... engrossing ... presents the battle over Reconstruction primarily from the perspectives of Johnson and Douglass, in the process illuminating what was at stake in the febrile political climate of the postwar period ... While the author expertly depicts Douglass—he has written about the great orator before—his portrait of Andrew Johnson stands out. In this book, Johnson is a vexing, divided and, for these reasons, ultimately intriguing person ... Mr. Levine is careful not to place the blame for the botched Reconstruction entirely at the 17th president’s feet ... Mr. Levine poignantly captures a moment when the future of the United States was up for grabs, when it was possible to imagine the full political participation of blacks and whites across the nation. In so doing, the author suggests the tragic consequences of failure and the way in which those consequences are still very much with us.
... fascinating if flawed ... Levine puts a lot of weight on the fact that in 1865, Johnson had privately expressed a plan for limited Black suffrage. Yet at the same time, Johnson was publicly insisting that suffrage too radical would set off 'a war of the races.' And whatever Johnson may have said, what he actually did couldn’t be clearer. He used his power to undermine Reconstruction at every turn, presiding over what the historian Annette Gordon-Reed has called a 'slow-motion genocide' ... Levine nimbly narrates the road to Johnson’s eventual impeachment.
Levine deftly lays the groundwork for a better understanding of what impeachment is and isn’t, and how it does or doesn’t have practical application today, by delving into that first impeachment ... Levine offers fascinating insights into that little-known historical chapter not only from the point of view of the impeached, Johnson, who often proclaimed himself the 'Moses' of African Americans, but also of one of the champions for citizenship and suffrage for freed slaves, Frederick Douglass ... For those interested in issues relating to impeachment of any past president, or potential impeachment of any future president, and particularly for those who insist on expressing opinions about the topic on social media, The Failed Promise: Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass, and the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson is highly recommended. While no law requires people to actually know what they’re talking about, there’s no law that prohibits it, either.
... a fresh take on the racial and political turmoil that followed the Civil War ... Mr. Levine’s depiction of Douglass is particularly revelatory ... To some degree, he oversimplifies the issues in the [Andrew Johnson impeachment] trial and misreads the motives of its participants. At times, Mr. Levine’s book shades into advocacy and wishful thinking, though his disappointment with the Radicals’ unwillingness to confront white supremacy is understandable. Ultimately, the reader comes away with a greater appreciation of Douglass’ courage and eloquence, as well as the sense that Johnson was less a cold-hearted villain than a representative of his time.
... engaging ... Recommended for readers who enjoy 19th-century history or presidential studies, and those seeking to understand the failures of Reconstruction. This thorough account adds a much-needed perspective on Reconstruction and Johnson’s presidency; it speaks to the ongoing battles over voting rights and racism.
... excellent, opinionated, and discouraging ... Historians dutifully explain why Johnson discarded his hatred of slave owners in favor of White supremacy. Levine contributes an unobjectionable, intriguing theory, but mostly he recounts the dismal events that followed ... Outstanding as both a biography and a work of Reconstruction-era history.
... enlightening and timely ... Brilliantly spotlighting Douglass’s rhetorical strategies and mounting despair over the failure of Reconstruction, this trenchant study speaks clearly to today’s battles over voting rights and racial justice.