Going to the Devil: The Impeachment of 1868

Course No. 90019
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Course No. 90019
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What Will You Learn?

  • Hear the history behind the headlines.
  • Get an in-depth and evenhanded view of an often-overlooked period in American history.
  • Discover the factual history of this case unfolds like a fictional story.

Course Overview

The Great Courses is proud to present Going to the Devil: The Impeachment of 1868 This first-time-ever original narrative documentary is a unique and entertaining retelling of the turbulent yet fascinating events leading up to and through the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. You’ll hear “first-hand” from the characters themselves—including Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, and others who were involved—as you get an in-depth and evenhanded view of an often-overlooked period in American history. And these characters are probably unlike anyone you have encountered. With back-stabbings, acts of violence, twists and turns, and a cult of personalities, the factual history of this case unfolds like a fictional story.

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1 lectures
 |  Average 78 minutes each
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    Going to the Devil: The Impeachment of 1868
    Experience a dramatic, often-overlooked period of American history with this unique narrative documentary that delves into the story of the first impeachment. x

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Going to the Devil: The Impeachment of 1868 is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 4.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Impeachment of 1868 I enjoyed this course. It was well done and it was fascinating. It was especially interesting in light of all of the craziness with the current impeachment process.
Date published: 2020-01-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I thought it would be longer I was disappointed to find the course so short I was under the impression it would have been longer. Next time I’ll read the fine print. I will say what was presented was good it was just to short.
Date published: 2020-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course on a Similar Troubled Time Many say our troubled political situation is unique. Yet here is a case similar to our current situation in many ways. Lincoln’s successor tried to negate the freedoms gained for slaves from the Civil War. He abused his power of office. He attempted to impose his ideas upon an unwilling nation. While impeached by the House, by only a 1-vote Senate margin did he stay in the the Presidency. Great, informative perspective of American history.
Date published: 2020-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Trial of the Century The film's title "Going to the Devil" derives from a quote from Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, who believed that the nation was heading to hell with President Andrew Johnson in office. The narrative script for this superb, 78-minute documentary worked closely to the historical context of the 1868 impeachment proceedings, offering viewers detailed biographical overviews and the essential background leading up to the "accidental” presidency of Johnson following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The film provided lively capsules of Representative Stevens, Senator Charles Sumner, Senator Benjamin “Bluff” Wade, and the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, who was colorfully described in the film as “a short-tempered man with tiny glasses framed by a biblical beard.” The film carefully avoids preaching any contemporary political agenda or even seeking an overt comparison of the 1868 impeachment process with the current one in 2019-20. Viewers may draw their own conclusions, based on the evidence. The script draws upon a wide array of primary sources for incisive quotations, such as the voice of a relatively unknown writer named Mark Twain, who, from his seat in the reporters’ gallery in the House, describes a strikingly thin figure as “a corpse that was ready for the shroud.” Of course, Twain was referring to Thaddeus Stevens, who, in failing health, was desperately fighting for the impeachment of Johnson while striving to pass into law the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship and “equal protection of the laws” to persons born in the United States, including former slaves. The film dramatically reveals how, more than merely seeking the removal from office of a president they despised, Congress was vigorously enacting legislation to counter the President's attempt to thwart emancipation that was the legacy of Lincoln's final years in office. The program makes it clear that Andrew Johnson had abhorrent ideas. It also demonstrates that the United States Constitution stipulates that ideas are not impeachable offenses when "high crimes and misdemeanors" are the bedrock criteria spelled out by the Founding Fathers. Voters exercise their rights to remove politicians for their ideas. But Congress must work with what the Constitution defines as impeachable offenses in Article I, Section 2, Clause 5. The flimsy attempt by Congress to entrap Johnson in the committing of a crime was the ad hoc Tenure of Office Act, which was eventually ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1926. Over time, the Tenure of Office Act was forgotten, but the transformative act of the so-called radicals in Congress was in formulating the 14th and 15th Amendments as two of the high water marks in the history of human rights. The filmmakers could have taken more time in showing how both the House and the Senate were grappling with unprecedented parliamentary issues in the aftermath of the nation’s bloodiest internal conflict. The impeachment itself was condensed into the final quarter of the film. The three historians who appear onscreen are worthy of mention for their workmanlike comments and impartiality. Two of the experts have published full-scale studies of the Johnson impeachment. But the strength of the documentary was in the narration and the film’s production values. From the perspective of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson was a shrewd choice as a vice-presidential running mate on the 1864 ticket at a time when the Civil War was still raging and Lincoln’s reelection was in doubt. But Johnson’s inability to carry out Lincoln’s vision of emancipation led to his impeachment that that fell one vote short in the Senate’s finally tally. Arguably, this was the foremost trial of the nineteenth century in American history. Johnson ended his life with a remarkable comeback, winning election as Senator from his home state of Tennessee in 1875. Ironically, the heroic struggle to pass the historic 14th Amendment seemed lost on Thaddeus Stevens, who, as he approached death in 1868, believed that his life was a failure. With the excellent use of still photography, political cartoons of the age, an effective yet understated musical score, and the compelling narration, "Going to the Devil" concisely presents to students of history "the battle of the fate of postwar America."
Date published: 2020-01-04
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