tv The Civil War The Impeachment of President Andrew Johnson CSPAN June 23, 2018 6:00pm-6:42pm EDT
>> you are watching american history tv. follow us on twitter. >> next university of kentucky history professor on president andrew johnson. byt of a symposium hosted the u.s. capital historical society commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 14th amendment's ratification. we will end with mark summers from the university of kentucky in lexington. i do not know whether ending with mark means we are ending with a southerner or a northerner. he went to berkeley for his phd.
or one of those famous border states. i lectured in kentucky in many times and i learned that kentucky seceded after appomattox and became a confederate state. before that, it was the united states. in a sense, that is the complexity of the history we have been dealing with. when the 13th amendment was being considered, the delegates from the house and kentucky tried to get an exemption to the 13th amendment. they did not do so. mark is working on two books, one on andrew johnson's impeachment and another on gilded age politics.
imd am delighted that he has come to join us and tell us about andrew johnson. >> thank you. most kind of you. thank you for giving me a chance for giving me the half hour i have. we were asked and advised that we should treat this talk the way we would teaching a class as opposed to reading a paper. in my case, that is dangerous because if i were doing it when i was teaching a class, there are the eight brief amount of time before i began to talk
about other things and go off into any number of fake references to things that have .othing to do with history i like to pace around. i am going to try to restrain i have a microphone if i need it. andme start out by talking offering a few pictures of sorts. this is not just andrew johnson but an interesting political cartoon. as you can see, look at it and you discover i am playing off of a familiar painting. we have the cartoonist showing the slaying of america's would
be caesar. andrew johnson lies dead, the house managers of impeachment have just saved the republic. ,hat is wrong with that picture does anybody know? >> [indiscernible] >> he was not convicted. he was not assassinated out there. it doesn't make sense. it is a bafflement. you think, what is going on here? her's -- the impeach impeachers and you look at it and johnson is acquitted. this never happened. you think, why did he draw this cartoon? did he draw this before the trial was over thinking that johnson would be convicted? exceptunds plausible
that is not the case. look carefully at the would-be assassins. is over to the right, there is that he is stevens, not to be confused with tommy lee jones. departinge him separately. that is because anybody looking at the cartoon would know thaddeus stevens died three months after the end of the trial. been doneon must have after the trial was over. it was done many months after the trial was over and that makes it even more of a mystery that it doesn't seem to make sense. about johnson's distraction when you know that is not the case?
has somebody been messing with the time space continuum? was johnson convicted and then in some sequel to back to the backe, marty mcfly races to bring that one senator around? has the cartoonist engaged in alternate facts? there is a simple explanation. a better explanation than those. the fact of the matter is something very different. what was happening is this cartoon comes out when johnson leaves office in 1869. he no longer has the power to do damage to just about anyone it could be said. of course what he was suggesting is something we may not think about. we think of impeachment is a tremendous failure and in fact
it was. monstrous mistake out there but in another way, it was a tremendous success. that was the only way congress could have done the impossible and that was the taming of andrew johnson. let me try to explain that if i can. i will have to explain a little about andrew johnson himself. i will have to explain what this is about. why was johnson impeached? you probably know the answer. on the 21st of february, 1868, secretary of war stanton was dismissed from the war ,epartment by andrew johnson sending acting general lorenzo
thomas to have him vacate the defense so that the department would be put in andrew johnson's hands. in the course of three days, the house of representatives overwhelmingly, by more than a two thirds vote, voted to impeach andrew johnson. it is a striking and remarkable moment and you have to ask yourself why. nobody thinks of a present president firing his secretary of state or the like, there would be impeachment resolutions brought. nobody in the past has occurred on this. why would this happen in the case of stanton of all people especially when you consider with a thoroughly unpleasant person he is? theave to understand that only way we can understand the impeachment trial.
that is bound up with the question of how in the end the republicans actually one. the republicans not only insisted on impeaching johnson, they gave orders to stanton to hold onto his office and refused to give it up, to barricade himself inside and make sure people brought him his meals and they sent to members of the house to act as guards. they would use force as necessary to keep them from being ejected. it is not something you often see in governments outside of some third world nation. it is very peculiar. this is even more peculiar. if you want a symbol of ,merica's radical republicanism you are more likely to think of thaddeus stevens. you might think of a modest republican.oderate
what could bring these two men together both in favor of impeachment? been designed by taking all the qualities of thaddeus stevens and anything -- leaving them out. what would make them act that way? you have to understand injured johnson. that is the simple point. andrew johnson had been born in a log covered. being born in humble circumstances does not make you a humble individual. humble beginnings can make very proud then and andrew johnson took from his poverty a sense of his own self-worth. sense thatlifelong he was one of the people people better born could never see.
his achievements of success against great odds may have made him less sympathetic to those at the bottom who continue to struggle without the same ability to rise. all in all, it could be said one critic had a very much right that johnson had the pride of no pride. he might have added, the self-satisfaction of an insecure man, two qualities that often go together. would not have mattered if johnson had been the democratic vice president elected on the report and take it as he was in 1864. the courageous united states senator, the vice president stoked to the gills on liquor for his inaugural address so the secretary of state had to pull him down from the coattails have
gone down in fame along with william wheeler, hannibal hamlet and eldritch gary. protect that an assassin would shoot abraham lincoln and in the place of the great a man to pay her, make a lifelong slaveholder president. i should not criticize johnson. i do not criticize johnson in every way. he was patriotic, he was incorruptible. his idea of how to reconstruct the union was that presidents should do it by executive action and it was none of congress's business. a very good reconstruction could be made by ignoring the former slaves writes beyond a simple freedom. when congress try to put her a civil rights bill, johnson
proposed and when it 14th amendment, johnson could not be to it that he did his best to keep it from being passed. it could be said that as a result of this, congress decided that it could make new deal with the president. veto, itover johnson's went through a series of acts to force the creation of elections by black and white men alike to create constitutions based on the equal protection of the law. if those constitutions were passed by a majority of all the registered voters and if the two governments then adopted the 14th amendment, they would be in the union as good as they had ever been, represented in congress as much as they had ever been. , that washe reality the simple fact.
should be obvious that if this was going to happen, it was vital that the army be able to protect the rights of black people directly to register and to vote against intimidations, threats and terrorism. that means that whoever controlled the army controlled reconstruction. andrew johnsonar would do everything within his constitutional powers to hinder reconstruction going through successfully. tried towhy congress take control of the army out of the president's hands and then in the hands of the secretary of war, who they would trust. all of which should give us a clear idea of why when johnson tries to take away the power of that secretary of war, to put in
one of his own people, congress should be very angry. congress is also very frightened and to understand that, we have to understand the secretary of war. this man treated the constitution as if it was his only friend, as if it was a golden retriever to follow wherever he went. doingieved in what he was but his policy republicans would have said means the deaths of many innocent people. they saw johnson as taking powers that no president had ever taken before in peacetime to dominate, to dictate, to create a government of the south. here's andrew johnson as the caesar looking down in the arena and who is being massacred out there?
advice, the black people of the south, forces of law and order. the mobs of mixed confederates. this system of law met nothing but lawless thus for some. it was a daring and pulled thing, it was not accepted by much of the white south and it could be resisted with the aid of the government. it is not surprising that when johnson came up for trial, they would be senators who from the first would determine that this man should go whether he had broken any law or not. charles sumner from said he could only say guilty or not guilty when asked how he stood on johnson because he would have liked to
have answered guilty of that and so much more. surprising.not be what makes it worse is that not veryhnson is presidential. not by the standards of the 19th century. it could be added, he is extremely unpresidential. afraid to havee him in control of the army? what would you think of a president who accused leading members of congress of being guilty of treason, accused congress of planning to annihilate 8 million people in who regularly asked who has suffered for you more than andrew johnson, who regularly compared himself to allegedrist, who congress had no right to pass legislation because there was no
inal congress, that it was point of fact a body hanging on the edge of government pretending to be a congress of the united states? would you trust the army to someone like that? would you feel safe with someone like that? most republicans did not. in 1867,one reason why they tried to protect the secretary of war. they tried to protect stanton against this would be king as they saw him. would gladly annihilate his enemies or execute them. in point of fact, they passed the tenure of office act. it is very clear. if a president appoints a member of his cabinet, he cannot with the advice and consent of the -- senate, cannot
remove or dismiss him without the advice and consent of the senate. of office act.re there were many scholars who would argue that this was in fact a constitutional act. tried to get rid of stanton by following the rules. what he had done in august of 1867 had been to try to suspend stanton, which he was allowed to do when congress was out of session. when congress came back into session, they decided that the suspension was not viable and stanton remained. having abided by this act, johnson now was going to use action and force to put stanton out. to the really violating that tenure of office act.
in fact, you have two things happening. first, andrew johnson is violating a law that the united states passed as opposed to attempting to appeal it and the second is, you realize right then and there that if he gets hold of the army, all of reconstruction is in danger and maybe the republic itself. man he hadink of a proposed for secretary of man -- secretary of war in stanton's place, this was a man who was on the record arguing that congress was illegal. do you want him in charge of the war department? of course not. small wonder that thaddeus stevens snuck around the house chamber saying, what good has your moderation done you if you don't kill the beast, it will kill you.
that is where reconstruction came from, where impeachment came from. at the end of a trial, over the it ultimatelyths, would be 35 votes to convict, 19 oppose, one to many on the acquittal size. by that oneped vote. that is part of our story. tend republicans and seven in good standing where the votes to acquit. why and how, where does that come from? when you have no votes to spare, you simply have got to have everybody on the same page. notact, the republicans did . charles sumner would have voted
to convict even if the articles of impeachment had been a laundry list. ,harles sumner is on the list longfellow is on the right. a close friend of his. most replicants needed more than that. they needed the charges to be proven. many of us like to think of this trial as if it was partisan with people putting their political opinions. that is not true. the republican senators weighed the evidence carefully and out impeachment,s of by the time for the boat, it was clear that most republicans could not support more than one of those arguments. the other articles cannot be part,on because in large it almost certainly would end in 's acquittal.
included who stood john henderson of misery, and edmund ross of kansas. the big guns that made it possible for them to act. the respectable voices were much more important figures. chairman of the naval committee, and iowa senator of high standing and prestige in the senate. the senator of illinois, chairman of the senate judiciary committee and the author of the 1866 civil rights act. maine, chairman of the finance committee. these people count more than anyone else in making a possible further senators to vote to acquit. they were critical. why did these good republicans in good standing vote to acquit andrew johnson? there were a few public and senators who let it be known that if their votes were needed
for acquittal, they would be needed -- they would be available. it was not the suspense riddled story that we often see. it is not at all clear even that the senator from ohio that would have replaced andrew johnson would have voted if his vote had really mattered much. it is a very nice thing about being at the end of the alphabet of a name like wade that you can cast her vote only when it is pretty much decided whether johnson will be acquitted or not, which was the case. why did people vote to acquit? was it because, as one of the managers treated the trial of the president just as he would a horse stealing case? it is a little bit like that. that is benjamin butler, a man whose qualities it can be said included great idealism and a rapacious corruption. was it because the prosecution's arguments to not hold up well?
yes, they did because it became very clear as they began to look at the law that johnson might not have violated the tenure of office act. he did not appoint stanton to secretary of war. abraham lincoln did, which means that maybe johnson had every right to dismiss the secretary of war if he chose to do so. it is a tricky matter. was it because there is corruption? there was vote buying by the president but apparently $30,000 was spent to buy three senators who all voted for conviction anyway. after all, who is going to tell? tell,rew johnson going to these guys are not honest. the moment he does that, you can
convict him on that. the corruption did not make much difference. the real answer is something very different. suppose andrew johnson had been acquitted. what words could he possibly do. every republican new what that would be. if he is acquitted, he can sabotage reconstruction completely. can choose someone as secretary of war to make it possible. what ultimately happens is something different. several is made by , crimesf the president among them, having president the -- having dinner with president. he offered them a chance to decide who they would like for secretary of war. to general grant to see who general grant would trust. fact, andrew johnson
all at once was playing ball very much the way he ought to have played a treat in with. he did not try to challenge the trial, he did not insist that the house was illegal, hits not insist that the senate was illegal with no right to try him , that he toyed with those ideas. he never admit that in public. be tried.pared to in point of fact, by the time vote,ohnson comes up for much of what he could do have vanished. republicans feared that the democratic party might nominate him for president that summer, which would only add to his be settled a country with him for another four years. the moment andrew johnson was impeached, the democrats began to go, i've never met this guy in my life.
he is your guy. we have nothing to do with this. it was wonderful to watch and it became clear that they would nominate anyone but into johnson for president, which meant that he is automatically a lame duck. the other thing that happened was that they even talked of nominating a person who was as republican as they come. ashley's patron, who believed in the equal rights of man and continue to stand on the issue. by may 1868, the power of johnson to use the army was not what it had been. by that time, seven southern states had voted on reconstruction constitutions. in every state, a majority of voters voted to ratify. that meant that the power of the army to control those states was
gone. his power of damage was lost. the secretary of war's power out there is critical. take away the army's control of the south and the king is put in check but have the king give us control of the army and he has put himself in checkmate which is exactly what could be said happened. the senators that are going to judge whether johnson was guilty got him to agree to nominate general john sheffield, a good union general, a man who believed in it abiding by the rule of law and congress. in.end that nomination connection soar the story is very clear. the moderates voted to acquit partly on the issues involved, partly on the law but also because they had removed most of the risk. andrew johnson have been tamed
so 11 months later, when johnson retired, there was good reason for the cartoon. the impeachment had killed all of andrew johnson that mattered as a viable and powerful force. how do i start it? he gets off topic momentarily, but not that far. in arkansas' constitutional made then, when they best constitution arkansas would ever had, delegates congratulated themselves on creating a society based on equal rights. and one delegate rose and said, not so fast. we have created a plan of government. the next thing you have to do is implement it. ofhave gone through a river
blood to get to the promised land, but gentlemen, we have not crossed the river jordan yet. we are not yet over. and that is the truth about reconstruction. reconstruction is saved, at least at the moment, for andrew -- by andrew johnson being defeated and checked. but by the end of the year was clear there were many forces to undo reconstruction. this is a headline from the at the killing of a black voter, and the headline was, one vote less. general sheridan said if he had the choice of living in hell or living in texas, he would live in hell. terrorism and violence in tremendous array. ake those states away from majority of the black and white voters that supported
reconstruction by intimidation, by violence, the rise of the kkllan. reconstruction would be on life support, even with the departure of andrew johnson it would be on the edge of failure. thaddeus stevens in the weeks before he died. he felt a deep sense of failure, not of the failure to convict johnson, but his believe that reconstruction as it had been set up, was not strong enough, would not last. to a reporter he would say, my only regret is that i have lived so long and so uselessly. is there a moral to all of this? everything,oral to .he so what question and the answer to that is, in there are noce, final victories.
the battles in america must be fought over and over again. it has always been that way through my lifetime, my parent'' lifetime and their parents' lifetime. we need to remember that it is not just then, but in all times, in all ages, it is a never-ending task to see that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. thank you. [applause] i guess we have time for .uestions i have a two-part question. is that you referred
to the number of republicans who voted for acquittal as those brave man, and plied what they were doing is correct. i wonder if that is what you meant to have us think. and the second question is, a standard interpretation of the failure to convict johnson is so many republicans could not stomach the thought of been n w being president. ben wade being president. mark: a person can be brave without being right. if i had been able to vote i would have voted for guilty and so much more, as charles sumner said. but it doesn't change the fact that what they did took a fair bit of courage, and they were
honored by it. i want to caution another thing about this. very often, very bad books by very bad historians, i am thinking of a person that wrote a book called "profiles in courage" and others. these people described their political career, because none of them was never elected to the senate again. elected in large part because in many of their states the opposition party came into power. it had nothing to do with being purged. republicans that voted for acquittal, it to barely a month before they were brought back into the republican fold. and the papers that denounced them the most insisted they had nothing to say but these people selling point of fact it was a bravery but it turned out the bravery was not as necessary, and they did not pay the kind of price for it that we often think they paid.
that is one kind of thing. ene second kind of thing, bne rough, rock, british kind of man. and salting and very good at the use of racial epithets, even as he spoke of racial equality. you could be earl sumner over the head with a cane in 1876, bennobody was going to beat wade, not when he kept to pistols in his desk. easyade leaned toward an monetary system that favored debtors over creditors. of many eastern republicans whom the gold standard was an equivalent to god, this was very frightening. en wade is ab
asgerous man to have president and in terms of his personal habits was not particularly presidential man. he was remarkable and talented but there were those who absolutely detested him, and that was a factor, but so were the other arguments as well. that answers that question, i hope. other questions? nobody in this day and age believes the 10 year in office tenure inly t office. tenure in office act was largely gutted because republicans thought they could trust general grant.
grant would make mistakes and you would give him more leeway, which was perhaps a reasonable argument. i think the tenure of office act was repealed fully in 1887. for a while republicans actually try to use it against grover cleveland and found themselves absolutely stymied and other really embarrassed by it -- absolutely stymied and utterly embarrassed by it. it has not been on the books now for about 125 years. i believe the naming of andrew johnson as vice president was the last time in american history that a party picked as their candidate for that office a member of the opposing party. is this a coincidence or one lesson that has somehow seeped into the minds of people who make the decision of who would be vice president?
mark: that is a very fair question. except, was in joe lieberman nominated for vice president on the republican ticket? mccain wanted him there, ok that's my mistake. it was attempting kind of thing. some reason iwas dislike lieberman, but i couldn't remember what it was. let's use another issue out there. [laughter] back in the 1860's, 1870's, 1880's, president didn't -- president's day and generally pick the vice president's, they left that to the party. and johnson and lincoln were essentially in the same party, that is to say they were both unionists, supporters of the union. and the party in 1864 was called the union party. but if you look at the votes coming in, the union party is overwhelmingly made of republicans, that's a simple fact. it is more a name change than a reality, and the democratic vote far lowr is not that
what democrats in the north usually got. so in that sense, there hasn't been much like this ever since, but in some ways johnson and lincoln were of the same party, because both were determined that the union should be saved at all costs. and andrew johnson, slaveholder that he was, had come to support the emancipation proclamation and would twist arms in tennessee, his native state, to get that state to ratify the end of slavery, as infected did. didn't look like that absurd choice, not back then. anything else? i guess we are set. great. [applause] war,xt on the civil
historians take questions on the 14th amendment and the reconstruction era. this question-and-answer session was part of a symposium hosted by the u.s. capital historical society, that commemorated the 150th anniversary of the 14th amendment's ratification to the u.s. constitution. it is just over 25 minutes. all: i would like to call of our speakers up to a giant and take questions from the audience about anything you want to talk about. anythinge of you had to say, which would be the first -- first in the history of the u.s. capital historical society conferences, then those of us who have spoken can argue with each other. all of us have been trained in , and all th