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Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew…

Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for… (original 2009; edition 2010)

by David O. Stewart

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Title:Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy
Authors:David O. Stewart
Info:Simon & Schuster (2010), Edition: 1 Reprint, Paperback, 464 pages
Collections:Your library

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Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy by David O. Stewart (2009)




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This is a very good book, telling well the story of the impeachment and the fight over it. The author believes that Johnson's non-conviction was procured by money, and that Senator Ross of Kansas, instead of being the hero JFK's Profiles in Courage portrays him as, was a crook. But he admits that there is no poof of such--just much suspicion. While I admire the Radical Republicans who fought Johnson, including Thaddeus Stevens, I believe it was fortunate that Johnson was not ousted fom the Presidency. Johnson's attitude to Negroes was of course reprehensible and no one can approve it. I was glad to see the author agrees that Senator Grimes of Iowa, one of the seven Republicans who were expected to vote for conviction, was in way implicated in any shady dealings. ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Jun 28, 2013 |
I just read 1865, and this book, about the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, was a logical next step. It turned out to be a fairly good read, though the details sometimes got in the way of the action. ( )
1 vote addunn3 | Feb 21, 2013 |
As the presidency of Bill Clinton recedes into the halcyon glow of history, his impeachment by the House of Representatives seems less a personal repudiation than an institutional embarrassment for Congress. With the passage of time, the charges against Clinton seem overdrawn, more an extension of a political fight that included the federal government shutdown than a real threat to the sanctity of government.

This recent context is important for anyone who reads David Stewart's magnificent account of the first presidential impeachment, "Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy." As the experienced lawyer turned engaging historian describes the specific charges against Johnson, they too seem overdrawn, legally speaking. However, they were simply one weapon in a more consequential struggle over the future of civil rights in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.

Johnson, who became president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, was a southern Unionist and highly sympathetic to southerners who feared the consequences of granting freed slaves any real civil rights. Such an attitude, while appealing to some influential politicians, was contrary to several of Lincoln's public statements, including his address after Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, which coupled leniency for rebels and seceded states -- which Johnson took to extraordinary lengths -- with the promise of voting rights for African-Americans who served in the Union Army and Navy.

Worse, Johnson's policy of leniency for southern politicians who had served in the Confederate government or army and his aversion to assistance for freed blacks was in direct opposition to the most influential group in the Republican-dominated Congress. The Radical Republicans, who had frequently complained that Lincoln's actions toward slavery were too little and too late, wanted the rebellion leaders, including southern politicians, punished for their involvement in instigating and prosecuting the war and also sought increasing civil rights and government support for freed slaves.

The result was significant conflict between Congressional leaders and the President, who drug his feet whenever possible to limit the full execution of laws enacted by the Congress, many of which had been passed by Congress over his veto. Eventually, frustrated Republican leaders began exploring ways to limit Johnson's powers, including the possibility of removing him from office. While the first attempt at impeachment failed, Johnson handed his political enemies a gift when he knowingly violated the Tenure of Office Act, one such Congressional act which limited the president's power to remove appointees confirmed by the Senate and was of questionable constitutionality.

In some ways, the precipitating incident was farcical, as Stewart makes clear. Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, but Stanton refuses to physically leave his office. Johnson then appointed an underling to the position, while trying to tempt Gen. William T. Sherman to take the post. As the impasse continued, General-in-Chief Ulysses Grant, who had little use for Johnson and nurtured presidential ambitions in the next year's election, carefully administered the military independent of civilian oversight, careful to not be directly insubordinate of the President.

Meanwhile, Radical Republicans pressed for impeachment again, this time succeeding, but only after some difficulty in exactly describing the nature of Johnson's crime in constitutional terms. After this, the main event became the trial of the now-impeached Johnson in the Senate, with the possibility that he could be removed from office by a 2/3 vote. With great style, Stewart discusses the personalities and intrigue behind this trial, including the distressing fact that the prosecution's case was poorly coordinated by the House members selected to argue it.

Underlying this analysis, which is consistently strong, Stewart offers a tantalizing, but ultimately unprovable assessment. Despite all of the factors that favored enough people voting to preserve Johnson in the presidency, there is strong circumstantial evidence that the key votes in Johnson's favor -- and the vote for removal fell only one short of the necessary 2/3 -- were bought and paid for by people who benefitted from Johnson remaining in office.

If there is a shortcoming in the delightful account, it is that Stewart never adequately explores Johnson's unexpected Republican allies, such as Secretary of State William Seward, who were neither southern sympathizers or politically beholden to Johnson. This, though, is a small quibble in an otherwise excellent book that is both thoughtful in its assessments and dramatically engaging in its writing. ( )
1 vote ALincolnNut | Sep 30, 2012 |
An interesting blow-by-blow account of Johnson's difficult Presidency and his troubles with Congress. Not everyone will be up for the level of detail here, but the book is well researched and the graft, bribery, etc. that was rampant in the 1860's makes today's politicians look good. Of course, it may be that today they are more adept at hiding the evidence. The book certainly demolishes some of the 'myths' that have grown up around Lincoln, Johnson, and Reconstruction. Johnson got off to a rocky start and he would certainly have had an easier time if he had been able to compromise rather than get angry and stubborn and try to go around Congress. Recommended, especially for those who like all the details of who did what and when.
1 vote hailelib | Apr 25, 2012 |
Until President Clinton came along President Andrew Johnson had the dubious honor of being the only US President who went through an impeachment trial. Others may have come close, but these two stand alone in that aspect.

President Johnson was in a difficult position after the assassination of Lincoln - he was a Democrat that had been elected VP on a Republican ticket. He had been chosen to help solidify the voters in the election of 1864 for the areas that may have had southern sympathies but remained in the Union.

Johnson was trying to have the Reconstruction governments in the South based on Lincoln's plans per se - generosity of spirit - reduced animosity between that "conquered" and the victorious. But the Northerners in the Congress wanted their "pound of flesh" and wanted to increase their power over the southern states.

The abolition of slavery removed the 3/5 counting of slaves for representation purposes and adjusted the negro counts to full. This would entitle the southern states to 28 additional representatives in the Congress plus 28 more electoral votes. Efforts were made to adjust this "outrage" by introducing a law that denied the southern states the right to include the counts of the blacks for representation if the blacks were denied the right to vote.

The method of Reconstruction was a point of dissention between Johnson and the Congress. During his administration Johnson used his veto power 29 times and was overridden 15 times. At this time the Congress was trying various ways to curtail the Executive power.

There were actually three different attempts at impeachment. First try at impeachment, Congressmen tried the facts that Johnson was wrong when he restored Southern railroads and when he removed men from office citing usurpation of Congressional powers. This attempt was abandoned by the Committee Chairman Wilson when he said "Political unfitness and incapacity must be tried at the ballot box, not in the high court of impeachment." The second attempt was also deemed to be a political rather than legal issue and was again abandoned.

However, Thaddeus Stevens, the driving force behind impeachment, resolved to cut Presidential powers. For example, Stevens proposed to give Grant complete control over the Reconstruction efforts in the South - something Grant didn't want. He also tried to limit the Supreme Court influence by introducing a bill requiring 3/4 approval of the Court before a law could be declared unconstitutional.

In early 1867 the Congress enacted the Tenure of Office Act which denied the president the power to remove from office anyone appointed by a past president, without the approval of the Senate during the next full session of Congress. This legislation would be the main blockade for Johnson. This struggle between Johnson and Stanton gave Stevens what he needed.

All 11 articles of impeachment were related to the ongoing struggle between Johnson and Secretary of War Stanton. Johnson wanted to remove him from office but the Tenure of Office act which allowed only the Congress to remove a high level official from his office and also that should anyone try to violate this law, they would be guilty of a "high misdemeanor". A High Misdemeanor was one of the provisions of the constitution for removal from office of the President.

Johnson was defended by Benjamin Curtis, a former Supreme Court Justice. At the beginning of Johnson's defense, Curtis dissected the Tenure of Office Act and analyzed how it could be interpreted in several different ways explaining how Johnson acted as he did. A senator from Maine praised Curtis by saying "Judge Curtis gave us the law and we followed it."

As the trial progressed, it blatantly appeared more a political dogfight that a legal battle. At times the Senate allowed certain types of evidence admitted, and then would reverse themselves again later. Because of the handling of the procedures, few had any idea of what the outcome would be.

When the time came for the vote, Senators who could barely walk or talk, suffering from strokes and other illnesses, still managed to appear in the Senate to cast their vote. By one vote, Johnson was acquitted. There was speculation that some of the votes had been purchased but no clear evidence was ever brought forward. The senators that voted for his acquitted were treated badly by their parties but in the end Johnson survived the trial.

60 years later the Tenure of Office Act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court headed by former President William Howard Taft now Chief Justice. How ironic that the law that brought Johnson to the brink of removal from office wasn't even Constitutional.

I thought this book would be very dry and hard to get through, but it read more like a novel than historical fact. The writing was clear and concise and the information was presented so that the reader could understand the fight between Johnson and Congress. Now I really understand what the impeachment proceedings were about. I'm definitely glad I read this one. ( )
  cyderry | Mar 19, 2012 |
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To My Mother
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After finishing The Summer of 1787 about the writing of the Constitution, I wanted to pick up the Constitution's story at its next critical moment.
Stevens saw the case in simple terms. It was the president's policies, he insisted, that warranted his removal. (Page 85.)
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This account of the attempt to remove Andrew Johnson from the presidency demolishes the myth that Johnson's impeachment was unjustified.

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