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 right to vote. Devastated by war and resorting to violence, many white Southerners hoped to restore a pre-Civil War society, if without slavery, and the pugnacious Andrew Johnson 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. It fell to Congress to stop the American president who acted like a king.
With profound insights and making use of extensive research, Brenda Wineapple dramatically evokes this pivotal period in American history, when the country was rocked by the first-ever impeachment of a sitting American president. And she brings to vivid life the extraordinary characters who brought that impeachment forward: the willful Johnson and his retinue of advocates—including complicated men like Secretary of State William Seward—as well as the equally complicated visionaries committed to justice and equality for all, like Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, Frederick Douglass, and Ulysses S. Grant. Theirs was a last-ditch, patriotic, and Constitutional effort to render the goals of the Civil War into reality and to make the Union free, fair, and whole.
Brenda Wineapple is the author of several books, including Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877, White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Sister Brother Gertrude and Leo Stein, and Genêt: A Life of Janet Flanner. She's received a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, two National Endowment Fellowships in the Humanities, and most recently a National Endowment Public Scholars Award.
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