tv The Civil War The Impeachment of President Andrew Johnson CSPAN July 1, 2018 9:55am-10:36am EDT
history professor mark summers on the impeachment of andrew johnson. this 40 minute event was part of a symposium hosted commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 14th amendment's ratification to the u.s. constitution. paul: 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. [laughter] paul: in a sense, that is the complexity of the history we have been dealing with. i do know that when the 13th amendment was being considered, the delegates from the house and in kentucky tried to get an exemption to the 13th amendment. and did not do so. mark is currently working on two books. one on andrew johnson's impeachment, and the other on gilded age politics. he is the author of the "ordeal of the union." i am delighted really that he has come to join us and tell us about the taming of andrew [applause]
johnson. [applause] mark: 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 is the 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 nothing to do with history. i like to pace around. i am going to try to restrain that, but i have a microphone if i need it. let me start out by talking and offering a few pictures of sorts. this is not just andrew johnson but an interesting political cartoon.
and see right there. you can see right there. 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 there he is. you can see him. andrew johnson lies dead, the house managers of impeachment have just saved the republic. now what i ought to ask you right here and now, what is wrong with that picture? does anybody know? is there a problem there that any of you know from your history courses? what?
he was not convicted. he was not assassinated out there. it doesn't make sense. it is a bafflement. you think yourself, what is going on here, out there? there are the impeachers and you look at it and johnson is acquitted. this never happened. you think, why did he draw this cartoon? did he actually draw this before the trial was over thinking that johnson would be convicted? well, that sounds like a plausible thing, except that is not the case. look carefully at the would-be assassins right there. and what you discover is over to the right, there is that he is thaddeus stevens, not to
be confused with tommy lee jones. you can see him departing separately. that is because anybody looking at the cartoon would know thaddeus stevens died three months after the end of the trial, in the august of 1868, so this cartoon must have been done after the trial was over. it must have been done many months after the trial was over , and that makes it even more of a mystery out there that simply doesn't seem to make sense. i mean, why do a cartoon about johnson's distraction when you that that istime not the case out there? johnson escaped conviction by a single vote. what was going on? has somebody been messing with the time space continuum? was johnson actually convicted, and then in some sequel to back to the future, marty mcfly races back to bring that one senator around? has the cartoonist engaged in alternate facts?
well, there actually is a simple enough explanation, a better explanation, than any of those. the fact of the matter is the reality is something very different, that in fact what was happening is this cartoon comes out when johnson leaves office in 1869. no longer has the power to do damage to just about anyone it could be said, but what he was suggesting is something we may not think about, which is we think of impeachment as a tremendous failure and in fact it was monstrous mistake out , a there, but in another way, it was a tremendous success. because that was the only way congress could have done the impossible, and that was the taming of andrew johnson. now let me try to explain that, if i can, in what follows.
to do that, i am going to have to explain a little about andrew johnson himself. explainoing to have to what this is all about. why was johnson impeached? i think you probably note the answer to that ready clearly, as clearly as anyone can. on the 21st of february, 1868, secretary ofow, war edward stanton was dismissed from the war department by andrew johnson, sending acting general lorenzo thomas to have order him to vacate the premises so that what we call today the defense department would be put in andrew johnson's hands. and within the course of barely 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, for example, of a present president firing his secretary of state or the like, that there would be impeachment resolutions brought. [laughter] mark: 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? we have to understand that. the only way we can understand the impeachment trial is to understand why. because that that is bound up with the question of how in the end the republicans actually won. 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, to make sure people brought him his meals and they sent to members of the house to act as guards.
able to use force as necessary to keep them from being dejected from the job. it is not something you often see in governments outside of some third world nation. it is a very kill your kind of thing, and this is even more peculiar. if you want a symbol of america's radical republicanism, james, buthink of you're more likely to think of thaddeus stevens. you might think of a moderate to relatively conservative republican. what could bring these two men together both in favor of impeachment? that is the question to ask, because the reality is that he might have been designed by taking all the qualities of thaddeus stevens and leaving them out. what would make them act that way? to do that, you have to
understand injured johnson. that is the simple point. andrew johnson, like his predecessor, had in fact been born in a log cabin, but being born in humble circumstances does not make you a humble individual always. humble beginnings -- thank you. humble beginnings can make very proud men, and andrew johnson took from his poverty a sense of his own self-worth. his birth and at log cabin gave a lifelong sense that he was one of the people, representative thoughts in a way that no better born could ever see. his achievements of success against great odds may have made him less sympathetic to those at the bottom who continued 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.
and he might have added, the self-satisfaction of an insecure man, two qualities that often go very much together. now all of this it could be said would have mattered not at all if johnson had been the democratic vice president elected on a republican ticket, as he was in 1864. pug nations tennessee governor, the courageous united states senator, the vice president stoked to the gills on liquor for his inaugural address so much that the secretary of state had to pull him down from the coattails would have gone down in flames along with william wheeler, hannibal hamlet and eldritch gary. vice presidents all, i might add. nobody could predict that an assassin would shoot abraham lincoln, and in the place of the great a man to pay her, make a
lifelong slaveholder president of the united states. i should not criticize johnson. no, not me. i do not criticize johnson in every way. he was brave. he was patriotic. he was incorruptible. but 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. and that a very good reconstruction could be made by ignoring the former slaves rights beyond a simple freedom. when congress try to put her a civil rights bill, johnson vetoed it. and when it tried to pass a bill, andrew johnson vetoed it. and when it proposed a 14th amendment, johnson couldn't veto it, but 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 -- no deal with the president and must make a reconstruction of its own. and so in 1867, over johnson's
veto, it put through a a series of acts to force the creation of elections down south by black and white men alike to create constitutions based on the equal protection of the law. and 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 was the reality. that was the simple fact. but it should be very obvious that if this reconstruction was going to happen, it was vital that the army be able to protect the rights of black people to register and to vote against intimidations, threats, and terrorism. and, in fact, that means that
whoever controls the army, controls reconstruction. and it was very clear andrew johnson would do everything within his constitutional powers to hinder reconstruction going through successfully. which is why congress by a series of laws tried to take control of the army out of the president's hands and put them in the hands of the secretary of war, who they could trust. all of which should give us a very 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. but congress was also very, very frightened, and to understand that, we have to understand the understand a bit more as well. this man come in fact, this andrew johnson, who treated the constitution as if it was his only friend, as if it was a
golden retriever to follow him wherever he went, was a man in fact to believed in what he policy,g, but his republicans would have said, means 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 state governments in the south. so here is andrew johnson as the caesar looking down in the arena arena, and who is being massacred out there? william seward giving advice behind the throne to andrew johnson. the black people of the south, forces of law and order in new orleans. the mobs of mixed confederates. butchered them by a system of law that meant nothing but lawlessness for some.
a vote for black people in the south was a hearing and bold thing. it was not accepted by much of the white south and it could be resisted with the aid of the government. so it is not very surprising that when johnson came up for trial, they would be senators who from the first would were determined this man should go, whether he had broken any law or not. charles sumner, a radical republican from massachusetts, was only sorry that 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. well that should not be in the remotest sense surprising. what makes it worse is that andrew johnson is, well, he is not, shall we say, not very presidential, not by the standards of the 19th century. it could be added, he is extremely unpresidential.
how do we mean? and why and fact would you be afraid to have him in control of the army? well, let's try a few things. what would you think of a president who accused leading members of congress of being guilty of treason, accused the congress of planning to exterminate, eight million people in the south? what would you think of a president who regularly asked who has suffered for you more than andrew johnson? who regularly compared himself to jesus christ? what would you think of a president who alleged by congress had no right to pass legislation because there was no legal congress? that it was in 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. and that was one reason why in
1867, they tried to protect the secretary of war. they tried to protect edwin stanton against this would be king, as they saw him, against this would be caesar. they would gladly annihilate his enemies or execute them. in point of fact, they passed the tenure of office act. it was very clear. if a president appoints a member of his cabinet, he cannot with the advice and consent of the senate, he removed them or dismiss him without the advice and consent of the senate. that's the tenure of office act. and, in fact, there were many scholars at the time who would argue that this was in fact a essentially a constitutional act. johnston had tried to get rid of stanton by following the rules.
what he had done, in fact, 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, the senate decided that the suspension was not viable and stanton remained as secretary of war. having abided by this act, johnsonas he had come a , it now could be said, was prepared to use action and force to put stanton out. to deliberately violate that tenure of office act. so in fact, you have two things happening. first, andrew johnson is violating a law of the united states duly passed, as opposed to attempting to appeal it and 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. when you think of a man he had proposed for 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? do you feel safe with him in charge of the war department? of course not. of course you don't. small wonder that thaddeus stevens on that day snuck around the house chamber saying, what good does your moderation do you? if you don't kill the beast, it will kill you. that is where reconstruction came from, where impeachment came from. and yet at the end of a trial that followed over the next three months, the vote would would be 35 votes to convict, 19 one vote too many on
the acquittal side to be overturned, and johnson escaped by that one vote. you know that. i know that. that is part of our story. republicans, three of them, republican in name only, and seven in good standing where the vote to acquit came from. in other words, members of the republican party did this. well, why, how? where does that come from? when you have no votes to spare, you simply have got to have everybody on the same page. and in fact, the republicans did not. charles sumner, for example, would have voted to convict even if the articles of impeachment had been a laundry list. charles sumner is on the left. wadsworthhenry longs were longfellow, is on the right. a close friend of his. most republicans needed more than that. they needed the charges to be
legal. many of us like to think of this trialas a partisan with people voting their political opinions. that is not true. the republican senators weighed the evidence carefully and out of 11 articles of impeachment, by the time for the vote came, it was very clear that most republicans could not support one of thoseut articles. that the other articles cannot be voted on because in large part, it almost certainly would end in johnson's acquittal. now the seven republican senators in good standing who stood courageously to acquit johnson included peter van winkle, john anderson of missouri, and edmund ross of kansas. but the big guns that made it possible for them to act, the ones that were the respectable voices, were much more important figures. like the chairman of the naval an 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. or the senator of maine, chairman of the finance committee. these people count more than anyone else in making a possible for other senators to vote to acquit. they were critical. why did these good republicans in good standing vote to acquit andrew johnson? why did it happen? in fact, there were a few republican senators who let it be known that if their votes were needed for acquittal, they would be available. so it actually was not the suspense riddled story that we often see out there. well, in point of fact, it is not at all clear even that the senator from ohio that would have replaced andrew johnson as president would have voted, in fact, if his vote had really mattered much. in point of fact, 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. so why did these people vote to acquit? as one of the, managers put it, treated the trial of the president just as he would a horse stealing case? well, yeah, it is a little bit like that. that is benjamin butler right there, a man whose qualities it can be said included great idealism and a rapacious corruption. was it because the prosecution's arguments didn't hold up very well? 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. you see, 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 out there and vote buying out there? well, in point of fact, there was vote buying by the president . apparently $30,000 was spent to buy three senators who all voted for conviction anyway. because after all, who is going to tell? is andrew johnson going to say, these guys are not honest men. these people have been stolen from me? the moment he does that, you can convict him on that hands-down out there. there is nothing to it. in point of fact, the corruption did not make much difference. the real answer to it is something very different. suppose andrew johnson had been acquitted. what worse could he possibly do? every republican new what that would be. if he is acquitted, he can sabotage reconstruction completely. he can choose someone as secretary of war to make it
impossible. so what ultimately happens out there is something very different. it is a deal. the deal is made by several judges of the president, crimes grimes among them, having dinner with the president. he offered them a chance to decide who they would like for secretary of war. and they looked to general grant to see who general grant would trust as secretary of war. in point of fact out there, andrew johnson all at once was playing ball very much the way he ought to have played it to begin with. he did not try to challenge the trial. he did not insist that the house was any legal body with no right to impeach. hits not insist that the senate was an illegal body with no
right to try him. he toyed with those ideas. he never admit that in public. he was prepared to be tried. in point of fact, by the time comes up forn a vote to acquit, much of what he could do have vanished. republicans had feared that the democratic party might nominate him for president that summer, which would only add to his power for mischief and maybe saddle the 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 very clear that they would nominate anybody but andrew johnson for president, which meant that he is automatically a lame duck. the other thing that happened was that they even talked of nominating for president a person who was as republican as they come.
we could say mr. ashley's patron, chase, 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. not remotely what it had been, because by that time, seven of the southern states had voted on those reconstruction constitutions. and in every state, a majority of voters voted to ratify. which meant that the power of the army to control both southern states was gone. his power of damage was lost. but 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 up control of the army, and he has put himself in checkmate , which is exactly what could be said happened.
under the advice of grant, 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 conservative man, but a man who believed in it abiding by the rule of law and congress. and toretary of war, send that nomination in. there is a clear connection so , so you see, 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 at the end of his term, there was good reason for this cartoon. the impeachment had killed all of andrew johnson that mattered actually mattered as a viable and powerful force. yet, how do i start
it? he gets off topic momentarily, but not that far. in arkansas' constitutional convention, when the convention was over and they made the best constitution arkansas would ever had, the 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 to do is you have to do is implement it. we have gone through a river of 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 also the truth about reconstruction. reconstruction is saved, at least at the moment, by andrew johnson being defeated and checked. but by the end of the year, it
was very clear there were many forces to undo reconstruction. look, this is a headline from the richmond whig at the killing of a black voter, and the headline is vote less. , onesee that? that is what you have got. said if heridan once had the choice of living in hell or living in texas, he would out texas.ntnd rent ou terrorism and violence in tremendous array. take those states away from a majority of the black and white voters that supported reconstruction by intimidation, by violence, the rise of the klan. reconstruction would be on life support, even with the departure of andrew johnson. it would be on the edge of failure. which means, in point of fact, that we come to thaddeus stevens in the weeks before he died. he felt a deep sense of failure, not at the failure to convict
johnson, but his believe that reconstruction as it had been set up, was not strong enough, not good 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? well, there has got to be a everything. and the answer to that is, in that time since, there are no 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, in fact, that 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] mark: i guess we have time for questions. what would you like to know? askinget, i feel awkward a question at a conference i'm running, but i have a two-part question. the first is that you referred to the number of republicans who voted for acquittal as those brave men, and implied that what they were doing was correct. i wonder if that is what you meant to have us to think? and the second question is, a standard interpretation of the failure to convict johnson is that so many republicans could
not stomach the thought of ben wade being president. and i wonder how both of those things fit into your narrative? mark: a person can be brave without being right. i called them brave because they saw themselves as taking their political careers in their hands. that does not mean they were right. if i had been able to vote i would have voted guilty of that 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. now 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," but there are others. these people described their
destroyed their political career, because none of them was never elected to the senate again. none was elected in large part because in many of their states the opposition party came into power. it had nothing to do with being purged. as for the republicans that voted for acquittal, it to barely a month before they were brought back into the republicae brought back into the fold and the papers that i denounce them the most insisted they had nothing to say against these peoples conscience, they had acted in an act of conscience. it was a bravery but not -- it turned out the bravery was not as necessary and did not pay the kind of price for it we often think they pay. thing, peopled of like william pitt hated ben wade. he was a rough man. insulting and very good at the racial epithets even as he spoke for racial equality. man over the head with a cane, nobody was going to
be ben wade. not when he put two pistols and his desk. it won't happen out there. that's the fact. is backed on economic matters. the easy money system that benefited debtors over creditors. he spoke in favor of the rights of labor and for many of the is and republicans from the gold standard and equivalence, this is very frightening great they saw been wade a very dangerous man to have as president and a menu in terms of his personal habits was not particularly residential. that the simple fact. i think then wade was a remarkable and talented man. that certainly was a factor. so with the other arguments as well.
that kind of answers the question. other questions. >> nobody in this day and age believes the tenure in office thing but apply to the current person. office seasone in become disputed? >> the -- when the deck -- democrats were out in the democrat -- and grand cayman, a small framework is what was left. the republicans assumed they could trust general grant. grant would not 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 -- utterly embarrassed. 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, wasn't joe lieberman nominated for vice president on the republican ticket? that was my impression. mccain wanted him there, ok that's my mistake. a tempting kind of thing. i knew there was some reason i dislike lieberman but i couldn't remember what it was. [laughter] let's use another issue out there.
back in the 1860's, 1870's, 1880's, presidents don't 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 that year is not that far low what democrats in the north usually got. so in that sense, there hasn't been anything 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 it did. so johnson didn't look like that absurd choice, not back then. anything else? i guess we are set. great. [applause] >> next on the civil war, a panel of 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. host: i would like to call all of