tv Impeachment of Andrew Johnson in Popular Culture CSPAN February 4, 2021 8:43pm-9:17pm EST
the 1942 novel and a 1957 book profiles in courage. >> brook thomas is a professor in the english department at the university of california ervin. i think he just took a status? which means he now has more time to write and more time to talk and more time to educate us. i am honored that he is come here again i. i'm honored that he's back here again today. (applause)-y >> thank you. one i'm going to do here is give about 25 minutes, i hope we get some more time for questions and answers, but we're moving toward the end. reconstruction stayed alive in the popular memory largely through its portrayal in popular media. and i want to look at the politics of the portrayal of
andrew johnson's impeachment. and my primary works is gonna be the clansmen 1905, film tennessee johnson, and john f. kennedy's profiles of courage. my thesis is that once held the most widely held belief that although political factors inevitably influenced impeachment under the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors it should occur only if there's been a legal transgression threatening the republic. so let's start with profiles of courage. this is a pulitzer prize winner 1957. with sketches of senators, who, at personal, castro's principle, patriotism and rule by law over partisan politics. there's one shipped chapter on johnson's impeachment which is as most of you know failed by conviction of just one vote.
these are illustrations that kennedy has for this chapter. here's a ticket to the impeachment. trial and lasted almost two months. then here is a cartoon of the senate chambers and here's edmund a ross. he was kennedy's hero, he was a kansas senator who sacrificed a career when he delivered the decisive vote to stave off conviction after johnson's impeachment on trumped up charges by rastas fellow republicans. fulfilling his foreign duty to follow the law rather than band to political pressure, ross preserve constitutional power balance of power by keeping the presidency from bringing becoming subservient to the legislative. will induce, oh he perform one one history and called, the most heroic act in american history, incomparably more difficult than any deed or valor upon the field of battle. he wrote his own account which he can still buy.
this is a really nice story of courage, but unquestionably accepting ross is self aggrandize-ing account, kennedy said it's certain evidence that the senator remain undecided at the last minute because he was shopping his vote for the highest. bitter although there was no indication that kennedy distorted the facts, there was ample political motivation for him to highlight this allegedly refusal to bow to political pressure. kennedy of course then senator county in 1957, had presidential ambitions. writing for the board of education he was aware that the state of massachusetts would need support to procure the democratic nomination. in 1950, seven it's really important to remember the many americans considered johnson a hero. for kennedy, he was determined to carry out abraham lincoln's policies of reconciliation by
-- binding up the wounds of the nation and treating the nation the fairness. johnson faced -- those radicals faced pass legislation to administer to the dawn trade in states of conquered provinces. bill after bill was vetoed on the grounds that they were unconstitutional, too harsh of the treatment of the south, or unnecessary engagement of military rule. those bills included the 1866 civil rights act, which gave american citizenship and basic economic rights, an extension of the -- and the reconstruction act of 1867. they were always of course unconstitutional to the south. it's no accident the villain in kennedy's portrayal are massachusetts owned benjamin butler and charles sumner,
described as kennedy as the butcher of new orleans and mr. sumner, the south's most implacable enemy, who helped make the reconstruction period a black nightmare the south would never forget. through is attacks on these northerners, kennedy assured southerners that this massachusetts politician could be trusted. and just add a little more to the politics of the time, if he can river your eye away from this only cost 35 cents, down to the former, he might not be able to see. this but the forward of the inaugural edition was written by alan nevins, he was a pulitzer prize-winning historian and he was not only wrote the forward for the inaugural edition, he was the chairman of presidents kennedy and he had read the manuscript to, make sure it was historically accurate. what nevins has to say about reconstruction, it was a time
of debasement when the backup got the upper hand in congress. johnson was partly broken for his courage. sumner was an example of the fall scores the grew out of abs abolitionists fanaticism. this is just a sideline. but unfortunately nevins account, this view of reconstruction is still influential with grant biographer's today. but enough on. that that was a sideline. let's get to the clansmen, 1905, the racist novel that became birth of a nation. which amidst the impeachment trial. but the clansmen does have a trial, and it has significant similarly to profiles and courage, including dramatic flare to tell the story of heroism,. it's not surprising, because dickson might have been a source for kennedy. but he does have a somewhat dramatic focus from kennedy. dixon lionizes ross but he also focuses on the character austin
stone who stands with ideas stevens, who embraced american rights which is threatening the foundation of the republic. here's that is stephens with his famous wake. that is that a stevens illustrated in the clansmen, no whip, and of course arguing with lincoln. in fact, stevens was so sick that he had to allow butler to take over as lead prosecutor and could not finish the one speech he tried to give. but dickson needed a villain who was rumored to have a melodic mistress i was a prime architect of the black pagan reconstruction. kennedy said it was a black nightmare. now the film in between these two. tennessee johnson. johnson obviously the focus is not on ross it is on johnson, in fact rosters not even appear. johnson is played by van have, flynn who just won an oscar. the film acknowledges that the medium requires taking certain liberties. for instance, even though
johnson did not appear at his own trial, in the film he delivers a stirring self-defense. the film produces drama but pinning johnson against evens, who's played in a wheelchair by lionel barrymore, whose perfectly cast as just after paying the volume in it's a wonderful life. and the screenplay who wrote this wrote the screenplay for frankenstein. these are the three different works. they have lots of different similarities. for kennedy was at stake was the checks and balances of government. the independence of the executive office as a coordinate branch of government was on trial. dickson agrees with that, this isn't a chapter called a supreme test. and he says almost exactly this as kenny. if i majority -- ends.
in the film it has, wants to rally support for the war in 1942 by stressing national unity. so how does it do that? well, it portrays and illiterate taylor's apprentice, johnson, coming from north carolina and escaped to tennessee. he learns how to read and write, becomes a spokesman for poor whites, and of course these poor whites would be needed for the war effort. his hero was democrat andrew jackson, and he imposed the republican lincoln in 1860 on his love of the union made him loyal even when tennessee succeeded causing lincoln to then choose him as vice president in 1864. now, as president is committed to following lincoln's policy rather than stevens of revenge, confiscation, disenfranchises disenfranchise disenfranchise asian.
-- you need to have north and south and which johnson was trying to do, if democrats republicans and ling corny and democrats coming together. now of course african americans were needed for the war effort as, well been and their plate was appropriate for the film. in the very first seen, johnson, his runaway apprentice, he's a fugitive, any as a shackle on his leg, and he has to have that cut off. so he's a fugitive shackle cut off on his leg before away. he keeps the shackle all of his life, and then when stevens comes in, when he's president and offers to help him. all help you win the next election if you support radical reconstruction, and johnson supplies he pulls out the treaty, it says i've been chain before. a promises he's gonna free southerners just is lincoln freed the slaves. so you can imagine the naacp wasn't too happy with. as they protested before the phone even came out, how did that happen?
all a worker for and gm gave a copy of the script to the daily worker, and the daily worker passed it on to the office of war information and the double double in naacp, who pressured the studio to make changes before that movie came out. the naacp saw less than demonic patrol of stevens, and gm didn't go as far as hoped, because they told a usc professor, who i'm not gonna name, that they advised the original scripts -- which unfortunately was true. yet some scenes of stevens were caught, were re-shot making a little more human and's scenes were deleted meaning they're few african americans in the film. now historians of the civil rights movement have sometimes pointed to this alliance between the office and the naacp as a strategy which would
work in the civil rights movement. at the same time, conservatives even today point to this as a symbol of political corrective misleading to censorship in hollywood. all three then, they have all agreed on the politics of reconstruction. david to witness impeachment and the trial of andrew johnson, 1903. i'm gonna give you a sense of what that agreement of reconstruction was from the way it. people who don't remember this but people came back to the senate but this is dewit describing it. the trial of his policy was more significant. one by one, the african eyes the rotten boroughs, despite support of the federal administration and the u.s. army have fallen for the poll. soon know relic would remain in that hybrid empire. just to show you along this
view of reconstruction, lasted in 1960 the book by dewit was praised by one of the founders of in the fall away. it's something of a classic, whose excellent narrative account is not likely -- if indeed ever. so that was the view of reconstruction in the sixties. not only was their agreement of reconstruction, but the politics of impeachment, which was all three betrayed jar charges against johnson as politically motivated with no legal basis. what was the legal basis than for impeachment? there was something no as the tenure of office act. congress was trying to restrict johnson's powers as much as they could. part of the tenure of office act said the senate approval was needed to remove a cabinet member that the president appointed during his term of the advice and consent of the senate. nonetheless, johnson fired secretary of war stanton, who was a radical to keep him from
using the military to intervene in the south. now, johnson has some really good attorneys, and his attorneys responded to this legal claim or charge by saying, hold it stanton didn't even come on to the act. he was appointed by lincoln, up by johnson. and further, even if he did come under the act, the only reason johnson was doing this was to get the supreme court to rule on the constitutionality of that. now that, is a crucial interesting question. you have a president defy a law to get a constitutional ruling. well, how is the legal issue represented in three words. well dickson more less aborted. there was one theory that johnson was actually helping john looks booth and sensationalism, such as the involvement of teenage sculpture benny greene. the other to do deal with the legal issue. although the film mistakenly
says the tenure of office to act bids forbids dismissal of a cabinet by lincoln. -- it's kennedy delighted in knowing that the act was branded unconstitutional 1926. how do we get to ten to this notion versus politics an opposition? for kennedy, in the film it's a little more than he wants, and arlette kennedy speak for the two of them. johnson's accusers they said, did not give the president a fair trial on the formal issues upon which impeachment was drawn, but intended to depose him from the white house on any grounds real or imagined, for refusing to accept the policies. now what's left out of this and that is still there today about this impeachment, was that many of those policies had actually become law.
one of the charges against johnson was that legal mistake i'm not doing his constitutional duty to execute them. so, at the time there was a strong argument for political grounds of impeachment. here, we'll go back to charles sumner, who by the way, sumner wants tried to get the electoral college -- toward. charles sumner, who admits some of his predictable ... made some crucial points. he said, for instance -- not a supreme court tries, indicates that the founding fathers recognize the political aspect. why then, does the chief justice preside over? because, presiding officer of the senate, could benefit for impeachment. so you have to -- heat on sites hamilton, who says he can have impeachment, for him pews violation. -- which he capitalizes, it political. sumner then sites his mentor,
joseph story, saying that you can have impeachment from miss meng conduct -- and the discharge of the duties of political office. he then sites, the most famous constitutional historian at the time, george -- curtis who prior to the war, i have written that someone can be unfit for office where there is no offense -- that has been committed. for example, through imbecility, amorality, and maladministration. yet, if you want to see how the politics played out, in this impeachment, when curtis is brother, benjamin. who is a former supreme court justice, descended in judge scott -- became one of johnson's attorneys. for political reasons, george changed his position. and said, no. it has to be legal. and indeed, you have quotations from some of the people then, who voted not to convict. couldn't said judge curtis gave us the law, and we followed it.
obviously i want to have us rethink this long-standing legal -- to do so you have to do it look at a different meanings of political. the opposition between legal and political grounds, political is almost always become a synonym for bipartisan. the founding fathers also saw the political -- as the art of possible. as a motive governing. in my title, i use politics in a third way, which is the political consequences, representation of something. now, my argument here, is for complicated partisan reasons. popular portrayals of johnson's impeachment, help to ingrained a long held belief, that impeachment, and convictions should occur, only four legal transgression. it's certainly plausible, of the founding fathers felt that someone interested with the important goal a government, the republic could be impeached for reasons both legal, and political, and the sense of the art governing. for instance, high misdemeanors could include the president's use of pardon power.
the hope was, the senate could, in a non partisan way, determine if someone was unfit for office. remember, this opposition crew with the time. when, those, who are supported by those who thought johnson was, study of one of the buyer office -- is studying courage for battling radicals. who threaten the welfare of the republic bipartisanship, and then government. but, what about those recent studies? but a lot of, them on impeachment at acknowledge the possibility, now of conviction without illegal transgression. and denounced johnson as a terrible president. it was his politics, they say. not the radicals, who are threatening the welfare the republic. here then, i want to bring three studies, all. good he should be, them they know more about impeachment than i do. -- 2017, just for -- months presidency apparent paceman -- and jean meacham. impeachment in american history.
all of these, -- but significantly, not one agrees they should've been convicted. tried for instance, was his -- said a failure to convict johnson, offers some injuring unappreciated lessons. what is that? although impeachment proceedings, or intensely political, they also technical, the house put forth a weak case. that's a good lesson, if you want to impeach for, good case. how about sunscreen? something, says johnson was impeached for just one reason. violating the tenure office act. which was purely, partisan. johnson, he says was a terrible president. but his impeachment, violated the constitutional plan. it's impeachment was, he says, unconstitutional. even farcical. an example of where the united states should avoid. how about meacham? he says, johnson's trial offers a lesson for today. how, in a world where political passion, and national division,
found expression in the attempt to remove the president. and then, he concludes, without a clear violation of law, the senate and he says, rightly, that the voters acting through the electoral process, not lawmakers, where to determine the occupancy of the presidency. let me quickly respond to these. it's true, the house case was a bit of a mess. because, the republicans themselves were divided, over whether the violation of the law was needed. but, sunscreen is wrong, was the sole reason. the tenth article of impeachment, the tenth accused johnson of bringing the presidency into contempt, ridicule, and disgrace. it was against the office. the 11th article, combined legal and political arguments. including the political plane, that johnson was not properly executing reconstruction acts. what about meacham, sounds reasonable? we'll leave it up to the voters. the reconstruction act should remind us that's exactly what the question was at the time.
who were the voters? johnson was pardoning -- letting them, vote not letting african americans vote. reconstruction actress to reverse that. so, were there grounds to declare johnson unfit for office? here i want to turn to a story, -- much more than janet kennedy. in the mid fifties. was a profile of courage. and that's david donald. remember, that time, johnson was considered a good president. and yet, for the american heritage, he wrote, an essay. called why the impeach under? johnson and donald details, on johnson's political ineptitude, destroyed any chance, of bringing the nation together, in a way that we have been justice, to the defeat itself and african americans, i'm gonna quote at length, because his voice doesn't get heard, on the logic as much as it should. sure of his rectitude, johnson was indifferent to prudence. he never learned the president united states, could not afford to be -- apprentice in the roughly
tumble politics affront to tennessee, were orators exchange violent personalities crude humor, and bitter denounced nations. johnson continued to make some speech from the white house. all too often, he spoke extemporaneously, and allowed hecklers to drown heavy charges against critics. i need to quote a little bit,, andrew johnson never learned that the president united states, must function as a party leader. while making up as mine, johnson appears receptive to all ideas. when he and made a decision, his mind was immovably close, he defended his course with all the obstinacy of a weasel. as charleston or put it, no longer sympathetic, or even kindly, he was hardship petulant and unreasonable. according to donald, countless publicity, and persuasion, could have created presidential following. instead, johnson boggled. after noting the historians, dismissed charges against johnson, is flimsy and false, donald concludes, by insisting
perhaps, before the bar of history itself, andrew johnson was been, peach with an even greater charge, through petty political ineptitude, he threw away a magnificent opportunity. and so, i'm going to start join my conclusion, with donald words in mine. one of the points, i have been trying to make is, while the dismissal of political partisan, didn't originate, reconstruction, it is i think, not an accident. the law versus politics binary on impeachment. roles during reconstruction, which four years was condemned by radicals. to be sure, in the post trump world, more and more scholars are acknowledging the legitimacy of considering some political factors. but, what does the ferry to make a case for johnson's conviction? tell us about reconstruction status, international memory? meacham helps us answer that question, in the middle of his essay. not at the end. in which he makes the speculation, he says it's a fate of reconstruction. hinged on whether sumner's political argument, would meet
the definition of an impeachable offense. but remember with meacham concludes now. it did, we should leave it to the voters. employing, that he was allowing wreckage construction to, go according to zone logic. of course, meacham, exaggerates, convicting johnson would have not made reconstruction of success. but, johnson, more the radicals, was threatening to wear a the republic. was it a week case? that not executing the reconstruction, acts was impeachable. that charge, was originally proposed by thomas jenkins, who tried to limit partisanship, politics through civil service reforms. and then it was he who sponsored, the bill that created the justice department. to me, the charge was not farcical. nor was it vague allegation, of political rhetoric rhetoric. the reason it failed, was that one too many senators, looked
for, or, could hide behind, meacham standard of finding a clear violation of law. now, to be sure, an argument can be made. and a public. when that proceeding with impeachment, was unwise because, with johnson, about to end his time, it would've caused unnecessary division. but, that of course is a political consideration. in the meantime, narrative profiles include -- that narrative in which the radical republicans were so partisan, and could even rule well enough to handle impeachment. tribes dismissal of the 11th article, as vague allegations echoes kennedy's charge that it was the liberally obscured. neither mentions the charge, of the reconstruction acts. and the conclusion of impeachment, and american history, jeffrey angle, resurrect kennedys count, with high praise. and mentions ross, defeated trumped up charges, by considering their consciousness, as well constituents. just last friday, on cnn, a
week ago, i watch the special in the history of impeachment. and all of the experts, agreed partisans rain, and there were no grounds, from peach mint. for me, the treatment of johnson's impeachment, suggests that reconstruction remains, and unfinished of illusion, in part because when it's not absent, from public memory, it's too often misremembered. thank you. [applause] i'm happy to take questions we have some time. >>, i'm gonna ask you to sit down. and we have questions for both panelists. okay. can you live with that? so, okay, anyhow. are there people who would like to come up and ask questions?
there's a microphone over there. , i'm shocked. i'm gonna ask one of book, which is as most political historians who have studied and have argued that, the real reason for the defeat of the impeachment was, the fact that the person who has succeeded, johnson was -- been way of ohio. who was despised by an enormous number of people, in the senate. including, fellow radical republicans, and that radical republicans, who are pushing for a grant, to be the nominee, and the 1868, did not want to have to deal, with the incumbent been weighed. and so, as much easier to simply stomach johnson, for what would have been, less than another year until the new president came into office.
>> again if i had a longer top, i would've included, try to include. that is absolutely right. obviously, it's more complicated. ben wade, because there was no vice president, he will then succeeded. taken over as president, for that short time. i can say, not, all maybe two or three -- you'll need one. also, in the film, they actually have a figure for way. and when johnson says, he's introduced, johnson goes, between him and me, and he starts laughing. we'll never succeed. the famous act accurate about that >> no questions? no comments? does anyone have a further comment for randy kennedy, i can bring up here as well.
if not, we get to leave a few minutes early. i want to thank everybody, i want to thank chuck and lauren, who are in the back. and i'd like him to stand one more time, for applause. for [applause]. and, the rest of the u.s. capital historical society staff. because, they are the ones who made this happen. i think, all of you for coming. and next year, probably pretty much the same time, possibly even the same place, there will be another conference as the u.s. capital historical society, does its best to educate the american people on, the history. that has helped take us to where we are today. thank you all very much.
and now on american history tv, harvard university professor important rate looks at the legacy of andrew johnson, to begin the nation's 17th president after the assassination of president lincoln in 1865. he discusses the failures of reconstruction under the president johnson. >> it is my pleasure to introduce our second speaker of the morning, and yet gordon reid, professor gordon reid is a charles warn professor of american history at harvard law school. she's also a professor of history in the college of arts and sciences. her first foray into writing