tv Impeachment of Andrew Johnson in Popular Culture CSPAN June 1, 2019 1:25pm-2:01pm EDT
understood what it meant being an african-american, putting on a slave costume, and what that did to your psyche. about interpreting slavery at colonial williamsburg today at 2:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv. >> university of california irvine english professor brooke thomas delivers a talk titled the politics of popular portrayals of andrew johnson's impeachment. professor thomas talks about three examples. novel dixon junior's 1 the klansmen. the 1942 hollywood film tennessee johnson. and the impeachment story, as told by senator john f. kennedy in his 1957 pulitzer prize-winning book, profiles and courage. this is part of a two-day symposium. it is hosted by the u.s. historical society. >> brooke thomas is a professor
in the english department at the university of california at irvine. i think he just took a meritless status which means he has more time to write and more time to talk and more time to educate all of us, and i am honored that he has come here again. he was here a couple of years ago, and i'm honored he's back today. [applause] professor thomas: thank you. what i'm going to do here is give about 25 minutes. i hope without get more time for questions and answers, but we're moving towards the end. reconstruction stayed alive in the popular memory largely through its portrayal in popular media. and i want to look at the politics of the portrayal of andrew johnson's impeachment.
and my primary works are going to be the klansmen, the film tennessee johnson, and john f. kennedy's profiles encourage. my thesis is this role reinforce the wants widely held belief that although political factors inevitably influenced impeachment, on the standard of high crimes and misdemeanor convictions should occur, only if there has been a legal transaction -- a threatening the welfare of their republic. let's start with profiles and courage. this was a pool surprise winner. this was sketches of senators who chose principle, patriotism, and rule by law over partisan politics. there is one chapter on johnson's impeachment, which most of you know, failed by conviction of one vote. these are the illustrations kennedy had for this chapter. here is a ticket to the impeachment trial. it lasted almost two months. then here is a cartoon of the
senate chambers of the trial going on, and this is edmund ross, kennedy's hero. he was a kansas senator who sacrificed a promising political career when he delivered the decisive vote to stave off conviction after johnson's impeachment on trumped up charges by ross' fellow republicans. fulfilling his sworn duty to follow the law rather than bend to political pressure, he preserved constitutional balance of power by keeping the presidency from becoming "subservient to the legislative will." in doing so, he performed what one historian called the most heroic act in american history, incomparably more difficult than any deed or valor upon the field of battle. in fact, it was so valorous, that he wrote his own account, which you can still buy. this is a nice story of courage. but unquestionably accepting ross' accounts, kennedy ignored
compelling, if not certain evidence, that the senator remained undecided to the last minute because he was shopping his vote for the highest bidder. although there was no indication that kennedy intentionally distorted the facts, there was ample political motivation for him to highlight this alleged refusal to bow to political pressure. kennedy, of course, had presidential ambitions in 1957. to brown v. board of education, he was well aware that they would need southern support to secure the democratic nomination. in 1957, it's really important to remember many americans consider johnson a hero. for kennedy, he was determined to carry out abraham lincoln's policies reconciliation with the defeated by seeking to bind up the wounds of the nation and treat the south with mercy and fairness. johnson faced extremists who clashed with lincoln.
those radicals pass legislation to administer the downtrodden southern states as conquered provinces. bill after bill was vetoed on the grounds they were unconstitutional, too harsh, or an unnecessary engagement of military role with the authority of the executive branch. those bills included the 1857 civil rights act, which gave african-americans citizenship and economic rights, and the reconstruction act of 1857, they were always unconstitutional and unfair to the south. it is no accident that the villain in kennedy's portrayal are massachusetts' own benjamin butler and charles sumner, described as kennedy as the butcher of new orleans and mr. sumner, the south's most implacable enemy, who helped make the reconstruction period a black nightmare the south would
never forget. through his attacks on these northerners, kennedy assured southerners this massachusetts politician could be trusted. just to add more, if you can avert your eye away from the fact this only cost $.35, you might not be able to see this, but the forward of the inaugural edition was written by allan nevins. he was a pulitzer prize-winning historian and he was not only, wrote the forward for the inaugural edition, he was the forrman of presidents kennedy, and he made sure was historically accurate. debasement when the bad got the upper hand in congress. johnson was partly broken for his courage. sumner, in contrast, was an example of the false courage that grew out of abolitionist fanaticism.
this is just a sideline, but unfortunately nevins' account, of foreign policy which he wrote on on that time, this view of reconstruction is still influential with grant biographers today. enough on that. let's get to the klansmen, 1905, the racist novel that became the basis of birth of a nation, which omits the impeachment trial. but the klansmen does have the trial and it has significant similarity to profiles and courage, including dramatic flair to tell the story of ross' heroism. it is not surprising because dixon lied on kennedy's sources, and dixon might be a source for kennedy. dixon lionized as ross, but also focuses on austin stone, whose embrace of african-american rights was threatening the foundation of the republic. here is that he is stevens with his famous wig.
here he is, no wig, arguing with lincoln. he was so sick, he had to allow butler to take over as lead prosecutor and couldn't finish the one speech he tried to give. but dickson needed a villain who a mulatto to have mistress, and was a prime architect of the black plague. obviously, the focus is not on ross. it's on johnson. in fact, ross does not even appear. acknowledges that it's medium requires taking certain liberties. for instance, even though johnson didn't appear at his own trial, in the film he comes in and gives a stirring defense. the film produces drama by
pitting johnson against stevens, who's played in a wheelchair by and gives a stirring defense. lionel barrymore, who is perfectly cast. he had just played a villain. they have lots of similarities, but there are different stakes in their betrayals. for kennedy, what was at stake was the checks and balances of government. the independence of the executive office as a coordinated branch of government was on trial. dixon agrees with that. he has a chapter called the supreme test. he says almost the same as kennedy. if i partisan majority in congress could remove the executive and define the supreme courts, stability of civic institutions was at an end. but the real question was, will the u.s. remain a white republican? in the film, it has those stakes, but it also wants to by stressing
national unity. how does it do that? it portrays and a letter it -- and illiterate tailor's apprentice and escapes from tennessee. he learns how to read and write, becomes a spokesman for whites, needed for the war effort. his hero was tennessee democrat andrew jackson. and he opposed lincoln in 1860, but his love of the union made him loyal, even when tennessee seceded, causing lincoln to choose him as vice president and -- in 1864. committed to he is following lincoln's policy, rather than revenge, confiscation, and his french line in world war ii, you need to have unity in times of crisis and war. you need north and south jackson wasto what trying to do, and you need jacksonian democrats and republicans getting together.
african-americans were needed, too, but their plight was appropriated. in the first scene, johnson's runaway apprentice has a shackle on his leg. he has to have that cutoff. so he is the fugitive. he keeps the shackle all of his life. and then, when stevens comes in when he's president and offers to help them, i will help you win the next election if you support radical reconstruction, he says, and johnson replies, pulls out the chain, and says, i have been chained before, and he promises he will free southerners just as lincoln freed the slaves. naacp wasagine why not so happy about this. they protested. they protested before the movie even came out. how did that happen? well worker for mgm gave a copy , a of the script to the daily worker. and the daily worker passed it to the office of war information and then the naacp, who pressured mgm to make changes.
influenced by black reconstruction, the naacp saw a less demonic trail of stevens. mgm didn't go as far because they consulted a professor who advised this was confirmed to historical consensus, which unfortunately was true at the time. yet some scenes were cut, reshot , making him a little more human, and on many scenes with african-americans were deleted, meaning there were fewer in the film. historians in the civil rights movement pointed to this alliance between the office of war information and the naacp as strategy that would work in the civil rights movement. at the same time, conservatives today point to this as political correctness leading to
censorship in hollywood. all three then, we have these, and they all agree on politics of reconstruction, and they all have a common source, the impeachment of andrew johnson. i'm going to give you a sense of what the agreement of what reconstruction was from dewitt. people don't remember, but johnson came back to the senate in 1875. this is dewitt describing his return. the triumph of his policy was more significant. one by one, the africanized rotten boroughs, despite support of the u.s. army, have fallen or are falling. soon, no relic will remain of the empire. just to give you a sense how long this lasted, in 1960, his book was praised by a phd advisor.
it's something of a classic. excellent narrative account is not likely to need redoing for quite some time, if indeed ever. that was the view in the 1960's. now, not only was there agreement about the politics of reconstruction, but also impeachment, which was politically motivated with no legal basis. what was the legal basis of the impeachment? it was the tenure office act. congress was trying to restrict as theys powers as much could, and part of the act said that senate approval was needed to remove a cabinet member that the president appointed with the advice and consent of the senate. nonetheless, johnson fired secretary of war stanton, who was a radical, to keep him from using the military to intervene in the south. now, johnson had really good attorneys. those attorneys responded to
this claim by saying hold it. stanton didn't come under the act. why? he was appointed by lincoln, not johnson. and further, even if he did come under the act, the only reason johnson was doing this was to get the supreme court to rule on the unconstitutionality act. that's an interesting question. can the president define a law -- defy the law in order to get a constitutional ruling? well, how is the legal issue represented in these works question mark dixon more or less avoids it. and highlights conspiracy theories, and there was one, that johnson was actually helping john wilkes booth. and sensationalism. the other two actually do deal with the legal issue. although the film mistakenly says the tenure office act for bids dismissal of the cabinet member appointed lincoln, that's
not right. they dispute more or less accurately. wasghted in knowing the act unconstitutional, which was true, but they failed to mention brandeis and homes, the senate. how did we get to the notion of the law versus politics opposition? for dixon, it was all politics. for kennedy, a little more nuanced. i'll let kennedy speak for the two of them. johnson accusers said they did not give the president a fair trial of the formal issue upon which impeachment was drawn, but intended to depose him from the white house on any grounds, real or imagined, for refusing to accept these policies. what is left out of this popular account, which is still there today about this impeachment, was that many of those policy disagreements had become law. one of the charges against johnson was that, of the political, not legal, of not doing his constitutional duty to execute them.
so, at the time, there was a strong argument for political grounds for impeachment. we'll go back to charles sumner. he once tried to get rid of the electoral college, but it didn't work. charles sumner made some crucial points. he said the fact the house and peaches, and the senate tries, recognizes the founding fathers political aspects. why not the chief justice preside over? because the senate could benefit. you have to have another figure. he then cites hamilton in federalist 65, who says you could have impeachment for abuse or violation of some public trust, which is -- and he capitalizes it -- political. he then cites his mentor, saying you can have impeachment for misconduct, gross neglect, and disregard in the duties of
political office. he then cites the most famous constitutional historian at the time, who, prior to the civil war, had written that someone can be unfit for office where there is no offense committed. for example, through imbecility, immorality and maladministration. yet, if we want to see how politics played out in this impeachment, when curtis' brother, benjamin, a former supreme court justice, and a senator, became one of johnson's attorneys, for political reasons, george changed his position and said no, it has to be illegal. and indeed, you have quotations from people who voted not and said george curtis gave us the law and we followed it. i want to have us rethink this legal versus political opposition. to do so, you have to look at
the different meanings of political. the opposition between legal and political grounds, political is almost always a synonym for partisan. but the founding fathers also thought about it in other terms, as the art of the possible as a mode of governming. -- governing. in my title, i use politics and a third way, which is the political consequence instead of an act or representation. my argument here is for complicated partisan reason, popular portrayals of johnson's impeachment helps ingrain the belief impeachment and conviction should occur for legal transgression. it is certainly plausible to claim founding fathers thought they could be impeached for reasons legal and political. for instance, high misdemeanors could include the president the hope was that the senate could determine if someone was unfit for office in a bipartisan way. remember, this opposition grew
at a time when it was supported studied battling radicals who threatened the welfare through partisanship and bad government, but what about the recent studies? there are a lot of them that ofnowledge the possibility conviction without the legal transgression and an asked him is ad announced johnson terrible president. and they say it was his politics, not the radicals, threatening the republic. and now i want to bring three studies, all good, very good. you should read them. now, all of these were lessons from johnson's impeachment. but not one agreed he should of been convicted. he said a failure to convict johnson offers unappreciated lessons.
what is that? although impeachment proceedings are intensely political, they are also technical and legalistic. that's a good lesson. if you want to impeach, that is a good case. say johnson was impeached for one reason, violating the tenure of office act, which was purely partisan. johnson was a terrible president, but his impeachment violated the constitutional plan. his impeachment was unconstitutional, even farcical, an example of what the united states should avoid. meacham says johnson's trial offers a lesson for today, which we're in a world where national division in the attempt to remove a president. and then he concluded, without a clear violation of law, the senate rightly decided the
voters acting through the electoral process, not lawmakers, were to determine the occupancy of the presidency. let me respond. it is true, the house was a mess. the republicans themselves were divided over whether the violation of the law was needed. but some saw it wrong with firing stanton as the sole reason. they accuse johnson of bringing the presidency into it, -- into contempt, ridicule, and disgrace. the 11th article combined legal and political arguments, including the claim johnson was not properly executing the reconstruction act. what about meacham? sounds reasonable. leave it up to the voters. the reconstruction act reminded the question of the time, who were the voters? johnson was pardoning x -- ex-confederates, letting them vote. the reconstruction act tried to
reverse that. i want to turn to a historian, much more than allan nevins and john kennedy, profile and courage. that's david donald. remember at that time, johnson was considered a good president. for the american heritage, he wrote an essay called why they impeach andrew johnson. and donald details how his ineptitude destroyed any chance of bringing the nation together in a way that would have brought justice to the south and african-americans. i'm going to quote at length from donald because his voice doesn't get hurt as much as it should. johnson was indifferent. he never learned the president of the united states cannot er.ord to be a quarrel johnson continued to make speeches from the white house.
all too often, he spoke and permitted hecklers. you can see why i felt i needed to quote a little bit from this. andrew johnson never learned that the president of the united states must function as a party leader. while making up his mind, he seemed receptive to all ideas. when he made a decision, his mind was closed and he defended his course with all the obstinacy of a weasel. as charles sumner put it, no longer sympathetic or even kindly, he was harsh, petulant, and unreasonable. according to donald, promptness publicity, and persuasion could presidentiald following. instead, johnson boggled. after noting historians who dismiss charges against johnson as flimsy and false, donald concludes by insisting before the bar of history is over, impeachednson must be
with the graver charge. he threw away an opportunity. i'm going to start drawing towards my conclusion with donald's words and mine. one of the points i've been trying to make is, while the dismissal didn't originate with reconstruction, it is not an accident the law on impeachment arose during reconstruction, which for years was condemned as partisan misrule by radicals. to be sure, in the post trump world, more are acknowledging the legitimacy of considering some political factors, but what does their failure to make a case for johnson's conviction tells about reconstruction status in the national memory? meacham helps us answer that in the middle of an essay, not of the end. he says, the fate of reconstruction hinged on whether sumner's political argument would meet the definition of an impeachable defense. remember what he concludes, no, it did not. we should leave it to the voters, implying he would allow
reconstruction to go, according to the logic. of course, meacham exaggerates, and convicting johnson would not have made reconstruction a success. but johnson was threatening the welfare of the republic more than radicals. was it a weak case that it was impeachable? that charge was imposed by someone who tried to limit partisanship and politics through civil service reform. it was he who sponsored the bill that created the justice department. to me, the charge was not farcical, nor was it a vague allegation and political rhetoric. the reason it failed was that one too many senators look for, or could hide behind his standard of finding a clear violation of law. to be sure, an argument can be
made that proceeding with impeachment was unwise because with johnson about to end his term, it would've caused unnecessary division. but that is a political consideration. in the meantime, the narrative still lives, in which the radical republican were so partisan and could even role -- rule well enough to handle impeachment. of fakes article allegations echoes, vague allegations on kennedy's charge, echo kennedy's charge. jeffrey engel resurrects the account with high praise. he mentioned trumped up charges by considering their consciences and constituents. last friday on cnn, i watched a special on the history of impeachment and all the experts ande partisanship reigned
there were no grounds for impeachment. for me, the treatment of johnson's impeachment suggests reconstruction remains an unfinished revolution in part because when it is not absent from public memory, it is often misremembered. thank you. [applause] i'm happy to take questions. we have some time. >> actually, i'm going to ask you to sit down. we have questions for both panelists. >> ok. >> can you live with that? >> sure. >> ok, anyhow, are there people who would like to come up and ask questions? there's a microphone over there. >> i'm shocked. i'm going to ask one of brooke,
which is, as most political historians who have argued that the real reason for the defeat of the impeachment was the fact that the person who would succeed johnson was ben wade of ohio, who was despised by an enormous number of people in the senate, including fellow radical republicans, and that radical republicans pushing for grant to be the nominee in 1868 did not want to deal with the incumbent, ben wade, so it was easier to stomach johnson for less than another year until another president came into office. >> if i had a longer talk, i would have tried to include that. again, if i had a longer talk, i
would have tried to include that. he is absolutely right. obviously, it is more complicated. because there is no vice havedents, ben wade would taken over as president for that short time. there may be two or three votes, and you only need one. in the film, they have a figure for wade. when johnson says, between him and me, and he starts laughing, they'll never impeach. the film is accurate about that, somewhat. >> no questions? no comments? does anyone have further comment for randy kennedy? i can bring him up here, as well. if not, we get to leave a few minutes early. i want to thank everybody.
i want to thank chuck and lauren, who are in the back. i'd like them to stand one more time for applause. [applause] and the rest of the u.s. historical society because they're the ones that made this happen. i thank all of you for coming and next year, probably pretty much the same time, possibly even the same place, there will be another conference as the u.s. capital historical society does its best to educate the american people on the history that has helped take us to where we are today. thank you very much. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] if you like american history tv, keep up with us during the
week on facebook, twitter, and youtube. learn about what happened this day in history and see preview clips of upcoming programs. istory.us at -- @cspanh >> sunday on book tv at noon eastern, in depth is live with evan thomas, author and biographer, his first book is sandra day o'connor. >> she picked her jobs. she knew and you had to stand up to somebody and also when you had to retreat to fight again another day and to avoid controversy. all the while, able to make very, very pragmatic, practical, skills she brought to the u.s. supreme court. >>'s other books include the wisemen, and being nixon. join our live interactive conversation with your phone calls, tweets, and facebook questions. watch in depth, live with evan thomas, sunday from noon to 2:00 p.m. eastern on booktv on c-span2. is the 75th
anniversary of the allied d-day invasion of nazi-occupied france. this weekend on oral histories, world war ii veteran david roderick talks about landing on utah beach on d-day and the casualties on the following days. here is a preview. >> i arrived in the third wave, so d-day was at 6:30. i got in about 8:00. fighting in, the the fortifications had already been taken place, so the only thing i had worried about was artillery. and snipers. beach lost one man on the , and he was shot right between the eyes with the sniper. the next day i lost eight, which was half my men.
and that is one of the things that concerns me about the media and so forth when they show d-day, usually they talk about omaha and the carnage that was there, which there was, but they make it look like we did not have any difficulty. there right197 men on the beach on d-day, but the attacked, wen we lost 50% of our men within three days or four days. entire interview with world war ii veteran david roeder eric, sunday at --sundayl histories. you are watching american history tv. only on c-span3. >> former colonial williamsburg interpreters talk about bringing history to life.
include american civil war museum ceo and the national museum of african american history curator. the colonial williamsburg foundation hosted this and it -- event. good evening. i am the vice president of the historical interpretation division. it is my pleasure to welcome you. the word welcome has a great deal of importance for colonial williamsburg. we have been welcoming guests to come and learn since 1932. 40 years ago, the foundation recognized we were only telling half of the story. determination, and courage and perseverance, programming was designed by our panelists tonight so that we could tell the whole story of our 18th-century community.