The Failed Promise: Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass, and the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

“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

Tuesday, Sep 21 from 7 – 8 pm online 

HCLS is pleased to welcome author Robert S. Levine as he discusses his new book, The Failed Promise: Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass, and the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson, which tells the story of Frederick Douglass’ heated struggle with President Andrew Johnson over the rights of Black Americans in the years immediately following the Civil War. 

Professor Levine recounts the conflicts that led to Johnson’s impeachment from the perspective of Douglass and the wider Black community. Douglass believed that the Union victory in the Civil War, aided by nearly 200,000 Black soldiers, meant that African Americans should gain the full rights of U.S. citizenship, including the right to vote. Sadly, Black Americans and other minorities are continuing to fight for such rights. Douglass’ struggle with Johnson speaks to the promise and failure of Reconstruction, and to the struggles of our own moment as well. 

Learn more and register at

Robert S. Levine is a distinguished University Professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author and editor of a number of books, including The Lives of Frederick Douglass, and he is the General Editor of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, the world’s most widely used American literature anthology. Visit his website for more starred reviews of The Failed Promise as well as a bibliography of his other writings.

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