush violence in the south. grant actually uses that in the spring of 1871. he sends troops into north carolina. he sends federal marshals into alabama.
there's a tremendous irony. they round up klansmen and put them in jail. my most recent book is about the underground railroad, fugitive slaves who escaped to canada before the civil war. in south carolina, it will bunch of these klansmen fled to canada to avoid prosecution by the federal government. it's a weird parallel in some ways. >> a different railroad line. crushed the plan, but then a couple years later, violence resumes and by that point, the mid-1870's, northern public opinion has retreated from the idea of intervention in the south. >> there was a battle in new orleans. >> 1873, there was an uprising. new orleans was the capital of the white league, and they tried to seize the government of louisiana. eventually general sheridan had to send troops in. >> general long street, x
confederate general, was one of the scalawags. he was the head of what they called the metropolitan police force, mostly blacks. the white league battle the metropolitan police force, but police were unable to suppress them and so troops eventually came in to restore the government of louisiana to power. this was a sign of their weakness, so to speak. these governments were new, they do not have the support of most of the white population, and they found it very difficult to keep order, which is something that governments must do. >> the 1874 midterm election is a disaster for the republican party nationally, partly because of this. >> partly because of this, partly because of a severe economic depression had begun, the panic of 1873 becomes an economic depression.
in the midterm elections of 1874, the democrats win control of the house of representatives for the first time since before the civil war, and that creates paralysis in the federal government. they can't get anything through congress anymore. republicans see this as a sign of changing public opinion and support for reconstruction is waning in the north, and little by little the state governments are either overturned or replaced or elected, voted out, and by 1876 there's only three of them left. as you know, those happen to become the pivot of the disputed election of 1876. >> to refresh everybody's memory, grant served his two terms, he decides not to run
again although he does try again in 1880. the republicans take rutherford b. hayes, a moderate. >> the governor of ohio. in 1875, there was legislative elections in mississippi and the same year there was the governor election of ohio. armed democratic groups -- the red shirts of south carolina, they call themselves rifle clubs, were running amok in mississippi and one of the black congressman from mississippi went to grant is that, if you don't send troops to mississippi, we will lose mississippi. and grant said, i can do that. i can send troops and save mississippi.
if i do that, we will lose ohio. he is saying public opinion in the north is no longer going to support intervention in the south. mississippi was taken over by democrats, but the republicans keep ohio. hayes is elected, but hayes is not a reconstruction guy. he is much more connected with the so-called reform weighing of the public and reporting -- republican party, which is turn its backs on reconstruction. even if hayes had won a big victory, reconstruction was going to pretty much come to an end anyway. >> that is the tacit deal made. >> it is disputed, it has some parallels to the year 2000 when returns were disputed. what if a state says -- sends in two returns? who decides who actually carried that state? they set up an electoral commission, which was completely beyond the constitution. there is nothing in the
constitution saying an electoral commission, with five members of the house and senate and supreme court, and after a lot of maneuvering, they give disputed returns to hayes. all that is going on, there's back room negotiations between political leaders from the south and hayes' people. the democrats agree that hayes will be inaugurated. hayes agrees to remove federal troops, the last ones from the south, and that leaves to the democrats taking over south carolina and louisiana, and by that point the democratic party,
the white supremacist democrats are now in charge of all the southern states, and reconstruction as that time period comes to an and. history never just stops at any one moment. blacks continue to vote for another generation. republicans come back into power in virginia in the 1890's. it's not until around the turn of the century as the starting in 1890 with mississippi, when they take the right to vote away from black men, that really the whole political situation changes completely and you get the one party. of course then it was the democratic party, the one party, jim crow south without any political opposition really at all.
blacks than completely stripped of political rights until the voting rights act of 1965. >> karl rove has a book just out, which i blurb, on william mckinley. first elected in 1896. he argues mckinley was a competent political strategist and he brought new votes into the republican coalition, catholics, workers, immigrants. he says several times in this book the reason he had to do that is because the republican party had been eliminated in the south. >> i will tell you a story about karl rove which may surprise you. years ago "the new yorker" did a
profile when he was a major figure in the bush administration. he was a history major, and he said my favorite book -- he said, my favorite book as an undergraduate history major was "free soil, free labor, freeman." -- free men." it showed how they build a political coalition. at the end of one of my lecture courses on this era, one of my students comes up to me and says, you may not approve of this, but i'm an intern in the white house this year and working with mr. rove. i said, i don't disapprove. he said, i'm glad you feel that way. he whipped out my reconstruction book and said, mr. rove asked if u.s. autograph this for him -- [laughter] i've never met him, but we have some sort of little connection there.
>> now we have questions from our audience. let me go to that. first question, i'm curious about the term "reconstruction." who, and/or what was being reconstructed? >> the first part of this question is a deep question, who was being reconstructed. where did the term come from? >> it's a good question, because during the civil war, which word you used told a lot about your political position. the republicans talk about reconstruction very early. the south must be reconstructed. that meant this is an opportunity to get rid of slavery and to create in the south a society basically
modeled on the north, what they called a free labor society. it is southern life that must be reconstructed. the democrats use the term restoration. there were very few people in the north who sided with the south. there were some. most democrats did not support the lincoln administration, but they wanted the union to be maintained. the way to do that, they said, was to restore the old union with slavery. >> union as it was. >> reconstruction means you want some pretty significant change, restoration means let's go back to the antebellum situation somehow. as time goes on, lincoln -- lincoln is a moderate
republican. people like that stop talking about reconstruction. it's also the nation being reconstructed. what will this country look like with the end of slavery and the end of civil war with it? by the end of the war, reconstruction is by far the dominant term, but it has many meanings. that would've been a radical step. most republicans did not want to go that far, but it meant redefining what it is to be an american. the original constitution, first of all, it refers to citizens but that's not -- but does not say who they are. the states have different criteria for citizenship before the civil war. and then this point of equality before the law, that did not exist at all before the civil war. you are creating something new in terms of the structure of american political system, even though you are bringing the
country back together at the same time. >> and lincoln was very clear, particularly in the second inaugural, which i think is the most remarkable speech. >> these very clear that the responsibility for slavery rests with the entire nation. >> absolutely. he called it american slavery. he did not call it southern slavery. he said, we are all complicit this. he said, this war is probably god's punishment to the nation for the evil of slavery. that's one of the reasons why a link in very late in the war kept coming up with this notion of -- lincoln very late in the war kept coming up with this notion of monetary compensation to the owners. >> $400 million. >> his cabinet said, are you crazy?
we just spend billions on this, we are going to give them money? forget that. he said, i see you are all against me. part of the reason he said that was he thought the north had profited from slavery and therefore should pay, as part of the new system. lincoln was an unusual fellow. >> what was the republican party's reaction to lincoln choosing johnson, a democrat, as vp? >> first of all, vice presidents, whatever the criteria today for putting someone on the ticket as vice president, back in the 19th century, nobody expected the vice president to become president. >> it happened twice. >> william henry harrison had died, and zachary taylor. johnson was put on the ticket for one reason. he was the military governor of tennessee.
he treated the rebels rather harshly there. he was as simple in northern eyes of what they thought was a large number of southern white unionists. with the war over, the republicans would have to get support in the south. they were not willing to go to black suffrage at that time. johnson was on to attract whites in the south who were unhappy with the confederacy to the republican party. he was a democrat, but he was a war democrat. nobody expected johnson to become president. lincoln was a young guy. we know what happened, but nobody expected that to happen. in fact, probably very few people in this audience could name lincoln's first vice president.
hannibal hamlin. he had no part whatsoever. when lincoln issued the preliminary emancipation proclamation. hamlin wrote him a note saying, that's a great idea. he had not even discussed it with his vice president. [laughter] the vice president had no importance except press setting over the senate, which john adams said was the most ridiculous responsibility. johnson was not put on with any consideration of his qualifications to become president. >> the thing that stuck in my mind is the two presidents who died, harrison and taylor, they were both whigs, and that was lincoln's party. and lincoln was very involved in politicking in both the campaigns. and the whigs were shattered by the death of harrison in 1840. one, because as lincoln would do, they had balance their ticket with a democrat, john tyler.
he was certainly not like all the other whigs. >> exactly. it was probably what ultimately destroyed the whig party, they could never get their program. >> you are right. lincoln should have thought about it, because he knew those guys -- and lincoln had a slightly fatalistic streak. but nobody quite knows how much a role lincoln played in the selection of johnson. this is all very murky. >> my assumption is when it is murky, lincoln is playing a role. he's a very cunning man.
>> it couldn't have happened without lincoln's approval, but i don't know that he -- hamlin did not want to stay on as vice president great he got a much better job, collector of the port of boston. >> let's get serious here. >> every ship that landed, some of the fees stuck to the fingers of the collectors. that was a much more lucrative job than being vice president. >> the next question, should they have impeached andrew if so, why didn't they? prof. foner: the constitution says that the president can be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. what is a high crime and misdemeanor? that is whatever the majority of the house of representatives determines. we've only had two impeachment trials, as you know. we also had a voter's impeachment against nixon. in each case, the so-called "crimes" were very different. i think they just got fed up with johnson. the charge was violating the
tenure of office act. they had put that in to keep stanton as secretary of war. then johnson dismissed her. so he violated a law, but it was a murky law that people thought was in constitutional. if incompetence is a grounds for impeachment, he certainly should have been impeached. if being impossible to deal with was grounds for impeachment, he should have impeached. nobody liked him, but they did not quite have an ironclad legal grounds for impeaching johnson. mr. brookhiser: there is the pregnant moment when johnson is inaugurated before lincoln is. in 1865. he traveled the night before from tennessee, and i don't think he was feeling well. he had a few drinks to pick himself up and gave this terrible speech. and lincoln tells some functionary when he goes out on the podium to do his own thing, he says, make sure he does not speak.
that is not a good sign. prof. foner: lincoln was mortified. johnson was drunk at the inaugural. some people claim it was a combination of medicine and liquor. whatever it was, it was a complete disaster. he did not start out on the right foot. mr. brookhiser: why don't most people realize that slavery did not really end in the south until the 1960's? there's a planted axiom there. prof. foner: my view of this is that slavery is a specific thing. that is to say that not every form of injustice, not every form of inequality, is slavery. it is absolutely correct that after the fairly brief moment of reconstruction, a long period of
very deep inequality for black americans was settled upon the south, and it was only with the civil rights revolution, often called the second reconstruction, that the jim crow system was dismantled and at least on the books we now have legal equality. i don't call that slavery, though. there are people who do. but i think slavery is a specific system. it has specific qualities. we need another name to discuss the system of inequality that was certainly in existence in the 20th century of the south. i think it is important to be fairly precise about what we are talking about. this is in no way to undercut the fact that there was deep injustice in the south when it came to the status of african-americans. mr. brookhiser: next question is
please discuss the function of the freedmen's bureau and its legacy. prof. foner: the freedmen's bureau was interesting, because it was a federal agency set up in march 1865 to oversee the transition from slavery to freedom. it was a herculean task. they were to oversee the transition to free labor, set up schools, give medical care, food to starving, black and white. it was notonly blacks, so-called refugees. whites who are displaced. it was supposed to make sure that blacks got justice in southern courts. it was like a new deal agency , somehow, given its responsibilities, in the middle of the 19th century, when there was no president whatsoever for the federal government doing any
of those things. it only lasted five years, from 1865 to 1870. fact, when congress passed it, enacted the freedmen's bureau, lincoln signed it, they forgot to appropriate money. basically, it was funded out of the war department, and therefore most of the freedmen's bureau agents were army officers. because there was no money to pay anyone else. they did the best they could, they had many achievements and many setbacks, but it wasn't big enough or powerful enough to actually accomplish all the things it was supposed to accomplish. it shows you how the civil war at least temporarily changed people's ideas about what the federal government was capable of doing. mr. brookhiser: so the head of the freedmen's bureau would not have had anything like the prestige of a cabinet secretary. prof. foner: no. general o.o. howard --
he was the commissioner of the freedmen's bureau, he was a general. then they had heads for each state and local agents. even at its peak, there were about 800 freedmen's bureau agents. the south is a very big place. if 800 is not enough to cover the whole south, you know -- so they were in cities and towns. in rural areas, they were a lot less prevalent. mr. brookhiser: governor merkel recently suggested that delaware should issue a formal apology for slavery. delaware being a slave state up until 1865. do you see any value in an apology without reparations? prof. foner: you know, that governor -- i'm not an expert on the politics of delaware right now, in fact i barely know where it is -- [laughter] mr. brookhiser: go north and you will run into it. prof. foner: you pay an arm and a leg on the tools if you drive from new york to washington.
he recently parted -- he's obviously a guy with a sense of history. he recently pardoned a man called samuel burress. samuel was a free black man who was jailed for the civil war for helping blacks. he was an underground railroad guy. he was pardoned 50 years late. this governor has some sense of history. apologize -- i don't know what to say. if someone wants to apologize for slavery, fine. i don't see the point of it, quite. i think -- when there is too much apology and then people think they have solved the problem. i think people should apologize for what they do. this governor never owned a slave, i don't think, and nobody alive today in delaware owned a slave. didn't tony blair apologize for the irish famine at some point? you know, i think --
mr. brookhiser: clinton apologized for slavery when he was in africa. prof. foner: i mean, it is fine to say that "i regret that slavery was such an important part of the development and history of the united states." i do not see anything wrong with that, but i don't think that accomplishes a heck of a lot either. if people say, "ok, i've apologized, let's move forward and not worry about this anymore," i don't think it is serving much of a purpose. prof. foner: last -- mr. brookhiser: last question. how accurate is the movie "lincoln" in its portrayal? prof. foner: how many hours do you have here? [laughter] mr. brookhiser: how many people have seen the spielberg one? how accurate was it? prof. foner: it's hollywood. what do you want? mr. brookhiser: good enough for historians or good enough for hollywood? prof. foner: it is pretty good for hollywood, but i'm not a fan
of hollywood history. i could give you a lot of things that were wrong in the movie. there are some things that were trivial, like the fact that when they vote in the house of representatives, they have them voting like it's a party convention. you know, connecticut passed -- that's not how they vote. they vote alphabetically by member, not by state. that is more dramatic, so they did that. the problem with the movie -- this is hollywood history -- it's no different from the movie "gandhi," "malcolm x." it's a great man history. that's fine. those are important. but it is always men. they never do that for women in hollywood. i think it's too claustrophobic, it's too inside the beltway. this is a tremendous crisis in the country. sherman's army is marching into south carolina that very moment. slaves are rising up on the plantation. slavery is dying on the ground
while they're debating, and you get no sense of what's going on in the country in that movie. it is all this internal debate. daniel day-lewis did a good job, but i felt -- and the proceedings in congress were sort of -- i think the author was thinking of what he thinks goes on in congress today, people yelling at each other. that is not how congress operated back then. yes, they used strong language, but they made reasoned speeches. even the anti-emancipation people made reasoned speeches. they just did not yell at each other all the time. as you got in that picture. but the basic problem with that movie is that the fundamental premise is false. that is to say the fundamental premise is lincoln was faced with this tremendous choice between ending slavery and ending the war. a choice between two goods -- a
choice between a good and evil is not interesting. a choice between two goods is a good, dramatic situation. there was no chance -- lincoln had made it clear many times, the war was not going to end without the end of slavery. the south was never coming back without the end of slavery. he said that in his reconstruction plan of december 1863. by this point it was absolutely clear there was no possibility of the war ending with union victory and slavery surviving. so that dramatic crux of the movie is really the invention of the playwright. but it is historical fiction. it's like julius caesar. maybe it is not shakespeare, but you know. i was discussing this with a student in my office at columbia. the guy in the office next to me, william harris, a scholar of the history of ancient rome, is coming by the door. he is walking down.
i say "william, come in here." was the real brutus like brutus in "julius caesar" by shakespeare? he said "no, of course not. he was a scoundrel. he was a schemer." i said, that's it. it is historical fiction. the author changes history to make a point, that's fine. real history. -- but it's not real history. as long as you can keep that straight in your mind -- of course, we can't. the power of the image, the power of the film, the acting, the whole thing is so strong that it becomes history to us. right? this is what people now know. mr. brookhiser: i will tell you the one thing that made me smile, there was a moment when lincoln and seward are talking about how do we pass this amendment. they decide they need an operator to really call these congressmen. that is how the david spade character, i guess, gets introduced. and then seward says, let me bring a guy down from albany.
i'm thinking, like they couldn't have opened the door and in the hallway there wouldn't have been 12 guys who only do that? prof. foner: they did have operators. but lincoln did not go around at night, knocking on the doors of congressman in the movie. the president does not do that. mr. brookhiser: that is our program. thank you very much. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> you're watching american history tv, 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter at @c-spanhistory for information on our schedule, and to keep up with the latest history news. >> one of the things i saw throughout this entire timeline is that most of the foundation
fathers and early presidents knew in their minds that slavery was wrong. they knew it. but they were not willing to inconvenience their own lives to make that come true. tonight on "q&a," jesse holland discusses his book "the invisibles." >> the majority of the first presidents, they were all slave owners. they would bring in slaves from their plantations. george washington did this as well. new yorkt in slaves to and philadelphia from mount vernon. they served as the first of a stick staff to the united states president. >> tonight at 8:00 eastern on "q&a." >> >> all weekend, american history tv is featuring santa barbara, california. in 1871, it