Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction

Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction

Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction

Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction

Excerpt

The years of the presidency of Andrew Johnson are filled with a drama and significance rarely equaled in the nation's history. Beginning with Johnson's succession to the presidency in an atmosphere charged with the emotional reaction to the assassination of his predecessor, they were also to witness a large part of the nation placed under direct military rule, the United States Senate come within one vote of removing the President from office, and, finally, a presidential campaign marred by widespread fraud, violence, and intimidation of voters. All of these events were part of a single larger conflict between men struggling to control the shape of the new political order that would be established as the issues of the war were settled and the nation reunited.

But in studying the period, attention has very strongly focused on the first two years of Johnson's term, as historians have been most intrigued by the origins of the President's split with the Republican Party and the reasons why a program for reconstruction that had almost no support at the end of the war was adopted by Congress just two years later. In the revisionism of the past decade, therefore, there have been no fewer than four major works dealing primarily with these problems, while Charles Coleman's thirty-five-year-old study of the election of 1868, which deals mainly with the selection of the Democratic nominee, remains the only book whose major concern is the events of the second half of Johnson's term.

The disparity between the attention paid to these two periods would also seem to be based on a widespread assumption that 1866 was "the critical year," as Howard K. Beale called it, after which, "the Radical Congress [had] complete power over President and South alike." But was the situation so clear at the time? Recent works have shown that the Reconstruction Acts . . .

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