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Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacyby David O. Stewart
Synopses & Reviews
In 1868 Congress impeached President Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, the man who had succeeded the murdered Lincoln, bringing the nation to the brink of a second civil war. Enraged to see the freed slaves abandoned to brutal violence at the hands of their former owners, distraught that former rebels threatened to regain control of Southern state governments, and disgusted by Johnson's brawling political style, congressional Republicans seized on a legal technicality as the basis for impeachment — whether Johnson had the legal right to fire his own secretary of war, Edwin Stanton.
The fiery but mortally ill Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania led the impeachment drive, abetted behind the scenes by the military hero and president-in-waiting, General Ulysses S. Grant.
The Senate trial featured the most brilliant lawyers of the day, along with some of the least scrupulous, while leading political fixers maneuvered in dark corners to save Johnson's presidency with political deals, promises of patronage jobs, and even cash bribes. Johnson escaped conviction by a single vote.
David Stewart, the author of the highly acclaimed The Summer of 1787, the bestselling account of the writing of the Constitution, challenges the traditional version of this pivotal moment in American history. Rather than seeing Johnson as Abraham Lincoln's political heir, Stewart explains how the Tennessean squandered Lincoln's political legacy of equality and fairness and helped force the freed slaves into a brutal form of agricultural peonage across the South.
When the clash between Congress and president threatened to tear the nation apart, the impeachment process substituted legal combat for violent confrontation. Both sides struggled to inject meaning into the baffling requirement that a president be removed only for high crimes and misdemeanors, while employing devious courtroom gambits, backstairs spies, and soaring rhetoric. When the dust finally settled, the impeachment process had allowed passions to cool sufficiently for the nation to survive the bitter crisis.
With the dramatic expansion of the powers of the presidency, and after two presidential impeachment crises in the last forty years, the lessons of the first presidential impeachment are more urgent than ever.
"Fresh from his masterful The Summer of 1787, Stewart takes on one of the seamiest events in American history: the vengeful impeachment of Lincoln's successor as president; the Senate failed to convict Andrew Johnson by a single vote. At issue was the continuation of Lincoln's plans to reintegrate the South into the union after the Civil War. But also at stake, as always, was party politics. Stewart takes readers through a tangled web of motives and maneuverings in lively, unadorned prose. He's skilled at characterizing his large cast of characters and, as a lawyer, has a practiced nose for skullduggery, of which there was much. Corruption deeply marred the entire impeachment effort. Justifiably, Stewart holds his nose about most of the people involved and admires few of them. As he sums it up, in 1868 'none of the country's leaders was great, a few were good, all were angry, and far too many were despicable.' Stewart offers little analysis and advances no new ideas about what he relates, but he tells the story as well as it's ever been told. B&w photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In 1864, fearing defeat in the presidential election, Abraham Lincoln broadened his Republican ticket by placing on it Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat who fiercely supported the Union. Although hostile to blacks, Johnson intensely disliked the Southern planter class. The Lincoln-Johnson combination prevailed, and in the spring of 1865, a month after taking the vice presidential oath, Johnson became... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) president when Lincoln was assassinated. An untried and marginal politician now led the nation at a crucial time. Before his death Lincoln had fought with radical members of his own party over how the South should be treated after victory. They wanted to make Southerners feel the weight of defeat and to uplift the former slaves. Lincoln focused on reconciliation with Southern whites, although he also showed concern for the welfare of African-Americans. When Johnson took over, his policies looked to parallel Lincoln's, and Johnson, too, soon ran afoul of the radical Republicans. The dispute proved more than nasty. By 1867 the executive and legislative branches were at such loggerheads that the Republican House of Representatives passed articles of impeachment. A trial took place in the Senate, and Johnson escaped losing his job by one vote. David O. Stewart's "Impeached" is the fullest recounting we have of the high politics of that immediate post-Civil War period. As the author astutely tells us, the Constitution's impeachment clauses provide a complex legal remedy for enmity between Congress and the president. Impeachment, if it succeeds, gives the United States a nonviolent way to remove the president when there is a sustained and widespread sentiment that he must go. Impeachment, however, need not be about significant matters, as the case of Bill Clinton demonstrates, and overall Johnson's story is similar. The ostensible reason for the trial was Johnson's attempt to remove the secretary of war despite a Tenure of Office Act, and this affront, among others, was embodied in a catchall series of articles of impeachment. The real reason, as one participant put it, was Johnson's "general cussedness." Stewart's graceful style and storytelling ability make for a good read. The author maintains interest by emphasizing the heavy drinking and hyperbolic oratory in an age of excess. He also includes striking examples of the era's political jokes, humor and invective. In photographs found throughout the book, the politicians exhibit their prominent noses, exotic facial hair and aptitude for striking a pose; these gents can strut while sitting down. More substantially, Stewart evokes the corruption of the late 19th century, including the heavy betting on whether Johnson would survive his trial and the influence of bribery on Congress. But Stewart makes too much of the case, as if American history pivoted around it. The impeachment proceedings themselves were pettifogging and boring, and not even Stewart's skill as a writer and raconteur can breathe much life into them. As he notes, the evidence for bribery and who was behind it is murky and circumstantial. Thus, he can't make much of these long-dead scandals. More important, while bringing to life the quarrel between Johnson and the radicals, Stewart fails to show that anything fundamental was at stake. Stewart rightly notes that Lincoln was more sensitive to black rights in the South — and a more astute leader — than the clumsy and deeply racist Johnson. But Lincoln had struggled with the radicals before his death, and Stewart's presumption that the nation would have been spared a fracas about Reconstruction had Lincoln lived is unconvincing. As it was, had Johnson been removed from office, Benjamin Wade from Ohio, president pro tem of the Senate, would have taken over the presidency from May 1868 until March 1869. Many believed that Johnson was saved because politicians considered Wade less capable. Johnson's successor, Gen. U. S. Grant, easily obtained the Republican nomination for president and then won election in the fall of 1868. Grant did not offer leadership of a high order, and he permitted the return of white Southerners to power in ways consistent with Johnson's ideas. In truth, for the next several decades all the major politicians after Lincoln who grasped at the presidency were on a par — mediocre and ultimately uncommitted to African-Americans. It is a gauge of Stewart's troubles in carving out a new interpretation that he again and again contrasts his views with those of John F. Kennedy in his book "Profiles in Courage." The young president-to-be stuck his name on this ghostwritten survey of American politics in 1955. The book is a very minor contribution to historical understanding, but it had a chapter on Johnson's impeachment which made a hero of Edmund Ross, one of the senators who voted against impeachment. Stewart may win this interpretive battle, but the victory is tiny. Bruce Kuklick teaches American history at the University of Pennsylvania. Reviewed by Bruce Kuklick, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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David O. Stewart has practiced law in Washington, D.C., for more than a quarter of a century, defending accused criminals and challenging government actions as unconstitutional. He has argued appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and was law clerk to Justice Lewis Powell of that Court. Having defended an impeachment trial before the United States Senate, Stewart is currently writing a book on the Andrew Johnson impeachment trial of 1868.
Visit the author's website at www.davidostewart.com.
By the author of The Summer of 1787, the bestselling and highly acclaimed account of the writing of the constitution, a dramatic re-creation of the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson, which became the central battle of the struggle over how to reunite a nation after four years of war.
Stewart traces the impeachment saga to the social and political revolutions that rocked the South with the end of slavery and the Civil War. As president after Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, not only failed to heal the nation’s wounds but rubbed them raw, ignoring widespread violence against the freed slaves and encouraging former rebels to resume political control of the Southern states. His high-handed actions were opposed by the equally angry and aggressive Congress, led by rep. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, an ardent foe of slavery who aimed to rebuild American society on principles of equality and fairness.
The titanic collision between Congress and the president was diverted into a legalistic dispute over whether Johnson could fire his own Secretary of War. Inept lawyering by Johnson’s prosecutors, combined with political deals, saved Johnson by a single vote in the Senate.
Impeached challenges the traditional version of this pivotal moment in American history, which portrays Johnson as pursuing Lincoln’s legacy by showing leniency to the former rebels. Impeached shows the compelling reasons to remove this unfortunate president from office, reveals the corrupt bargains that saved Johnson’s job, and credits Johnson’s prosecutors with seeking to remake the nation to accord with the ideals that Lincoln championed and that the Civil War was fought for.
About the Author
David O. Stewart is the author of the highly acclaimed The Summer of 1987: The Men Who Invented the Constitution and Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Jackson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy.
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