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April 14th, 1865. America reels with shock at the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Washington DC has been thrown into chaos, most especially especially Lincoln’s presidential cabinet. Is the assassination a plot by the Confederates? A lone wolf? Or perhaps it was sanctioned by one of Lincoln’s own inner circle.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton must guide the nation through these turbulent times, and ensure a smooth transition once Vice President Andrew Johnson takes office. However, Johnson stands oppossed to almost everything Lincoln stood for. Moreover, Stanton begins to wonder if Johnson might have had a hand in the assassination. Thus begins a game of cat and mouse as the two men fight to ensure their vision for the future of America. In doing so, Stanton and Johnson must decide how far they’re willing to go, and what lines they’re willing to cross, to achevie their visions.

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1865 is a historical fiction audio drama created by Steve Walters and Erik Archilla, in association with Lindsay Graham for Wondry and Airship. It’s website can be found here.


1865 contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The podcast is largely inspired by a play Walters and Archilla created in college called Mars which follows the life of Edwin Stanton.
  • American Civil War: The podcast begins not long after Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia have surrendered. General Joseph E. Johnston continues to fight on, but the Confederate government formally surrenders midway through the series, thus ending the war for good.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The 1865 Twitter account loves doing this. It will begin a tweet that sounds like a summary of current events, only to reveal, via ending with “Welcome to 1865”, that it is actually talking about historical events related to the show.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: On the bitter side of things Johnson is acquitted and grants fully amnesty to the former Confederate states. The Freeman’s Bureau fails to achieve its goals after Johnson botches Reconstruction, and civil rights for blacks and other minorities will have to be a dream deferred. Oh, and monuments are being built to the Confederacy, even in state that stayed loyal to the Union, such as West Virginia. On the sweet side, thank to Stanton’s efforts, Johnson’s attempt at reelection is ruined. On a personal note Stanton achevies his dream of becoming a Supreme Court justice, but dies five days after being appointed.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: About the only positive thing you can say about Johnson is that he opposed succession in his native Tennessee, and remained loyal to the Union. Stanton and his cause are clearly on the right-side of history, but his isn’t above using questionable methods and underhanded tactics to achieve his goals.
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  • Crusading Lawyer: Stanton was one of these before going into politics.
  • Determinator: Stanton embodies this trope. No matter what Johnson throws at him, Stanton will not stop in his quest to preserve Lincoln’s legacy and ensure civil rights for African-Americans. He even achieves his life goal of becoming a Supreme Court justice. Though he dies five days later.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Averted. The creators have confirmed that any parallels to the presidency of Donald Trump were purely coincidental. The idea that became 1865 was actually first started several years before Trump took office.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: The podcast ends with Stanton finally succumbing to his asthma, five days after achieving his dream of being appointed to the Supreme Court.
  • Edutainment: Of a sort. Each episode is accompanied by a bonus episode that explores the facts behind the fiction of 1865. And the episodes stuck extremely close to actual recorded history.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The attempt by Stanton and the Radical Republicans to have Johnson removed from office are doomed to fail. As are Stanton’s attempts to stop Johnson from ending Reconstruction and abandoning the Freeman’s Bureau. The writers had to make the audience care about Stanton and his struggles despite this. Thankfully, they succeeded and then some.
  • Heroic BSoD: Stanton temporarily comes down with this after Johnson successfully grants amnesty to the former Confederate states.
  • Historical Domain Character: The entire cast is composed of these. Just to name a few we have Edwin Stanton, Andrew Johnson, Robert Todd Lincoln, Gideon Wells, and Mary Surratt all making appearances. Abraham Lincoln appears in flashbacks, and John Wilkes Booth is the focus of a three episode prequel series.
  • Historical Fiction: Naturally.
  • Hotter and Sexier: A very Downplayed example, but the Booth miniseries does open with a sex scene, something the main series never featured. Otherwise, it isn’t any more explicit than the main series.
  • A House Divided: Fittingly enough, this trope happens, with the Cabinet picking sides between Johnson and Stanton. Later, Congress also picks sides, largely along partisan lines, after Johnson is impeached.
  • In-Series Nickname: Lincoln refereed to Stanton and Welles, the Secretaries of War and the Navy respectively, as Mars and Neptune.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Stanton struggled with asthma for most of his life, and coughs constantly. His asthma ultimately claims his life by 1868.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Stanton is very much this. He knows that the world is a cruel and often unkind place, and that he’s in for a considerable fight with Johnson, but he keeps fighting because he truly believes that Lincoln’s legacy with ensure a more fair and just America for Americans of all races. This is especially the case after Johnson grants amnesty to the South.
  • "Leave Your Quest" Test: Johnson offers to make Stanton a Supreme Court justice to get him to back off. This is one of Stanton’s life goals, but he refuses. Preserving the legacy of Lincoln is more important. Though he does become a justice once Ulysses S. Grant is elected president.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Stanton’s children Lucy and James both died in infancy. Their deaths still hang heavy on Stanton’s conscious even after several years.
  • Prequel: The main show is followed by a three episode prequel miniseries that follows the life of John Wilkes Booth.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Andrew Johnson is a white supremacist who is not in favor of extending civil rights to blacks. John Wilkes Booth also shares these views and then some.
  • Posthumous Character: Abraham Lincoln is assassinated at the start of the podcast, but his presence looms large over the rest of the cast. Preserving the legacy of Lincoln is Stanton’s primary objective. Lincoln also appear via flashbacks at the start of certain episodes.
  • Rebellious Rebel: Johnson, despite being a Southerner, stayed loyal to the Union during the civil war. On the other hand, he holds many views that aren’t all that different from the Confederates. He believes that blacks are inferior to whites, wants the South to be granted amnesty as quickly as possible, and even allows former Confederate generals to resume positions of authority within the South.
  • Stylistic Suck: The production of “Our American Cousin” at the start of the podcast is deliberately over-the-top and melodramatic.
  • Succession Crisis: Narrowly averted. Lincoln is assassinated, and attempts are made on Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward. Seward is rendered comatose, while the attempt on Johnson never happens. The characters even mention that nobody knows what would happen if all three men had been killed.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Stanton and Johnson start off this way. It doesn’t last very long.
  • Time Skip: The last two episodes skip ahead to 1867 and 1868 to cover Johnson’s impeachment.
  • Unexpected Successor: Nobody, not even Lincoln and Johnson, expected Johnson to become president. Lincoln primarily took him on Vice President in hopes to keeping Border States from joining the Confederacy. Johnson becoming president at such a crucial time for America, and his opposition to many of Lincoln’s policies, forms the bulk of the plot and his conflict with Stanton.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Johnson tries to get Stanton to call-off his investigation by offering to nominate Stanton as a Supreme Court justice. Stanton refuses without missing a beat. It’s going to take a lot more than that to stop him from fighting for Lincoln’s legacy.
  • Villain Protagonist: John Wilkes Booth is this in the Booth miniseries.
  • Wham Line: Happens a few times.
    • Who was it that failed to ensure that Lincoln had sufficient security during his fateful night at Ford’s Theatre? Stanton!
    • Seward finally waking up certainly counts.
    • Another occurs when Johnson grants amnesty to the South.
    • Towards the end of the series we hear the a monument is being constructed to honor the Confederacy in West Virginia, a state that stayed loyal to the Union. This symbolically represents the birth of the Lost Cause narrative.
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: Stanton and his fellow Radical Republicans feel this way regarding Reconstruction. True, the North defeated the South militarily, and the nation is reunited. However, not nearly enough is being done to protect the rights of African-Americans, and it will only get worse if the South receives amnesty, and thus Southerners are able to oppose Reconstruction from within Congress.
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