In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

364CIVIL WAR HISTORY in maintaining an unremitting hostility toward American society and in entertaining no possible distinctions of either attitudes or motives among his frankly unrepresentative spokesmen for America as a whole. Although his continued refusal to celebrate the American past is commendable, his continued inability to treat that past with intellectual maturity is not. Howard P. Segal Killam Post Doctoral Fellow, History Dalhousie University Impeachment of a President: Andrew Johnson, the Blacks, and Reconstruction . By Hans L. Trefousse. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1975. Pp. xii, 252. $10.95.) Evaluations of Andrew Johnson have varied greatly. Seen as inept and stubborn in earlier partisan accounts, Johnson was redeemed and given heroic qualities in Claude G. Bowers' influential The Tragic Era (1929). Recently, Johnson's reputation has again plummeted . In revisionist accounts by Eric McKitrick, Michael Benedict, Harold Hyman, and others, he is pictured as a bumbling politician, an "outsider" having little in common with Republican leaders, or an individual who should have been removed from office because of his obstruction of Congressional Reconstruction. In this latest study of the impeachment process published in the post-Watergate era, Hans L. Trefousse—who has written biographies of Benjamin Butler and Benjamin Wade and a general study of the Radical Republicans—has utilized manuscript collections in the Library of Congress and state and university libraries to present his interpretation of Johnson's difficulties. In offering this assessment, Trefousse is particularly interested in three questions: the causes of the failure to convict Johnson, the consequences of that failure, and the relationship between the unsuccessful effort to remove Johnson and the eventual downfall of the Republican regimes in the southern states. When dealing with the first of these questions, Trefousse is critical of some of the postwar actions of the Radicals. In contrast to his steadfast defense of virtually all their wartime actions in The Radical Republicans: Lincoln's Vanguard for Racial Justice (1968), he now concludes that their decision to impeach Johnson was "ill-considered and dangerous" (p. 141). He also argues that the Radicals made one of their "greatest mistakes" (p. 144) in not realizing that their inability to remove Johnson would strengthen southern conservatives. In focusing on his second point, Trefousse asserts that Johnson's acquittal did have major political consequences : it preserved the American constitutional system and its checks and balances; it weakened the influence of the Radicals in book reviews365 the Republican party after 1868; and it demonstrated that a President could not be impeached and convicted on solely partisan grounds. Trefousse, nonetheless, devotes most of his attention to the relationship between the defeat of the effort to remove Johnson and the eventual failure to secure lasting reforms in the former Confederate states. In dealing with his third major concern, Trefousse does not view Johnson as the inept leader pictured in Eric McKitrick 's Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (1960). Instead, the President becomes a cunning politician who used "shrewd tactics" (p. 72) to achieve his objectives. Johnson, it is argued, considered each of his actions carefully before he offended the Republican moderates in Congress by his discharge of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and his vetoes of the Freedmen's Bureau Bill and the Civil Rights Bill. He knowingly risked impeachment to accomplish his paramount objectives—the thwarting of Radical Reconstruction and the maintenance of white supremacy in the South. In the final analysis, Trefousse maintains, Johnson was successful. His bold and well-considered plan kept him in office, it gave fresh hope and new resolve to southern conservatives, and it disheartened many southern Republicans. Citing numerous letters from southern politicians at the grass-roots level in support of his thesis, Trefousse asserts that Johnson had actually weakened the Reconstruction regimes sufficiently to secure a rapid return to conservative rule in the South after he left office in 1869. This picture of Johnson as a clever politician who consistently outwitted his opponents is perhaps overdrawn at times. Despite his cunning, Johnson did not preserve "the Union almost 'as it was' " (p. 190). Even though faced with his opposition, Congress successfully instituted an impressive Reconstruction program which, despite certain shortcomings, made citizens of millions of freedmen who had recently been...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 364-365
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.