tv Impeachment of Andrew Johnson in Popular Culture CSPAN August 14, 2019 7:28pm-8:01pm EDT
professor brook thomas delivered a talk title "the politics of popular portrayals of andrew johnson's impeachment" professor thomas discussed three examples, the 19th 1905 novel "the clansman" , 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 in courage". this event was part of a symposium on reconstruction hosted by the u.s. capital historical society. brooke thomas is a professor in the english department at the university of california irvine. i think you just took emeritus status? which means he now 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. he was here a couple of years
ago. and i am honored that he is back today. >> [ applause ] >> thank you. i'm going to get about 25 minutes, i hope you have time for question and answer. reconstruction is a lie in the popular memory. largely through its portrayal in popular media. i want to look at the politics of the portrayal, of andrew johnson's impeachment. my primary work will be thomas dixon's "the politics of popular portrayals of andrew johnson's impeachment" one, john f. kennedy's "profiles in courage". my thesis is, that these works portray a radical reconstruction , and reinforce the once highly held belief that although clinical factors inevitably influenced impeachment, under high crimes and misdemeanors,
should occur only if there's been a legal transgression threatening the welfare of the republic. let's start with the 23. is me if you know, was a pulitzer prize winner 1957. with sketches of senators with personal cost, over partisan politics. there's one chapter on johnson's impeachment which is most of you know failed by conviction by just one vote. these are the illustrations kennedy has for this chapter. it lasted almost 2 months. and here is a cartoon of the senate chamber with the trial going on. edmund is kennedy's hero, this scanned the senator who sacrificed his career, and delivered a decisive vote to stave off conviction after johnson's impeachment on trumped up charges by fellow republicans.
the filling his sworn duty to follow the law, rather than been to pressure, he preserves the constitutional balance of power by keeping the presidents from becoming subservient to the legislative will. doing so he performed what one historian called the most heroic act in american history incomparably more difficult than any deed of valor upon the field of battle. in fact it was so valorous that he wrote his own account of the impeachment which you can still buy. this is a really nice story. of courage. bus, unquestionably accepting self-aggrandizing accounts kennedy ignored compelling is not certain evidence that the senator remained undecided to the last minute, because he was shopping his boat around for the highest bidder. although there was no indication that kennedy intentionally distorted the facts, there was ample political modification for him to highlight this alleged refusal to bow to political
pressure. kennedy of course, then senator kennedy, in 1957, at presidential ambitions. brown versus board of education he was aware that massachusetts would eventually need support to procure the democratic nomination. in 1957 it is important to remember, many americans consider johnson a hero. through kennedy. truman carrying out a family can's policies reconciliation with the defeated south, seeking to bind up the wounds of the nation and treat the south with mercy and fairness. johnson face the extremists in congress could already, those radicals passed legislation to administer the downtrodden southern states as conquered provinces. bill after bill was passed, was vetoed, on the grounds that they were unconstitutional, too harsh in the treatment of the south, or an unnecessary promulgation of military rule.
with the authority of the executive branch. those bills included company go back, 1866 civil rights act, which gave african-americans citizenship and basic economic rights, an extension of the freedoms. on the reconstruction act of 1867. they were of course always unfair to the south. is no accident that the villains in his best-selling portrayal, massachusetts own benjamin butler and charles sumner. described by kennedy respectively as the butcher of new orleans, and the south most in likable enemy who helped to make the reconstruction. a black nightmare the south would never forget. is a tax on these northerners, he assured some letters that this massachusetts politician could be trusted. and to add more to the politics of the time, if you can avert for a moment your eye away from the fact that this only cost
$.35, this addition, you might not be able to see this, the full addition written by this historian, alan evans was a pulitzer prize winning historian and he was not only he wrote the forward for the inaugural edition, he was the chairman of and he read the manuscript to make sure it was historically accurate. for him, this is what he has to say about reconstruction. it was a time of profligate debasement, when the back of the upper hand in congress. johnson was partly broken, sumner in contrast was an example of the false kind of courage that grew out of abolitionist fanaticism. this is just a sideline. unfortunately, foreign policy, this guy who had this reconstruction, is so influential with grants by the first today. that was a sidelight. the race is novel by thomas
dixon, "the clansman" , it omits the impeachment trial. but "the clansman" does kits for trail of the trial has similarity to profiles in courage, employing dramatic flair to tell the story of heroism. is not surprising because dixon relies on kennedy sources. he does have a somewhat different focus than kennedy. dixon lion ices law but he focuses on the character, thaddeus stevens, african- american rights was threatening the foundation of the public. this is how thaddeus stevens is illustrating, "the clansman" , of course, lincoln. stevens was so sick yet to allow butler to take over as the lead prosecutor and could not finish the one speech he tried to give. this needed a villain.
what a lot of mistress it was a prime architect of the black plague of reconstruction. for kennedy it was the black nightmare. now to the film. 9042, tennessee johnson, obviously, johnson is played by van heflin who just won an oscar. and the film acknowledges that its medium requires taking certain liberties. for instance, even though johnson did not appear at his own trial, in the film he comes in and gives a stirring defense. the film produces drama, by pitting johnson again stevens, displayed in a wheelchair by lionel barrymore who is perfectly cast after just having played a villain in it's a wonderful life. and the screenwriter had written the screenplay, for frankenstein. he was good at creating monsters. these are the three different works, they lost the similarities. but there are different states that they have the portrayals.
for kennedy, but was at stake was the checks and balances of government. the independence of the executive office as a coordinate branch of government was on trial. dixon, agreed with that. this is a chapter called the supreme test. he says almost exactly the same as kennedy, the partisan majority in congress and remove the executive and defy the spring court, the ability to make decisions without an in. the equality was in. the real supreme question was, will the u.s. remain a white republic? in the film, it also wants to rally support for the war effort. by stressing natural unity. how did he do that? it portrays an illiterate, johnson coming from north carolina, he learns how to read and write, becomes a spokesman for poor whites. and the poor whites would be, his hero was tennessee democrat
andrew jackson and he opposed lincoln in 1860. his love of the union made him loyal even when tennessee seceded causing lincoln to choose him as vice president in 1864. was president, he is committed to following lincoln's policies, rather than stevens average end, confiscation, suspension present this branch has been. you can see, or two, you're going to have, in times of crisis and war, you need to have north and south reconcile. and you need to have jacksonian democrats and ligonier republicans getting together. of course african-americans were needed for the war effort to. their plight is appropriated to bolster the films appeal to poor whites. the very first scene, johnson, runaway apprentice, fugitive, is a shekel in his life. and he is have that cut off. so he's the fugitive, shekel on the leg, if the poor white. he keeps a shekel all of his
life. and then when stevens comes in, when is president and offers to help them, i'll help you when the next election, if you support radical reconstruction. and johnson replies, he pulls off the shackle and says i've been chained before. and he promises he will will free southerners. imagine naacp was not so happy with this and they protested. they protested before the film even came out. how did that happen? a worker for mgm gave a copy of the script to the daily worker. and the daily worker passed it on to the office of war information and naacp. then pressured mgm to make changes before the film came out. influence by black reconstruction by dubois, the naacp sent a list of monica trail and elimination of demeaning portraits of african americans. mgm did not go as far as was hoped because they consulted a professor i won't name, who
advised that the original script was just confirmed by consensus. which was true at the time. yet some scenes that he cut were reshot making the more human. and many scenes with african americans were deleted. there are few in the film. historians of the civil rights movement had sometimes pointed to this alliance. as a strategy that would work in the civil rights movement. at the same time, conservatives even today point to this as an example of political correctness leading to censorship in hollywood. all three then, all agree on the politics of reconstruction and they all have a common source which is the impeachment trial of andrew johnson 1903. i will give you a sense of what
that agreement about what reconstruction was, people don't remember this. but they came back to the senate in 1875. this is to wit describing johnson's return. great as was his personal triumph, the triumph of his policy was more significant. one by one the africanized burrows despite support of the federal administration in the u.s. army, have fallen or are falling. soon no relic will remain of that empire. just give you a sense how long this you every construction lasted, in 1960, his book was praised by one of eric fromm's phd advisors. it is something of a classic. was excellent narrative account is not likely to need redoing for some time to come. it and if indeed ever. that was the reconstruction. now, not only was her agreement about the politics of reconstruction but about the politics of impeachment. which was all three pretrade
charges against johnson as politically motivated with no legal basis. what was legal basis? it was something known as tenure of office act. congress was trying to restrict johnson's power as much as they could. the part of the tenure of office x said senate approval was needed to remove a cabinet member that the president had appointed during his term with the advice of the senate. nonetheless, johnson, fired his secretary of war, stanton, who was a radical, to keep them from using the military to intervene in the south. johnson had some good attorneys. 's attorneys responded to the charge by saying stanton did not even come under the act, why? he was appointed by lincoln, johnson. and further, even if he did come under the act, the only reason that johnson was doing this was to get this report to rule the constitution constitutionality of the act.
that's a crucial question, any president defy a law in order to get a constitutional ruling? how is the legal issue represented? dixon avoids it. he highlights instead conspiracy theories, and there was one, johnson was helping john wilkes booth. and sensationalism, such as the involvement of a teenage sculptor. the other two actually do deal with the legal issue. although the film mistakenly says the tenure of office act for the dismissal of the cabinet men are appointed by lincoln, that's all right. they portray the tenure of office act, more or less accurately. more or less. delighting in knowing it was said to be unconstitutional in 1926 which is true, they fail to mention that brandeis and holmes dissented. how do we get to his notion of law versus politics of opposition? it was all politics.
for kennedy, and the film, it's a little more nuanced. i will let kennedy speak for the two of them. johnson's accusers said, did not give the president a fair trial on the formal issue, intended instead to depose him on any grounds real or imagined for refusing to accept the policy. what is left out of this popular account, which is still there today, was that many of those policy disagreements, had become law. and one of the charges against johnson, of the political not legal mystique, of not doing his constitutional duty to execute them. so at the time, there was a strong argument for political grounds for impeachment. here we go back to charles sumner. sumner once tried to get rid of the ultra college but it did not work. charles sumner who admits, his predictable bombast, is a point.
the fact that the house impeachment in the senate, the supreme court, in the case of the founding fathers, recognize the political -- why does the chief justice preside over? because the presiding officer of the senate could benefit from impeachment. you have to have another figure. he then cites hamilton it says you can have impeachment for abuse or violations of some public trust which is any capitalizes political. sumner then cites his mentor, joseph story, saying you can have impeachment for misconduct, gross neglect, or disregard in the discharge of duties of political office. he then cites the most famous constitutional historian of the time, curtis, who prior to the civil war had written that someone can be unfit for office where there is no offense against, been committed. for example, the immorality,
etc. then, we want to see how the politics played out in this impeachment, when curtis's brother benjamin, a former supreme court justice, and dissented in john scott became one of his attorneys, for political reasons, george changed his position. and said no, it has to be legal. and indeed, you have a quotation from some of the people then, voted not to convict who said judge curtis gave us the law, and we followed it. honestly i want to have us rethink this long-standing legal versus political opposition. to do so, you have to look at the different means. the opposition between legal and political grounds political is almost always a synonym for powder schism partisan. the art of the possible. in my title i use politics yet a third way which is as
political consequences of an act or representation of something. but argument is complicated, popular trails of johnson's impeachment help to ingrain the long-held belief that impeachment and conviction should occur only for illegal transgression. it is possible to claim that the founding fathers, someone entrusted with an important role in governing, could be impeached for reasons both legal and political. in the sense of the art of governing. for instance high misdemeanors, would include the president being -- the hope was that the senate could in a nonpartisan way determine if someone was unfit for office. remember, this opposition grew at the time, and was supported by those who thought johnson was a study in courage for battling radicals who threaten the welfare of the republic to partisanship and that government.
but what about those recent studies, there are many on impeachment that acknowledge the possibility now, of conviction without illegal transgression, and announce johnson as a terrible president. it was his politics they say, about the radicals, who are threatening the role for the republic. here want to bring three studies. all good. you should all read them. the citizen sky, the citizens guide. and john meacham impeachment in american history. all of these draw lessons from johnson's impeachment. but significantly, not one agrees that he should of been convicted. tried for instance. he says a failure to convict him offers and in convalescing, although impeachment proceedings are intensely political, they are also technically legalistic. that's a good lesson. if you want to impeach. have a good case. he says johnson was impeached
for just one reason, violating the tenure of office act, which is purely partisan. johnson was a terrible president is impeachment violated the constitutional plan. is impeachment was he says unconstitutional. even farcical. an example of what the united states should avoid. how about region. he says johnson's, the lesson for today, how political passions and national division found expression in the attempt to remove the president. and then he concludes without a clear violation of law, the senate, he says widely decided, that the voters act to the electoral process not lawmakers, were to determine the occupancy of the presidency. let me quickly respond. it was a bit of a mess. because the republicans themselves were divided over whether a violation of law was needed.
but something is wrong -- the 10th article of impeachment, accused johnson of bringing the presidency into contempt, ridicule and disgrace. >>what are the grounds to declare johnson unfit for office? it's much more than john f. kennedy, in the midst of the world the profound courage and that david donnell. at that time johnson is considered a good president. yet for the american heritage,
he wrote an essay called why impeach andrew johnson. throughout the details of the aptitude is destroyed any chance of bringing the nation together in a way that done justice to the defeated south and the african-americans. sure of rectitude johnson was in different to prudent. you never learned the president of the united states couldn't afford to be a corollary. in tennessee, orchards exchange personalities, crude humor and bitter denunciation and johnson decided to continue make white speech -- white house speeches. you can see why, for a little from this introduction, never learned that the president of the united states must function as the party leader. while making up his mind
johnson appears highly receptive to ideas. we made a decision, his mind would close and he defended his course with all the obscenity of a weasel. is charles sumner put it, no longer sympathetic or even kindly, he was harsh, petulant and unreasonable. according to donald, publicity and persuasion, could have created presidential following instead johnson boggled. donald concludes five thing perhaps, andrew johnson must be impeach with an even graver charge. so, i will start driving towards my conclusion with those words in mind. one point have been trying to make is, while the dismissal political part of them didn't originate with part of the risk reconstruction it is modern off accident that law versus politics, reconstruction, and
years of condemnation. to be sure in the post-trump world that mower scholars are considering some kind of political factor but what is their failure to make estate -- to make a stake in the essay. he answers in the middle at the end, you make a speculation where the fate of reconstruction, changed on whether sumners political arm argument would meet the definition of an impeachable offense. remember what concludes, no it did not. we should leave it to the voter. implying that he didn't allow reconstruction to go. of course there is exaggeration impeaching johnson when the help. johnson was dreading the what role welfare of the republic
that not executing the reconstruction act was impeachable. that charge was originally proposed by thomas jenkins who tried to limit part or harsh and. he who sponsored the bill that created the justice department. to me the charge was not obeyed allegation and political resurrection, the reason is the reason it felt was it was one too many senators look for or hide behind the standard of having a clear violation of law. an argument can be made, proceeding with impeachment was unwise because with johnson about and his term, that would've caused unnecessary division. that of course was a political consideration. in the meantime, the narrative still lives, the narrative where the radical republicans
were so far that they can even role well enough to handle impeachment. trying this mission to the 11th article, kennedy's charge eligible will barely scared and neither mentions a charge of the reconstruction act. conclusion of impeachment, jeffries was saying the verse trumped up charges by considering the constitute and constitution -- the situations. i watched a special of a history of impeachment a week ago all the experts agree the parking the partisan brains, and no grounds for impeachment. in part, what is at from public memory is often misremembered. thank you. [ clapping ]
>> am happy to take questions we have time. >>i'm going to ask you to sit down, with questions for both panels. >>anyhow are the people that like to come up and ask questions quest #? i'm shocked i'm going to ask one of brooke which is as most political historians, who have argued the real reason for the defeat of the impeachment was because the fact the person that would succeed johnson was fenway ohio
who is despised by an enormous number of people, and the senate including credible fellow radical republican republicans and they were pushing for a grant to be nominated to see, did not want to have to deal with the incumbent ben wade result was that it was easier to stomach him for another year until now new president came into office? >> if i had a longer talk i would have included or try to include, but he's exactly right , then way who was because there is no vice president he was an seceded, taken over as president for that short time. i can say not all but 2-3 votes
, also in the film, they have a figure for wade and when johnson says, and he's introduced and johnson goes out between him and me? and he started laughing so. the film is accurate about that. >> no questions? no comments? does anyone have a further comment for randy? i can bring you up here as well. if not, we can leave a few minutes early i want to thank everybody. i want to thank chuck, and want them both to stand in the back for a applause. [ clapping ] the rest of the
u.s. capital historical society staff because they are the ones that made it happen. i think all of you for coming, next year probably pretty much the same, possibly the same place, there will be a another conference, as the u.s. capital historical society 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. [ clapping ] >>american history products are now available at the cspan store, go to cspan store.org to go there to see all the new things, and check out all of the cspan products.
>> lectures in history, american artifacts, real america, the civil war, oral histories, the presidency, and special event coverage about our nations history. enjoy american history tv now and every weekend on cspan3. >> american history tv continues now, with a look at the first u.s. congress, that was seated in 1789 in new york city. right after that, george washington was inaugurated as america's first president. historians now examine those early years of the new federal government, and the politics of the 1790s. from purdue university this is a hour and a half. welcome everyone and thank you for coming out. early. at the beginning of the.conference my name is jeff. i pr