Book Review: The Impeachers

As they watch modern day Washington with a wary eye, Impeachment proponents can find some aspirational reading in a new book about Andrew Johnson’s proceedings. The Guardian reviews it here.

Implicit or not, parallels abound with current American life. Johnson’s “Swing Around the Circle” railroad trip featured rallies at which his language was (at best) strong and intemperate, including personal attacks on Congress. During the trip, the president even told a supporter: “I don’t care about my dignity.” Senator John Sherman of Illinois complained that Johnson had “sunk the presidential office to the level of a grog-house”.

Unsurprisingly, analogies to the current situation are emphasized, however subtly, throughout Wineapple’s book.

The author writes that “the highly unlikeable President Johnson was impeached … by men who could no longer stand his arrogance and bigotry, his apparent abuse of power, and most recently his violation of law.”/blockquote>

Source: The Impeachers review: Andrew Johnson and the men who nearly trumped him | Books | The Guardian

Impeachment, the First Time Around

There’s a new book about Andrew Johnson and his impeachment, and the New York Times has given it a rave review. I’ll have to pick it up, but I might wait to see how the current Constitutional crisis shakes out first. I’m not sure it’ll make for consolatory reading.

By February 1868, President Andrew Johnson had forced the moment to a crisis. As Brenda Wineapple recounts in her new book, “The Impeachers,” Johnson had been goading legislators with his accelerating attempts to rule by decree, daring them to “go ahead” and impeach him — which the House voted to do by an overwhelming majority, 126 to 47.

The author of award-winning works about Nathaniel Hawthorne and Emily Dickinson, among other books, Wineapple started to research her history of the country’s first impeachment trial six years ago; she briefly mentions Presidents Nixon and Clinton but not the current occupant of the White House. She doesn’t have to. The relevance of this riveting and absorbing book is clear enough, even if Wineapple’s approach is too literary and incisive to offer anything so obvious as a lesson.

Source: Impeachment, the First Time Around – The New York Times

The Color Line

Back from another hiatus with an event suggestion. This exhibit combines my twin passions: Civil War history and being in Paris.  Turns out, the very modern and engaging ethnology museum is moving away from the phallus-heavy exhibits it usually presents, and hosting a cultural appreciation of African-American culture in the post war era. The show covers 100+ years of black American art, music, and literature.  I spent part of the past two years in Paris, and this exhibit is making me wish I could go back!

Source: The Color Line

Park Service will study period after Civil War | The State The State

Reconstruction is the dark side of the Civil War’s already pretty awful history; when all the gains fought for were surrendered and guiled away. The sesquicentennials still to come will not be as heavily observed as the wartime ones, but they have had a longer legacy. This is a good move on the part of the NPS.

The National Park Service is undertaking what it calls a national historic landmark theme study. It plans to identify nationally important sites dealing with the Reconstruction era from the Civil War through 1900 that could be designated national historic landmarks.

Robert Sutton, the agency’s chief historian in Washington, said the way historians view Reconstruction has changed over the years.

“The old interpretation was that it was a disaster, that they did too much too soon and people weren’t really ready and it was mostly a negative thing,” Sutton said. “In the last 50 years, the research has been the complete opposite and that it was a very progressive program that did tremendous good and the real tragedy was that it ended.”

via Park Service will study period after Civil War | The State The State.

Forty Acres and a Mule

Sherman’s famous field order is one of the war’s great what-ifs.  A terrific idea nixed by a man who can only be described as the anti-Lincoln.  Reconstruction in microcosm.

Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau shortly after Sherman’s Field Order No. 15 demanded the redistribution of land to former slaves. The Freedmen’s Bureau was created to ensure that millions of free slaves would begin to receive economic equality and empowerment, their 40 acres and mule, shortly after the Civil War ended. President Johnson, however, reversed Sherman’s policy and issued an order for all land to be returned to the Confederacy’s White landowners and confiscated from the free Blacks.

via Michigan Chronicle – Forty Acres and a Mule.

Confederates in Canada

I caught a passing mention, years ago, that Jubal Early’s memoirs had been written in Toronto, but wasn’t able to follow any trails to more local information. This website was interesting, though, in providing quite a long list of famous Confederates who lived here or in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which seems to have become a kind of Richmond North, post-war.

The war’s end brought General John C. Breckenridge and his family to Toronto first, and then Niagara on the Lake in May 1866. Breckenridge served as vice president of the United States under James Buchanan 1856-1860, was a candidate for president in 1860 on the Southern Democratic ticket, (received nearly 850,000 votes) and a Major General in the Confederate service. He and his family rented a small home on Front Street overlooking Lake Ontario for twelve dollars a month. Immediately opposite the home on the New York bank of the river was Fort Niagara. Breckenridge gazed at the fort often, “with its flag flying to refresh our patriotism.” To him it seemed both a symbol of the Founder’s republic he tried to save, as well as a taunt that threatened arrest should he cross the river.

One who frequently visited the exiled Southerners was Lt. Colonel George T. Denison, commander of the Canadian Governor-General’s Body Guard, another was General Breckenridge’s “beloved old adjutant,” J. Stoddard Johnston of New Orleans. Johnston was the nephew of General Albert Sidney Johnston, and also served as an aid to Generals Bragg and Buckner. General George Pickett was also in Canada, though perhaps living in Toronto. Soon to join the ex-vice president at Niagara on the Lake were Confederate commissioner to England James M. Mason, General’s Jubal Early, John McCausland, Richard Taylor (son of General Zachary Taylor), John Bell Hood, Henry Heth, William Preston; and a host of lesser officers and their families. They often commiserated in the shade at Mason’s home, “discussing military matters and the practice of the soldiers art under the modern conditions inaugurated” by the War Between the States.

There’s even an account of Jefferson Davis coming for an extended visit, and being greeted by a cheering throng on Yonge Street.

Davis’ departure invoked this tribute from The Niagara Mail:

It is a subject of pride to Canadians that they can offer the hospitality of the soil and the shelter of the British flag to so many worthy men who are proscribed and banished from their homes for no crime at all, viz. to assert the right of every people to choose their own form of government.

One assumes the pro-Southern rhetoric can be attributed to the fear of many Canadians (D’Arcy McGee is quoted on this earlier) that the US would use its standing army to get that whole Manifest Destiny thing out of the way, at last.

Slavery by Another Name

In reading that discussion in The Atlantic, a few of the commenters mentioned Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery By Another Name, which chronicles the virtual enslavement of blacks in the South after the war. The reviews are all along the lines of, “excellent, but exhausting” (with tons of depressing statistics), so I’m glad to see that it’s been turned into a documentary, for broadcast on PBS. I’ll be keeping an eye out for this one.