Symposium Spotlight: The Twisting Turns of the Election of ’64—The Point of No Return


Rea Andrew Reddby ECW Correspondent Josh Svetz

Rea Andrew Redd has loved the Civil War all his life. Starting with reading Life magazine’s six-part series on the Civil War as a kid, Redd gets as much of a thrill from delving into the Civil War now as he did then. A hobby concerning the ghosts of the past may confuse some. Intrigue is one thing; obsession another. But Redd’s wife gave him some insight, at least, the closest thing he can think of to explain the fascination.

“I have the Civil War DNA,” Redd said. “When you find a hobby you’ve loved since nine years old, where does that come from? I guess I was just born with it.”

Redd will get to showcase his love for the Civil War Aug. 3-5 at the Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge in Spotsylvania, Virginia. 

Redd’s presentation will explore his chapter in ECW’s Turning Points of the American Civil War, “The Election of 1864: The Point of No Return,” will explore the pivotal presidential election between Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan, how Lincoln won the election and the impact of Lincoln’s win on the Confederacy and its ultimate demise.

Redd, the director of Eberly Library and an adjunct history professor at Waynesburg University, had attended previous Symposiums, but never got the call to present, until this year.

Redd’s friend and a fellow author at ECW Kris White nominated Redd to provide a chapter when ECW needed a fresh take on Lincoln. Redd, a civil war reenactor since 1993, who usually plays the part of Lincoln, fit the bill.

“I’m a Lincoln hobbyist,” Redd said. “I don’t have Lincoln bobble heads, but I have plenty of books. You get me in the right mood with the right lighting and I can pull off a decent Lincoln.”

Outside of Redd’s tendency to become the former president that fascinates him, he knows quite a bit about Lincoln’s biggest struggles, especially in 1864. Redd’s read through countless books, documents and essays all to answer one question: Was the election of 1864 the turning point of the war and did it doom the Confederacy? But answering such a question can’t happen without understanding the stakes.

In 1864, Lincoln’s popularity was low. Hundreds of thousands of Americans had died, families were starving and the American people wanted the war to be over. Lincoln went up for re-election against McClellan, one of his former generals. If McClellan had won, Redd said he planned to finish the war with an armistice, leaving the Confederacy intact.

“Everything goes back to 1860,” Redd said. “The slaves are still the slaves. If there’s no surrender by the confederacy there’d be no emancipation proclamation, probably no new amendments. Slaves that Lincoln declared free would go back to being slaves. Things would be different.”

In fact, Redd said there’d be a good chance that the Confederacy could exist to this very day.

“All the way through the 1900s’ there’d be two parts of the United States, the Union and the Confederacy,” he said. “Every once in a while they’d get together and fight over the west. They’d fight over, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and California would be split in half, northern California for the Union, southern California for the Confederacy. The Confederacy really could have survived the war if McClellan wins.”

But putting revisionist history aside, there were some interesting stories that came from this chaotic time for Lincoln and the America, one in particular involving an envelope.

“Lincoln writes a letter, seals the envelope and passes it to his cabinet and tells them to sign it,” he said. “They sign the envelope and Lincoln puts it in his desk drawer. What the envelope says is that if Lincoln loses the election we, his cabinet, will do everything that’s possible to end the war before McClellan is inaugurated.”

But the cabinet had no idea the stakes contained in that envelope, until Lincoln actually won.

“Once Lincoln wins the election, he takes out the envelope and lets his cabinet read it. They realize if Lincoln had lost they would have had to try and end the war as quickly as possible because they unknowingly took an oath to do so. That’s a 90-day period to try and turn the heat up on the confederacy. It would have been crazy.”

While Redd, a two-time author, is excited about his presentation, he’s just happy to be included with many great minds and enthusiasts of Civil War research.

“I’ve written books before, so I’ve gotten past that thrill,” Redd said. “But for a jury of my peers to cosign me, to let me be published with them, it feels pretty good.”

As for his talk, Redd said to be prepared for a fun and informative time.

“I’m not just going to get up and read my chapter,” Redd said. “I’m searching for new information. I want to make this worthwhile.”


Tickets for the Symposium are $155 each and are still available. For more information about the line-up of events, Aug. 3-5, click here.

Congressman Wheeler Speaks in the House on Causes of the War


Major General Joseph Wheeler

Jack Melton, publisher of Civil War News, often talks with me about little-known sources and items in Civil War history. Recently he pointed me to one such: a speech by Joseph Wheeler, later Confederate major general, then U. S. Representative from the 8th Congressional District of Alabama. Wheeler spoke on the House floor, July 13, 1894.

The House was considering a bill concerning a Union veteran. Wheeler, a member of the Committee on Military Affairs, addressed the body in a speech that touched on a number of matters, including the causes of the late civil war. 

Wheeler recalled that at a “Peace Conference” held in February 1861, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase had told the assembled delegates (not including representatives of the seven seceded states, which boycotted the convention) that the recent presidential election “must be regarded as a triumph of principles cherished in the hearts of the people of the free States.” Wheeler took this to mean that “the Northern States would not, and ought not, to comply with the obligations of the Federal Constitution,” which since 1789 had sanctioned slavery in the Southern states.

Thus Wheeler and other Southerners were justified in believing that Abraham Lincoln and the Black Republicans were out to get them, and would trample the Constitution in order to do so.

In the course of his remarks, the congressman from Alabama reviewed causes of the war. Besides slavery, “the doctrine of State rights, protective tariff [and] internal improvements” all figured as sources of sectional disagreement between North and South. As for slavery, “the New England ship owners amassed fortunes by plying the business of buying negroes in Africa, transporting them to the United States, and selling them for the most part to southern people.” In the Constitutional convention of 1787, it was the South that called for an end of the slave trade in twenty years; Northerners only turned against slavery when they found it unprofitable in their region. Then, in defiance of the Constitution, Northern states enacted laws protecting fugitive slaves. The famed Daniel Webster, speaking in Buffalo in May 1851, had predicted that if the North persisted in violating the Constitution, “the South would no longer be bound to observe the compact” (hinting at secession).

Yet, Wheeler continued, early instances of resistance to federal authority had occurred in the North: Shays’ Rebellion in New York, the whiskey rebellion in Pennsylvania. “The Southern people loved the Union,” he contended, and only with the rise of the Republican Party “they reluctantly succumbed to the conviction that the party about to take control would have no respect for their rights.”

Then, when Lincoln’s election in November 1860 spurred talk of secession, Wheeler pointed to sensible conservative Northerners who understood why. “If the cotton States shall become satisfied that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go in peace” (Horace Greeley, New York Tribune, November 9–the day after Lincoln’s election). Two weeks later the New York Herald agreed that the South should not be coerced: “A union held together by the bayonet would be nothing better than a military despotism.” In late December, while South Carolinians were in convention, Greeley held forth that “if it (the Declaration of Independence) justifies the secession from the British Empire of three million colonists in 1776, we do not see why it would not justify the secession of five millions of southrons from the Federal Union in 1861.” As late as March 1861, following Lincoln’s inauguration and after seven Southern states had indeed left the Union, the Cincinnati Commercial declared, “We are not in favor of blockading the southern coast. We are not in favor of retaking by force the property of the United States now in possession of the seceders. We would recognize the existence of a government formed of all the slave-holding States, and attempt to cultivate amicable relations with it.” Gen. Gen. Winfield Scott was often quoted as saying, “Wayward sisters, part in peace.”

Obviously, Wheeler concluded, the “wayward sisters” were not allowed to go in peace. As a consequence, “the most stupendous war recorded in modern history” ensued. To illustrate its frightful casualties, Wheeler posited that Grant’s casualties from May 5 to May 12, 1864 in Virginia totaled 9,774 killed, 41,150 wounded and 13,254 missing—a number “greater than the loss in killed and wounded in all the battles of all the wars in this country prior to 1861.”

Thus Wheeler ended his address. He spoke unabashedly “from the standpoint of one whose feelings were and are in entire sympathy with the southern people.” From his remarks we can distinctly see that Southerners viewed the coming of the war from a perspective we don’t often think of today. To understand why three million Americans went to war against each other—and why a fifth of them died—we would do well to turn from time to time to such documentary sources as the Southern Historical Society Papers.


Reference: Joseph Wheeler, “Causes of the War. Great Speech of Hon. Joseph Wheeler, of Alabama,” Southern Historical Society Papers, vol. 22, (1894), 24-41.


Maryland, My Maryland? Jefferson Davis and the Maryland Campaign of September 1862

Confederate soldiers splashing across the Potomac River in early September 1862 jubilantly bellowed out the tune “Maryland, My Maryland” as they marched into the Old Line State. Just months earlier, with the war escalating around the Confederate capital of Richmond, this feat seemed impossible. As the Southern army placed its collective foot on the soil of Maryland, one of the Confederacy’s early war aims was about to be realized.

Recognizing Maryland’s status as a border state caught between North and South, the Confederate Congress issued a series of resolutions on December 8, 1861 about the state’s status and their desire to join it with their fledgling nation. “[I]t is the desire of this government, by appropriate measures, to facilitate the accession of Maryland, with the free consent of her people, to the Confederate States,” the Congress resolved. Confederate successes in the summer of 1862 now made this goal a possibility.

Despite the joyous mood of the Confederate soldiers entering Maryland, Robert E. Lee, commanding those soldiers, remained skeptical that Maryland’s citizens would return the favor in kind. “I do not anticipate any general rising of the people in our behalf,” Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis on September 7. The general sought Davis’ assistance days before, requesting that the President send former Maryland governor and Southern supporting exile Enoch Lowe to rouse Marylanders to the Confederate cause.

Himself excited by Confederate fortunes north of the Potomac River, Davis told Lee to issue a proclamation to the people of Maryland declaring “the motives and purposes of your presence among them at the head of an invading army.” The President then listed out a blueprint of eight resolutions and statements Lee could draw from for the proclamation he ultimately issued on September 8.

Jefferson Davis’ enthusiasm for Confederate advances in the summer of 1862 did not end with the stroke of his pen, however. Seizing on Lee’s request for Enoch Lowe to aid the Confederate effort in Maryland, President Davis decided to accompany Lowe to the Potomac River as far north as Leesburg. Perhaps Davis could join his troops in Maryland next.

A “special train” carrying Davis and Lowe left Richmond on September 7 and made its way to Rapidan Station, where Davis notified Lee of his journey. Davis’ September 7 correspondence with Lee is unfortunately lost to history. Thus, his true intentions in traveling north are unknown. Southern newspapers theorized the purpose of Lowe’s visit, though: “placing Maryland within the political association of the Confederate States.” Correspondents in Richmond could only surmise what the departure of Davis truly meant.

Robert E. Lee also could not divine Davis’ reasons for heading north. Regardless, the general did not believe Maryland was a good place for his commander-in-chief. “While I should feel the greatest satisfaction in having an interview with you,” Lee said, “I cannot but feel great uneasiness for your safety should you undertake to reach me.” The trek would be “very disagreeable,” the general warned. It would also expose Davis to the risk of capture by Federal patrols ranging throughout northern Virginia. Exercising extreme caution in this case, words alone on paper would not do for Lee. To further convince Davis of the dangers plaguing his northern excursion, Lee sent his staffer Walter Taylor to intercept the President before he reached Leesburg.Taylor departed the Confederate camps outside Frederick, Maryland at midday on September 9. That night, he slept at the Harrison home in downtown Leesburg, which served as Lee’s quarters shortly before crossing into Maryland. Walter Taylor reached Warrenton on September 10 and found that his journey was for naught: Davis turned around on September 8, headed back to the Confederate capital.

Enoch Lowe continued his efforts to bring Maryland into the folds of the Confederacy even though Davis no longer traveled with him. It is possible that Walter Taylor met Lowe and the two traveled to Winchester together. From the Shenandoah Valley town, Lowe continued to champion Maryland’s supposed dormant Confederate sympathies. “He said Maryland, long disappointed, had been perfectly taken by surprise on the entrance of our army, and that when it was seen to be no mere raid, 25,000 men would flock to our standard, and a provisional government would be formed,” wrote one eyewitness. The lofty goal of 25,000 Marylanders rising to fight under the Confederate banner never materialized, as Lee predicted. Perhaps as few as 200 men signed up with the Army of Northern Virginia. The Confederate foray into Maryland failed to fulfill Southern hopes for a fourteenth star on its flag.

Confederate efforts to bring another state under the country’s flag came off on October 4, 1862 in Frankfort, Kentucky but did not amount to much except a great deal of fanfare. Southerners held similar hopes for Maryland, but their dreams fizzled before there was a chance. The Charleston Mercury quickly denounced Davis’ trip north as nothing more than “merely for recreation and to have a quiet talk with the Governor [Lowe]. If Lowe is to be proclaimed Provisional Governor, it is to be hoped the people will rally to him, and our army keep in front of him, otherwise the affair will resemble the Provisional Government of Kentucky, which was rather a farce, tending to alienate rather than encourage the inhabitants.”

Establishing a provisional government in Maryland, it turned out, was the least of the Confederacy’s worries in the Old Line State in September 1862 and the Southern nation’s dreams of enticing more states to its cause and expanding its boundary to the Mason-Dixon Line never came to fruition. Maybe September 1862 represented the best odds for that to happen, or perhaps by then it was a foregone conclusion and Jefferson Davis, Enoch Lowe, and the Confederate Congress were only whistling into the wind.

A Conversation with Emma Murphy (part five)


Andrew Johnson’s grave

(part five of five)

For Women’s History Month, we’ve been talking with women who work in Civil War public history. This week, we’ve been sharing a conversation with Emma Murphy, park guide at Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. While earning her undergraduate and graduate degrees, Emma did stints as a seasonal ranger at Richmond, Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania, and Gettysburg before arriving in Greenveville, Tennessee earlier this year for her first full-time permanent position with the Park Service.

Chris Mackowski: So you mentioned that you’ve been there for two weeks, so you’re still learning your park. What do you love about the park so far?

Emma Murphy: There’s a lot to love. I think that I love the fact there’s room for the park to grow through more planning and community outreach. There’s a lot we can do with the national cemetery. The national cemetery not only has President Johnson and his family, but has veterans from decades all the way up to modern day. The cemetery is something we can still talk about up through the modern day because these veterans want to be buried in the same cemetery as President Johnson. That’s saying something about his place in the community, his place in Tennessee, and the legacy that he leaves. It’s a huge honor to be able to be buried alongside a president of the United States. 

I also love the ability to grow and to find new ways of interpretation and challenging the visitor, whether they just came for a homestead tour or something else. Many people come in for a furniture tour, or they’re presidential junkies, but there is a lot of context to work with. Johnson and his story basically sit right in the center of Reconstruction. Not many people know about Reconstruction, so I like to fill in that whole a little more.

Johnson’s trunk, on display at his homestead

I also hope to have more community outreach to bring in the neighboring communities, to be able to partner, to try new programs. It’s basically like what we did with History at Sunset [evening programs at various National Parks that expand the story beyond typical park resources.] Rangers would go and make a relationship with either a family or a community and make that connection work alongside their programming. I love how Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg did that.

The Park Service is well known in this community, and if we start showing ourselves, going out and building that community outreach, I think we could really make the park on the map. That’s what I really love about it: the ability to grow and to reach out.

CM: I was wondering, as I got off the exit from the interstate, what I was going to find out there. I was so pleasantly surprised and delighted to see all the stuff there was in Greeneville and at the park to look around and see and learn about.

EM: There’s so much to learn about, and there’s a local history museum right across the street from the homestead and a college that basically has a whole Johnson library. We have programs that are at the local state campground, Davey Crockett State Campground. I haven’t been out there yet because they haven’t started their programs yet since that’s usually more of a summertime thing. That’s a huge partnership because not only are they short-staffed, but they want to have something that engages the visitors of the local history and history as a whole. That gives us a great opportunity for community outreach that grows, because they can’t stay there forever, they travel. Word of mouth is sometimes the best way to get visitors to come to your site. That is so relevant right now that it’s important to help put us on the map.

CM: It sounds like there’s plenty of opportunity for a young professional who is just getting her foot in the door of the park service.

Johnson’s room

EM: I’m excited. I have so many ideas, and I’m writing them all down because my brain moves a mile a minute, and something I have to understand that this park is very small compared to other parks I’ve worked at. The staff total is nine people—but the nine people we have do so much, and they are truly incredible rangers that are multifaceted and multitalented because they do everything. They organize the functions of the park like a well-oiled machine. The ability to have that structure already there means we have the ability to branch out and try new things without risking that something else will crumble or be forgotten about or let go. We have the ability to all work together. It’s obvious they’ve worked together a lot. They work hard to keep the park functioning and clean and acceptable. I’m a fresh pair of eyes and someone who is all geared up and ready to go. I would be more than happy to come up with new ideas and new programs and, if they like them and want to use them, I’m absolutely ready for it. It is a great creative ground on which to build—a foundation and a base that hopefully leads to a wonderful NPS career.

CM: The other day, [a mutual friend, ECW author] Doug Crenshaw, said, “I’m so glad you got to talk with Emma. She tried real hard to get the job out there.”

EM: Doug was on one of my programs at Cold Harbor in 2013 where we had a couple that had no concept of the Civil War, and asking if Grant was in the trenches at Cold Harbor, and if Cold Harbor was the beginning of the Civil War. They had no idea, so I was trying to give the Battle of Cold Harbor tour and it just kind of turned into a basic Civil War explanation: this is the Confederate side, this is the Union side. Doug said, “This isn’t your normal tour.” I said, “No, it’s not, but don’t worry about it—they’re trying really hard.” He was just enamored that I brought it down to their level, and he said he’d never seen a ranger do that. But they’re visitors, too, and I wanted to make it as accessible to them as possible, even if it meant I had to sacrifice all of the details of the battle of Cold Harbor. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that they walked home with an idea of the significance of the Civil War and what that significance means. Maybe Cold Harbor is tucked in there somewhere, but not the main focus, because if it had been, they would’ve been confused and unhappy.

CM: Good luck as you get settled in at ANJO!


A Conversation with Emma Murphy (part four)


Murphy, Emma @ ANJO(part four of five)

Emma Murphy is a park guide at Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. In yesterday’s segment of our interview with Emma, she discussed the philosophical battle Johnson engaged in with Radical Republicans in Congress in the wake of the Civil War. Johnson, who believed states should control their own destiny, opted for a more reconciliation-based approach, while Congress pushed for a harder reconstruction of the social, political, and economic order. Congress finally set up a showdown over a piece of legislation called the Tenure of Office Act.

Chris Mackowski: It was the Tenure of Office Act that serves as the excuse for the impeachment trial.

Emma Murphy: Yes, and it’s a very weirdly worded bill. Many years later, it’s deemed unconstitutional and irrelevant, but it basically says that anyone in the cabinet or anyone appointed by the president cannot be removed from office without the approval of the Senate. But Johnson had not appointed any of his cabinet because it was Lincoln’s leftover cabinet. 

There was a lot of tension between [Secretary of War] Edwin Stanton and Johnson when Johnson was military governor of the state of Tennessee. Johnson wasn’t getting along with the military commanders in the state, and so he was constantly writing back and forth to Stanton and to Lincoln. So that tension was already there and growing by the time Johnson became president. When he gets to 1867 and 1868, he’s had it, and he wants to fire Stanton—but with the Tenure of Office Act, he technically can’t. To Johnson, the act is unconstitutional because he, as the president, should have the right to remove or add anyone in his cabinet. He also points out the fact that he hadn’t appointed Stanton; Lincoln had—and it was even Lincoln in early 1862, not 1864, so at the time, it wasn’t even the current presidential term, it was the previous one. It was kind of just a battle for language.

CM: Wasn’t the Senate’s premise that they had to provide “advice and consent” to confirm, so they also had to provide advice and consent to fire?

EM: Yes, and that’s something that they brought up in the articles of impeachment, which said that Johnson could not only not remove Stanton, but also couldn’t put Thomas Lorenzo in his place. Johnson didn’t even turn to the Senate and ask if he had their approval on it. He has the power as the commander in chief, but also as the president, to remove without the consent of the Senate. So it turns into a battle for power.

CM: Do you find people have misconceptions about what impeachment is?

EM: Yes. I think a lot of that has to do with the way that the text is worded, even in the visitor center. The exhibit was put up right around the time of the Clinton administration and his impeachment trials, so a lot of that impacted the language that was used. Not that it was a bad thing, but the staff was discussing this with me, and I didn’t want to tell them I was four years old when that was all going on. I have no memory about Clinton’s impeachment trial! A lot of people do, though, so when they come in, that’s how they view Johnson’s impeachment, which is different but is also, in our current political climate, hard to talk about.

There’s one line in the display that talks about trying to take a president out of office because you simply don’t like him. That’s a precedent that probably would’ve been set if Johnson had been impeached. That is kind of taking a stance that Congress was trying to take Johnson out of office simply because they didn’t like him.

Yeah, there were a lot of problems, but a lot of the articles had to do with Johnson’s actions and how he read the constitution. I keep coming back to that, but it’s really important. It’s not just personal, but a lot of it has to do with the political agenda of both sides.

That is not something visitors understand about impeachment. They say it’s the removal of the president from office, and it’s almost sort of a lump term: Johnson’s impeachment, Nixon’s almost-impeachment, Clinton’s impeachment—they’re all the same. But they’re not. The reason they’re brought up on these different charges is because there are many different ways to try to impeach a president, but there’s no direct definition of “you can only impeach a president because of X,Y, and Z.” There are many ways around it, and that’s what Congress did: they made a way around it to get him impeached.

CM: So he stays in office, does not get reelected, but his political career is not over. He goes back to Washington eventually.

EM: He does. He does return and is the only living president that leaves office and then returns to the Senate. He makes a little bit of a snarky, passive-aggressive comment to Grant, since Grant is president. Johnson still feels betrayed by the, at the time, general because Johnson had tried to appoint him to the Secretary of War office, but the Senate came back and said “That’s unconstitutional,” and Grant just backed off and disregarded the whole conversation he had with Johnson about how he was going to take the office. Johnson felt personally hurt.

So, when Grant is inaugurated, Johnson doesn’t go. In the Senate, he is constantly battling over whether Grant’s policies are working or not and challenges them frequently., and a lot of that has come from his personal feeling about how he was hurt by Grant. So, Johnson has a very prominent post-presidential political career, but there are instances where his personal feelings do get in the way.

When he does return back to Greeneville, he hasn’t lived there for a while. Unfortunately, he doesn’t die in his house. He dies at his daughter’s home of a stroke. But his home stayed in his family’s name and someone lives there or has some relationship with the house giving tours until 1992. The Johnson family was very conscientious about the history and the story, and that’s why a lot of the artifacts, I think it’s 80% of the artifacts, are not only in the house but in the local museums and the college. They have so much of Johnson’s stuff because the family kept it there and wanted to keep it preserved.


When we wrap up our conversation with Emma tomorrow—part of our Women’s History Month commemoration—she’ll talk about the things she loves about her new park as she learns more about it story. “There’s a lot to love,” she says.

A Conversation with Emma Murphy (part three)


Murphy Ranger Hat(part three of five)

We continue our conversation this week with Emma Murphy, a park guide at Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. Emma started her job at the park back in February, so she’s still learning her new park and her new subject matter.

Chris Mackowski: Now that you’ve found yourself at Andrew Johnson, what do you like about the park? What have you discovered about it that has excited you so far?

Emma Murphy: There’s so much in the Johnson story that influences Andrew Johnson himself in his push against Congress during his presidency—there’s a lot of that in his growing up in Tennessee but also because of the political ramifications of being a Democrat from a Unionist territory. 

Something that is difficult to reconcile—for us and the public—is his view on race and his view on how the Constitution should read. I hate to say this because it always burns off into the reasons for the Civil War, but Johnson is super-focused on States Rights: the right for a state to run their own Constitution to then reapply to the Union. He wanted it not to be Reconstruction, but reconciliation only, and not much of a rebuilding and reconstructing. He wasn’t concerned with destroying the lifestyle from before the Civil War started, in the Antebellum Period. He wasn’t focused on trying to pull it apart and make a social, political, and economic change to the American South.

That’s hard for us to reconcile with because we always hear about Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, but not of Johnson, who is like the polar opposite of Lincoln, not just in personality, but in political views. So that’s really exciting to try and bring forward a lot of the story.

Obviously, a lot of the story we tell is about his impeachment because he’s the first one to get anywhere close—only acquitted by one vote. It’s a very dramatic story. But there’s a lot that can get left out from right after the Civil War is over to his impeachment trial.

Something I didn’t realize until I was researching his presidency was that he was trying to charge the Confederate hierarchy—not only the placeholders, but also the Confederate leaders—with treason, and when you bring out the word “treason,” it makes you cringe, but Johnson is ranting and raving against the South and ex-Confederates. He wanted to bring up charges on Robert E. Lee, and the only person who stopped him was Ulysses S. Grant—and that blew my mind.

The whole conversation on reconciliation, not reconstruction—and what the ramifications of it were even all the way up to today—kind of centers around how the Civil War ends and the definition of victory and defeat for both sides. Johnson is really trying to take a stand against the Confederacy, but not necessarily the social hierarchy. I am super pumped to bring that into the tours of his homestead, of his house, because the house itself is kind of a representation of not only the country, but of himself and his family. It is damaged and destroyed during the Civil War, by both sides, and the Johnsons have to go back and rebuild the house after his presidency. A lot of that has to do with what he wants to present to the public, but he also wants to provide for his family, for the town of Greeneville. In a way, what he’s trying to present to the country is a way to go back to normal, but when Congress isn’t controlled by Johnson’s party, what is normal for Johnson is not normal for the rest of Congress or the rest of the country. East Tennessee is kind of a pocket of Union territory, Union sentiment. It is difficult to spread that idea over the entire South. It’s almost impossible.

CM: You mentioned he was an advocate of States Rights, but it’s sort of a different vision of States Rights than the view the Confederate states had set up as their reason for seceding.

EM: It’s the right of the states to change up their constitutions, with only three things that needed to be added to be admitted back into the Union. First, basically, ratifying the 13th Amendment. Then taking an oath of allegiance. Then a proclamation that said that anyone who could have possibly been an ex-Confederate could not have $20,000 worth of property—so he’s taking the war out on the plantation and planter class. If you have certain amount of money, you’re not allowed to vote and you won’t be able to have representation in Congress. But if you take this oath of allegiance and write into your state constitution that you disregard and basically erase any sort of secession sentiment—as long as you met those requirements, you would be allowed back into the Union and have a representative in Congress.

CM: That was very similar to Lincoln’s “Let ‘Em Up Easy” philosophy, wasn’t it?

EM: It’s based off of Lincoln’s initial push to have the freemen have some rights, but Lincoln doesn’t get far enough to where he can define that, so the Radical Republicans are pushing really hard to try and get the Freemen’s Bureau Act and enfranchisement for these African-Americans who are now no longer in bondage, but also have no representation in Congress. What the Radical Republicans are afraid of is that the planter class, these white citizens, are going to be reinstated in their powerful places in their governments and be able to reintroduce laws to disenfranchise African-Americans—basically set up Black Codes, which they did. And the Republicans don’t want that, so they fight Johnson to keep the states from rejoining the Union if they only ratify the 13th Amendment. Republicans also want the states to ratify the 14th and 15th Amendments and take in the Civil Rights Act and the Freeman’s Bureau.

So Johnson and Congress keeping have vetoes back and forth, back and forth. Because Johnson is vetoing this, and it’s not just because of his view on race—he flat out admits that he doesn’t believe in the equality of the races—but it’s more on the principle that he doesn’t want the states to be controlled and be told what to do from a big government. He is against that.

So, to Johnson, the Freeman’s Bureau and demands about who has the right to vote is unconstitutional because it should be the state’s right to designate who has the right to vote and who doesn’t. He’s basically stepping back and saying, “In South Carolina, if they decide to let these freemen vote, then have it, but if the state decides not to, the state doesn’t have to.” But Congress does not want that.

The Southern states want to basically reinstate the old social hierarchy, and that, unfortunately, ends up happening because—I guess this is kind of personal opinion—there’s so much time between when Johnson starts presidential reconstruction until Congress starts Congressional reconstruction. When Johnson is in, while Congress is out of session, he’s throwing out all these proclamations, amnesty policies, to say to Congress, “You didn’t have to do anything, I did it. Ta-da.”

Johnson described himself as Moses leading the way for African-Americans, but in reality, he’s not giving them any right to vote or right to citizenship at this point. He wants it to remain at state level. But that takes so long and a lot of it floods up against the policies that Congress is trying to pass, which is why there are so many vetoes. That’s why Congress ultimately brings in and ratifies the Tenure of Office Act, because they’re sick and tired of Johnson not cooperating, so if he isn’t cooperating, let’s just take him out of office and we can get our way.


The Tenure of Office Act sets up the showdown that leads to Johnson’s impeachment. In tomorrow’s segment, Emma will explain more about that—which is happening 150 years ago right now.