Vice President Mike Pence penned a poisonous piece on impeachment in the Jan. 17 Wall Street Journal. His article revives white supremacist myths about the Reconstruction period following the U.S. Civil War.
The pseudo-historical op-ed seeks to defend Trump by whitewashing the super racist president, Andrew Johnson, who was impeached in 1868. It uses “Profiles in Courage,” written by Democrat John F. Kennedy, to do so.
Republican Sen. Edmund Ross is eulogized in Kennedy’s book for casting the deciding vote that kept Johnson in the White House. Pence quotes from it to urge Democratic senators not to convict Trump.
Trump’s sidekick describes Johnson, who succeeded the assassinated Abraham Lincoln, as having “quickly run afoul of the Republicans in Congress who wished to impose a far harsher penalty on the former Confederacy.”
What’s the real story? Andrew Johnson wanted to keep African Americans from voting. He did nothing as thousands of Black people were killed by Ku Klux Klan terror.
Johnson declared that “this is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men.” What a role model for Trump!
Frederick Douglass knew what Johnson was about. Douglass said to a friend at Lincoln’s second inauguration, “Whatever Andrew Johnson may be, he is no friend of our race.”
Pence is retelling the Klan version of history that vilified both Black and white fighters for human rights. These lies were taught in U.S. classrooms for a century until the Black liberation struggle flushed them out of most public schools.
The truth can be found in the monumental classic by W.E.B. DuBois, “Black Reconstruction in America.”
A big step backwards
Andrew Johnson was nominated as Lincoln’s running mate in June 1864. At the time, the largest Union army was besieging Petersburg, Va., while another Union army was trying to reach Atlanta.
This was the bloodiest period of the Civil War, with hundreds of Union soldiers being killed every day. Some Northern capitalists wanted to throw in the towel. Lincoln himself thought that he would be defeated for re-election.
The Republican Party’s answer was to capitulate to racism. It rebranded itself as the “National Union Party” and put Andrew Johnson—a Tennessee Democrat and slave owner—on the ticket.
Lincoln was no abolitionist and had to be pushed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. During the Civil War, Lincoln hanged 38 members of the Dakota Sioux Nation in Mankato, Minn., on Dec. 26, 1862. But Johnson was to the right of Lincoln.
What turned things around at the ballot box were the victories of the Union Army, particularly Atlanta’s capture on Sept. 2, 1864. The most revolutionary part of the army were Black soldiers, who were determined to defeat slavery.
Yet, Lincoln got just 55 percent of the vote and won New York state by less than 9,000 votes.
Six weeks after Lincoln was inaugurated for a second term, he was assassinated on Good Friday 1865.
Reprieve for traitors
The Confederacy had been smashed and the slave masters were in disarray. Now was the time to seize the land like the people of Zimbabwe did 135 years later under the leadership of President Robert Mugabe!
That’s what Pennsylvania Congressperson Thaddeus Stevens wanted to do, backed by a few colleagues in Congress. Big Capital wasn’t interested. Southern aristocrats were given a reprieve.
Yankee moneybags didn’t want formerly enslaved Africans to take over the plantations that they worked on and made rich. Northern capitalists wanted to exploit them instead. They certainly weren’t going to give any of the land back to Indigenous people from whom it was stolen.
The only land the Yankee one percent wanted to seize was for their railroad companies. Abandoned plantations along the Sea Islands on the coast of South Carolina and Georgia that had been granted to Black people by General Sherman were taken away.
Meanwhile, President Johnson was busy pardoning thousands of Confederate traitors. In 1866, he vetoed a civil rights bill and appropriations for the Freedmen’s Bureau that helped Black people in the South.
Hundreds of Black people were massacred by white mobs in Memphis, Charleston and New Orleans in 1866. A thousand African Americans were murdered by whites in Texas from 1865 to 1866. Black Codes were enacted in Southern states that denied any rights to African Americans.
Black people in the South and a few white allies fought back. So did the Radical Republicans in Congress, led by Thad Stevens. Andrew Johnson became detested and his opponents won large majorities in both houses of Congress in the 1866 elections.
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which forbade slavery, was written in the blood of hundreds of thousands of Black, white, Indigenous, Latinx, Muslim and Jewish soldiers. It has a rotten exception that permits slave labor in prisons.
This amendment now meant formerly enslaved Black people were no longer counted as three-fifths of a person. Southern states, if they were admitted to the union, would have even more seats in Congress. But African Americans could still be prevented from voting.
Combined with racist congressmen in the North, such a reactionary coalition with the former slavocracy could repudiate the U.S. national debt that had ballooned because of the Civil War. A large section of the wealthy and powerful in the North would have lost billions.
Suddenly there was support among capitalists for Black voting rights. Black people fought back against the Ku Klux Klan with rifles donated by Northern allies. Impeaching President Andrew Johnson was part of this righteous struggle.
Reconstruction was a brief springtime for African Americans. Black elected officials opened public schools for all students.
In South Carolina, a Black majority state legislature, called the Black Parliament, became the most democratic in U.S. history. It was the best government poor white people ever had.
Pence demagogically uses “Profiles in Courage” to defend Trump. Seven years after it was published, President John F. Kennedy was murdered in a Pentagon coup d’etat. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas was supported by the same elements in the ruling class that are backing Trump today.
In his book, JFK praised eight U.S. senators for their alleged courage. Three of them were slave masters. Neither Hiram Revels or Blanche Bruce —the first two Black senators, who were elected by the Mississippi legislature during Reconstruction—were mentioned.
Sen. Charles Sumner, an ally of Thaddeus Stevens who fought for land and freedom for Black people, wasn’t included either. Sumner was nearly beaten to death while pinned under his Senate desk by the rabidly pro-slavery Rep. Preston Brooks.
Kennedy paid tribute to Sen. Robert Taft—co-author of the viciously anti-union Taft-Hartley Act—for denouncing the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals.
Pence’s hero, Kansas Sen. Edmund Ross, was no “profile in courage.” Historian Brenda Wineapple, author of “The Impeachers,” described how Ross sold his vote to Andrew Johnson:
“He wanted Johnson to support a treaty that would sell 8 million acres that belonged to Native Americans to a railroad for a fraction of what it was worth. He wanted his brother to get a government position in Florida. Then he wanted two friends to be appointed as Indian agents, and another friend to be Southern superintendent of Indian affairs, and another friend to be a surveyor in Kansas.”
While Ross was demanding favors from Johnson, Kansas Republican Gov. Crawford was sending troops to fight Indigenous people on behalf of the railroads. It was railroad interests that helped broker the rotten deal in 1877 that led to Reconstruction’s bloody overthrow.
Impeach Trump for racism!
Trump and Pence need to be thrown out now. But the Democratic Party leadership has limited the impeachment struggle to Trump’s delay of $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. Texas Rep. Al Green’s appeal to impeach Trump for racism has been ignored.
No money should be sent to the regime in Ukraine that persecutes leftists. Its fascist supporters murdered at least 42 people at Odessa’s House of Trade Unions in 2014.
Backed by the U.S. and the European Union, the Kiev government has killed thousands of workers in its war against the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Every cent of aid sent to Ukraine’s fascist militias is money taken away from poor people.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to divert the struggle against Trump. But it’s the burning hatred against the Klansman in the White House that forced the Democratic Party leadership to back impeachment.
To millions of Black people and their allies, Trump is a clear and present danger. It’s as if arch-segregationist George Wallace had become president.
Trump and Pence are both neo-Confederates. The power of the people will sweep them away.
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