Two against Lincoln

Reverdy Johnson and Horatio Seymour, Champions of the Loyal Opposition

William C. Harris

Reverdy Johnson (1796–1876), Maryland senator, and Horatio Seymour, Democratic governor of New York, were two influential opponents of Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans during the Civil War. But unlike the Copperheads, they staunchly supported the war to suppress the rebellion. The story of these two figures of the loyal opposition by Lincoln Prize–winning author William C. Harris provides a new way of understanding critical controversies relating to the purpose of the Civil War, its conduct, emancipation, white racial opinion, loyalty, military conscription, and civil liberties.

Johnson, a distinguished lawyer, former Whig, and conservative Unionist, did not believe that the secessionist states had left the Union, an idea with broad implications for post-war reconstruction. Like Seymour, he opposed Republican efforts in Washington to end slavery, assuming such a policy would backfire against the Union. However, Johnson in 1864 spoke in favor of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery. Before the war, Seymour supported Stephen Douglas's popular sovereignty policies, allowing the territories to decide whether or not to permit slavery, and during the war he opposed any tampering with slavery. Two Against Lincoln explores how these two men negotiated issues of emancipation, reconstruction, and reconciliation, all while navigating the roiling currents of partisan politics. The book includes illuminating accounts of the framing of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1866, the ephemeral National Union (Democratic) Party of 1866, the role of Senator Johnson in the approval of the military reconstruction acts of 1867, the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, and, finally, the presidential election of 1868 in which Seymour as the Democratic candidate did better than expected against war hero U. S. Grant.

“A worthy book. . . . a significant step toward understanding the elusive Democratic Party during the Civil War.

—Journal of Southern History

“Harris has produced a revealing look at Civil War politics and constitutional interpretation.

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Building on the author’s award winning work on Lincoln and the border states, Two Against Lincoln illustrates the complexity of political divisions in the Union states, as embodied in two powerful, controversial leaders of the time.

About the Author

William C. Harris is Professor Emeritus of History, North Carolina State University. He is the author of many books, including Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union, winner of the 2012 Lincoln Prize and the Abraham Lincoln Institute Book Award, and Lincoln&*8217;s Rise to the Presidency, winner of the 2008 Henry Adams Prize, both published by the University of Kansas Press.