Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment Ordeal

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Partisan animosity reached a fever pitch the weekend of George Washington’s birthday in mid-February. The majority Republicans in Congress had tolerated what they believed to be an abundance of questionable behavior on the part of the Democrat in the White House, and this time he had gone too far. He had to be stopped. All other means of checking the president’s power had failed, so House Republicans availed themselves of their only remaining constitutional prerogative: They voted to impeach the president.

Sound familiar? Well, it should — at least to Civil War buffs. No, this is not a prediction about the fate that awaits President Clinton; rather, it is the reality that President Andrew Johnson lived 130 years ago this month. Three days after Johnson dismissed Edwin M. Stanton as secretary of War on Feb. 21, 1868, the House voted to impeach Johnson and force the Senate to decide his fate in what remains the United States’ only trial to remove a sitting president from office.

As the talk of impeachment reverberates again in 1998, on the heels of yet another allegation of misconduct lodged against Clinton, now seems an appropriate time to revisit the circumstances that nearly ended Johnson’s reign as the nation’s 17th president.

From Reconstruction to impeachment
Unlike Clinton, who was elected by the people, Johnson ascended to the presidency. A “War Democrat” and senator from Tennessee at the outbreak of the Civil War, Johnson was the only Southerner in Congress to vote against secession. President Abraham Lincoln rewarded that loyalty (and sought to bolster his own chances for re-election) by tapping Johnson in the place of Vice President Hannibal Hamlin as his running mate in 1864 on the National Union ticket. After the assassination of Lincoln, Johnson became president in April 1865 — days after the official end of the war.

Although Lincoln already had begun to implement a Reconstruction policy, the task of rebuilding a nation divided by “that recent unpleasantness,” as it was known by some in the South, fell to Johnson. Johnson told Lincoln’s Cabinet officers that he would be true to Lincoln’s policies, according to current Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist’s 1992 book “Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson.” But the Tennessean’s pro-Southern sympathies quickly became apparent.

Radical Republicans like Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (PA) viewed the South as a “conquered province” and expected Johnson to treat the states as traitors by taking their land and granting it, and the right to vote, to the newly freed slaves. But Johnson, who had owned slaves and defended the states’ rights to allow slavery before the war, recoiled at the idea of federal domination of the states that had seceded. He sought to reconcile North and South by making concessions to the Confederates, such as leaving to them alone the decision of how to implement emancipation of the slaves.

His moderate Reconstruction policies engendered great hostility in the Radical-dominated Congress. Under the leadership of, among others, Stevens in the House and Charles Sumner (R-MA) and Benjamin Wade (R-OH) in the Senate, congressional abolitionists pushed through their own, much stricter Reconstruction legislation. They gave blacks the right to buy land and testify against whites — privileges that had been denied in the “Black Codes” enacted by lawmakers elected in the Southern states under Johnson’s policies.


Government By The Numbers

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once offered a bit of advice to a youngster whose ambitions included a seat in Parliament. “The first lesson that you must learn,” he told the chap, “is [that] when I call for statistics about the rate of infant mortality, what I want is proof that fewer babies died when I was prime minister than when anyone else was prime minister. That is a political statistic.”

Although Churchill most likely shared that insight in a moment of levity, his words hold a measure of truth that may be even more relevant today. More than 70 federal agencies tally all manner of numbers, and the nation’s policymakers use those statistics to bolster their ideas for an array of issues, from crime, health care, education and agriculture to business and labor, economics, housing, and foreign affairs.

Government officials can tell us how many people were born in 1980, how many were divorced in 1990 and how many died last year (and why they died). They can tell us where the jobs are, where we can buy the cheapest housing and where the crime rate is the lowest. They can even tell us how our personal incomes, expenses and debts compare with those of the nation as a whole.

But can the public trust the numbers the government compiles? Do federal agencies provide “just the facts,” or is gross domestic product nothing more than “a political statistic” manipulated by the policy wonks to push their own agendas? Are Americans the victims of a carefully concealed numbers game?