Post Reply 
The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation
05-18-2019, 01:29 PM
Post: #1
The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation
Thank you to Laurie for sending:



Impeachment, the First Time Around

By Jennifer Szalai, May 15, 2019

He had been a polarizing president, cherished as well as deplored for his excitability, his stubbornness, his gift for demagoguery. A hair-trigger sensitivity to slights made him self-pitying and prone to a corrosive paranoia. He railed against establishment elites and gave succor to white supremacists. He rejected congressional oversight and barreled forward, declaring that he could hire and fire whomever he wanted, even as his impetuous dismissals drew complaints that he was obstructing justice.

By February 1868, President Andrew Johnson had forced the moment to a crisis. As Brenda Wineapple recounts in her new book, “The Impeachers,” Johnson had been goading legislators with his accelerating attempts to rule by decree, daring them to “go ahead” and impeach him — which the House voted to do by an overwhelming majority, 126 to 47.

The author of award-winning works about Nathaniel Hawthorne and Emily Dickinson, among other books, Wineapple started to research her history of the country’s first impeachment trial six years ago; she briefly mentions Presidents Nixon and Clinton but not the current occupant of the White House. She doesn’t have to. The relevance of this riveting and absorbing book is clear enough, even if Wineapple’s approach is too literary and incisive to offer anything so obvious as a lesson.

Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 made Johnson an accidental president; he had been picked as Lincoln’s running mate less than a year before, as a politically expedient choice. Johnson was a Southerner and a Democrat who also happened to be an adamant Unionist — giving him rare and valuable currency in a country fractured by the Civil War. His first speech after Lincoln’s death was dignified, sober, statesmanlike — so much so that it worried white Southerners and heartened black community leaders. “As colored men,” the editor of the Black Republican newspaper in New Orleans announced, “we have entire confidence in President Johnson.”

But power — according to Robert Caro, the biographer of another President Johnson — always reveals, and what it revealed in Andrew Johnson was a combustible mix of pettiness, racism and seething resentment. He grew up poor in North Carolina and Tennessee, sent by his mother to work as an indentured servant (he eventually ran away; a reward was offered for his return). At 20, with no formal education, he couldn’t recite the alphabet. While hardship and struggle enlarged Lincoln’s perspective, inclining him toward empathy, they seemed to have had the opposite effect on Johnson, shriveling his sympathies and hardening his grievances.

Wineapple’s depiction of Johnson is so vivid and perceptive that his standoff with Congress arrives with a doomed inevitability. He started his term as president by angering the Radical Republicans and betraying the emancipated slaves, pardoning Confederates at a breakneck pace of almost 100 a day and insisting that black suffrage was a matter for states to decide. Such actions endeared him to Democrats, who praised him as “evenhanded” and “magnanimous,” Wineapple writes. Johnson liked to present himself as committed to reconciliation and healing, but his bigotry was too brazen to ignore.

Brenda Wineapple

“Everyone would and must admit that the white race is superior to the black,” Johnson said. When a black delegation that included Frederick Douglass visited the White House to petition Johnson for the vote, Johnson’s response was so contemptuous that the Polish émigré Adam Gurowksi later declared himself “ashamed of belonging to the white race!”

In the ravaged South, though, a number of white people looked at Johnson’s example and grew emboldened. They rioted in Memphis and New Orleans; black residents of the South became victims of what Wineapple mordantly calls “an epidemic of such apparently isolated incidents.”

Congress reacted with a Freedmen’s Bureau bill and a civil rights bill. Johnson responded with vetoes of both. Congress, in turn, overrode his vetoes. This volley repeated itself with the Reconstruction Acts, which offered measures to inaugurate an interracial democracy in the South. And as much as moderate Republicans were loath to hazard the risks of impeachment, Johnson managed to alienate them, too.

Which is how Johnson found himself on trial in his last year in office, confronting 11 articles of impeachment that mostly revolved around his dismissal of Edwin Stanton, the secretary of war, in alleged violation of the Tenure of Office Act. Citing that act was “merely a legal pretext,” Wineapple writes — a technical issue seized on by Radical Republicans who had long before deemed Johnson a disgrace to the highest office and palpably “unfit.”

Johnson was acquitted in the Senate, with the decisive vote cast by Edmund Ross, one of seven Republican defectors. John F. Kennedy later venerated Ross for his (self-proclaimed) integrity in “Profiles in Courage.” For a while after Johnson’s acquittal, mainstream historians portrayed the 17th president as a beleaguered hero, and Republican defectors like Ross as self-sacrificing martyrs. The tide has long since turned. Wineapple, a careful and elegant writer, explains how Johnson had risked his life to help preserve the Union during the Civil War, but his presidential legacy, she says, was marked by “white supremacy and spite.”

Wineapple dips into the intrigue and the whiffs of corruption that surrounded the vote, including a cloak-and-dagger narrative that features incriminating telegrams. She brings the same feel for drama to the trial itself, even though for the spectators in the room it turned out to be a mostly staid affair — not necessarily a bad thing, she says. That the extraordinary, unprecedented event of impeachment proceeded in a relatively orderly fashion demonstrated “that the American president was not a king, that all actions have consequences and that the national government, conceived in hope, with its checks and balances, could maintain itself without waging war, even right after one,” Wineapple writes. The impeachment attempt “had not succeeded, but it had worked.”

It’s a noble conclusion to an illuminating book, but given how preoccupied we are with our endless news cycle, it’s hard to forget the words of one disappointed spectator at Johnson’s trial: “Most men prefer to be deceived, cheated, anything rather than to be bored.”

The Impeachers
The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation
By Brenda Wineapple
543 pages. Random House. $32.



Impeachment Is a Form of Hope

The prosecution of President Andrew Johnson in 1868 was an attempt to restore faith in American’s original ideals.

By Brenda Wineapple, the author of “The Impeachers: the Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation.”

· May 17, 2019

A ticket of admission to the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in the U.S. Senate on March 13, 1868.

When we talk about whether to impeach President Trump, we cite the near impeachment of Richard Nixon or the actual prosecution of Bill Clinton. Oddly, though, we don’t talk much about the first-ever presidential impeachment, which very nearly succeeded in removing Andrew Johnson from office.

In the spring of 1868, his impeachment trial was the hottest thing in town. Walt Whitman often sat in the Senate gallery, and Anthony Trollope finagled a seat when he visited Washington. Men and women lucky enough to receive a color-coded ticket — a different color for each day’s hearing — handed it to uniformed Capitol police officers, who checked them for explosives before they were allowed to enter the building. Reporters pushed into the Senate gallery, furiously scribbling, and newsboys shouted the latest on Washington streets.

That year, Congress faced questions about presidential power strikingly similar to the ones being debated today. Johnson was said to obstruct justice, defy the Constitution, disregard Congress, issue executive orders willy-nilly, to consider his attorney general his chief propagandist and even to call for the execution of perceived enemies.

Of course, the impeachment of President Johnson took place in the aftermath of a brutal war, a presidential assassination, and the struggle not just to end slavery but also to create a fair, equal and just republic. Many of Lincoln’s fellow Republicans had initially assumed that Johnson, although a Southern Democrat, would help heal the country and eradicate the pernicious, lingering effects of slavery. Otherwise, as Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania warned, white supremacy “will germinate and produce the same bloody strife which has just ended.”

Almost immediately, though, Johnson showed his true colors: He flouted Congress, declared this was a “country for white men,” and began pardoning former Confederates to the tune of 100 per day. By 1866, he had offered amnesty to more than 7000. He vetoed the Civil Rights bill and campaigned against the ratification of the 14th Amendment during a Barnum-like stumping tour widely mocked as “Andy’s Swing Around the Circle.” Traveling from Washington to Chicago through upstate New York before heading west to a memorial ceremony in honor of Lincoln’s former rival Stephen Douglas, Johnson shouted to crowds in city after city that members of Congress who defied him should be hanged. “Was there ever such a madman in so high a place as Johnson?” asked Henry Raymond, publisher of The New York Times.

To stop him, Congress overrode Johnson’s veto of the Civil Rights Act and then passed a series of Reconstruction measures. One of them was to use federal troops to register black men to vote in the former Confederacy. Soon black men were holding government offices throughout the South. But Johnson had encouraged white Southerners to defy these laws, warning against “Negro domination.”

But 1868 was also an election year. Congress was conflicted. Wasn’t it better to lie low, wait out Johnson’s presidency and work instead to make sure the popular general, Ulysses S. Grant, who waited in the wings, won the White House? For no one quite knew where impeachment might lead. Although Representative Stevens and other Radical Republicans had been pushing hard, Congress was struggling to define the conditions for impeachment, which were as unclear then as they are now. President Johnson had not committed an actual crime. But that raised a question: Should impeachment be understood narrowly, in terms of specific infractions of specific laws, or more broadly, as violations of the public trust?

The matter remains debatable, though as Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 65, noted, “an abuse or violation of some public trust” can be grounds for impeachment. That is, if impeachment is a political process, as Stevens and others argued, and not a legal process, then political crimes, not legal crimes, are grounds for impeachment and must be prosecuted in the Senate.

Johnson’s crimes surely included his abuse of power — and his racism. To the impeachers, the war to preserve the Union had been fought to liberate the nation once and for all from slavery — and to enshrine freedom and equal citizenship. “The impeachment of the president,” Frederick Douglass said, “will mean the Negro’s right to vote, and mean that the fair South shall no longer be governed by the Regulators and the Ku-Klux-Klan, but by fair and impartial law.” The radical gadfly Wendell Phillips agreed. “The epoch turns on the Negro,” he declared. “Justice to him saves the nation, ends the strife, and gives us peace; injustice to him prolongs the war.”

The House of Representatives' impeachment committee in 1868. From left, standing, are James F. Wilson, George S. Boutwell and John A. Logan. Seated are, from left, Benjamin F. Butler, Thaddeus Stevens, Thomas Williams and John A. Bingham (note - Bingham was also one of the leads in the Conspiracy Trial!)

Yet previous attempts to impeach Johnson had gone nowhere. The first call for impeachment came early in 1867. The matter was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which scrutinized Johnson’s actions, his indiscretions, even his finances. It investigated Johnson’s responsibility for the murder of loyal citizens by Confederate mobs, particularly but not exclusively in New Orleans, and wanted to know if Johnson had given preference to former Confederates when the railroads seized during the war had been sold.

The Judiciary Committee initially voted against impeachment. Later that year it changed its mind, but the vote failed in the full House. Quoting Thaddeus Stevens, Mark Twain called Congress a bunch of “damned cowards.”

Still, many in Congress believed Johnson ought to be held accountable somehow. That is, if Congress failed to remove the president, people like Stevens and Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts wanted future generations to know that the president’s white supremacy was not condoned, that a president was not a king and that he could neither ignore Congress nor the ideals on which the nation had been founded. “This is one of the last great battles with slavery,” Sumner explained. “Driven from these legislative chambers, driven from the field of war, this monstrous power has found refuge in the Executive Mansion.”

Ironically, Andrew Johnson temporarily resolved the question of whether impeachment should be defined narrowly, as an infraction of law, or broadly, as abuse of power, when he stepped on a statute. He violated the dubious Tenure of Office Act, passed in 1867, which stipulated that cabinet members and other officers who had been appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate could not be fired without the Senate’s approval. Congress had passed the act to protect the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton. Stanton was in charge of the military, and the military was protecting black men at the polls. When Johnson fired Stanton without the Senate’s consent, the House voted overwhelmingly, 126 to 47, to impeach the 17th president.

During that spring of 1868, the broader interpretation of impeachment — abuse of public trust — was lost in the weeds of legal bickering. And at his trial in the Senate, one vote saved Andrew Johnson. It was cast by Senator Edmund Ross, Republican of Kansas, who may have been bribed. Ross was heartily praised by John F. Kennedy in his “Profiles in Courage,” which promoted a longstanding view: Johnson’s impeachment was the brainchild of partisan fanatics rather than thoughtful, even visionary people who, having abolished slavery, were determined to alter the direction of the country.

Yet despite their loss, those who fought courageously for Johnson’s impeachment, knowing it might be an uphill battle, did get some of what they wanted: Andrew Johnson was not nominated to run for president in 1868 by either party, and the discredited supremacist is remembered, when he is remembered at all, as the first American president to be impeached and tried by the Senate.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
05-18-2019, 01:56 PM
Post: #2
RE: The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation
Hard to imagine that this will break any new ground after David O. Stewart's superb 2009 Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
05-18-2019, 03:41 PM
Post: #3
RE: The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation
I have no answer for this, but I'm throwing in a hypothetical question here for y'all to Monday-morning-quarterback your thoughts:

We know that Andrew Johnson's nomination for Vice President was strictly a political ploy at a crucial time in U.S. history. A strategy that the Republicans thought would work, but one that would backfire. If you were in a position of power within the Republican Party in 1864, whom would you have placed on the ballot with Lincoln (especially if you could have predicted the assassination of the President)? Retain Hannibal Hamlin? Bring in someone else who could deal with the "team of rivals" (assuming Lincoln lived) in the Cabinet? Your thoughts?
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
05-18-2019, 05:41 PM
Post: #4
RE: The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation
I personally would've wanted to retain Hamlin as VP, but since Lincoln was reelected on the "National Union" coalition ticket, presumably his running mate would have to be a War Democrat. I can see why Johnson could've looked like a good choice. But in retrospect, obviously not. Can anyone think of a better non-Illinois Democrat who could've worked better with Congress during Reconstruction?
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
05-19-2019, 04:56 AM
Post: #5
RE: The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation
Although from Illinois, had Stephen A. Douglas still been alive...

Possibly John Brough of Ohio?
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
Post Reply 

Forum Jump:

User(s) browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)