(Rating 4 of 5)
During the civil rights movement that—ironically—climaxed during the one hundredth anniversary the Civil War (1961-1965) many scholars began to challenge President Lincoln’s commitment to freedom. Often these scholars would lack understanding of civil war politics, use anachronisms, and present the emancipation narrative as Lincoln vs. the Radicals as opposed to Lincoln having to deal with the multiple forces, some often stronger than the radicals. In 1981, the year I was born, LaWanda Cox shattered the revisionist view with this work detailing how Lincoln’s Reconstruction ideas evolved, and how the cause to equality in the nineteenth century was blown when John Wilkes Booth made Andrew Johnson the president.
I decided to read this book because it is cited so often in other Civil War books that I have read, most notable in Eric Foner’s Reconstruction. The consequence to reading a book so often cited was that the first four chapters were just review for me because I have been exposed to this information so often before. The final chapter was more fascinating a direct comparison and contrast with the Lincoln and A. Johnson Administrations.
“Lincoln had recognized the historic challenge. He was prepared to implement, so far as he would find practicable, ‘the principle that all men are created equal.’ The nature of presidential leadership helped shape events, and the leadership of Andrew Johnson and of Lincoln diverged markedly. Johnson lacked Lincoln’s political skill, finesse, and flexibility; more importantly, he did not face in the same direction. Lincoln would expand freedom for blacks; Johnson was content to have their freedom contained.” (p.150)
In 1861, history met man and moment when Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the President of the United States, in 1865 history missed when Andrew Johnson succeeded him. Johnson’s presidency was in every way a disaster undermining progress and sending the country so far back racially that it would take a hundred years to overcome it. (By 'overcome it' I mean Johnson's regressed progress, not racism). Andrew Johnson is an another reason to hate John Wilkes Booth.