tv The Presidency President Andrew Johnsons Legacy CSPAN January 28, 2018 9:13am-10:01am EST
public service by america's cable television companies and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider. next, harvard university professor annette gordon-reed talks about the legacy of andrew johnson, the nation's 17th president, who took office following abraham lincoln's assassination in 1865. professor gordon-reed calls johnson the president of lost opportunities because of his failure to help former slaves or advance the cause of black citizenship in the early days of reconstruction. this 45-minute discussion was part of the annual lincoln forum in gettysburg, pennsylvania. annette: it is my plesh -- >> it is my pleasure to introduce our second speaker for the morning, annette gordon-reed. professor gordon-reed is a
professor of american legal history at harvard law school. she's also a professor of history in the college of arts and sciences. her first foray into writing produced "lost at sea" which was written when she was 7. so she's an overachiever. since then, she has authored or co-authored six historical studies, including the hemingses of monticello, an american family, which was winner of the pulitzer prize in 2009. the highly acclaimed book also won 15 additional awards, including the frederick douglass prize. her 2011 study of andrew johnson, the subject of her talk this morning, was praised as brilliantly written and fair-minded. the book is not available in the
bookstore today. you'll have to order it. but i do have her most recent book, and that is co-authored and it is titled the most blessed of patriarchs, thomas jefferson and the empire of the imagination. she will be available for a few minutes after her presentation to sign autographs, sign books for you. so please help me welcome one of my favorite authors, annette gordon-reed. annette: thank you so much. it's great to be here. last night was just fabulous. the talk about stanton, the army corps, and the energy of the place. i am usually in a roomful of
people who are interested in or obsessed about thomas jefferson. and it's strange to be in a room with people who are interested, obsessed with somebody else. there are other people, other subjects, other things, and it was great. i did a facebook post about it and i said now i know what we must look like to other people. it's great. it's great. i am sorry, i am not going to get a chance to be with you -- couldn't be here for the whole thing. i have to leave after this afternoon, and i really wish i could be here tonight to hear juan turnow talk about grant, the worthy successor to abraham lincoln. i am going to talk about andrew johnson. in a different category.
he is -- it's a fascinating topic, and i came to write about him because i was asked to write about him for the american presidents series by arthur sletsinger jr. who was the general editor of the series and he asked me -- we were both on the papers of thomas jefferson, and i got a letter one morning asking me if i would do this. there was a man named paul golup who does the editing for this series. he and i had worked together vernon y on a book, jordan's memoirs. so there were two people i knew who asked me to do this, two people i liked very much, 40,000 words and an interesting time period, and so i said yes. once i started doing research -- and i knew about andrew johnson. i understood who he was and his role in history, but i had never
spent that much time studying him. i had studied the civil war and the reconstruction era, which he really more or less belongs to from a distance because in some ways, i find it the more heart breaking part of american history. studying slavery is a serious thing. it can be very, very difficult, very challenging to think about that time, going through the farm book, going through letters about sales of people and so forth, but it seems distant. it seems really, really far away and you can kind of become detached from that, at lease i can. there are moments when it comes up to you and you feel very deep emotion or anger, and all these kinds of things, or admiration for the people who managed to make it through that. the reconstruction time was a time of promise, when you have higher expectations about things. you think about people, freedmen
who came out of slavery and thought now we have a chance to make a new world for ourselves. we are going to go forward. we will have allegiance to the union. after all, african-american soldiers fought in the union army to preserve the union and to end slavery. so it was a new beginning, and you read about people crowding into the freedmen bureau schools to learn how to read and write, to get married, to finally have their families recognized by law, a time of hope, and then later on those hopes were dashed. the person that i am going to talk about today was the person who sort of began the process of dashing them in ways. andrew johnson was the successor to abraham lincoln under tragic circumstances, and it's hard to imagine two more different type of people in terms of their stature, what abraham lincoln means to the country versus what
andrew johnson means to the country. before i wrote this book, i am often asked to participate in presidential surveys. the best president, the worst president, and johnson is usually in the bottom five. the year my book was published, he actually made it to being the worst, the worst president. i went out on the tour and i could say i have written about the worst president in history, vying with buchanan and other people. but he was worse -- well, aside from the fact that he was impeached but not convicted and was not removed from office, but to me the most infamous part about him was the role that he played in the recalcitrance at the notion of trying to bring african-americans into full citizenship, into society in america after slavery. the title of my talk is the presidency of lost opportunities . history is fun and it does tell
you something about the time period. it gets you to ask questions about it but think about what would have happened if he had been a different kind of person, if he had, as people say, what would have happened if lincoln had lived? would things have been different? how would the country have changed, been in a different position without this man? and i had an opportunity that when i was writing about this book, that that was going to be my take on it. i had an opportunity to try to investigate that question through telling his story and ask questions about what do you think about what this person is doing here? how would things have been different if he had not taken this kind of stance? i began the book with a quote from frederick douk lass, which i think is very important and i don't typically do this in talks but i am going to read a quote. on this inauguration day, he is talking about the first time he met johnson.
on this inauguration day, while waiting for the opening of the ceremonies i made a discovery in regard to vice president andrew johnson. there are moments in the lives of most men when the doors of their soul are open and unconsciously to themselves, their true characters may be read by the observant eye. it was at such an instant i caught a glimpse of the real nature of this man, which all subsequent developments proved true. i was standing in the crowd by the side of mrs. thomas j. dorsey when mr. lincoln touched mr. johnson and pointed me out to him. the first expression which came to his face and which i think was the true index of his heart was one of bitter contempt and aversion. seeing that i observed him, he tried to assume a more friendly appearance, but it was too late. it was useless to close the door when all within had been seen. his first glance was the frown
of the man. the second was the bland and sickly smile of the demagogue. i turned to mrs. dorsey and said, whatever andrew johnson may be, he certainly is no friend of our race. this turned out to be true to the nth degree. he was probably understating the claim. johnson was the person who actually despised african-american people. you think about the -- it's hard to say -- the problem with, the tragedy that at the moment when the face of african-american people in the united states were being decided, he was at the helm of the government. johnson had been a person who did not care for slavery, but he did not like slavery because he thought that it was bad for the
poor white class of which he had sprung. andrew johnson -- it's interesting, you have to try to find something to admire about people or -- something good to say about people when you are writing a whole book about them. you don't want to just be condemning people. you want to be as fair as possible. to his great credit, he came from nowhere and he made something of himself. he started out in a poor family. i am sure many of you may know he did not really learn to read until he was a late teenager. his wife taught him how to write after they got married. he had been apprenticed to a tailor when he and his brother from small boys, and he actually shop.ay from the tailor you think about a person who was the president of the united states, that there was a runaway ad for them in the newspaper, not unlike the runaway ad for
enslaved people. i think to some degree you are always psycho analyzing people but you wonder what it must have en like to be just above the bottom of the rung and have people below you and people that you did not want to see raised because you might think then you would be at the bottom, too. so this age-old problem in the south of poor whites who really have more in common economically and socially with african-americans, siding with the upper classes starts with him. he made a lot of noises once he became a politician against the planter class. in fact, many people were frightened of him. many white southerners were frightened of him because he was a staunch union person and he was going around saying these are traitors, treason must be
made odious. people thought he was going to be an avenger once he ascended to the presidency. but it turns out that once he saw the program that the men who were called the radical republicans, who were always in the minority, but they had enough support from moderate republicans to try to put forth some of their programs. once he saw that they were not just going to end slavery, which he conceded would be a good thing, because he thought this would actually help poor whites, once he saw that they were going to do more than that to try to transform the south and make it elites a place for the in society but to make blacks voting members of society, enacting land reform, because he understood -- he actually introduced a homestead bill
because he understood that landownership was incredibly important. but he thought it was important mainly for poor whites. land brought independence. land meant if you could have your own farm, and you could work, you were not going to be dependent upon other people. and that's what he wanted for poor whites. that's what put him in opposition with jefferson davis, who said what are you giving this land away to these people? have a famous family where you can grab land. ut the point was he was in all measures an understanding person about the nature of poverty and the nature of class in america. he just could not get past the racial question. he believed in the inferiority of blacks. he believed that because of that, that they should either -- he basically said i don't care where they go. they can be emancipated but they're not going to have
rights, the same kind of rights that white men would have. he said very openly that the united states should be a white man's government. this was not an unusual thing. he was a jacksonian. he began his career as a young man who was a great worshiper of jackson. so it doesn't surprise or it should not surprise that when the time came, when there was a session, that he decided to stand with the union because if you will remember, jackson was a slave holder but jackson was also a committed unionist and tiff, but into his it was bigger than that, with calhoun, he made the speech the union forever. the union was his thing. so it's not surprising that johnson, who worshiped andrew jackson, would take that stance when secession came about and that he would remain loyal to the union from tennessee. but that's all he wanted.
the union restored, slavery over, and blacks living maybe in serfs ndition like perhaps. you bring things back to slavery, as near to slavery as possible, and in fact, when the radical republicans began to institute policies, he vetoed every kind of measure or opposed every measure that they put in place to try to aid the freedmen, to try to transform southern society. and the president is not all powerful obviously, but the president is the leader of the country, is the symbol of the country. the president, whenever he -- almost said he or she, but whenever he is in office -- so far. whenever he is in office, he sends a message about the nature
of the society, the society's aspirations, and what did it mean at this particular moment to have a person who was actively opposed to transforming american society at the helm of society? the message that he was sending not just to african-american people but to other whites. people think about race primarily affecting black people or people of color but it affects whites as well.it sends. the message he sins is things are not going to change that much. as much as he hated the planter class, he hated black people more. once he saw that radical republicans were going to change the south, take this people out of power, the people he said he always hated, -- part of his -- he made people come to him to ask for pardons. it was almost like a humiliation
ritual. that part of him that felt looked down upon by the planter class asserted itself, at first, but once he began to look at the lay of the land and see where things were headed, he decided to put those people back in place as quickly as possible. when you are reading these things, there are all kinds of arguments about the balance of power between president and congress, that's a process. but the main theme or him was -- for him was white supremacy and how he accomplished that, try to accomplish that, by being as pugnacious as his real biographer describes them, the pugnacious president, was really in service of this idea of keeping status quo. there are letters from southerners who say things like,
we would have accepted whatever terms were offered to us at the beginning. and lincoln's assassination, people talk about people being happy about it, but a lot of people in the south were upset about it. they were frightened because they thought they would enact retribution for the killing of the martyr, so this was not something that was joy without concern what was going to happen. as i said before, they were concerned about johnson because all of the really tough and hard things he was saying about the seven grandes. they were surprised when he took this more mellow approach to them. when he stood up to the people in congress who wanted to try to transform the south. one person said, we would've
taken terms they offered, but he held out hope for a white man's government. that's the real question here. reading about these conflicts and the problems with congress and so far -- so forth here at it dawned on the people of congress he was trying to put the people who lead them into war back into power and to accept the union, but keep things exactly the way they were, with black people as near to slavery. if you read people's letters, it is clear there were many people who were wedded to slavery as an institution, but more importantly they were wedded to the idea of white supremacy and the laws that were
put in place, the slave codes going to the black codes, and eventually the redemption governments come along and enact jim crowe. all those things were designed back to wherery it would -- and the south back to where it was about chattel slavery. the president's in office. he is being recalcitrant. tois doing everything he can transform society. they tried to push back by enacting a law that said he could not remove people without people that -- the senate could not remove them without permission. office act,nure of
and act that was probably unwise, but at the moment, they were desperate, because everything they were doing they were passing legislation. he was vetoing it, they were overriding it. i think there could have been another article, taking care that the laws were faithfully executed. he was not doing that. he was pushing back, asking people to drag their feet on these things. this is what they came up with. he violates the law by firing at -- by firing edward stanton. we got into a talk last night about the difference between these people. stanton, the champion of african-american rights, a person who wanted to see things change, so you can see how they would not get along. it's a shame we don't talk more about people like that, people that had those ideas. they're sort of a notion -- when i say radical republicans,
people don't know who they are, but it's amazing that there were people at the time who actually wanted a different story for america. they were ahead of their time, but were willing to be fair. we don't know about those people -- those names aren't as well known. we talk about people who are or had attitudes that were opposed to ours. that is the main thing about history. that's the exciting thing about it, some ways the tragic thing about it. things don't have to happen the way they happen. there could have been a different way during this time period. johnson is not the man to bring this about. he fires stanton. this is their attempt to remove him from office. they impeach him, but it fails
in senate. it was not terribly popular among people. removing somebody from office is a big deal. of the people.l he was not elected, but he was brought along with abraham lincoln. this was an amazing, a tough thing to do. he survives, but doesn't really survive as the president very much. he is sort of a non-entity after that, makes a return to government after he leaves office as senator, is there for a while and then dies. but his legacy is one that left us with something really terrible. thurgood marshall, the case about affirmative action speculates and wonders, what
would've happened if things had been different. the reason we are in this position now is because steps were not taken in the past in order to bring people forward. one of the things we got from andrew johnson's recalcitrance was the 14th amendment. we might thank him of that and that is about political rights. that is something that everybody has benefited from. what would have happened if he went along with the program of the freedmen's bureau and given the power of the presidency, the support of the presidency to move that forward? land reform, if african-american people had been able to have land, not the work of sharecroppers, but ownership. we know what that means to people and their families. and wealth building, the gap between african-americans and whites in terms of income is in some ways is shrinking, but the wealth gap of ownership of
property and wealth is getting wider. it takes generations for people to get on their feet, for families to get on their feet and build wealth. if this had started in the 1860's and 1870's, who knows where we may be now? we do know the measures that were taken actually retarded and prevented african-american growth over decades. this is a person who -- this is a part of his legacy. on one hand we have an admirable story about a person who started from nothing and worked his way up, but on the other hand we have a story about the wrong person at the time here at abraham lincoln was the right person at the right time for the country, somebody who could lead the country through the calamity of war.
then, we had johnson who was not up to the task of leading people at a time of peace and when there could've been a different story about race in america. he is the president of lost opportunities because he had a chance, but he didn't take it because of his character, because of the way he was raised, because of his determination to live by the precepts of white supremacy. that's what makes it so tragic. i enjoyed doing the book ultimately, because it really did -- it forced me into a conclusion. i don't have to make a claim for why jefferson is important, right? it is easy to do that one, but it's difficult -- sometimes it is hard to see people who do things that are every bit as important -- or have effects that are every bit as large,
but you don't actually know that much about the person. what i had to convince people of, and it's a easy thing for he was one of the worst presidents of the country, but he's certainly one of the most influential. we are certainly living under the world of johnson, attitudes of johnson in ways that we might not be living under the attitudes of other presidents. he represents the real face of the country at that particular moment, and it is a face we have been trying to change in the decades since his death and we have had some success, but he is certainly somebody who's life i think is worth studying. between lincoln and grant, he is there and a reminder of what not to do, the way not to be, and sometimes those can be
incredibly valuable lessons. with that, i would like to take your questions. [applause] >> thank you. did johnson ever realize that by saying the blacks should go back to their oppressed state, he was also oppressing the working-class whites? prof. reed: no. that's a good question. he was clever, had drive, but not a lot of foresight. i mean, he was -- he was against railroads. he started out being against railroads. he said what would happen if people were able to get to where
they're going so quickly. inns wouldthinking crop up along the rail line. he eventually understood the folly of that when the war came. military governor, you've got to move people different places, so he understood, but there's not a lot of foresight there and he's not alone in this. no. he didn't see that. >> that makes a good segue, because i think you are right about the white supremacy. what also played into johnson as a president, he was chosen partially because of his democratic antecedent and kind of connecting jefferson and jackson, he was a fiscal conservative and small government democrat. so i don't know if you want to
speak to how that hamstrung him as a president in addition to the white supremacy being the , wrong person at the wrong time at an expansive era. prof. reed: his vision of government had applications for the nationalization of the country and he was not prepared for that. he wanted -- the homestead act, the vision of people with their farms and independence, he thought that would be enough. if you gave people that, things would go forward and you didn't have to make massive changes. the vision was limited in lots of ways and he was attractive to people because of the antecedents and because he remained loyal to the union. this was lincoln's way of saying, well, we are all really together. he didn't want to make it seem as if he was sticking with one side. this was his being expansive,
he picked a person who -- he obviously could not have known what was going to happen, but it was a mistake. >> i was thinking about frederick douglass' oration at the lincoln memorial in 1876, so we have had lincoln as president and then johnson as president, frederick douglass spends a lot of talking about lincoln was the white man's president. douglass say anything after what you have told us once johnson was president about how he felt about johnson and where he was going, the direction he was going? >> only other critical things. there was no reassessment of him.
douglas was off and on on lincoln, and he basically said at the end he was the only person who treated me like i was a human being even though he was , impatient with some of his tactics, but he wasn't in office. it's people on the outside agitating for things, not the person who has to make the decisions, it sometimes tough to understand what people are doing, but people -- he did not change his assessment of andrew johnson. dr. john from washington dc, and i say that because i'm going to ask you a washington related question. prof. reed: washington the city? >> yes. he survived impeachment by one vote by edmund ross, but in your research were you able to determine if ross really voted his conscience or he was bought off or came under the influence
of his former commander, tom ewing, or were you able to determine if he really was a -- -- really was a profile in courage.- prof. reed: no, i wasn't. i talk about the charges that there were instances where people were bought off, influence, but no, i wasn't able to find anything definitive about that. people were afraid of ben wade. if he had been removed, his successor was somebody a lot of people were scared of and that probably played into this as much as anything else. who is next. the devil you know is better than the one you don't. i guess they knew ben wade, too, who was a radical and somebody who championed black rights.
>> i am a 26 year veteran member of the cleveland roundtable. we had a debate once a year. the debate last year was lincoln's biggest mistake. by a wide margin it was his selection of vice president in but i don't -- i live 15 miles from johnson's house. i have been there several times, and if he hadn't been president i would have never gone, but i like to jump to another subject, which frank touched upon in the beginning today, and that is the fact, we have 47 new members. i talked to a couple of them. i was trying to find out if frank was -- where they found out about us and why they joined. two of them had a question.
for me, i would like you to deal with it. why are there so few black members here? to the cleveland of civil war roundtable for 26 years, i'm a founding member of the grant association and we just don't have african-american members. how can we encourage these people -- this is a significant part of their history and yet they don't seem to want to join us, why? [laughter] prof. reed: well, it's a good question. i ask the same question about the early american republic. i think it's a very painful subject for african-americans. i cannot speak for all african-americans, but i am
assuming that it is painful and i do know that most of the -- a tremendous amount of interest in the civil rights era, the second civil rights era, the point at which people began to have action and move -- although people are moving during this time as well, i just think it is a painful thing, to talk about or discuss matters that are in your family, the subject of painful memories and so forth. i think it's necessary for people to be involved in history and in this period as well. i think it is really tough. i don't want to say too soon. is it too soon? >> 150 years? >> armed this joke when they
about what he thought about the french revolution, he said it is too soon to tell 150 years in terms of history is not a long time, that's a blink of an eye. i think a lot of it -- they worry about how it's going to be received. this may be a tangent. i was leaving charlottesville one day and i looked over and saw a bunch of people in gray uniforms, and hoop skirts, and i was terrified for a second. i know that this was in the 2000's. you know, this is not the civil war. they are not real confederates, but that whole era is -- >> i know, but i don't have a grey uniform. prof. reed: you are not scary, but you don't know how you're
going to be received. we are new at this. when i went to the movies when i was a little girl, we had to sit in the balcony. when i went to the doctor, there n office for us and one for white people. we are just beginning the process of any kind of reconciliation. any kind of understanding. so i would just say be patient. >> i won't be around in 150 years -- 150 years. prof. reed: thank you. thank you for asking. >> during the -- during the period of reconstruction you see the rise of racially motivated violence and voter intimidation,
in your research did you find any evidence that president johnson or anybody in his administration encouraged that intimidation or violence? prof. reed: i did not find any evidence he encouraged it, but he definitely did nothing about it. people told him what was going on and that didn't concern him. i think that is the principal difference. when people say lincoln had a conciliatory policy toward confederates as well, he's trying to bring them back into the fold so he's doing conciliatory things. i don't think -- if lincoln was lincoln, i don't believe he would have acquiesced to the torrent of violence that was visited upon african-americans after that. eric boehner, his work is -- he has written about you're
, coming into texas seeing bodies floating down the river, coming into a town where there's 28 people hanging from trees, just carnage. if lincoln heard those kinds of things, i think if he was lincoln, the people that you're here -- that you are interested in, he would've done something, johnson didn't. but i do not think he encouraged somebody to go do that. >> i don't always agree with an interview recently i heard george will say he thought lincoln was jefferson's greatest student. what do you think about that? prof. reed: he understood that had to the declaration, america creed, to get this thing back
together again and say, now we have a new birth of freedom, and so forth. in that sense i think he was, because of the way he used jefferson's words to write a new script for america, and you couldn't have a better lesson and more important lesson than that one. >> i'm the author of the lincoln in the course of reading comments to marry lincoln, she quotes mary lincoln as warning a abraham -- warning abraham lincoln not to trust andrew johnson, that he is a danger. and then lincoln issues his terms for the southerners to return and gain their forgiveness, if you will, and then the booth operation, which
was a highly organized operation into which the confederacy poured a great deal of money through their intelligence operation, quarterbacked by , do you thinks that operation, as efficient as it was, intended to kill andrew johnson, that he would have survived? prof. reed: i talked a little bit about this in the book. i don't know. it's too far off. i don't know enough about that to make a claim about the notion that -- the suggestion was that johnson may have been in on this and he was targeted, but really not targeted. i don't know. >> johnson was being impeached or convicted by one vote. they tried to convict him, as i understand it, because they pass
that law saying the senate could have a say in who his cabinet was. wasn't that considered unconstitutional? prof. reed: later it was. it took a while. >> but it didn't have to do anything with his acquittal? prof. reed: no. >> thank you. prof. reed: only in the sense that people thought it was a bad idea later on. >> i'm not sure i want to say this -- prof. reed: oh, go ahead. >> i want to respond to the united states colored troops. i am a reenactor. i had relatives who fought in the civil war. eirnot ask me there -- th
names, but that's part of what happened to our family. one thing we have seen is -- between the colored reenactors and white reenactors, a lot of times there is a lot of animosity. we know for example that in the civil war, the officers were white officers and when we go to some of these reenactments, the generals, colonels, so on are all white officers. a lot of the black reenactors, they get tired of that. prof. reed: so they basically reenact what was going on. [laughter] >> yep. that's a real issue. i think then when we talk about why african-american reenactors don't want to participate at in some of the units, i think we need to look at this from both question if and
white supremacy is still a subtle message within the whole reenactment organization. prof. reed: i'm glad you said that. i'm not a reenactor. it never would have occurred to me that that would be a problem, but you basically say this is 1864, so we are going to act like it, and there's a lot that goes along with it that is not very pleasant. >> i really like your presentation. >> a tweet asking about an issue that still resounds today. his question is about how many people were fathered by u.s. gis in the anon, how are they after u.s.years departure. >> you can
>> in 15 minutes we will have an stephen darrah who served as a helicopter pilot during the vietnam war. he describes his time at west decision to he switch from infantry to anxious through aircraft fire in 1968. by the west point center for oral history. first we learn about this the center's m executive director. >> lieutenant colonel david siry military story at the academy and director of west point oral history center. how long has the history center been associated with the academy >>