Tag Archives: Andrew Johnson

The Press and the 1866 New Orleans Riots

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 12.52.56 PMThe New Orleans Riot on July 30, 1866, was the culmination of mounting tensions concerning the 1864 Louisiana Constitutional Convention, black codes, and the Louisiana legislature’s refusal to grant suffrage to black citizens, many of whom were veterans of the Union army. More on that later. Today I offer the reactions issued by the press. Political allegiance comes through quite clearly in these two reports – one from Virginia and the other from New York. And both figure Andrew Johnson as the primary figure in the cause and outcome of this riot. Reading the two side by side makes for a nice comparison.

Charles Wynne in the Richmond (Va.) Times, August 2, 1866

RADICALISM, REVOLUTION, TREASON, and INSURRECTION in the Southern States have just received a death-blow at the hands of the President. His order to the military in Louisiana, which we publish elsewhere, crushes in the egg the atrocious Radical conspiracy to bring about an immediate war of the races at the South. It arrays, by an imperative order, the army against the [Republicans] and all others in rebellion against the existing State Governments and laws. There is no more temporizing with the vile incendiaries who have been instigating the negroes to organize regiments, clamor for equal suffrage, and overthrow, by force, the present State Governments.
It is a fact, as disgraceful and infamous as it is undeniably true, that these demoralized traitors and revolutionists have had the sympathies of not a few military officers holding important commands at the South. One of this class of Radical tools was, beyond question, the federal General to whose criminal remissness the late riots in New Orleans are justly ascribed.
He permitted an illegal assembly to convene composed of men whose objects were the disfranchisement of nine-tenths of the white inhabitants of Louisiana, and the enfranchisement of the negroes. He also allowed the streets of New Orleans to be thronged by shouting, yelling, malignant negro companies, armed and ripe for deeds of lawless violence. Sympathising with these negroes and their vile white associates, he failed to lend timely assistance to the State authorities. A white citizen of New Orleans was insulted and outraged by a negro procession, and an alarming riot at once commenced, which resulted in the loss of many lives.
The wicked and gigantic conspiracy, Andrew Johnson crushed by the order to which we have referred. The whole power of the Government of the United States is hereafter to be employed to annihilate these traitors.
It is providential that there is no disloyal Congress in session to break the force of this crushing blow at Insurrection, Rebellion, and Treason. The President is master of the situation at last, and the Radical satrap who refuses to obey the order of his commander-in-chief will now have his head sent spinning from his shoulders.
A splendid opportunity is offered to all the military tools of Thaddeus Stevens to indulge in harri karri. They must obey their master or rip themselves up. The dilemma is painfully embarrassing but should they elect the “happy dispatch’ the sabers of the squelched negro companies are at their disposal. It is the favorite weapon of the disgruntled Japanese officials when they disembowel themselves at the gracious command of the Tycoon.

Well…he certainly gets right to the point. Here is another take on the situation:

Horace Greely in the New York Tribune, August 1, 1866

If any doubts existed as to President Johnson’s connection with the massacre in New Orleans it will be removed by reading his dispatch to Attorney General Herron of Louisiana. This dispatch, written with the knowledge that loyal citizens of the United States were dying from wounds received y a rebel mob assumes the responsibility of the deed. The policy that prompted Mayor Monroe and his followers finds its inspiration in Washington.
This conclusion fills us with inexpressible sadness, but we cannot resist the facts. It is a dreadful thing to arraign the President of the United States as being in any possible sympathy with the unlawful shedders of blood, but when a plain fact is to be stated, the plainest words are the best. In the first place the President recognizes a usurped power to communicate his wishes. James M. Wells is the Governor of Louisiana, and the official representation of the State. To him the President should have spoken. But Gov. Wells, a duly elected Governor by rebel votes, has called this convention together and the President steps over the theory of State Rights, and sends his commands to an officer of his Cabinet – his Attorney General – one Andrew S. Herron – a conspicuous Rebel in the days of treason. The President directs him to call upon Gen Sheridan for “sufficient force to sustain civil authorities in suppressing an illegal or unlawful assemblies.” If the President really believes that States have rights, and Governors of States privileges, then his course in recognizing an officer of Gov Wells’s Cabinet as the proper authority to call out troops is a usurpation.
It is folly to use soft phrases in speaking of this appalling crime. The policy of Andrew Johnson engendered the demon fury which has shed blood in the streets of the Crescent City. His statesmanship has once more raised Rebel Flags in New Orleans. The time has come for the people to speak – and let it be in tones so distinct and unmistakable that even Andrew Johnson will not dare disobey the warning.

What are your thoughts on Andrew Johnson’s policies and southern violence? I engage questions like this and many others in my new web-course on Reconstruction history. Check it out!

With compliments


Ticket Coolness

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I wonder what the black market price was for these babies. I mean…can you imagine the DC Craig’s List action…had it existed in 1868? I am posting these tickets because they just look cool – and I wish I had one. Maybe one day I can add a legit impeachment ticket to my collection.  At any rate, I have been asking on the usual social media platforms how people would have voted in Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial if they had been in the position to do so. And the majority have gone with the historical verdict – acquittal!

If you really stop to think it over, it’s the only way to go. I mean, sure – Andrew Johnson was a real asshat. But he did not break any laws…any real laws that is. That whole tenure of Office Act thing was a sham. Still – I feel the radicals’ pain on this one, I really do.

With compliments,


Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 8.28.34 AMI think that we can all agree that Andrew Johnson was a first-rate dickhead. He certainly ranked among the most egregious offenders when I recently conducted a “who’s the biggest dickhead in US history” survey.  So when it comes to his impeachment trial, given the chance, we would all probably be inclined to convict. But on what grounds…legally? I mean, last I checked, trying to obstruct congressional legislation and an amendment specifically designed to protect freedmen was the monumentally lame move of a king asshat – but not really illegal. And violating the Tenure of Office Act? Hmmmm….

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Front row seat.

So what do you say? Imagine yourself a senator in 1868 faced with the decision to convict (or not) and thus oust the president (…or not). What do you do? Remember…AJ’s lawyer has promised that he would make nice for the rest of his term and radical Benjamin Wade from Ohio is next in line for the job.

With compliments,


PS – I had a group of about 60 students do this exercise once…bonus points if you can guess what the majority decided.

Who’s the Biggest Dickhead in United States History?

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 9.49.03 AMIt’s not the easiest question to answer, really…what with all the possible contenders. But I asked it anyway – on the usual social media suspects. A couple of interesting things happened. For one, I learned that a dickhead is a special kind of historical actor. Sure, many a human abomination occupy the pages of our historical literature. But you can be a dickhead without being utterly despicable, though it doesn’t hurt. Many candidates were both total dickheads and complete assholes to be sure. Also, most nominees were Civil War soldiers. This may be because many of my social media connections are somehow involved in the study of Civil War history. But it also might be because desperate times call for a lot of dickheads.

So, who topped the list? George Custer. Not only his arrogance,  hyper-inflated ego, and sense of self-importance – but his unparalleled hubris during the Indian wars earned him the title of biggest dickhead. Congratulations, general.

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 10.21.38 AMGeorge McClellan – another nineteenth-century military figure – ranked highly as well. Also an megalomaniacal and insufferable twit, he built one of the greatest armies the western hemisphere had ever seen – and then sat on it. What’s worse, he referred to his commander-in-chief (Abraham Lincoln if you’re following along) as the original gorilla…in public. What a dickhead. Other Civil war era  historical dickheads include Oliver Otis Howard – who showed disdain for his own soldiers in battle, and  JEB Stuart – another ego maniac who seemed more inclined to get his name in the papers than do his job. As an honorable mention,Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 10.22.40 AM  Andrew Johnson earned the title of Reconstruction dickhead. And to round out the nineteenth century, Andrew Jackson got a few nods. His Indian policy alone could have done the trick but it helped that he was a sociopath who would shoot a man over even the slightest provocation.

I’m a little surprised that the twentieth century didn’t get more play. My vote was for George Wallace. Standing in a schoolhouse door to symbolically defy federally mandated integration? It’s a Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 10.24.02 AMschool, you dickhead. George Patton was surely a dickhead of the highest caliber. I mean…who humiliates a wounded soldier by slapping him around in front of his fellow wounded comrades? And he did this TWICE! Dick. Head. And Bull Connor? Fire-hoses? On kids? Come on. Finally,  I am not sure precisely why, but I have always thought Nelson Rockefeller was at least half a dickhead.

At any rate, there you go. What I have learned from this experiment is that there are a lot of historical dickheads out there. And a lot of them were named George.

With compliments,


John Norton Pomeroy on Impeachment

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 10.10.19 AMAs I was writing something on the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and thinking of those in favor of a broadly defined Constitutional approach to impeachment, I came across a succinct statement authored by legal scholar John Norton Pomeroy in 1868 (he published it in 1870). Pomeroy and others were not so terribly concerned that an executive or other officer might act illegally, but rather that they might abuse their powers. Well – these days it seems like a lot of people are thinking about executives overstepping their authority – nothing new I suppose… I welcome any and all comments.

The importance of the impeaching power consists, not in its effects upon subordinate ministerial officers, but in the check which it places upon the President and the judges. They must be clothed with ample discretion; the danger to be apprehended is from an abuse of this discretion. But at this very point where the danger exists, and where the protection should be certain, the President and the judiciary are beyond the reach of Congressional legislation. Congress cannot, by any laws penal or otherwise, interfere with the exercise of a discretion conferred by the Constitution…If the offense for which the proceeding may be instituted must be made indictable by statute, impeachment thus becomes absolutely nugatory against those officers in those cases where it is most needed as a restraint upon violations of public duty. 

With compliments,