Writ Large: Faculty Books:

Historic Failure

Annette Gordon-Reed '84

Credit: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times Annette Gordon-Reed ’84

Part of the American Presidents Series, this volume, excerpted below, examines the life and political career of Andrew Johnson, possibly the nation’s worst president, according to Gordon-Reed. At a time of great national upheaval, Abraham Lincoln was the perfect fit to reconnect the divided United States and solidify the rights of African-Americans, she writes. But his untimely death left the United States with a leader whose defining personal traits were “preternatural stubbornness and racism.” Gordon-Reed’s book is a critical analysis of how Johnson, who escaped removal from office by just one vote, failed the country at a crucial historical moment.

Excerpt

Summer 2011“Andrew Johnson was a different specimen altogether, a near polar opposite of Lincoln in his leadership style and temperament—even though on the surface he and Lincoln had much in common. … But what made the difference between them? Why was Lincoln the right man at the right time? Why did Johnson fail so miserably when fate handed him the reins of power? Lincoln tops almost every list of the greatest American presidents, admired by conservatives and liberals alike. Johnson, on the other hand, is almost always found among the worst, if not the worst—the man who botched Reconstruction, who energized and gave aid and comfort to the recently defeated enemies of the United States, the first president to be impeached by the House of Representatives, escaping conviction by a hairsbreadth, one vote, in the Senate. America went from the best to the worst in one presidential term.”

Copyright 2010 by Annette Gordon-Reed. Published in 2010 by Henry Holt and Co.