About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for The Failed Promise: Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass, and the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

Greetings from the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s virtual author lecture with Robert S. Levine, author of The Failed Promise.

Before we begin, I’d like to tell you about September programs you can view on our YouTube channel.

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and to honor the heroic efforts of first responders and eyewitnesses, we will present two virtual programs.

On Tuesday, September 7, at 7 p.m., journalist Allison Gilbert will moderate a discussion related to the new book, American Phoenix: Heroes of the Pentagon on 9/11.  Joining Gilbert will be author Lincoln M. Starnes, and eyewitnesses Benjamin W. Starnes, Lt. Col. Marilyn Wills, Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Braman, and Army Sgt. Maj. Tony Rose, all of whom were in the Pentagon on 9/11 and performed acts of rescue.

And on Friday, September 10, at 6 p.m., we will present the discussion “A Life of Selfless Service, Sacrifice, and Civic Engagement, honoring the life of Cyril ‘Rick’ Rescorla.” Rescorla perished in the attack on the World Trade Center, he is credited with saving the lives of 2,700 fellow employees of Morgan Stanley and inspiring all those around him.

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April 1865 brought the Confederate surrender at Appomattox and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. In this period of uncertainty, Americans wondered how the new President, Andrew Johnson, would lead the divided nation. Many, especially African Americans, were hopeful that Johnson would actively promote the cause of Black equality.

Black leaders, however, became disillusioned with Johnson. After a dramatic meeting with the President at the White House, Frederick Douglass attacked Johnson’s policies in a number of lectures across the country. 

Johnson’s conflict with Congress over Reconstruction eventually led to his impeachment. Within the records of the National Archives is the resolution to impeach Johnson written on a scrap of paper and introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on February 21, 1868. Three days later, the House voted 128 to 47 to adopt the resolution.

In The Failed Promise, Robert S. Levine portrays the conflicts that brought Frederick Douglass and the wider Black community to reject President Andrew Johnson and call for a guilty verdict in his impeachment trial.

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Robert S. Levine is Distinguished University Professor of English and Distinguished Scholar-Teacher at the University of Maryland at College Park.

His most recent books before The Failed Promise are The Lives of Frederick Douglass and Race, Transnationalism, and Nineteenth-Century American Literary Studies. Levine has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2014 the American Literature Section of the Modern Language Association awarded him the Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies.

Now let’s hear from Robert Levine. Thank you for joining us.