The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Book Revzews

readers will come away from this book with the realization that William R.
Shafter was more than just a fat man.
U.S. Army Center of Military History GRAHAM A. COSMAS
Andrew Johnson: A Biography. By Hans L. Trefousse. (New York: W. W. Norton
and Co., 1989. Pp. 463. Preface, illustrations, epilogue, notes, index. $25.)
Biographies of Andrew Johnson can generally be classified along a spectrum
whose extremes are defined by support or rejection of the Radicals who op-
posed his presidential policies. Trefousse, the author of four biographies of
prominent Radicals, favors his earlier subjects, portraying them sympathet-
ically while declaring that Johnson's legacy was "boosting Southern conser-
vatives by undermining Reconstruction" (p.352). By failing "to outgrow his
Jeffersonian-Jackson background"-especially his "refusal to adjust his racial
views to the needs of the Republican party" and his strict construction of the
Constitution (pp. 378-379)-he "made any effective Reconstruction impos-
sible" (p. 233).
Trefousse, to highlight Johnson's racism, tries to draw a sharp contrast be-
tween Johnson and Abraham Lincoln, but instead reveals his own biases to-
ward the subjects. He admits that the latter's intentions remain a "largely un-
answered question" (p. 196), but insists that his support for black suffrage was
revealed in his letter advocating limited voting rights for Louisiana blacks.
Johnson's message to Governor William L. Sharkey of Mississippi suggesting
limited black suffrage is disparaged as an attempt to "disarm his critics," not to
initiate reform (p. 223). Similar statements from Johnson regarding other
states, as well as his endorsement of black suffrage in his address to Congress in
December 1865, are also dismissed because Johnson did not press the issue
Trefousse also terms "perverse" Johnson's explanation that the Constitution
restricted him from intervening for black suffrage (p. 224). The author here
disputes his evidence again because it is apparent that constitutional order and
stability through the reestablishment of lawful government were of paramount
concern to Johnson. In this, he followed Lincoln's example, pardoning with a
free hand and retaining the latter's appointees, among whom was Governor
Andrew J. Hamilton of Texas.
Johnson, however, unlike Lincoln, did not create a Congressional coalition
friendly to his administration. Trefousse attributes this failure to his "pro-
nounced streak of stubbornness" (p. 54), but because he had already demon-
strated that Johnson was adept at political compromise, this does not seem a
suitable explanation. His evidence suggests that it was the Radicals, embittered
by Lincoln's wartime circumspection and emboldened by the emotional sup-
port of Northerners, who refused to compromise. Johnson, on the other hand,
labored to forge alliances, which leads to the conclusion that it was not re-
calcitrance but oblivion to changes wrought by the war that prevented him
from succeeding.


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed May 26, 2016.

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