In this engrossing new book, Robert S. Levine has penned a nuanced and detailed study of the ‘hopes and frustrations of Reconstruction’ during Andrew Johnson’s presidency. While focusing on the relationship between Johnson and Frederick Douglass, the author also includes the views of numerous African American writers who witnessed Johnson’s transformation from self-styled ‘Moses to Black People’ to betrayer of Reconstruction.The Failed Promise is a lesson for our times as we continue to confront our nation’s unfulfilled promise of racial equality.
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author of Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow
Robert Levine’s The Failed Promise is a fresh and distinctive account of the post-Civil War failure to advance the cause of racial equality. Levine tells the tragic story largely through the eyes of Andrew Johnson and Frederick Douglass, whom he portrays with vividness and nuance as they spar, separate, and sometimes converge–each looking to claim the support and prestige of the other until those efforts are overwhelmed by their constitutional, political, and personal differences. Failed Promise is a valuable book about the past. But it is also a sober reminder of how the quest for Black equality—starting with the incontestable, yet always contested, right to vote—remains unresolved in the present.
—Andrew Delbanco, author of The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War
An illuminating study of Andrew Johnson’s presidency and impeachment, offering a much-needed focus on African American leaders like Frederick Douglass and Frances Harper. Levine dramatizes the turbulent context in which they and their allies fought for the promise of Reconstruction, even as its tragedy unfolded. With expert readings and clear prose, this is a thoughtful and original study of the dynamics between official politics, social movements, and the Americans whose very lives hung in the balance.—Holly Jackson, author of American Radicals: How Nineteenth-Century Protest Shaped the Nation
In this brilliantly conceived, immensely original, and beautifully written book, Robert Levine tells a new story of Reconstruction by focusing on the radically different visions of Andrew Johnson and Frederick Douglass along with other black leaders. Far more than a dual biography, The Failed Promise clarifies the hopes and tragedies of the era in ways that nothing else has, while also informing efforts to reconstruct the U.S. today. It should be required reading.
—John Stauffer, co-author of Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth-Century’s Most Photographed American