tv The Presidency Most Hated Presidents in American History CSPAN December 20, 2021 9:40am-11:13am EST
get c-span on the go. watch the day's big gift political events live or on demand on the new mobile app, c-span now. access top highlights. listen to c-span radio and discover new podcasts. download today. our weekly series "the presidency" highlights the politics, policies of u.s. presidents and first ladies. up next, what do thomas jefferson, abraham lincoln, franklin roosevelt, lyndon johnson and richard nixon have in common? they face not just political opponents, but americans who hated them. what were their reasons. an american historical association panel tries to answer that question. >> i'm jeffrey engel, the founding director for the center for presidential history at
southern methodist university. you will know because you signed up for this webinar, we're here to talk about presidents and hatred. two contextual points that might be helpful from the start. i mentioned this to my daughter what i was doing. her first question was are you doing that because of president trump. i said i suspect that's why we wanted to do it in the first place, but we're not talking about president trump. we're talking about presidents in history. no doubt he will show up in the q&a. but obviously this is the aha. we'll try to keep focus on those for whom we have a greater historical perspective. then she asked another really interesting question. she's a sharp cookie. she said, well, all presidents are disliked. how do you decide which ones to focus on? i said, well, that's really what we're going to be exploring, that obviously even in the best of cases, almost half the country probably didn't vote for you, but that doesn't mean we don't have these special cases
where we have particular elements of the counted who, shall we say, hate and dissmies more than simply dislike. we'll explore what the difference is between presidents who are simply opposed and presidents who are antithetical to the american way of life, according to their critics. without further ado, we'll proceed in chronological order. the presidents today are thom nas jefferson, lincoln, roosevelt, lyndon johnson and richard nixon. i think you can see immediately why those were chosen. we're going to begin with thomas jefferson by starting out with joanne freeman who is the class of 1954 professor of history and american studies at yale university. she's the author of "affairs of honor, national politics in the new republic". she's the editor, works on alexander hamilton who seems fashionable. her most recent book is "the
field of blood, violence in congress and the road to civil war". without further ado, joanne, tell us why we should hate jefferson. >> okay. i always check when i do anything, everyone can hear me. life is good in audio land. i will discuss certainly why some people hated thomas jefferson. i want to begin by saying that in recent years when i have been asked what moments in american history share echoes with our polarized present, one of my responses is the late 1790s. as an early americanist, i'm aware the late 1790s doesn't have some of the pizzazz potential for polarization as, say, the 1850s and the civil war, but the intense polarization of federalists and republicans, the extreme othering each of the other as
un-american, the pre predictions on both sides of chaos, tyranny and anarchy, the bursts of violence that president john adams later described as terrorism, using actually that word, the echoes of polarization and hate between past and present clearly are very real. so what can this kind of historical hate offer in the way of insights? part of what i'm going to be discussing in my brief comments this afternoon is there are different flavors of presidential hate, some more intense than others, some more personal than others, some more prone to weaponization than others. and that idea -- i want to say there are different flavors of presidential hatred, and i use that word because there's something sensory about real hate red for a president. i'll be curious to see how that does or doesn't make sense as we
continue with this roundtable. jefferson certainly was not new to hatred when he became president in 1801 as the supposed head of the republican party and a leader prone to speaking large, as a friend once said about him, meaning prone to making these very broad, sometimes extreme ideological pronouncements, people who disagreed with jefferson often hated him for his ideas and the seeming likelihood that his ideas, often seemingly extreme, could lead to the collapse of the infant republic. generally speaking, federalists believed that republicans favored a dangerous degree of democracy, meaning on going above and beyond elections popular participation, protests and otherwise, in american politics. certainly among the many things that jefferson spoke large about, democracy was one of them. fears about ungovernable
democracy intensified in the mid and late 1790s with the explosion of the french revolution, the period that spawned adams' remark about terrorism in the streets. he describes in a later letter servants in the presidential mansion arming themselves and standing by the door because everyone was afraid of what was going on in the streets. for him the fear of that very moment was very real. then came the president election of 1800 when the federalist versus republican polarization came to a peak. then as now, selecting a president was seen as something as a referendum on what the nation wanted. during a time of extreme polarization, it felt like a turning point. so not surprisingly, hatred of jefferson shortly before and after the election of 1800 was emotional, nearly hysterical at
times premised that he would take the nation at this key moment of decision down a path of destruction. given that jefferson was a soon-to-be president and a just-became president at the time we're talking about here, this hatred was largely grounded on prediction, symbolism, ideology and campaign rhetoric rather than any actual actions that he had a chance to take as president. you can see this kind of free floating us-versus-them hatred in some letters sent to jefferson within his first year as president, like the one informing jefferson of an assassination plot supposedly brewing in new york. nothing seems to have come of it, it might not even have seemed real. but jefferson received that in the mail. like the anonymous hate mail he got after that informal letter
that referred to, among other things, quote, you and your tribe of foreign out casts and, quote, tommy jefferson's bosom friend france. there you see france is kind of standing in as the ultimate other. jefferson really literally throughout that letter being the other's representative and, thus, one of those out casts as well. so we're looking at hatred borne of, as i mentioned before, prediction, symbolism ideology and campaign rhetoric. that kinds of fear, sort of an extreme example of this i can't resist mentioning only because it shows the degree to which, and i suppose there are echoes of familiarity here, that boiled down to some pretty minute things that still felt as though they had broad political and cultural influence. one federalist focused on jefferson's shoes as being an indication of his ideology and the ways in which he was a threatening president. they mocked him.
actually the statement they made our philosophic president prefers shoestrings when other folks where buckles. in one way or another jefferson are saying buckles are sue perf flous. shoe strings were in style in france. so that actually is another anti-french statement on something as potentially frivolous as shoe laces but again, othering jefferson. that kind of prevailing flavor of hatred changed dramatically during jefferson's second term which included his much-hated 1807 embargo act which cut off american shipping exports in an attempt to punish french and english interference with american trade. not surprisingly, the act had a disastrous impact on the commerce-driven north. you can feel, really feel the impact of that hatred in jefferson's hate mail from this period. like the anonymous letter from boston that read, i have agreed to pay four of my friends $400
to shoot you if you don't take off the embargo which i shall pay them, if i have to work on my hands and knees for it. you are one of the greatest tyrants in the whole world. worse than bonaparte a great being half starved yourself." that's a profoundly personal kind of an insult there. less specific but clearly bursting with a very similar sense of personal outreach and suffering are two remarkably concise letters. and i'm going to read them in their entirety. so one read in its entirety, quote, you are the damnest fool that god put life into, god damn you, period, that's it. the other one read, go to hell, you damned booger, go to hell. that's the impact that it was having particularly in the north. these are people who were so
outraged as to what was going on in a personal way that they just spilled that out onto the paper. that's intense hate driven by very real personal circumstances. that kind of hate, it seems to me, is not as easy to weaponize as the hatred of us-versus-them symbolism. vague fear-driven polarizing hatred, the kind of hatred in the 1800 elections that had new englanders burying their bibles so the infidel jefferson wouldn't steal them. it's not grounded necessarily in fact. that's very easy to weaponize, and that can thus have a great impact during and long after an election. and i'll be very interested in seeing whether these sort of whatever other people want to call them, these flavors of hate
and the weaponization of hate, in more modern times, how that plays out in the comments of my colleagues here, particularly given the new forms of media that we're going to see introduced that were increasingly effective at spreading that hate around with great ease. i will stop there. thank you very much, and i will turn things over. >> the phrase of the year is you are muted. thank you, joan, and thank you especially for giving us the concept of flavors, which i think is actually going to be very helpful as we increase this discussion. let me remind everyone that this is a roundtable discussion. so we are genuinely interested in fielding questions.
you can go down to the q&a function in your chat and offer those questions. we're going to move chronologically forward now to the civil war to abraham lincoln, which, of course, brings us to the chair in american history at the university of connecticut and the mellon fellow at the ratcliffe institute of advanced studies for this current year. she is the author of "the counterrevolution of slavery: politics and ideology in antebellum south carolina." and the slaves caused a history of abolition, another book that's remarkably easy to recommend. so, thank you for joining us. and please tell us about a not insignificant figure in presidential history.
>> thank you for inviting me to be a part of this roundtable and for that introduction. and i am going to share my screen with you so that my presentation is enlivened by a few slides. i have a confession to make. for the last few weeks, i've been rather confused about my charge today, based on the pandemic and countless meetings. and on the moniker for our roundtable around hate. for some reason what i was supposed to speak about andrew johnson, lincoln's successor, rather than abraham lincoln. when one thinks of the most despised american president, one usually does think of lincoln. but presidents like johnson, lincoln is usually in contention for spot number one or two. luckily i read the description again before preparing my remarks today. and i realized that i was supposed to talk about lincoln. arguably, one of the most beloved american presidents not just in the united states but
around the globe. now, this of course was not the case when lincoln was elected president in 1860. he remains the only president in american history whose election caused nearly half of the states in the republic to secede and cause a bloody war that claimed nearly 100,000 american lives. abraham lincoln was not an abolitionist. that is a person who believed in the immediate abolition of black slavery before the war. and i should say before i continue that the slide that i'm showing right now is from south carolina that announces that the union has been dissolved. south carolina, of course, ceded
from the union a month after lincoln was elected followed by other deep south states. so lincoln was not an abolitionist, though. he was a modern anti-slavery republican elected on a platform on the nonextension of slavery into the territories. that program some historians have recently argued could lead to abolition. but it was not abolition. throughout the 1850s, lincoln, a moderate anti-slavery politician, and this is a picture of him from the 1850s, this is the young lincoln. so he was a modern anti-slavery politician. he had adhered to the platform of the nonexpansion of slavery, a constitutionally dispensable
position since the federal government had the constitutional part to end slavery in the federal territories but not in the states themselves. lincoln had balanced his competing loyalties to anti-slavery, the union, and the constitution. even though in his speeches starting as early as the 1830s, he had expressed his moral abhorrence of slavery. now, his balancing act here was expressed in his qualified support for the draconian slave laws 1850. lincoln argued that protection for free blacks must accompany the constitutionally mandated slave rendition. during the famous lincoln senatorial debate in 1858 which catapulted him to national fame, lincoln used political expediency and longheld belief, made clear his opposition to equal citizenship and voting rights for african-americans, and adhered to colonization of free blacks back to africa, a position that abolitionists and southern secessionists opposed. he was willing to compromise on abolition in the south but not on the extension platform of the republican party. abolitionists hailed his election as a victory for their cause, and certainly more southerners viewed him as just
perhaps a step better than an abolitionist and an abolitionist in disguise. wendell phillips who will become one of his most ardent critics argued for the first time in our history the slave has chosen a precedent of the united states, unquote. now, most slaveholders and democrats agreed they had regularly restated anti-slavery republicans, calling them, quote, black republicans. for them there was no difference between an abolitionist and an anti-slavery republican like lincoln who desired, as he put it, quote, the ultimate extinction of slavery in the american republic. the 1913th version of woke politics in the north. democrats argued with the racist elegance that they were known for his, quote, n-word-ism has as dark a hue as that of william lloyd garrison or frederick douglass. -- claimed that lincoln's running mate of maine was called a mulatto and had african blood. now, with the slave holders' rebellion and start of the civil war, hatred among northern copperheads, northerners who
sympathized with the confederacy, democrats and confederates peaked. using states' rights to retain states' sovereignty arguments that they had long used to legitimize nullification of federal laws and secession. they often berated lincoln for, quote, federal consolidation and for making war upon the confederacy. an historian pointed out lincoln's record here compared
favorably with that of most war-time presidents. the confederacy which educated and tortured slave people, union army soldiers and confederate deserters with impunity, the lincoln administration's record was admirable. a more legitimate criticism of lincoln stems perhaps from the biggest blast on his presidential record. in 1862 after the sioux uprising in minnesota, the state's governor condemned 300 of them to execution. lincoln commuted the sentences
of most of them but let 38 be executed. it still constitutes the largest mass hanging in american history. but lincoln was reviled by many of his contemporaries not for his policy of native americans but for his adoption of first emancipation and then black male citizenship during the war. and here is lincoln as we all know him, with the beard. and this is the picture that i am displaying right now. and it shows what i think was three principles that guided him. anti-slavery was his union, but
really anti-slavery union and the constitution. so, the civil war allowed lincoln to finally align his commitment to the union and constitution with abolition. for lincoln, abolition, union, and constitution went from being competing to complementary values. the slave holders rebellion solved that dilemma for him. the manner in which he issued the emancipation proclamation and invoke made sure that his constitutional bona fides would not be compromised. it nearly cost him the presidency in the 1864 election. it is not clear that moment whether emancipation would further divide the nation rather than save and unite. lincoln, though, called emancipation, quote, the central act of my administration and the great event of the 19th century. his battle to secure the passage
of the thirteenth amendment was a testimony to his determination to embed abolition in the constitution and make it irreversible. lincoln's constitutionalism was a source to not just his anti-slavery moderation before the war but it was also the manner in which he promulgated emancipation during it that showed his commitment to the constitution. it shaped his various proposals for compensated gradual emancipation, the form and content of the final proclamation, his advocacy of the thirteenth amendment and finally his support for limited black male citizenship. now, lincoln's proclamation had allowed for the arming of black men and the recruitment into the union army.
this provision more than anything else helped convert the civil war into a revolutionary war that paved the way for black male citizenship. the enlistment of black men supported and led by abolitionists raised the question of racial equality as black soldiers and the abolitionists and radical allies successfully fought for equal pay and access to officer rank. even though black soldiers fought in segregated units, the value that lincoln attached to their military service helped move him towards the idea of black male citizenship. in 1863, he wrote, and this is a photograph of the famous one of this is an image that was quite regularly circulated in the confederacy and found a lot of
sympathy among them. his proclamation allowed for the arming of black men. this provision helped convert the civil sboor an evolutionary war. the enlistment of black men raised the question of racial equality as black soldiers and the abolitionists and radical allies successfully fought for equal pay and access to officer ranks. even if they fought in segregated units, the value of their military service helped move them toward the idea of black male citizenship.
he said that they could aspire to the ideal of american citizenship better than secessionists. when peace arrives, he wrote, quote, there will be some black men who can remember that with silent tongues and clenched teeth and steady eyes they have helped man kind onto this great conservation. while i fear there will be some white ones unable to forget that with malignant heart and deceitful speech they have strove to hinder it. so if they hated lincoln, he is saying they have malignant heart. it would help, quote, in some trying time to come to keep the jewel of liberty within the family of freedom. in a speech in louisiana, lincoln argued that he would, quote, prefer of the very intelligent and those who have served our cause as soldiers. he stated the same in an informal speech from the balcony
of the white house to a crowd gathered below the day before he was assassinated. he became the first american president to publicly endorse black male citizenship. and the audience was his assassin john wilks booth who pledged to kill him for his championship of, quote, the n-word citizenship. that is the last speech he will ever make, unquote. so, again, it is really lincoln's championship not just with emancipation but of black citizenship that ultimately gets him killed. and he was talking about if you get assassinated, yeah, you are pretty despised by some people. hatred reached dangerous levels. often his adoption of the emancipation and on the eve of his assassination, his pronouncements in favor are black male citizenship. during the 1864 presidential election, reached new proportions with lincoln's
opponents calling him abraham africana the first. and i don't know if you can see it very clearly. there's lincoln doing a tightrope walk with the constitution as his balance beam and an african-american man stride on his head. this is from 1860, the early election, the cartoons. it got worse in 1864 after emancipation became the official policy of the union army. this is the time when of course lincoln and the republican party were accused of racial
intermixture. this racist word was coined during these elections in a notorious anonymous family threat and became part of the american political lexicon by white supremacists in the south throughout the jim crow era. even as a majority in the north and african-americans warned that he was assassinated on good friday, many of lincoln's opponents and confederates openly celebrated. in fact, if you did a google map search for towns, schools,
buildings, and streets named after lincoln, you will find still that an overwhelming majority of them are north of the mason dixon line. now, one researcher found a few in a predominantly black county in mississippi, but that is the exception to the rule. it is perhaps an irony of american history, then, that one of its most beloved precedence
remains for new confederates its most hated. and i apologize to jeff, but i must end with this bumper sticker that had become quite popular the last few years. it's an image of lincoln with the sticker saying, it's my party and i'll cry if i want to. and, with that, i will stop share and hand over the floor back to you, jeff. he is the author of numerous other books including ones on the american apocalypse. and he has been a fellow of the wilson center. and i happy to know he is working on a new brilliant new interpretation for a textbook that i expect to be purchasing in the next 18 months or so.
mass, i turn things over to you. >> thank you. it has been interesting in the first couple papers hearing how it popped up. religion and in fact what i will be discussing today religion at times and religious hatred. we can see how particular groups of activists have hated hillary clinton, barack obama, joe biden, and and it comes from franklin delanor roosevelt. and one of the reasons they probably should, is there has been a sense that when they came on the scene in the late 1970s,
it was at that point that they have started to politically mobilize. and anybody in the last five to ten years is young, but it continues to perpetuate itself. and they were a-political for the last couple generations. i'm going to tell you how the rise of new deal liberal situation, which organized itself into real hatred for franklin delanor roosevelt. they were setting the stage for the rise of the antichrist. this world lead who are is going to take power in the end times. so they believe they were convinced that we were living at the end of the history.
so in their minds, their magazines and radio stations, they were looking for signs of the rapture, the rise of anti-christ, and the second coming of jesus. and they came to believe that fdr was preparing them for those events. and there was debate if he was doing it consciously, explicitly. was he working with the devil on purpose or was he just a naive dupe. he was just not aware of the spiritual events. roosevelt was a problem, and new deal liberalism was a problem, so why?
let me talk a little bit about how they rr rolling in power and prom nans. ly try to be careful with my land wang. i tend to use the terms that they use for themselves. they called themselves fundamentalists. many of them are exactly the same if you trace them from the 1930 toss the 1940s. but what they believed was the way they're reading the bibles, they thought you could see signs. the series of event that's would pell us when they were living near the rise of the antichrist. and some of them are hard to track. they learn about sufficient reasonable. they worry about prohibition not being enforced.
far more important and interesting to me they were nervous, they were excellent students, they were happening in europe, asia, and around the world. they laid out a number of expectations. they were preaching and preaching, and then they started to see some predictions fulfilled. one of the important ones is the rise of a new he is toric empire. they believe one of the things that would bring the end times is a revitalized road. so when they saw them taking power and expanding influence this is a huge sign they were living near the end times. also they what hitler was doing. and they were very conscious of the anti-semitism.
and they believed that another sign of the end times would be the return of jews. they did not necessarily support it, endorse it, or cheer it, so all of this is going in the background. they looked at him and they understood him in the context of all of the other things going on. there is no doubt that his campaign in 1932 got off to an am those start. roosevelt received 666 votes. when i first read that in the fundamentalist magazine, i thought that was too good to be
true, so it is already setting fundamentalists on edge. there is we're going on here, and i talk to my students about this, that roosevelt became such a revered person that americans don't realize how much those that hated roosevelt in the '30s really truly despised him. but they saw him consolidating power, and they saw him essentially controlling congress. and if you add to that his efforts to pack the supreme court, it likes like what they had all done and in 1940 welcome he defies american traditions
after stepping down after two terms, and this further reinforces that hitler is not just a regular -- sorry, roosevelt is not just a regular american president, but that he is up to something far more sinister. so this framed the way they understood what he was doing and more broadly new deal liberal ism. they looked at programs and saw they were helping prepare americans for the end times. one was a national recovery act for businesses that parties paced in the nra. and so they believed that one of the things that would prepare us for the end times would be showing a symbol, the mark of the beast. and they thought it was possibly the mark of the beast, or perhaps it was preparing americans to understand that you have to show this mark to do business. they looked at social computer and they were horribly critical of it.
they were telling him it was a socialist and communist program that it was contrary to the teachings of the word of god. they were worried about his efforts to join the world court. anything that threatened american autonomy and sovereignty, for them, was a stepping stone to a global confederation that will be lead by the antichrist. so they oppose the league of nations. they oppose the internationalism, and they also oppose the united nations in the 1940s, but they were never indefinite. they never believed that just because we were moving toward these events that they should not act. they were very explicit about this because they believed when jesus returned, he would hold them responsible for their actions. he would ask them essentially if they had been good and faithful servants.
and part of being a good and faithful servant is waging war against the anti-christ and the tools of the anti-christ. so in 1936, 1940, 1944, they're very active, mobilizing and getting people to vote. they're not partisan, though. many of them are southern democrats, but they want to defeat new deal liberal im, going back to a limited government, and that really becomes the political ideology. but they maintain the core values. and also inform policy believing in the importance of american action abroad. they want the us to act
unilaterally. world war two, and i will end with this, becomes a bit of a turning point for them. they started to realize at that point that when jesus returns, he will not just judge individuals, but he will judge nations. so they were able to fwlind with a christian nationalism. so they became increasingly focused not just on fights the antichrist, but trying to remake the united states in their own image believing that as we move toward the end times that they can protect themes and protect our fellow christians abroad with a strong united states that represents their ideals. but it means that fdr is a stepping stone that needs to be pushed out of the way.
with that i am out of time. >> thank you, i'm still trying to get my mind around the idea that relief program could be contrary to the word of god. we'll hopefully get to that, perhaps not in this panel but another one. let me remind everybody that there is the option of offering your questions at the bottom of your screen. there's also a function on there if you've never seen it before, where you can give a thumbs up to other people's questions, kind of bump them up the queue, let us know what you would really fascinating. i'll hand it over to fellow author and historian. he is -- no, my bad, you're
next. conrad is a post doctorate fellow at southern methodist university. her research interests include the civil rights movement in public history and the presidencies of john kennedy and lyndon johnson. and she is currently finishing up her first book "the trinity: john kennedy, lyndon johnson, and their civil rights legacies in african-american imagination." and let me just say it's really good. so, without further ado, the webinar is yours. >> thank you so much, jeff. and thanks to all my fellow panelists. this has been so riveting so far. as jeff said, my interest has been in african-american civil rights, and specifically the presidencies of john kennedy and
lyndon johnson. and a point of privilege, i'd like to kind of talk about joan's formulation of how she wanted to talk about flavors of presidential hatred. i think that that's a really terrific way of kind of narrowing our focus. just a note, that all these presidents have their haters, and they come in different flavors. and one of the things i wanted to do with my session today was to just talk a little bit about the way that lyndon johnson was hated in particular by african-american voters. i wanted ta talk about how
lyndon johnson was hated in particular by african-american voters and really focus in on that. i wanted to start with the obvious points of how lyndon johnson became presidents. he's one of the accidental presidents. he emerged and ascended to the presidency with the assassination of his predecessor, john kennedy. and for african americans in particular, that way that lyndon johnson emerges as president is particularly problematic. and the it fans certain long-standing concerns that the
african american community had about lyndon johnson going back to his time in congress. when john kennedy selected lyndon johnson as his running mate in 1960 at the democratic convention, african americans were particularly concerned and upset by that choice. and it had to do with lyndon johnson's long history as being seen as someone who was willing to compromise with his fellow democrats in the south in order to thwart progress on civil rights. so while lyndon johnson was the senate majority leader, he made it clear that he was trying to keep his coalition together. and in order to do that, he was willing to make sure that, you know, important civil rights legislation either never passed or what was ultimately passed was watered down so that it was just doing the bare minimum. and so this was something that african americans watched with great concern while he was senate majority leader so that when john kennedy selected johnson as his running mate there was an outcry from the african american delegates to the extent where the kennedy campaign had to put on a special breakfast to win over the black candidates there who were to assure them even though lyndon johnson had been a concern that he would come along with the platform of the party. and so that concern was there in 1960, and it didn't go away over the course of johnson's time as
vice president. even though he was playing a role in the kennedy administration as head of the president equal employment opportunity committee, which was looking for ways and working with african american constituents to ensure that the government employment sectors was desegregated as possible. only those people who were kind of in the room with johnson were won over and could see that he was making a concerted effort. meanwhile, the populous really didn't know that lyndon johnson was making these efforts. so that over the course of the administration, the concern that black voters had about lyndon johnson never went away. so that by 1963, just as john kennedy is making the case for why a new civil rights bill had to be passed -- and that doesn't happen until june of 1963, that john kennedy finally makes a public plea based on the morality of the civil rights movement. that there should be a civil
rights bill passed through congress. even at that point, lyndon johnson is seen as behind the scenes, as still that same individual who had been kind of thwarting civil rights legislation. so that by november of 1963, when john kennedy is assassinated in texas, african americans are incredibly concerned about lyndon johnson's kind of emergence as the nation's new president. in fact many black reporters and observers and letter writers are indignant that lynn don johnson is the person who is now in charge
and there is a lot of concern about johnson. for one point, many of them believe that the fact that john kennedy was killed in texas was not a coincidence. many african americans blamed lyndon johnson and founded theories as to why lyndon johnson was likely involved in president kennedy's assassination because he appeared to have the most to gain. and letters came in to mrs. kennedy, condolence letters that would make this point. they should essentially say they believed lyndon johnson was involved in john kennedy's death. so this is the state of things when lyndon johnson becomes president. now, he does everything that he can in order to try to reassure black voters.
e realizes that he needs to win them over because from the very beginning, lyndon johnson is well aware that the election is coming up one year from the moment, just under one year from the moment he's sworn in as president. so he's looking to build coalitions and to reassure liberals and african american voters. so he calls people like martin luther king, the southern christian leadership council, conference. he roy wilkins of the naacp to try to reassure folks. and he goes to congress five days after president kennedy's death and he tells congress and the nation and the world that let us continue john kennedy's policies on civil rights. so he's trying to turn a page and trying to win over black constituents from the very beginning. but there is this nagging concern, this thing that he just can't shake from black voters that he is conniving and that he
is truly only doing this because he has to and because he is desperately trying to win their vote. not because this is something that is, you know, innate in him, that this is something that he truly cares about. for black observers of the newly sworn in president, lyndon johnson is just an opportunist who is desperate to kind of win election. so over the course of lyndon johnson's administration, he is trying to use a lot of the same techniques that john kennedy has used. symbolic acts like hiring people, appointments. he is, you know, seen in photographs with african american civil rights leaders. but lyndon johnson really falls victim to a number of issues. number one, he is seen as someone who many black observers believe was involved in kennedy's death. and secondly, there is this sense that he is, again, this opportunist. but over the course of his administration, and this is
something that is already happening in kennedy's administration, the movement itself is changing quite a bit. so that where as, you know, there is a belief in august of 1963 that, you know, some non violent movement led by dr. king could actually make the change, things are beginning to shift, where a more militant, younger, activist crowd in the movement is less and less patient with the kind of legislative approach that lyndon johnson is so comfortable with. there is a sense that it is taking too long, that it is not going change people's hearts. and even though laws are being called for, that those laws are not going to make real change in people's lives. and so when lyndon johnson pushes for passage of the civil rights act, which it does pass in 19 -- july of 1964, there are people like john lewis who are saying yes, you know, that's great. but down here on the front lines it is not making a real difference.
we're still on the battle front. so that there is a disconnect between what's happening in washington, d.c. and what's happening on the front line for many in the movement. well, by the time lyndon johnson is up for election, he is running against barry goldwater, a true conservative and someone who is against, you know, a lot of the policies that progressives are interested in and african americans are terrified of this and they come out and they vote for lyndon johnson by about 95%. so about -- he wins about 95% of the african american vote, which is like unprecedented. but i want to read a quote that kind of indicates the problem for lyndon johnson. one of the things that, even though he gets this incredible
percentage of the black vote, there is a pole taken in 1965, just a year after passage of the civil rights act and just this pole basically says, look, though negros do not regret the almost incredible support they gave lyndon johnson over barry goldwater, their support is cool, logical and loveless and their hearts still belong to john f. kennedy. so they made a choice, black voters to vote for lyndon johnson but the hearts are not in it. and two years after the civil rights act and just a year after the voting rights act is supported and passed and signed by lyndon johnson, african americans still when asked which of the last five presidents have done the most for negro rights, 69% of them choose john kennedy and only 15% choose lyndon johnson. and so there is a whole host of reasons as to why this is the case. and this will continue to play out as a problem for lyndon johnson. but certainly, you have the
shifting nature of the civil rights movement where these legislative victories aren't deemed quite as important in some ways when faced with things on the ground. but also, you have the vietnam war, that is forcing more and more african american men into war, even though african americans comprise about 11% of the population. they are being drafted at a higher percent. and they are being pushed into combat roles at a much higher percent of overall percentage of those folks in the war effort. and so the war effort is taking a toll not only in the fact that young black soldiers are heading over there but also the fact that the war on poverty that lyndon johnson believes is going to, you know, change everything of these kind of social programs, kind of in the vain of fdr's social programs, the war on poverty is not being funded as a result of this vietnam war. so you begin to see that the
promise of the great society program really isn't funded in quite the way that, you know, would benefit a lot of african americans. and i want to point folks to a couple of books. one being -- book on saigon, selma to saigon, which deals with kind of the african american role in the vietnam war effort. but also the last point i want to make about kind of why this doesn't play out for johnson in quite the way that he wants to
is, elizabeth hinton points out in her book dealing with kind of just the way that the war on poverty moves from on poverty to the war on crime is the way that these unintended consequences such as these programs that are funding not only social reforms but also policing reforms in ways that the federal government is essential funding the, kind of, local policing behavior in african american community that ultimately leads to some of the issues and difficulties with policing and expands problems with policing but also just the mass incarceration of african americans. and so that african americans are looking at lyndon johnson and they see the promise of the war on poverty. but they have this memory of him as a congressional leader. they view a lot of the assassination, as being left at lyndon johnson's door, and he is partially responsible.
but then you also begin to see things like, you know, the vietnam wars impact on the black community and the increased policing in the black community that results from this war on poverty and johnson's war on crime. and so over time, johnson's legacy is really quite problematic among african americans. to the extent that in the end, as we all know by 1968, lyndon johnson, who opens up his presidency with almost 80%, kind of, approval rating, drops to 35% by the time he is considering a run for election again in '68. to the extent that he has to drop out of that race. but ultimately, african americans, they still support lyndon johnson in some ways. but at the same time this kind of long history of concern about him and the sense that he is not a true advocate for african
american rights. continues to play out. and you see this even today in things like, you know, the way that johnson is being depicted in things like the film "selma," for example. seen as having very confrontational and being created by african american director and presented in that way. so i will leave it there. but hopefully that's enough to spark some conversation about the ways that lyndon johnson has been perceived by african americans and the long history behind that. thank you. >> thank you sharron. and you are a reminder of what e learned from elizabeth hinton's book and our conversations with her reminds me one of the most important things you and i have
done this past year is co-host a pod cast on presidents and race relations from the abraham lincoln all the way up to joe biden and an amazing learning experience for us. so i encourage others to check that out if they like. and finally, to mark lawrence, currently director of the lbj library and museum in austin, texas. associate professor of history at the university of texas. teaches on american and international history and is author among several books of a"assuming the burden,," europe and american commitment to war in vietnam. and also author of the marvelous short history of the vietnam war which i use in my classes and i highly recommend to others. and now he's coming out with another book, just finishing the proofs on that. so look for it on your shelves soon.
entitled the end of ambition. the united states and the third world in the era of vietnam. and to today he's going to tell us about a president from era of vietnam, one who has no reputational problems whatsoever, richard nixon. >> thanks jeff. this will be a very short talk. you're right. i'd like to, umm, everybody can hear me -- yes. i'd like to start with a story that takes us into the arena of -- an arena of the nixon presidency that may not be terribly familiar. probably not one that immediately springs to mind. the subject is relationship between the united states and brazil and the story begins december 13, 1968. that was the day the brazilian military junta eliminated most remaining. lomt elements of brazilian
democracy and cracked down on just about every facet of brazilian society. a new era of economic austerity it started suicide -- in nixon's answer came pretty quickly. may of 1969 his administration restored aid to the regime. the decision grew partly seems to me from the newer administration's broader efforts, sort of lower american ambitions to reshape brazil the for that matter lots of other developing countries in the world. nixon said in a nationally televised speech that the united states was entering a new era which it couldn't hope to do everything, couldn't hope to promote democracy and development all over the world as his democratic predecessor had done. and not only that but he promised that the united states was going to, as he put it, deal realistically with latin american governments no matter their character. he made clear to say the united states moved on from the pay any
price, bear any burden era that had come only a small number of years before. nixon's decision also may well have flowed from genuine --. if brazil was a dictatorship he said on one occasion captured on the taping system, it should be, he said, in order to cope with disorders internationally and throughout latin america. even as human rights groups increasingly seized on the situation in brazil and congress opens investigations into u.s. support for the regime, nixon doubled down on his partnership with the generals. when the brazilian president visited washington in 1971, the administration praised brazil as a staunch ally and welcomed the country's determination to fight communism at home and throughout the hemisphere. and congress opens investigations into u.s. support for the regime, nixon doubled down on his partnership with the
generals. when the brazilian president visited washington in 1971 the administration praised brazil as a staunch ally and welcomed the country's determination to fight communism both at home and throughout the hemisphere. documents declassified about ten years ago reveal the full extent to which nixon and his brazilian counterpart went in affirming their determination to overthrow fidel castro and especially salvador in chile. and formed some of the backdrop of the ultimately successful coup against ayende. and from this relationship sprang this hemisphere wide stream of cooperation among security services that went on to wage a strikingly bloody campaign of counterterrorism for years to come. well okay, so this is the kind of story that has long, it seems to me, infuriated critics of richard nixon and i hasten to add his partner in foreign policy making henry kissinger. again and again antipathy to
nixon focused on the president's approach of a moral approach to foreign policy. his approach to stability above all at the expense of a concern with democracy or human rights or even economic development. what counted for nixon in other words was the extend to which a foreign nation served american geostrategic interests. the nature of those governments in their attitude towards their own people mattered hardly at all amid the ascendancy of what political scientists of course have taken to calling a realist school of foreign policy in which hard-headed notions of national interests trump allegedly soft-headed notions of democracy or social justice. so this kind of thing is of course one of many reasons why richard nixon has been the focus of so much disdain if not in fact hatred over the years. all the news is not bad for nixon in his legacy. presidential polls of standing reveal he sometimes falls in the lowest quartile but usually lands in the third quartile of company of martin van urine or zachary taylor or herbert hoover but clearly none of these men i just named aspire the visceral
well, of course at the heart of this judgment stands the sheer dishonesty, the illegality, indeed, epitomized by the watergate break-in in and cover up but running through any number of episodes from richard nixon's political career. the prison terms meaded out to nixon's cronies and advisors of course speaks to this line of criticism. the anti-semitism, the racism revealed on tape recordings attest to a deeper kind of character problem that has fueled a lot of nixon dislike or perhaps hatred. and then there is also it seems to me a third piece of this. there is nixon's distinctly paranoid style of politics. and the -- indeed the anti-democratic instincts that he seems to have embodied. public opinion was for nixon often a force to be held in
check or maybe even bypassed in order to free himself to proceed as he wished. so my brazil story speems to some of this, but but speaks to something a little bit different about richard nixon. something they think that muddies the waters a bit and enables us to see the phenomenon of nixon hating in a somewhat more complicated light. the realm of foreign policy after all is the realm where nixon would seem to be on his strongest footing. it is here that as his many champions would pointed out he achieved great accomplishments. including of course the opening to china and the super power detente with the soviet union. fueled a lot of nixon dislike or perhaps hatred. and then there's also, it seems
to me, a third piece. there's nixon's distinctly paranoid style of politics, and indeed the anti-democratic instincts that he seems to have embodied. to be carried on at enormous human cost, only to achieve basically the same peace deal that was achievable when he first came to office in 1969. nixon's expansion of the war into cambodia, it is often pointed out, opened an entirely new theater of horrors on a scale that the world has rarely seen before. elsewhere, meanwhile, nixon threw american support behind or doubled down on american relationships with authoritarians in places as diverse as brazil, chile, iran, south africa, indonesia, pakistan, and on and one one would go. for many commentators his tolerance from brutality and his turn away from democracy
provides a major, if not always the main, certainly a major reason to despise nixon. jimmy carter gave this view one of its classic formulations in his famous 1977 speech at notre dame university. he said in part, for too many years we've been willing to adopt the flawed and erroneous principles and tactics of our adversaries, sometimes abandoning our values for theirs. vietnam, he said, was just the best example of the intellectual and moral poverty of u.s. policy choices. but he blasted nixon's decisionmaking more generally, assailing his tendency to indulge in what carter called an inordinate fear of communism and the embrace of any dictator who joined us in that fear. this kind of criticism perhaps peaked in the early 21st century with publication of christopher
hitchins' book "the trial of henry kissinger." what these expressions of hostility to nixon share in common, i think, is the sense that in seeking stability in the third world, nixon had departed from honored american traditions, both in the content of his policies, especially his low regard for democracy as either a practice or a goal, and the cynicism that lay at the heart of his political style. this was something that critics on both left and right seem to have agreed on. the criticism from the left is certainly easy to see. but it's worth pointing out that nixon's record, particularly in the foreign policy realm, lay in pretty deep disrepute in some republican circles as early as 1976. and over time, the gop would move further and further away from nixon's realism and embrace
a moralizing approach to foreign policy, of course that became closely associated with ronald reagan. but at the heart of this lay this sense that nixon's amoralism lay outside of american political traditions, outside, as jimmy carter might have put it, the enduring american values. the unfortunate outcome, as i think many moderate analysts of nixon's presidency might say, was to throw into disrepute any reasoned sense of national limits and interests that might have served the united states well at many points across american history. but especially during the era since 1945. the real tragedy, to put it differently, of the hate surrounding nixon may be the sheer difficulty ever sense of resurrecting fundamentally sound policy ideas that sat at the core of nixon's presidency, so
encrusted have those ideas become in the reputation of the 37th president. so i will stop there, jeff, and turn it back over you to. >> thank you, mark, always fascinating. needless to say we never have as much time for discussion as we want so i'm going to start us out with what i call a semi speed round. i'll ask a question to the group and feel free to answer if you think it's pertinent to your president. and after that i've got a couple of questions for speed round where i'll each of you to comment on your president. so this first section is volunteer, if you will. dan dean has asked a fascinating question about an hour ago. he said, attacks on these presidents were published in newspapers and gazettes. do we have an idea of how familiar americans, both literal and illiterate, were with this negative information? i want to expand that just a little. obviously the question was directed at professor freeman, but i think it really speaks to the question of mass media and
the ways in which broad assessments of character are developed within the political electorate. so for all of us, and especially joanne, since it was directed to you, how did the media, how did the public image of the president alter people's sense of like and dislike? >> that's a great question. i will say a couple of things. one of the factors that they were worrying about in this early period that i guess i would say was a concern forever but in the early period they were confronting it at a basic level, and that is, public opinion governs a republic, that is a truism. but what does that mean? who is the public? what do they think? how do you figure out what they think? there was a hyperawareness during this period of what the public was thinking and also an hyperawareness to define who
that public was. people like jefferson would have been very aware of what was being said. the public would have known. someone i saw at some point asked a question whether jefferson was criticized for his sexual life. and there were cartoons about his relationship with sally hemings, for example. so the public was aware of things that were being said. presidents and politicians were aware that it mattered. but there wasn't a meeting point as to what that meant yet. so, you know, for that reason, i think those early presidents were hyperalert to it and not sure what to do with it yet. what's interesting about listening to what everyone else is saying, in later times, as the media becomes more sophisticated, these presidents understand, with a sort of pragmatic realism, that the public and what they think has a very dramatic and pollable impact that in my early period was hard for them to judge.
>> colleagues? anyone want to jump in on the media question informing presidents' hatred? >> they were really successful at crafting their own media, that's part of what gave the movement shape and life. they had radio, they developed magazines, they had networks where they could communicate back and forth. some of it was pretty esoteric theology but they could also do really biting cartoons to illustrate their views. they ran the whole spectrum in communicating their message. >> manisha, were you going to jump in? >> yes, by the 19th century i would say print culture is being absorbed by large masses of the public. this is not just, you know, white male citizens and the few african americans who had the right to vote in the north, but it is broadsides, it's
newspapers, the printing press. you know, it's an enormous -- more than we would imagine today, production of political cartoons and even racist ones. and african americans and other disenfranchised groups had their own print culture, which was pretty vigorous. and so there is a mass consumption of these. and by the 19th century you have these, you know, voting rates, 70, 80% of those who are eligible to vote, predominantly men, vote at that time. and politics is mass entertainment. i mean, you think about all those iconic descriptions of the lincoln/douglas debates. professors started paying far more attention to speeches from this time, members of congress
who use their franking privileges to send out thousands of pamphlets to citizens. politics is absorbed, in the sense of, not the way we could with social media, but it is far more than i think most people are aware of. >> i would only just add to that, when it comes up to the 1960s and lyndon johnson, i think that, you know, everyone knows how aware johnson was of the media and the role that it played and that he had televisions everywhere, and that he was constantly commenting on what was written about him. but, you know, also these issues that he was dealing with, civil rights or vietnam, all of that is playing out on television. and when you have protesters outside of the white house screaming "hey, hey, lbj, how many boys did you kill today," that's going to make a difference. and so that i think for lyndon johnson in particular, that kind
of -- the give and take with what he's seeing on tv and how it's influencing him and impacting him, and then him also trying to control that message, it's really something that, you know, continues to resonate, i think, today. >> nixon, i would just add, it was clearly a hyperattentiveness to media coverage, very much, i think, like lbj. and yet i think one could also say, and again, there could be a close parallel with lbj here, there was a kind of mishandling of the media in a way that ultimately redoubled their problems of reputation and image. and it's interesting maybe to think about these two characters as people whose early political career took place at a -- in the context of a very different relationship between political elites and the media through the middle parts of the 20th century. of course new technologies, the vietnam war, for lots of other reasons, the relationship really changes and it seems like these
guys weren't very successful at adapting to a new media environment. >> interesting. again, semi speed round, jump in you like. i'm going to abuse a question that i was offered by one of our anonymous attendees and transform it a little bit to ask if any presidents and certainly those on our list have received a lot of hatred from within their own party. clearly we're seeing today, there's a split in the republican party at the very least. and i'm curious if you have other historical precedents for presidents being so despised from not so much without but within. >> if i could pipe in really quickly just on jefferson, there were northern republicans of his party that were not really thrilled about the idea of that embargo. but i wouldn't say that they were venting hate in the same
way. they were sort of politely internally trying to tamp that down. i think precisely because parties were not the norm in that period so there was no assumption about what was holding people together or not, partly for that very reason, it was as -- the lines, the boundaries weren't as clear. so people were a little less easy about that kind of within a party or within a group of people being held together kind of informally tossing around that kind of hate. >> as far as lincoln is concerned, you know, he had his critics within his party too, especially amongst the radicals and the abolitionists who thought he wasn't going fast enough, both on the issue of emancipation and black rights. but interestingly enough, their relationship with him was pretty constructive. they saw him as part of an antislavery alliance.
very few of them, you know, had that kind of visceral hatred of lincoln that his opponents did and that later on some conservatives started sort of backing off a little bit when they realized that lincoln was going to move ahead with emancipation and that he was going to move ahead with recognition of black rights. so radicals were critical. and in 1864 there was a kind of a rump group of abolitionists who floated the idea of replacing lincoln with a more radical person on the ticket. but that went nowhere, because ardent abolitionists like garrison were so pro-lincoln that in the end, all the abolitionists fell in line. as the great black abolitionist james w. pennington put it, he said lincoln is the only american president who has given any recognition to african americans and has met with them
in the white house and has listened to us, so the idea of replacing him seems foolhardy. in the end, even those radicals who were critical of lincoln, ended up sort of buying into garrison's notion that we're part of this grand antislavery alliance in which we are the vanguard and we're going to drag lincoln with us. >> on fundamentalists, many of them in the north and the west were republicans and hated fdr. but there was a real discussion among the southern fundamentalists, they were instructing their congregants to vote the democratic ticket in the state and local elections but not in the national election, and basically said, you can still be a good democrat like your father, like your grandfather, and not vote for fdr. so there was a real effort to break their local alliance from the national party. >> like lincoln, i think that lyndon johnson certainly was getting pushed from the left, from those who felt that he wasn't acting quickly enough or,
you know, responding soon enough to issues that were happening in civil rights. but i think that just across the board, you know, he was catching it from the left for sure, from progressives, but also from the right. and this is partly, largely, why his poll numbers just sink over the course of his administration, just because he's losing support on both ends, which is ultimately unsustainable. >> mark, anything on nixon? >> yeah, as i mentioned quickly in my presentation, nixon was certainly criticized within his own party. you can see that in the -- as the watergate crisis develops. but you can also see it in a broader sense as the 1970s advances and a different brand of republicanism real comes powerfully to the fore, in many ways quite critical of what nixon stood for.
foreign policy is an easy place to see that. this relatively realpolitik style of foreign affairs. it was a desire to distance oneself from what had come before. there were certainly individuals who could be characterized as having hated nixon. barry goldwater has given us some of the most colorful language that anyone has given us in criticizing richard nixon. >> if i may, let me offer a bonus president, bill clinton during the era of impeachment. he was obviously despised by his enemies throughout his president but once he was impeached, senate democrats in particular, i wouldn't go so far as to say they hated clinton for what he did but they were certainly disgusted by it. it's one of those cases, not unlike recent impeachments, that
were the votes secret, and were the vote, you know, less prescriptive by party, he would have gotten a much different vote in the end. this is our speed round, if you will. everybody's got to answer this one but we don't have a lot of time. this is a question which i'll reformulate from david mond. in the final analysis, was it primarily the person and his style of governing or the policies that the president espoused that led them to be so hated? we'll go in reverse chronological order just to spin things up. so, nixon. >> really interesting question. in the interests of the speed round i'll say mostly it's the person. but i think the policies have been underemphasized as a reason for the hatred over time. >> johnson? >> i think it's a combination of
both. for example, if you look at something like the kerner commission where johnson commissions this group to look into the reasons for some of the riots that happened in american cities, with the best of intentions, but ultimately ignores the findings. so it's like, you know, the policy seems to be there, but then ultimately the personality gets in the way. >> roosevelt. >> i would say it was both. he smoked and he drank, his kids divorced their spouses and all those things caused problems. it was also the particular policies. it was also the context. without mussolini and hitler, there wouldn't have been as much hatred of roosevelt. >> lincoln? >> a lot of southerners made fun of nixon for being the person
who chopped wood. but i would say it was far more policy. and here i would take the opportunity to address one of the questions about race, was lincoln hated because -- because a lot of the criticism of him was really racist, the way it was for abolitionists earlier on and for radicals. i think those were sort of interconnected, because when it came to policy, lincoln was very much identified with the politics of big government, of what they called federal consolidation in those days, the federal government intervening in the affairs of the states, but the states' right to do what? to perpetuate and extend slavery. so i think that connection between conservativism, racism, big government, and racially liberal policies, it takes place exactly during the lincoln administration, kind of reaches its apogee during reconstruction, and gets resurrected, i think, in the 20th century when it comes to people like johnson and nixon.
>> jefferson. >> i would say, i'm going to offer a third option, jefferson very much in his person portrayed his politics, not necessarily policy, but politics. he put himself forward as kind of embodying his sort of, you know, more small "d" democratic politics. so i think he was hated in a sense for that combo, person and politics. >> interesting. as is always the case, there's so much more to say, which is why we always keep studying. i want to thank our panelists for joining this roundtable. obviously we would much rather have done these things in person. we look forward to doing them again in person. but this has been a wonderful conversation. my thanks as well to the aha for doing these virtual webinars over the last several months of the year. they've been a real joy for all of us. and with that, i will turn it back over to debbie doyle.
>> thank you. i just wanted to thank, again, our generous sponsors, the national endowment for the humanities, the stanton foundation, the history channel, and oxford university press. thanks to everyone who submitted questions today. and finally, a special thanks to our panelists. have a great afternoon. thank you. c-span offers a variety of podcasts that have something for every listener. weekdays, "washington today" gives you the latest from the nation's capital. every week, "book notes plus" has in-depth interviews with writes about their latest works. while "the weekly" uses our immense archive to look at how issues of the day developed over years. and "talking with" features extensive conversations with historians about their lives and work. many of our television programs are also available as podcasts. you can find them all on the c-span now mobile app or wherever you get your podcasts.
♪♪ our weekly series "the presidency" highlights the politics, policies, and legacies of u.s. presidents and first ladies. up next, christopher leahy talks about john tyler, the first vice president to succeed a president who died in office and who was ejected from his own political party. >> hello again, everyone. welcome to another at-home
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