Brenda Wineapple on The Impeachers: the Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation, in conversation with historian Eric Foner. Professor Wineapple is on the faculty of the CUNY Graduate Center's new MA in Biography & Memoir.
When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and Vice-President Andrew Johnson became “the Accidental President,” it was a dangerous time in America. Congress was divided over how the Union should be reunited: when and how the secessionist South should regain full status, whether former Confederates should be punished, and when and whether black men should be given the vote. Devastated by war and resorting to violence, many white Southerners hoped to restore a pre-Civil War society, just without slavery, and the pugnacious Andrew Johnson, who was no Lincoln, seemed to share their goals. With the unchecked power of executive orders, Johnson ignored Congress, pardoned rebel leaders, promoted white supremacy, opposed civil rights, and called Reconstruction unnecessary. Congress had to stop the American president who acted like a king.
Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University and the author of numerous books on American history, including "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877," and "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery," both winners of the Bancroft Prize.His latest book, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, will appear this fall.