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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

Andrew Johnson, Frederick Douglass, and Reconstruction’s Failed Promise

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, December 7, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1K0180
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$25 - Non-Member
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Robert S. Levine

When Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the country was on the precipice of radical change. Johnson, seemingly more progressive than Lincoln, looked like the ideal person to lead the country. He had already cast himself as a “Moses” for the Black community, and African Americans were optimistic that he would pursue aggressive federal policies for Black equality.

Despite this early promise, Frederick Douglass, the country’s most influential Black leader, soon grew disillusioned with Johnson’s policies and increasingly doubted the president’s support of Black citizenship. In a dramatic meeting between Johnson and a Black delegation at the White House, the president and Douglass came to verbal blows over the course of Reconstruction.

As he lectured across the country, Douglass continued to attack Johnson’s policies, while raising questions about the Radical Republicans’ hesitancy to grant African Americans the vote. Johnson meanwhile kept his eye on Douglass, eventually making a surprising effort to appoint him to a key position in his administration.

Author and scholar Robert S. Levine addresses the conflicts that brought Douglass and the wider Black community to reject Johnson and call for a guilty verdict in his impeachment trial. He brings fresh insight by turning to letters between Douglass and his sons, speeches by Douglass and other major Black figures like Frances E. W. Harper, and other primary sources. In counterpointing the lives and careers of Douglass and Johnson, Levine reveals the lost promise and dire failure of Reconstruction, the effects of which still reverberate today.

His book The Failed Promise: Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass, and the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson (W. W. Norton & Company) is available for purchase.

Book Sale Information

  • Purchase your copy of The Failed Promise by Robert S. Levine here.
  • SPECIAL NOTE: Politics and Prose is offering a 10% discount to Smithsonian Associates ticket-holders. To claim your discount, enter the code SPECIAL10 (no space between letters and numbers) in the “Coupon discount” section on Politics and Prose's check-out page.

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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.