When Frederick Douglass Met Andrew Johnson

But Douglass was fast to see what Johnson was as much as. Before the top of his first 12 months in workplace, Johnson had introduced an Amnesty Proclamation for ex-Confederates, permitting Southern landowners who petitioned him personally to carry onto their property. Instead of referring to Reconstruction, he insisted on the time period “restoration.” In the South, emboldened white mobs descended on Black individuals, perpetrating the 1866 massacres in Memphis and New Orleans. Douglass, as a part of a delegation of Black Americans that visited the White House to argue for Black suffrage, instructed Johnson, “You enfranchise your enemies and disfranchise your friends.”

Johnson, cussed and thin-skinned, responded to criticism by getting indignant and defensive, even borderline “unhinged,” Levine writes. If it hadn’t been for growing opposition, he continues, “a more benign and pragmatic Johnson might have emerged.”

The proposition is unconvincing, to place it mildly. Levine places quite a lot of weight on the truth that in 1865, Johnson had privately expressed a plan for restricted Black suffrage. Yet on the similar time, Johnson was publicly insisting that suffrage too radical would set off “a war of the races.” And no matter Johnson could have stated, what he truly did couldn’t be clearer. He used his energy to undermine Reconstruction at each flip, presiding over what the historian Annette Gordon-Reed has known as a “slow-motion genocide.”

Levine nimbly narrates the street to Johnson’s eventual impeachment — together with a weird job provide that Johnson unofficially prolonged to Douglass to grow to be the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, an company that Johnson gave the impression to be doing all the pieces else in his energy to impair and even destroy.

But when Johnson was ultimately impeached, it wasn’t for his subversion of Reconstruction; it was for failing to acquire congressional approval earlier than he fired his secretary of struggle. The articles of impeachment have been “dryly legalistic,” virtually all of them centered on violations of the Tenure of Office Act, handed by Congress simply the 12 months earlier than. Republicans have been making an attempt to painting Johnson as a lawbreaker whereas studiously avoiding the matter of race. This fixation on technicalities, Levine says, “allowed Congress to impeach Johnson not for doing harm to hundreds of thousands of Black people in the South but for firing a white man.”

Considering how endemic racism was in each the North and the South, there have been undoubtedly sensible causes for this, however Levine vividly exhibits how Douglass, as he did all through the Civil War, stored making an attempt to attract consideration to the bigger ethical image. Even earlier than impeachment, Douglass was explaining to audiences how Johnson exploited the “defects” within the Constitution that allowed a “bad and wicked president” to imagine “kingly powers.” After the trial, Douglass defined that Johnson ought to have been faraway from workplace for making an attempt to return Black Americans to a “condition only less wretched than the slavery from which the war for the Union had rescued” them. Making impeachment in regards to the Tenure of Office Act had buried Johnson’s shame below a pile of legalistic quibbles.

The impeachers could have been making an attempt to be pragmatic, however taking part in it secure didn’t work; Johnson prevailed by a single vote. As considered one of his biographers, Hans Trefousse, as soon as put it: “If you impeach for reasons that are not the real reasons, you really can’t win.”

Source link Nytimes.com

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