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The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days That Changed the Nationby Howard Means
Synopses & Reviews
From the moment of Lincolns death on April 15, 1865, until Andrew Johnson, his replacement, formally announced postwar plans on May 29, the fate of the country hung in the balance. War had left the Republic strained almost beyond endurance. Johnsons ascendancy to the presidency seemed the killing stroke even to the victorious North. A former slave owner from the border state of Tennessee, Johnson had been drunk at his inauguration as vice president; he was hated equally by the South and the North. Some Northerners were even convinced he had been part of the conspiracy behind Lincolns assassination. Later, he escaped impeachment by a single vote.
As Howard Means reveals in this revisionist, powerfully persuasive, and absorbingly dramatic account of Johnsons first six weeks in office, the new president faced almost insurmountable odds. Yet, as Means shows, Johnson not only met but overcame them, preserving the Union for which so many had sacrificed their lives.
"Former Washingtonian magazine editor (and Louis Freeh's coauthor) Means recreates the first weeks of the presidency of a man who had never expected to find himself in that role. Initially, Andrew Johnson had nothing but harsh words for Southern planters and other erstwhile Confederates. But on May 29, 1865, he offered amnesty to any Confederate supporters who would take an oath of loyalty to the Constitution. Though Radical Republicans in Congress were furious that Johnson had unilaterally made this decision, the New York Times praised the president. Means suggests that Johnson took this bold step because he thought it was faithful to 'Lincolnian doctrine.' But Means is not out to make a hero of Johnson — quite the opposite. He believes Reconstruction was a failure. Intended 'to forge a new postwar South,' it 'instead perpetuated the old one.' Johnson's amnesty, for instance, paved the way for the establishment of discriminatory Black Codes in the South. Though Means doesn't add much to our understanding of Johnson, he has done history buffs a service by offering an impassioned, easy-to-read introduction to the 17th president. (Those who want to go deeper should read Eric L. Mc-Kitrick's majestic Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction)." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Virgina-based biographer and novelist Means describes how Johnson dealt with the aftermath of the Civil War when the US presidency fell to him with Lincoln's assassination in April 1865. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Brings to life one of the most critical moments in American history through the eyes of one of its most misunderestimated presidents--Andrew Johnson. Until now, books on Johnson have focussed exclusively on the impeachment trial (these books sold well during Clinton's impeachment proceedings). By contrast, award-winning journalist and novelist Howard Means focuses upon the first 45 days of Johnson's presidency, beginning with the assassination of Lincoln on April 14 and ending at the close of May 1865, when Johnson declared his terms of peace and set the nation on a course that still reverberates in our own time.
Means' book shows how the nation's future hung in the balance when a Southerner (a slave-holder at the start of the Civil War) and a Democrat was being called upon to replace the most famous Republican president in history. At a time that required the most delicate of political touches, Johnson had shown that he was perhaps the most obstinate man in America. He had been drunk at his own inauguration as vice-president only a month before. Not only did Mary Todd Lincoln detest him, she also thought he had been among the plotters that murdered her husband. How would Johnson lead the nation? Would he be a reconciler like Lincoln? Or would he, as the Radicals and much of the nation expected, side with them? ("The Avenger takes his place" comes from a poem by Herman Melville that appeared shortly after Lincoln's death.) For forty-five days the nation--including a deeply anxious South--waited.
That crucial month and a half is the focus of this book.
About the Author
HOWARD MEANS was a senior editor for Washingtonian maga­zine, where he won three William Allen White Medals. His previous books include the novel C.S.A. He cowrote former FBI director Louis Freeh's recently published memoir. He lives in Millwood, Virginia.
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