Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Andrew Johnson: A Biography

by Hans L. Trefousse

This bio came as a bit of a surprise. I had always pegged Andrew Johnson as a second class president--one of those men who make the Jacksons and the Roosevelts look oh, so good. Instead, Professor Trefousse presents a very successful politician, a self-made man who not only earned his way into the vice-presidency, but made a lasting impression on the country. The problem is, I didn't care much for his contribution.

While this book covers Johnson's entire life, the bulk of it naturally focuses on the Civil War years and his subsequent presidency. His determination and independence were admirable as he stood up for his principles against both secessionists and congress. In a way, I would think that his power struggles with the latter would qualify him as a war-time president. While he didn't win that "war", his actions certainly affected how the reconstruction played out, mostly to the detriment of Southern unionists and the freedmen. As one who finds Johnson's racism contemptible, I wished he hadn't been so determined. But to be fair, his racial views were not unique at that time. Who knows how much, if any, difference there would have been if the White House had been occupied by Lincoln, or by some other man more in tune with the Republican congress than Andrew Johnson?

All-in-all, Professor Trefousse has written a informative and readable book. Y'all should check it out.
LibraryThing link

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