Skip to main content

tv   Book TV  CSPAN  April 9, 2011 8:00am-9:00am EDT

8:00 am
this is good for you. well, long after the issues that haven't been talked about have been forgotten. and long after the platforms no one reads have been smothered in dust, long after the scripted debates have drifted from memory, these images will remain. the family scrapbook of the 2011 election worth 300 million, avatar redux, you betcha. for national, i'm rex murphy. ..
8:01 am
>> thank you very much. i get lots of good questions and we will save time at the end. this is an interesting occasion for me. this is the first time i have been in front of an audience talking about andrew johnson and forgive me if i say jefferson occasionally. when i was writing that dispelled check to make sure i didn't have jefferson when i should have had johnson because the temptation was quite a great. if somebody had told me a number of years ago at any point in my life that i would write a book about andrew johnson of would have told them they were crazy. not that i don't think he is an interesting person. he is an interesting person and not that i didn't know anything about him but for most of my career as a historian at tried to avoid the period of reconstruction. it sounds strange for someone who writes about slavery, which
8:02 am
is a difficult topic to write about but i find it easier to deal with the seventeenth century and 18th-century and attitudes about race and slavery than i do dealing with reconstruction. there's something about it that is just maddening to me. i think what it is is that it was a moment of opportunity. the people in the seventeenth and eighteenth century who have very primitive ideas about many things in the world. there are lots of things they don't know. i cannot totally forgive them but it is not as irritating or exasperatingly to me as the period of time when you have photographs, trains, things that are part of the modern era and you feel closer to those people of that time period. they seem more like us than someone in the eighteenth century or the seventeenth century when i'm writing about the development of slavery in virginia or writing about
8:03 am
jefferson's monticello. when i read about reconstructionist moment of hope it makes me angry. i am able to be detached the further back you go but that moment makes me really angry when i think about what could have happened and what did not happen and our close we were to a period of time when we really could have done something to begin the process of racial healing, the process of making america really one for every one. johnson would not have been my topic of choice. i read about the era because i have to but i would never have thought i would actually study it and write a very much about it but i got a phone call one morning from our tours schlesinger jr. telling me that i was going to be getting a letter from him and talking in general and i did get this letter in which he asked me to write the biography of andrew
8:04 am
johnson for the american president series which is a very nice series, short, concise books about american presidents and they get people who actually fit. joyce appleby did thomas jefferson and she is a great jefferson scholar. gary hart did a book. george mcgovern did lincoln. it is a mix of historians and non historians looking at these presidencies telling the basic stories but also giving your own individual spin on it. and he asked me to do the johnson book and i guess he figured i would put my individual spin on it. i agreed to do it because arthur asked me to endow ahead great respect for him. a new him from the papers of thomas jefferson on the advisory committee and paul was the general series editor of the series, was my editor on the
8:05 am
book i did with vernon jordan. you know how it is when friends ask you to do things. who asked me to do this. i put aside my misgivings. i knew it was a fascinating topic. so much material and very rich but i wondered if i would be able to curb my natural feelings of antipathy about living at this particular period in american history and i agreed to do it. that was many years ago. this book is long overdue. in between saying i would do that i wrote monticello which took a lot of time and energy and i came back to this and finished it and i am very glad that i did. the first thing i had to do was think about how do i approach this? andrew johnson is not known by lots of people. one thing people probably do know is in almost every of
8:06 am
rankings of american presidents he is at the bottom. he is in the bottom 5. since 1997 apart dissipated in the surveys and sometimes i look get the results. he is usually in the bottom five. buchanan is usually worse but he is in the bottom five. in this past year when i didn't participate in the survey-this time because i was too busy he made it last. just in time for the book. this year the worst. once you get down to that point it is splitting hairs to think about the real story with that but it is a difficult issue because out the sit down and write a book about someone who is judged the worst of anything?
8:07 am
just because he is the worst does not mean he wasn't important. he was president in a pivotal period of american history. there was a moment when the country could have gone one way or the other way and he had a role to play in that and it came to me that it is very important to focus on the life of andrew johnson because i believe some of the decisions that he made during that time period affect us even today. the choices he made and did not make, his attitude and leadership style, all those things helped make us who we are and for those reasons we have to pay attention to it and i say in the book history is not just about all the people you like. would you spend time with, put us on the path where we are.
8:08 am
he is definitely a person at that roll. once i made my mind to do that, it was relatively easy to sit down and get to work and tell the story in the way that eliminates what american life is like and what it was like at a time andrew johnson lived. johnson is different from jefferson in many ways. johnson didn't learn to write until he was in his late teens. his wife taught him how to write. reading and writing were different in that time. they were separate. they were taught to read, so they would read the bible. they did not necessarily go
8:09 am
together. we have no record of them riding. that would have posed a problem. even though he learned to write he was never comfortable doing it. at one point later on he mentioned he hurt his arm and explained that as the reason he didn't write but most people think it was because he was self-conscious about it. most of his life he was self-conscious about it. if you look at the papers of andrew johnson, many more letters to andrew johnson than andrew johnson to other people. that is a problem for a biographer right there. we don't have his inner voice. with jefferson you have 18,000 letters he wrote over a period of his life, and other
8:10 am
documents. even though he remains an in a glut to lots of people there is enough there to craft what he is thinking or feeling and who he was. we didn't really have it to the same extent and the letters we have that show when he is a young man lots of misspellings and phonetics spellings of things and it is difficult to wrap your mind -- for me it was difficult to wrap my mind around who he really was. you just don't have the record you would typically have. not just jefferson but other people who were president. just not there. that is a big problem. because we don't have lots of his letters and there's not a huge repository of him explaining what he is doing we don't have a lot of stories about him. there's another biography, the
8:11 am
principal biographer of andrew johnson unfortunately died last year. i was hoping to finish this book can show it to him because he is the one who went out and wrote a 500 page book about johnson that he covered lot of territory. my job was to cover the same territory more concisely and also put my view of johnson on to the picture. people tend to repeat when they're doing smaller or general biographys, there's not much more. my expertise or study of race relations and slavery in that period comes in andy. interesting to think about the beginning of america and come to a point focusing on a time when america fall apart and has to be
8:12 am
put back together. we start with this material that is not as a voluminous as i am used to. how does somebody like this go from being illiterate, parents were very pour, someone at the highest office in the land. he is born in north carolina and to parents who were illiterate. his father died when he was 3. his mother was a seamstress and also worked in other people's homes. these are things that cause a lot of talk. maybe andrew johnson was not the son of his father. that he was illegitimate. , have gotten some criticism for mentioning this in the book even though he mentions it as well.
8:13 am
what i tried to do is i wanted to talk about the context. to say something about how class affected people who viewed andrew johnson from the very beginning. because his mother worked outside the home, worked as an made in someone's home people felt free to say things like that about the family. i really doubt if she had been a married woman. mary, quote, respectable middle-class woman if those rumors were openly spoken about during that time period. from the very beginning it is not that he was poor. it is that his family was seen as marginal. there's a difference between what people would call the deserving poor, people who were seen as marginal. she married again, his mother remarried a man who was as poor as she. doesn't really improve their
8:14 am
circumstances vary much. it gets so bad she has to apprenticed her children. andrew johnson was apprenticed to taylor when he was 10 years old. he was supposed to be in the apprenticeship until he was 21. why he would take that long to become a taylor and he didn't, it didn't take that long to become very good. he is apprentice to taylor and actually runs away. he and his brother run away and there is an ad. the language of it i reproduced in the book. basically a runaway at that you expect to see people more familiar with with runaway slaves. capture him and bring him back and pay the reward. this is a future president of the united states. this is what happens to him. he runs away. he doesn't come back.
8:15 am
he goes off, and another taylor shop and becomes a very good at his job and even has an older man when he was a politician, he makes soup for people as a gift. a taylor is not a masculine thing to do but that was a way of giving gifts to people. a very practical and real world. it is very intent that he had. he starts out very low. one thing he talks about is comparing him to lincoln who he unfortunately -- it is really tough. lincoln was a tough act to follow. all the same survey is i talked about, he is always mentioned as the best. you go from number one, the best
8:16 am
to the worst in one terrible moment. you go from lincoln to andrew johnson so he suffers by comparison. that part of it is not just that he had failings which we talk about but he came after someone who was amazing to people in good ways and bad for the people who hated him. a very towering figure to andrew johnson. we have these humble origins that seem to make him in some ways -- it strengthened lincoln. hardship can strengthen people in a particular way in empathy, vision and so forth. looking down on people being fought of as trash, made him hard and lots of ways.
8:17 am
you would think he would be sympathetic to black people. make you look for someone to look down on. he took comfort in saying many poor southern whites, i may not have very much but i am white and that is better than these people over there. it is over there or underwear, that seems to be the tack he took an life to the detriment of his own personal demons really ended up in the united states of america. he is a very smart person, men
8:18 am
would come to the tailor shop to read to the taylor. people in the shop for the first time who can't read at a man would come and read a book of speeches, he kept the book and gave him the book. he would go back and read this book of speeches and he realized because he gets into debate and of the shop to do the equivalent of taking an outside and firmly they invite people to watch them argue and it becomes clear he has a talent and the talent is public speaking. that links him to lincoln. he was a different speaker. he could be very rough. he was sarcastic and aggressive and people haven't really seen anything like it and so his fame
8:19 am
grew. people suggested he might stand for office which he did. he was very ambitious. a good businessman even though he started poor. he made the right investments and actually battered himself financially and went into politics and climbed the ladder people every round of the ladder he was on it up to the present. it was an interesting thing, and interesting comment on american life that someone could start off as low as he did and go to where he went. even though i can be hard on him in the book there is no question he was an extraordinary person. my editor said that all of these things that were done, he said all these people are extraordinary. to make it to the presidency is not like someone is sitting around one day and said okay, i
8:20 am
am going to the white house. there is something there. other people see something in that person and a person sees something in himself. and he says i should go forth, i should be at the top and he was like that himself. so the book describes this sense and how he fashioned himself, tried to fashion himself after his hero and rejects and. he comes of age during the age of jackson. he is a unionist. he is for the common man. he campaigns for the homestead act. a lot of things seem very progressive and populist and yet populism -- it is a double-edged sword. a lot of times populists are in favor of measures you would
8:21 am
think would be progressive. he is for the homestead act, giving poor people land. he wanted public education. he was always a champion of public education thinking back on his own life, he wanted a better shot for people. he only wanted that -- he was for the homes that act. when reconstruction came there was a time to get land reform, republicans in congress wanted land reform in the south to give them land to give them the kind of independence that johnson understood was needed. that is what land meant. you don't work for people you can grow your own food and subsist on your own plot. he didn't want that for blacks.
8:22 am
this populist part, be racist part inhibited his thoughts about how this might be expanded to include everybody in america. he makes his political run at thinking of himself as a champion of the common man. he is for the union. he has no truck whatsoever with secessionists. he alienated even before the war, he alienated people like jefferson davis because of his support for the homestead act. the planters did not like the idea of giving poor white people land. they would have used the term but they thought this is like welfare. why are you giving these people land below market rates? why don't they work for it? why do they deserve this? but he was all for it.
8:23 am
from the beginning there was recalcitrants about this, his antipathy towards southern planters. he came up making enemies all along the way. lincoln gets on the ticket because clinton decides he wants to signal to the south that there's a future. the north and east of have a future together. it was a symbolic gesture of unity for him to peck from the border states from tennessee. he moved to tennessee to put them together. even though the south is not participating in elections i am willing to have a southern ticket. one of these days we can get back together again. lincoln replaceds him with hamlin from maine who didn't give him any political clout. this person started out
8:24 am
illiterate but until manhood is vice president of the united states and people hated that. many people said he is not the kind of man who should be in this office. when you read these things and i even feel a bit sorry for him as you hear people ragging on him but at the inauguration he is drunk. he comes to the inauguration. he had been ill and in those days they thought whiskey with a cure for everything. they think that now. he drank too much whiskey. it would have been amazing if something like that happened today. you can imagine on youtube and cable tv and everything. people said we told you, you put people in those positions this is what they will do.
8:25 am
lincoln did this, people said you should dump them. he said he is not a drunk, he will be fine. he ascends to the presidency. mortify doesn't even describe it. the country was traumatized. people in the north were traumatized. people in the south may have been happy about it but not celebrating because they had been defeated in war and bryn no position to really gloat about something like that even if anyone were inclined to do it. it was a traumatic time period. and johnson has to rise to the occasion. during those days, he actually does rise to the occasion. all the things -- the performance, vice president has gone away. he knows what to do is
8:26 am
ceremonially. he rises to the occasion. there is a honeymoon for him for a time period. until they get into reconstruction. this is the part of the story that i tried to avoid. when they begin to realize that he is not going to have any support whatsoever, the notion of black political rights or any right for the friedman after that -- free men after the civil war. he grudgingly accepted abolition. he was a slaveholder himself. he was not a large scale slaveholder. but he did have slaves. he was a supporter of slavery. he was adamant about black inferiority. he said everybody has to admit white people are superior to blacks. we should try to raise them up but as we raise the mop we should raise ourselves even
8:27 am
further so that the distance would always be the same. that was his plan. he said this is a white man's government and will remain a white man's government. when somebody says that out loud and says it adamantly over and over again and you have a policy from the republicans in congress that blacks vote and land reform and some sort of political life for black people you realize the president and congress are at loggerheads and that is what it was all about. his vision of this off, bringing this of back into the union did not encompass anything about changing black people's status beyond taking them out of legal slavery. that was a battle joined between him and the republicans and would eventually lead to his impeachment. one person who was a biographer of johnson started the book out lamenting the fact that when
8:28 am
people write about johnson all they care about our reconstruction and impeachment. but mainly reconstruction. then he says you know what? there's not much else. he had this grand plan to talk about all the other aspect of andrew johnson's presidency but reconstruction, we by alaska during this time period. there are problems in mexico we have to deal with but those things were handled by his secretary of state. most of his time was spent on reconstruction and trying to thwart the efforts of republican members of congress who wanted to transform the south. he believed that the south really had not succeeded. secession was illegal and because it was illegal they had never left. jefferson davis was not really a president, there was no confederate states of america. that did not exist and because it didn't exist once the war is over and you bring everybody
8:29 am
back in it is like rewinding the tape except for the slavery part. take the slavery of but the south goes back to exactly what it was before fort sumter. before there was any conflict at all. that is a tough position to think of. four million people had been freed at this point. what do you do with them? there were people who realized they were called for something but he said no. the constitution does not allow what you are attempting to do. he was a proponent of the constitution. he saw himself as the guardian of the constitution but he had what i college cafeteria style approach to the constitution. things he liked were constitutional. things he didn't like were
8:30 am
unconstitutional. the constitution clearly says congress has the right to set rules for the governance and everything having to do with the district of columbia. so when congress gives black people the right to vote he vetoes it and says it is unconstitutional. this is not even some kind of interpretation of it. you get a sense of what constitutionalism means to him. 5 like it is constitutional live i don't it is not. so he thought he was in the right protecting the constitution. republicans fought wait a minute, something has to change. we have to transform the south. you can't have people just wandering around. i don't know what he thought they wanted other than than they would be under the domination of whites. he does something that surprises people. he hated the southern grandee plantation owners and wanted to punish them. he thought they had led the
8:31 am
south into war. he has a strange notion that southern planters, large-scale platters and slaves were in a conspiracy against 4 white people. so he blamed them for the war. that the blacks and enslaved people and their masters. they were in league trying to keep poor whites down. he talked about punishing these people but then he realized my greater enemy is not those southern people, the southern planters that rich aristocrats. my enemies are the people of the north. the republicans who want to change the south. what he opted to do was to put them back in power. not only does he try to thwart radical republicans but puts all the people -- he helps to put back into power all the people who had been in power before the war. the very people who he called traitors and said he wanted to
8:32 am
punish. he brought them back, didn't require -- the of people had to swear to, so that they had never -- loyalty oath. he dispensed with those and put them back into power. finally the republicans get angry about this and bring on the impeachment which was -- remains a drastic remedy according to most americans. we have only done this twice in our history. tours try to remove a president from office. he is survived a conviction in the senate by one vote. people think that really we could talk a little bit about this in the question and answer period. people felt that he only had a year or so more to go on his term and would be out any way. the second thing was the person
8:33 am
taking over from him, ben wade, while i radical who believe in things like women voting which of course made him a martian. what would have come after him and the fact that he didn't have long to go on his term and some other things he made deals with people, they voted -- he escaped conviction by one vote. he is nevertheless a ruined president after that. he keeps vetoing bills the girl and has hopes of making a come back but his real plan was to unite conservatives in the north and south to create another political party to try to take the country back. that was his idea that had gotten away from him. he needed the most conservative people wherever they lived regardless of party to band together and take back the
8:34 am
country. it didn't work. he leaves office. he can't -- the democrats at this time are not democrats as you note like now, the parties have flipped from where they were. they didn't trust him and the republicans were not going to have him. he goes back to tennessee and begins to plot his vindication. he runs for office. he is unsuccessful at first but is returned to the senate. he sees this as the vindication that he was right all along. he goes into a body that tried to kick him out and he is there for a few months and dies in 1875 of a stroke on a trip back to tennessee. it is an amazing story of a person who as i said is enigmatic and probably will be forever closed to us in some
8:35 am
really significant way just because we don't have his voice very much. there is some question about his formal papers. how many of those things were prepared by other people. we certainly don't have the day to day statements from him, few anecdotes from family about him. the andrew johnson homestead has a website that has information about him as a slaveholder. but not huge rings of material about this person who as i said was one of the most significant effect on american life of anybody during american history even though he has a judge--he is judged the worst president. thurgood marshall in one of his cassettes, he wrote -- not sure -- he said if america had done
8:36 am
what it was supposed to have done during this time period, he talks about this reconstruction period as a point of lost opportunity. and i think you can -- you cannot blame one person for all the good that happened or all the bad that happens. this is my approach in the book. the president is the leader of the country, the symbolic leader. people in times of crisis don't look to the supreme court or the congress. the president is the energy of the government and the president exerciseds actual leadership and symbolic leadership. the kind of leadership he exhibited during this time period wasn't enough -- he didn't ruin everything all by himself but he made it much more difficult for the right thing to be done and that is the real tragedy of this presidency.
8:37 am
that is why more people should know about andrew johnson because i really do believe he helped to make us who we are today. think about land reform. think about the difference in wealth, the production of wealth in the black community and former slaves that have land. the difference between owning your own property and renting it from someone else. people say yes but we got something good. we got the fourteenth amendment because his recalcitrance about all the laws that congress was passing, all those things, forced them into passing of a fourth amendment. that is a good thing but think about the loss -- all the losses. if he had not opposed land reform or black political rights. the blacks had been exercising political rights from the 1860s or had land from 1860 as opposed to what happened.
8:38 am
he set us back. he sent the country back and sent a black people back tremendously because of the failure of his leadership. from the way he exercised his leadership, he wanted to preserve the country as a white man's government and he was able to do that for a long time and in historical circles until the civil-rights movement he was seen by many as a good president. if you read the done in school of historians out of colombia and other places who championed johnson as a hero who helped stave off need rules, worthless negro rule in the south essentially. that historical school existed in the 20th century. w. e. b. du bois wrote black reconstruction and set the record straight.
8:39 am
there are other people and once he did that other people took a second look at reconstruction. if you see birth of the nation, they have a blacks in congress, these are the most agitated people, these are educated men, talented people in this office and the holders of the nation, dunning school business, propped up and read johnson because it made it look like his attitudes were the correct ones. certainly by the civil-rights movement people began to take a look at reconstruction and understood that he was more of a problem than any kind of solution. i am glad, even though it took me a long time to do it, difficult to write about someone
8:40 am
-- you can hold him responsible for a lot of bad things but you have to have enough detachment to present his good points as well as his bad points and i hope i managed to do that. i make strongly the case that he is a figure we cannot ignore. we can explain a lot about who we are by looking at his life and the kind of things -- the trajectory of his life. in good way and that way is. with that i would like to take your questions. [applause] >> thank you very much.
8:41 am
>> do you see any parallels in the take back the country movement of johnson's time and the tea party and sarah palin? >> in the sense that americans revere the constitution and some people say too much. it is almost like a sacred text. any time we are in trouble and anytime we want to make a point we use the constitution, not as much as they should but people on the left hook to the constitution as a protector. i think it is different because -- both regions -- certainly the
8:42 am
south decimated and this was doing more time. this was not life during wartime. we have wars going overseas. this is hyperbole at this point. the country hasn't gone anywhere. that took up arms against each other and fought one another, the other serious life and death issues. it is not as serious as the time period those people were in. it is rhetoric. it is not that people don't have legitimate concerns that they are serious about, but we're talking about life and death in the south. a big book and reconstruction,
8:43 am
pointing to material about what was going. this guy talked about going to a village in texas, a town in texas, they were hanging from trees, rivers of bodies floating, after the war was over people turned on blacks and tried to reassert their control. they were planned for keeps back then. i don't know what this is. it doesn't compare to that even though they might think it does. >> another question? >> thank you for coming to the library of philadelphia and your excellent talk. can you talk about education? i never understood why the radical republicans didn't press and push more resources into providing education for the free
8:44 am
slaves? >> they did through the freemen's bureau. a really poignant story about little kids and grown people, everybody -- that is when they tried to do but those schools were attacked. night riders, people who tried to be teachers in them, there was a lot of thought\-- there was a lot of backlash. the schools, higher education, howard university started by general howard, they tried to do that but in a lot of places they were not in control and certainly wants the military leaves, education becomes more sketchy during that time period. they tried but there was lots of
8:45 am
violent opposition in many places. >> lady on our left in the third row. >> win did johnson free his slaves or did he free them? >> after the end of the war they become free. that is it. he may have read a couple before then but not until afterward. >> what do you think about johnson's argument that secession was -- >> lincoln said that too. that it is illegal. that secession was illegal and the reason he said it was because if secession is illegal then the president exerciseds his power under the powers to quell rebellion and so forth. if secession is illegal--legal and they left venue could say they are like territories and
8:46 am
congress will the territory. as a matter of the separation of powers it was a political -- political argument. but again lincoln died so we don't know what he would have done or what he really thought. he said that was an abstraction. johnson took it very much to heart. he was very literal minded on that. what i think is that -- if they thought they could leave they left. jefferson davis did set up a government. it is hard for me to pretend that they were not real. when they had wasn't a real thing. they should have been governed as territories and they should have kept military rule over them a lot longer than they did to actually reconstruct them. understand the legal argument
8:47 am
about it but practically, realistically, they set up their own government and stopped participating and went their own separate way for time period. >> in the third row? >> what was the base of support for johnson? he was regarded as a trader to southern diehards. and an unreliable president. >> while he is president? while he is president he didn't have that much support. he gets to be president because lincoln gets killed. and this point -- he tries to make a face of these conservatives by being lenient
8:48 am
with the former southern planters. he tried to butter them up by not punishing them away he said he was going to. he wanted to build his party and was successful in doing it. public opinion varied about him. sometimes they liked him and sometimes they hated him but once it was clear he was not going to go along with reconstruction they uniformly hated him. that is why he couldn't get a nomination certainly after the impeachment no one wanted him back but he really didn't have much support. he spent much of his presidency trying to build that by currying favor with southerners and sometimes appearing lenient tuned northerners but it didn't work. he pleased nobody. he tried to be everything to all people and ended up no place until he managed at the end to get back to the senate for a
8:49 am
brief period of time. he was a good politician to a degree because he couldn't have come from nowhere to where he went but once he got into office it was like he was out of his league. he was out of his depth. he ended up without many friends at all. >> four rows back in the middle. do you think he was a tragic figure? >> do i think he was a tragic figure? bosh. i think he was a tragedy. for the country. a tragic figure? i can't find anything about him -- he didn't seem to have had a visible sense of humor. i would think he is a tragic
8:50 am
figure. i am trying to think -- you think like somebody who has a grand persona and is brought down. i do think in a sense he is tragic because he wanted desperately to rise and he did rise and at -- it is an amazing story. you can't read into your 19 years old and then you are president. the group, b tenacity which served him well. that is why he was able to stay committed to the union. the tremendous personal sacrifice. there are many people who wanted to kill him. i don't know how much self awareness he had. that is why i am hesitating about this. you think of a tragic figure. tragic figures i think you have evidence that they have some
8:51 am
awareness of the tragedy. i think he died thinking he was vindicated and had done the right thing. he was a really upset about the impeachment and his failure to get the nomination again but i think he thought he was successful because he was. he really did save his region from being transformed. this wasn't until 1965. so he actually could count himself a success in a way for along period of time. looking at him, if he had been a real statesmen, he didn't have to do everything the radical republicans wanted. but he could have been a great president. if he made the right choice, the i will give you an example. this is very telling about him.
8:52 am
at one point in his early career there was a proposal to bring the railroad to eastern tennessee. even though his constituents wanted it, he opposed the railroad because if you brought the railroad people would get to where they are going so quickly that you want and need anything. in and taverns. so not to put in and taverns out of business you can have a railroad. that makes sense in a way except towns along railroad routes, people had to walk places. when he leaves tennessee he walks. he walks 70 miles. they talk about dodging mountain lions and stuff. you have a sense of this lack of
8:53 am
vision in a way. but if you don't know where you are deficient it is hard for me to think of you as a tragic figure and as i said because he was successful he actually did stave off the transformation of the south for many decades. i don't think he would tell himself as a tragic figure. >> somebody who would walk 14 miles to go to an election. >> in the snow. you talked about -- >> where are you? >> you talk a little bit about his family when he was young. tell us more about his family life as he became an adult? >> his wife taught him to read and write. we don't know that much about her.
8:54 am
she was an invalid for many years and did not accompany him to the white house. did not stay with him in the white house most of the time. his daughter served as the first lady most of the time because she was ill. he was someone who seemed consumed by work. he without giving speeches all the time. he was running for office. he was plotting and planning. you don't get a sense that much of his family life other than he was married with three sons and a daughter. one of his sons committed suicide. he was an apology. that was a great tragedy in his life. a reference to one of the enslaved women, there's no proof
8:55 am
of -- the only thing is, 16 years old. he has two children, must have been the sense -- meaning they were mixed race kids and they talked about that. some people criticize me about mentioning that. someone who wrote about his racial views talks about this in other articles as well. here is a person enslaved in their household. i thought was important to mention that even as a possibility. out of concern of the lives -- in that time period. we don't know that he was but when you talk about slavery talk about the aspects of that, not just buying and selling that.
8:56 am
in comparison to jefferson where you have letters back and forth with fathers and daughters and grandchildren and those things and people commented on him. he liked children. one of the people who was the son of the person who was enslaved and one of his slaves, he liked children. he was able to apparently be childlike with children but you don't get a sense of him as a warm and funny person otherwise. >> we have time for one more question.
8:57 am
>> you may not want to answer this or respond to this but have you ever speculated as to whether a different kind of johnson could have succeeded, vastly rearranging the events of the last half of the nineteenth century? >> sure. and i think he could have. a different kind of johnson would not have to go along with everything the republicans wanted to do. one thing he did do that i tried to convey and talk about in the book is his recalcitrance gave aid and comfort to southerners. and people said we would have accepted anything in the aftermath of the board.
8:58 am
we would have accepted any terms but he gave us hope of a white man's government. so we knew to hold out. so i think the role he played, the symbolic role of the president as leader was important. if he had not strenuously opposed voting rights, if he had not sabotaged efforts to bring about land reform, not to say the south would have -- but when you have the enemy down, when you have got them down, that is when you impose terms and move forward. numerous people said his actions emboldened them to be
8:59 am
recalcitrant. to clamped down any move for transformation. it would not have been the land of milk and honey. the south had accepted blacks as equal citizens but would not have been as bad as it was. a lessening of the -- any lessening of the oppression would have made a big difference. so i have thought about it and i think his particular brand of presidential leadership was toxic. it is important for us to think about where we are. to go back -- that is the importance of history. to go back and see how this got started and where we began to go wrong and what kinds of remedies we need to take. it could have been different. history is about contingencies. we ended up with a person strong enough to stand for union and


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on