Browsing "Hatred of the American South"

The Republican’s Avenue to Power

The following passage refers to Lincoln’s “lost speech” at the 1856 Bloomington, Illinois Republican party convention, where he reportedly fixated on keeping slaves in States where they lived while keeping the Kansas-Nebraska violence inflamed – the issues which his new party fed upon. The politically-ambitious Lincoln narrowly lost the vice-presidential nomination to William Dayton of New Jersey shortly after the Illinois convention, but then became what the author below refers to as a “Messiah-in-waiting” and coveting the presidency.  His plurality election in 1860 was the death knell of the United States Constitution.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Republican’s Avenue to Power

“The 1856 presidential election was pivotal in Lincoln’s formation as a foe of the South. It now appeared that the Republicans, not the “Know-Nothings,” would inherit the Northern Whig voters. Illinois Republicans [organized in Bloomington with] . . . all sorts of political leaders gathered there. Their common attribute was non-membership in the Democratic Party. They were Whigs, abolitionists, Free-Soilers, anti-Douglas Democrats, bolting Democrats, Know-Nothings – a collection of politicians of any stripe outside the Democratic Party. It was a political gathering . . . a group of people clubbed together to seek power.

They had only one common issue – the need, as they saw it, to attack slavery. The people they represented did not want slaves (or free Negroes) admitted to their State or territory of interest. The Northern and foreign immigrants did not want Negroes where they lived. They wanted to keep them out, to make them stay in the South. The politicians were going to use that popular attitude as an avenue to power.

In 1856, [Lincoln] accepted election as a delegate to the convention in Bloomington . . . meant to organize a State Republican party. He stood up with a show of reluctance . . . [and] spoke from scribbled notes. When he finished, and hour and a half after beginning, “a mob of frenzied men churned around him, congratulating him, praising him, pumping his hand.”

(Lincoln As He Really Was, Charles T. Pace, Shotwell Publishing, 2018, excerpts pp. 139-140)

“It Was Lincoln Who Made War”

The author quoted below, US Navy Captain and Virginia-native Russell Quynn, was a veteran of both World Wars and a member of the Virginia bar since 1941. He writes that against the North, “the armies of the South at peak strength never exceeded 700,000 men,” and that “imported “Hessians” were used “by Lincoln to crush Americans of the South whose fathers had served in the armies of Washington, Jackson, Taylor, to make the nation, to found its renown.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

“It Was Lincoln Who Made War”

“Jefferson Davis, with his family, was captured in the Georgia pines on May 10, 1865, while en route to the Trans Mississippi, where he had hoped forces were still intact to continue the struggle Johnston and Beauregard had given up to Sherman at Durham, North Carolina . . . The odds now were ten to one; the North was being armed with Spencer-magazine repeating rifles, against the Confederates muzzle-loaders, to turn the war into mass murder.

During the four years of war the Northern armies had been replenished with large-scale inductions of more than 720,000 immigrant males from Europe; who were promised bounties and pensions that the South afterwards largely had to pay (see the Union Department of War records).

Charged with detestable crimes that, it was only too well known, he could not be guilty of, Davis was unable to obtain a hearing, and finally was released. A bail bond of $100,000 had been posted for him, oddly enough, by some of the men who had been his bitterest enemies – Horace Greeley, Gerrit Smith, Vanderbilt, and others among the twenty men who pledged $5,000 each in federal court.

Davis himself thought that “. . . by reiteration of such inappropriate terms as “rebellion” and treason,” and the asseveration that the South was levying war against the United States, those ignorant of the nature of the Union, and of the reserved powers of the States, have been led to believe that the Confederate States were in the condition of revolted provinces, and that the United States were forced to resort to arms for the preservation of their existence . . . The Union was formed for specific enumerated purposes, and the States had never surrendered their sovereignty . . . It was a palpable absurdity to apply to them, or to their citizens when obeying their mandates, the terms “rebellion” and “treason”; and, further, the Confederacy, so far from making war or seeking to destroy the United States, as soon as they had an official organ, strove earnestly by peaceful recognition, to equitably adjust all questions growing out of the separation from their late associates.”

It was Lincoln who “made war.” Still another perversion, Davis thought, “was the attempted arraignment of the men who formed the Confederacy, and who bore arms in its defense, as “instigators of a controversy leading to disunion.” Of course, it was a palpable absurdity, and but part of the unholy vengeance, which did not cease at the grave.”

(The Constitutions of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis: A Historical and Biographical Study in Contrasts, Russell H. Quynn, Exposition Press, 1959, excerpts pp. 126-128)

Another Northern General’s View of the Negro

Like many if not most Northern general officers who had not gone over to the Radicals, who saw future Republican votes and political hegemony in the freedmen, Sherman held black field hands in low esteem and predicted their demise if freed. Connecticut native Frederick Law Olmstead, who travelled through much of the South in the early 1850s found the slaves “a very poor and a very bad creature, much worse than I had supposed before. The people thus burthened [with black servants] would have need to provide systematically for the physical wants of these poor creatures, else that the latter would be liable to prey with great waste upon their substance.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Another Northern General’s View of the Negro

“General William T. Sherman, who conducted one of the most disgraceful dragonnades of modern history through the Carolinas and Georgia (January 1864-April 1865) “freeing” every Negro in sight, nevertheless had written his brother, Senator John Sherman, in July 1860: “All the Congresses on Earth cannot make the Negro anything else than what he is; he must be subject to the white man, or he must amalgamate or be destroyed . . . Two such races cannot live in harmony save as master and slave.”

Six months earlier, in December 1859, when the Abolitionists were roaring in high fettle, stamping on the floors and pounding on the desks in both houses of Congress, he had said: “I would not if I could abolish or modify slavery.”

Having stated opposite views on the matter in previous weeks, Lincoln in a different milieu, looking South with apparent sympathy, could say: “I cannot blame the Southerners for not doing what I should not know how to do myself . . . Were all earthly powers given me I would not know what to do as to the existing institution.”

Yet some years later, as if indeed all earthly powers had been given him, he took it upon himself – and wholly outside the Constitution – to declare forever “free” nearly four million uneducated, childlike blacks, not one in a thousand of whom had the least notion of what it was all about. They were suddenly propelled into a highly organized white civilization that moved and existed by the means of money, hired labor, production, consumption, and where sentiment was incongruous if not grotesque.

This was all done by a juvenile moral stature, accomplished by an outrageous ukase that no Czar of . . . [Russia] would have dared to utter.”

(The Constitutions of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis: A Historical and Biographical Study in Contrasts, Russell H. Quynn, Exposition Press, 1959, excerpts pp. 85-86)

A Calming Effect at Sumter

North Carolina’s Jonathan Worth sensed that despite the sectional troubles of the latter 1850s and Lincoln’s election, “Unionist sentiment was ascendant and gaining strength until Lincoln prostrated us.” He added “the President could abandon Sumter and Pickens without any sacrifice of his principles . . .” Worth also felt that Seward’s duplicity did more that all the secessionists to drive North Carolina out the Union, as Lincoln behind the scenes pursued his aggressive policy of war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Calming Effect at Sumter

“The [Confederate] commissioners were impatient to gain a hearing and get on with their negotiations. At first Seward promised to let them know how best to bring the subject of their mission before the President and the cabinet. Then he began to stall them off by saying the administration did not yet have time to deal properly with a matter so important.

The President, he explained, was “besieged” by applicants for office and was “surrounded by all the difficulties and confusion incident to the first days of a new administration.” Seward gave the commissioners to understand, however, that Sumter very soon would be evacuated anyhow.

When they demanded an informal conference with him (at no time had they and he met face to face) he said he would have to consult the President. The answer he later relayed back to them was “No, it would not be in his power to receive the gentlemen.”

The rumors Seward had started, about the early abandonment of Sumter, eventually appeared in the press. They made “great news” in the metropolitan dailies on Monday, March 11, the very day on which Lincoln, in his orders to [Gen. Winfield] Scott, reaffirmed the opposite policy – a fact which the newspapers did not report and did not know.

As the news spread, it had, on the whole, a calming effect in Richmond and elsewhere in the non-Confederate South. “The removal from Sumter,” said George W. Summers, writing on behalf of the Virginia Unionists, and writing as if the removal already were a fact, “acted like a charm – it gave us [Southern Unionists] great strength. A reaction is now going on in the State.”

In Washington, the Confederate commissioners agreed to postpone their demand for an immediate reception. They would wait, but only for a couple of weeks, until about March 28, and only on condition that the existing military status of the Union forts remain absolutely unchanged.

In Charleston, the publishers and the readers of the Charleston Mercury and the Courier rejoiced that Sumter would soon fall without a fight. “The news . . . seems to have caused an almost entire cessation of work on the batteries around us,” one of [Major] Anderson’s officers wrote to the War Department . . .”

In the city of New York, and throughout the . . . North – there was mixed reaction. Some thought the decision unfortunate but unavoidable. Some, especially Buchanan Democrats and also businessmen with Southern connections, heartily approved.”

(Lincoln and the First Shot, Richard N. Current, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1963, excerpts pp. 54-56)

 

Belligerent Public Enemies in a Territorial War

Lincoln’s unfortunate choice of a mentor on reconstruction, William Whiting of Massachusetts, below refers to the American people in the South peacefully seeking self-government as belligerent public enemies, who, when finally conquered with fire and sword, deserved no more than eternal contempt and suspicion. He further proclaims the North’s “right to hang them as murderers and pirates,” and “whatever rights are left to them besides the rights of war will be such as we choose to allow them.  He believed the Southern States had forfeited their legal status in the Union they departed, only to be dragged back in as conquered territories and a people entitled to no rights.

As far as loyal Union men of the South are concerned, and they were numerous, Lincoln refused their wise counsel to abandon Fort Sumter in early 1861 to allow time and diplomacy for the settlement of sectional differences. They, as well as former President James Buchanan, suggested calling a Constitutional Convention of the States as the proper solution for disputes. These measures would have saved a million lives, and quite possibly the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Belligerent Public Enemies in a Territorial War

“Lincoln’s plan of reconstruction was built on a concept of a wartime President’s powers so extended as to transcend the points of reference of earlier chief executives. It was military reconstruction, and it was the most direct imaginable intervention of the will of the national government into the internal structure of the State’s. In terms of power, Lincoln’s reconstruction plan was radical indeed.

The fact is that Lincoln enjoyed the services as mentor – with respect to the war-swollen power potentials of his office – of a prominent champion of Radical Republicanism, an old-line Boston abolitionist, William Whiting.

Brought into the War Department as its solicitor – primarily in order to prepare briefs that the government employed to fend off suits – in Northern States and in border areas, alleging the unconstitutionality of conscription and internal security measures – Whiting was the most learned lawyer in the United States in matters of the international laws of war.

He became the natural source of legalisms in support of the reconstruction program that the President was gradually evolving out of information he gained primarily from Army and War Department sources.

Here is Whiting’s prophetic essay of July 28, 1863, issued as a letter to the Philadelphia Union League, under the title, “The Return of the Rebellious States to the Union.” Note its harmony with the Lincoln plan as issued the following December, so far as the assumption of national powers is concerned, as well as its expression of concern with respect to the untrustworthiness of a conquered South.

“As the success of the Union cause shall become more certain and apparent to the enemy, in various localities, they will lay down their arms, and cease fighting. Their bitter and deep-rooted hatred of the Government, and of all the Northern men who are not traitors, and of all Southern men who are loyal, will still remain interwoven in every fiber of their hearts, and will be made, if possible, more intense by the humiliation of conquest and subjugation.

The foot of the conqueror planted upon their proud necks will not sweeten their tempers; and their defiant and treacherous nature will seek to revenge itself in murders, assassinations and all other underhand methods of venting a spite which they dare not manifest by open war, and in driving out of their borders all loyal men.

To suppose that a Union sentiment will remain in any considerable number of men, among a people who have strained every nerve and made every sacrifice to destroy the Union, indicates dishonesty, insanity or feebleness of intellect.

Beware of committing yourselves to the fatal doctrine of recognizing the existence, in the Union, of States which have been declared by the President’s proclamation to be in rebellion. For, by this new device of the enemy – this new version of the poisonous State rights doctrine – the Secessionists will be able to get back by fraud what they failed to get by fighting. Do not permit them, without proper safeguards, to resume in your counsels, in the Senate and in the House, the power which their treason has stripped from them.

Do not allow old States, with their Constitutions still unaltered, to resume State powers.

The rebellious districts contain ten times as many traitors as loyal men. The traitors will have a vast majority of the votes. Clothed with State rights under our Constitution, they will crush out every Union man by the irresistible power of their legislation. If you would be true to the Union men of the South, you must not bind them hand and foot, and deliver them to their bitterest enemies.

Having set up a government for themselves . . . they were no longer mere insurgents and rebels, but became a belligerent public enemy. The war was no longer against “certain persons” in the rebellious States. It became a territorial war; that is to say, a war by all persons situated in the belligerent territory against the United States.”

(The Radical Republicans and Reconstruction: 1861-1870, Harold M. Hyman, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1967, excerpts pp. 91-95)

 

A Shoddy Aristocracy Rules Conquered Provinces

Other than humiliating the American South and its people after military defeat and utter desolation, Radical Republicans led by the vindictive Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania had little plan for restoring the Union they claimed to have saved. Stevens was a Gettysburg iron furnace owner who benefited from high protective tariffs promoted by his party. His abolitionist credentials were tarnished by successfully arguing a case to return a fugitive slave to their owner; and being accused of murdering a pregnant black woman in the late 1820s.

The war can be said to have been waged by Lincoln’s party as retribution for the Confederacy’s virtual free tariff importation rates established in early 1861 — Northern ports faced desolation as the Northern-majority U.S. Congress passed Vermont Senator Justin Morrill’s 47 percent tariff.  With the Radical Republican firmly in power in 1865, nothing could restrain them from even higher tariffs to protect their party’s industrialist supporters.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Shoddy Aristocracy Rules Conquered Provinces

“Throughout the North, as in Iowa, Radicals won smashing [electoral] victories. Congressional propaganda, campaign smears, claptrap discussions, and the evasion of fundamental issues had won over presidential patronage and blundering.

Neither the Congress nor the President nor the South had been wise. In the North the people had been deceived into believing that the Radicals had a plan for orderly restoration and the competence to put it into operation. But in reality they had a plan which, burdened with the spirit of vengeance, was designed to achieve little more than their own temporary supremacy.

They had no program designed to achieve reasonable and enduring solutions. The Union had been saved, but in the wake of the war the rising leaders were showing the lack of foresight and wisdom to grapple with the problems of the new order. The end result for a generation was to be a “shoddy aristocracy” in the North, destitution in the South, and a low level of political morality in the nation.

Old Thad [Stevens of Pennsylvania] and his satellites on the Joint Committee were grinding out measures to deprive [President] Johnson of the federal patronage and control of the army, and to vest these functions in the hands of Congress. And at the first party caucus Stevens rebuked Republicans who . . . assured constituents that the Fourteenth Amendment alone was an adequate condition for the restoration of the “conquered provinces.”

In this session, revisions of wartime economic legislation had been pushed into the background by Reconstruction matters. However, when, through Morrill, industrialists quietly slipped in a bill to revise the tariff upward by 20 percent . . .”

(John A. Kasson, Politics and Diplomacy from Lincoln to McKinley, Edward Younger, State Historical Society of Iowa, 1955, excerpts, pp. 217- 219)

 

Radical Republicans Consolidate Power

Long unhappy with Lincoln’s lack of severity in punishing the South, Radical Republicans knew that freedmen could not be left in friendly relations with their former owners and jeopardize triumphant Republican war gains. The Union League was the terror-arm of the party which taught the freedmen that their white neighbors would re-enslave them at the first opportunity, and unwavering Republican voting would protect them. As the Radicals no doubt were responsible for Lincoln’s demise, they also found his successor lacking in sufficient hatred for the South and disposed of him as well.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Radical Republicans Consolidate Power

“While a stunned people paid final tribute to Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis fled southward from Richmond. His capture symbolized the end of power of a restraining, agrarian aristocracy in America. Lincoln’s passing removed the last effective check on vindictive Radicals and symbolized the end of power of a restraining, agrarian democracy.

Out of the confusion created from the scars of war and from the demise of hoary agrarian restraints, business-industrial America was to swagger in under the cloak of the [Republican] platform of 1860 and Radical Reconstruction.

Ephemerally, hate and revenge would run rampant, tarnishing reputations, sweeping away moderate men, and pushing to the top many who had not even expected political leadership only a few years before.

For a few fleeting days following Lincoln’s assassination, Radicals had purred contentedly around Andrew Johnson. The new President was one of them: he talked of harsh treatment for rebels. But by . . . late May, Johnson . . . was following Lincoln’s moderate reconstruction policies.

In the [mid-June 1865 Iowa] State convention . . . A rising temper of Radicalism had been revealed . . . Radicals on the floor had pushed through a proposal committing the party to an amendment to the State constitution allowing Negro suffrage.

To grant universal suffrage to the Negro would enable “base politicians” to pander to “ignorance and incapacity”; the race as a whole would be unfit to exercise the voting privilege for a generation.

Thad Stevens, cool, grim and confident, sat ready to “spring the drop” on [new] Southern Congressmen, on President Johnson, and on any moderate Republicans who stood in his way. With malice toward the defeated, and charity toward Negroes, railroad entrepreneurs and industrialists, this cynical old man had some carefully laid plans for the perpetual ascendancy of the Republican party.

[Johnson’s reconstruction plan] would bring Western and Southern men (with certain Eastern allies] into a combination to rule the republic. Such a rule, agrarian in nature, might mean loss of power for Republicans; and it would almost certainly dilute or reverse wartime tariff, railroad and monetary policies so lucrative to the expansive business, financial and industrial interests. [Financiers], ironmasters, and railroad entrepreneurs had as much to lose from an unfavorable economic policy as did Radical politicians from a Reconstruction policy which might bring loss of power and patronage.”

(John A. Kasson, Politics and Diplomacy from Lincoln to McKinley, Edward Younger, State Historical Society of Iowa, 1955, excerpts, pp. 178-179; 181-184; 189-190)

Postwar Corruption and Thievery in Washington

The war waged against the American South was more about destroying it’s political and economic power in the Union, so that Northern political and economic interests could prevail nationally. The resulting carnival of political vice and scandal is best summarized with: “The festering corruptions of the post-war period sprang up in every part of America and in almost every department of national life. Other loose and scandalous times . . . had been repellent enough; but the Grant era stands unique in the comprehensiveness of its rascality.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Postwar Corruption and Thievery in Washington

“The Civil War had severed the Southern checks on the exploitation of natural resources, had supplanted an old, experienced ruling class for a new, inexperienced one, had released the dynamic energies of the nation, and had ushered in the Era of Manipulation.

Under President Grant, pliant and politically naïve, the government had fallen into the hands of dishonest and incapable men . . . politics under the cloak of Radicalism more and more had become identified with manipulation for economic favor. Hordes of lobbyists had swarmed over the land, seeking railroad subsidies, mining concessions, and thousands of other government handouts.

The West was being plundered by railroad and mining corporations, the South by Carpetbaggers and Scalawags. The cities and the State legislatures, in North and South alike, were infested with rings, lobbyists, bribe-givers, and bribe-takers. Even the national Congress had become a tool of predatory business interests. Machine politics, firmly founded on patronage, economic privilege, the bloody shirt, and the soldier vote, prevailed everywhere.

The new ruling classes, flushed with prosperity, had lost their sense of responsibility, and corruption had kept pace with the upward swing of the business cycle. Political morality had sunk to its lowest level in American history.

In the closing days of the last Congress, [Grant’s self-styled House floor leader] Ben Butler and a few others had slipped through a measure increasing the salaries of the President, members of Congress, and other high officials. Tacked onto the unpopular measure was a retroactive feature which in effect gave each member a $500 bonus for his service the last two years.”

(John A. Kasson, Politics and Diplomacy from Lincoln to McKinley; Edward Younger, State Historical Society of Iowa, 1855, excerpts pp. 250-252)

Smallpox Hand Grenades Feared in Virginia

The Twenty-first Regiment of New York Volunteers was initially enlisted for a three-month tour of duty after Fort Sumter. On August 20, 1861, as the unit neared the end of their sworn term, it was reported that “attempted revolt” in the ranks arose as Lincoln requisitioned the short-term volunteers for his lengthy war. Generous enlistment bounties, furloughs, new immigrants impressed and captured Southern black men counted toward State quotas would solve the issue.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Smallpox Hand Grenades Feared in Virginia

“On June 5th [1861], the Elmira correspondent of the [New York World] writes as follows: “The Cayuga, Buffalo and Hillhouse regiments are the only ones that have received their arms, and indeed, the only ones that are uniformed. The Buffalo men were uniformed by their fellow citizens, and present a fine appearance.”

In Mr. Faxon’s correspondence with the [Buffalo] Courier, we find the following:

“Yesterday and today were given almost entirely to the preventive service. Small-pox having been announced as one of the warlike weapons in use by our rebellious friend in Virginia, to scatter among our troops as a soldier would throw hand grenades, our Surgeon . . . [introduced] into the entire human economy of the regiment a little vaccine matter.

The Rev. Mr. Robie had become at once a general favorite. He has donned the theological uniform . . . and looks as though he was ready, at a moment’s notice, to engage the rebels of the South or the foe of all mankind.

Says a member of the regiment in a letter to the Buffalo Courier: “I consider it the duty of someone to tender our grateful acknowledgments to the ladies . . . Ladies of Buffalo, we will bear you in everlasting remembrance, and try to do our duty as soldiers, — to the killing of Jeff. Davis, if possible.”

[July 8th]: Last Thursday being the eighty-fifth anniversary of American Freedom, was fitly celebrated with us by a review of the troops in Washington and vicinity.

[Near Falls Church, Virginia], We learned this morning [29 September] that a scouting party returning from the front last night were fired upon by a California regiment, and several men killed, the result of carelessness in not having the countersign. Some of the men have been foraging among the deserted rebel mansions in the neighborhood. The house of Major Nutt, which its gallant owner hastily evacuated the day of our advance, stands, or did stand, about a mile north of the hill.

A party of [General Ludwig] Blenker’s [German regiment], probably carrying out the precepts of old world warfare, have completely demolished it, together with that portion of the contents which they did not choose to carry away. The remains of a fine piano and other heavy furniture litter the grounds; the garden and outbuildings are sacked and destroyed, and the [livestock] appropriated by the ravagers.”

(Chronicles of the Twenty-first Regiment, New York Volunteers, J. Harrison Mills, Twenty-first Regiment Veteran Association, 1887, excerpts pp. 50-52; 121)

Hollywood Censorship and Denatured History

The William Dieterle-directed film “Tennessee Johnson” released in January 1943, originally written to depict the epic post-Civil War political battle between Andrew Johnson and Thaddeus Stevens, is not available on video though according to the author “pops up now and then on Turner Classic Movies.” This was the same era when South Carolinian Jimmy Byrnes was told that despite his stellar career in the Democratic Party, a Southerner could not be added to FDR’s ticket as vice president in 1940 – but the Soviet-friendly Henry Wallace was.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Hollywood Censors and Denatured History

“Tennessee Johnson, an MGM biography of President Andrew Johnson . . . starred Van Heflin as the cussed tailor of Greenville and Lionel Barrymore (one of Hollywood’s great New Deal-haters) as Thaddeus Stevens, Johnson’s radical nemesis. The movie received the sort of respectful notices often given to earnest historical films. It was also one of Hollywood’s most craven moments.

The film was originally titled The Man on America’s Conscience.  The script . . . took the traditional Claude Bowers view of Reconstruction and Johnson’s impeachment: that is, that “Johnson fought the bravest battle for constitutional liberty and for the preservation of our institutions ever waged by an executive” against Pennsylvania congressman Stevens, the brilliant but hateful clubfoot who wished to mistreat the conquered Southerners like a vast peonage.”

Enter Walter White, secretary of the NAACP. When he learned that MGM was producing an anti-Reconstruction film, White complained to Lowell Mellett, director of the Bureau of Motion Pictures of the Office of War Information. The OWI, a propaganda agency created by one of FDR’s executive orders, requested a copy of the screenplay . . . [and] when Mellett and White previewed the unedited film, they hit the roof.

Mellett demanded that key scenes be reshot or removed. Thad Stevens, the screenplay’s villain, was humanized; one new scene had him kissing and petting Andrew Johnson’s grandkids. A scene in which Stevens plied Johnson with drink before his legendary incoherent vice presidential Inaugural Address was left on the cutting room floor. Rewritten dialogue assured us that Stevens was “sincere” if a mite vengeful.

The essential character of Lydia Smith, Steven’s mulatto housekeeper and probable mistress, disappeared. Despite the changes, a gang of Hollywood liberals – Ben Hecht, Zero Mostel, Vincent Price – petitioned the OWI to destroy the picture, in best fascist fashion, in the cause of national unity.

Tennessee Johnson – the OWI demanded a conscience-less title – was released in its denatured form. It’s a fairly standard biopic: Johnson, nicely played by Heflin, is the runaway tailor’s apprentice and self-styled champion of “poor white trash” who is only trying to act on his predecessor’s wise policy of malice toward none and charity toward all. With the exception of Jefferson Davis, secessionists are depicted as huffy churls and hotheads.

One consequence of Walter White’s protest was the omission of Lydia Smith, a meaty role for a black actress. The part was recast as the corpulent “laws a mercy!” black maid of stereotype. The excision of Lydia Smith not only warred upon the truth, it also made Steven’s Negrophilia less comprehensible. Love, after all, is always a higher afflatus than political principle.

Walter White’s autobiography makes no mention of his role in altering Tennessee Johnson. The title is absent from a full shelf of books on censorship and the movies; censorship, it seems, only worked one way in Hollywood.”

(The Hollywood Ten(nessean), Bill Kaufmann; Chronicles, October, 1998, excerpt, pp. 39-40. www.chroniclesmagazine.org)

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