70 Following


Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy - David O. Stewart ”If he was impeached for general cussedness, there would be no difficulty in the case.”
Senator William Pitt Fressenden, March 1868

photo Andrew-Johnson_zps8ac4bc5b.jpg
Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson was never supposed to be president. When Abraham Lincoln chose Johnson as his Vice President for his second term he was trying to heal a nation. He wanted a Southerner and what made Johnson uniquely qualified to grab the attention of President Lincoln was that he was the only Senator from a Southerner state to remain loyal to Union. Johnson was too insecure to be a compromiser, something the nation healing from a devastating Civil War needed desperately, and his acerbic, domineering personality created legions of enemies. These men that he insulted and annoyed with his flamboyant, undisciplined behavior were the very men that decided he needed to be removed from office.

Impeachment seemed the only option.

”As president, Johnson inflicted many more wounds on the nation than he healed, while votes for his acquittal were purchased with political deals, patronage promises, and even cash. Andrew Johnson was an unfortunate president, an angry and obstinate hater at a time when the nation needed a healer. Those who opposed him were equally intemperate in word and deed. It was an intemperate time. The tempests of the Civil War still triggered high emotions.”

photo ThaddeusStevens_zps14eb4f5f.jpg
Thaddeus Stevens

The great Republican radical warrior Thaddeus Stevens brought to bear eleven articles of impeachment detailing the broad, undefinable charge of violations of high crimes and misdemeanors. Violation of the Tenure of Office Act was the stake that was expected to be driven into the heart of that abomination in the White House. The previous year when the law was passed over Johnson’s veto it made it so the president could not fire his cabinet members without the authorization of congress. This was passed, in particular, to protect the radical Republican Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. As Stanton continued to advance a more aggressive agenda of reconstruction in the South and Johnson continued to try and soften some of the strictures that were being placed on former rebels and slave owners conflicts between the two men made it impossible for them to work together.

Actually the Tenure of Office Act was a ridiculous law, a short sighted law, made to protect one man without consideration for a time when the Republicans may not control congress. In my mind the cabinet should be people who advise the president and further his agendas and should serve at the discretion of the president. When Johnson tried to replace Stanton with first Grant who refused, then Sherman who refused, and finally Thomas who accepted he gave Stevens and his cabal of radicals the means to impeach him. Now Johnson did deserve some sanction. He had replaced able commanders in the South that had enforced the reconstruction laws as they were intended, specifically to protect the black freedmen, with commanders who were more likely to turn a blind eye to atrocities perpetrated by whites against blacks. ”In 1865-1866, more than 500 whites were indicted in Texas for murdering blacks; none were convicted. During the 1868 election campaign, an estimated 2,000 Negroes were murdered in Texas.” Though Texas set the record for violence, all across the South black freedmen experienced voter suppression putting their lives in jeopardy while trying to exercise their right to vote.

photo EdwinMStanton_zps0a2ce956.jpg
Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War

Apologists for Johnson will say that he was only implementing the policies that Lincoln had intended for reconstruction.

”This theory, however, unrealistically assumes that Lincoln was incapable of changing his course to respond to events. Lincoln was far too good a politician to alienate Congress, as Johnson did. Lincoln was far too strong a leader to accept meekly the black codes and gruesome violence of the restored Southern states, as Johnson did. And Lincoln was far too compassionate a man to ignore the suffering and oppression of the freedman and Southern Republicans, as Johnson did.”

The bullet that killed Lincoln was truly a magic bullet for it ricocheted all over the South leaving thousands of dead who would have survived under the protective wing of a president intent on justice and equality for all people.

Thaddeus Stevens was a man of acerbic wit and he loathed Johnson to such an extent that it was difficult to govern his tongue and keep the proceedings of the impeachment on a professional level. ”He demanded that Johnson be tortured on the gibbet of everlasting obloquy.” Stevens was suffering from ill health and if he had been of robust health the impeachment proceedings might have had a different outcome. He suffered under the outrages being committed against freedmen in the South and couldn’t stand the thought of waiting fifteen more months for Johnson’s term to end. The other lurking problem was the thought of Ben Wade, president pro temp of the senate and the next president of the United States if Johnson is impeached, assuming the presidency. His radical ideas about trade and other aggressive policies for change made many senators chaff under the thought of a Wade presidency.

Let the bribery begin!

Johnson needed 19 votes to avoid the two-thirds majority needed for impeachment. He had nine democrats who could be counted on and three republicans so the continuation of his presidency came down to swaying 7 republican votes to vote not guilty. Two groups are formed to help identify, bribe, and strong arm those Republicans needed to avoid impeachment. One was the Kansas Cabal seven men led by Senator Samuel Pomeroy, all veterans of several nefarious bribery schemes that had lined their pockets. They hoped by helping Johnson to further increase their patronage and wealth.

The other group was the Astor House group lead by Thurlow Weed a longtime friend of Secretary of State Seward. There are eight men in this group and they are willing to do anything to keep Johnson in office; and therefore, keep intact their influence on the highest office. One of the more unseemly members of this group was Sam Ward.

photo EdmundRoss_zpsc4c7b950.jpg
The not so honorable Senator from the great state of Kansas Edmund Ross.

”Ward paid Senator Ross (Kansas) $12,000 for his vote. The money supposedly came from John Morrissey, the prizefighter-turned-congressman who ran both Tammany Hall and New York’s biggest lottery business, and also was one of Sam Ward’s clients. In a salacious twist, it was speculated that the payoffs were handled by “Charley Morgan,” Sam Ward’s cross-dressing mistress who supposedly was having a simultaneous affair with Congressman Morrissey’s wife. Charley Morgan, has the singular advantage of being able to change himself into a handsome young woman for one purpose or another.”

Goodness bribery is one thing, but cross-dressing and unnatural relationships as well!! Oh my oh my.

photo CartoonImpeachment_zps58c0860e.jpg
Impeachment Cartoon

This book reminded me of watching the fantastic movie Lincoln and the voting on the The Thirteenth Amendment. I knew they passed it, but I was still on the edge of my seat as they counted the votes. I had the same feeling as David O. Stewart revealed the voting for impeachment. There is a humorous moment for me when Benjamin Butler, head prosecutor for impeachment attempts to bribe Cornelius Wendell, the corruption professional who had designed the president’s acquittal fund, into revealing the bribes that were paid to senators for their votes. Bribing to reveal bribery just struck me as bordering on the ridiculous.

As it came down to the final vote my fellow Kansas native Senator Edmund Ross, who did such a good job keeping his voting intentions close to his vest until the last possible moment, provided the vote that insured that Johnson would avoid impeachment. He was amply rewarded for his vote. This was an excellent followup to some reading I’ve been doing on Lincoln and extends the story revealing the aftermath and consequences of the death of Lincoln. One can not help speculating that the South would have been better cared for and recovery would have happened quicker under the steady hand of one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln.