Home > Uncategorized > The relevance of the Andrew Johnson impeachment – posted 7/21/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 8/4/2019

The relevance of the Andrew Johnson impeachment – posted 7/21/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 8/4/2019

When progressives and liberals discuss whether Donald Trump should be impeached, the most common historical analogy floated is the example of Richard Nixon. Comparisons include charges of obstruction of justice, perverse use of racism, and crossing the line of criminality.

Bill Clinton’s experience is also cited as a negative example of when an impeachment effort went awry and was seriously misguided. I think there is a consensus that lying about sex acts does not meet a standard of high crimes and misdemeanors.

While it is little known, the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson has more relevance to the Trump situation than has ever been recognized. I am sure this is because Andrew Johnson’s impeachment was so long ago, just after the Civil War. Johnson’s impeachment is little taught in American schools. It is a historical episode passed over.

The historian Brenda Wineapple has corrected the record and has brought to life the circumstances of Johnson’s impeachment in her new book, The Impeachers. Wineapple shows that Johnson got impeached primarily for being a white supremacist.

In February 1868, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Johnson. After a trial in the Senate, Johnson escaped removal from office by the margin of one vote. Impeachment in the Senate requires a two-thirds majority vote.

Johnson succeeded to the presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. As a southerner from Tennessee, Johnson had an unusual background for a President. He grew up in poverty. He was an indentured servant in a tailor’s shop. He ran away from his servitude but he always hated the Southern aristocrats and planters who looked down their noses at him.

When Lincoln picked Johnson to be his Vice-President in 1864, it was an effort to balance the ticket and broaden his base. Johnson was a Democrat and he was a rare southerner who had opposed the succession of Southern states from the Union. For this iconoclastic position, he was hated by many loyal to the Confederacy.

Problems emerged quickly after Lincoln was assassinated and Johnson ascended to the Presidency. While the North was winning the Civil War, Johnson had no idea how to move forward and build on the Union victory. He had no vision of creating an equitable multi-racial democracy.

The problems Johnson faced were admittedly overwhelming. The Civil War cost an estimated 750,000 lives. Four million previously enslaved people were now allegedly free but they had no jobs and no land. They were considered 3/5 of a person under law.

Johnson responded by accommodating the South and the former slave owners. In the aftermath of the Civil War, instead of trying to unify the country and move past racism, Johnson tried to restore white supremacy. Johnson handed out pardons like candy to former Confederates. He looked the other way while Southern states created Black Codes and instituted slavery by another name. This is not too surprising since Johnson was a slave owner himself.

Johnson enraged Northerners, even moderates, as he failed to respond to violent attacks against Southern Blacks and their white allies, including attacks on Black Union army veterans. In New Orleans, a white mob attacked the Republican constitutional convention, murdering over 100 people and wounding 300. In Memphis, white racists went on a rampage and killed 46 Black people while wounding 53. Black homes, schools and churches were burned to the ground.

Northerners saw Johnson giving away the fruits of victory. Johnson opposed the 14th Amendment and Black suffrage. He held viciously racist views which he was not shy about voicing. He hated the Radical Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner and they returned the hatred.

Johnson had a serious alcohol problem and he was more prone to racist demagoguery when drinking. He railed that the leader of the Radical Republicans, Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, should be hanged. Considering that Stevens was an excellent parliamentarian and that the Republicans held supermajorities in Congress, this view was not the most politic.

In the history of the United States, no President had yet been impeached but with Johnson Republicans looked for impeachable offenses. Johnson gave the Republicans an opportunity when he started firing government officials, particularly the popular Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. The Republicans argued that the Stanton firing violated the questionably constitutional Tenure of Office Act which required that the Senate confirm Johnson’s firings. The Senate did not confirm Stanton’s firing.

The House voted 11 articles of impeachment against Johnson. Besides the violations of the Tenure of Office Act, much of the basis for impeachment was that Johnson was a white supremacist who had degraded the country and Congress. In the end, impeachment failed.

There is no roadmap for impeachment and the legal standard of high crimes and misdemeanors is vague. Still, I think the Johnson impeachment set an important and just example. America does not belong to one race. Johnson fought to preserve a white man’s government. Johnson earned his impeachment inquiry even if it did not result in his removal from office.

Similarly, Donald Trump is heading down a road pioneered by Andrew Johnson. He is acting like the president of white people only, while dehumanizing people of color, especially immigrants. He has no sense that the mission of a President might have something to do with promoting an equitable multiracial democracy and representing the whole country.

The worst is not the incessant lying and the self-dealing behavior which have degraded and dishonored the presidency. He will always be known for putting innocent children in cages, conduct that will live in infamy. Trump has become a threat to the Constitution, the rule of law and civil liberties.

It is now up to Congress to act.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Shannon Laramie
    August 4, 2019 at 2:37 pm

    Actions speak louder than words. The democrat party judges the success by how many people they can help(giving (promising free healthcare, endless welfare, and other entitlements). Republicans on the other hand judge their success on how many people can help themselves (getting people off food stamps and other entitlements, creating opportunities
    for people to provide for themselves and their families and to be less dependent on the government. The media, elected democrats, and bloggers paint the President as a racist and a white supremacist with little thought to what they are saying.. If we are to judge a person by their actions and how their decisions affect the the people around them, than the president is the furthest from a racist or white supremacist. Those who think otherwise are stuck in the fog of the russian collusion delusion of the past 2+ years. The left has used words like racist, bigot, islamopheobe, xenophobe, and transphobe so often they have been diluted and no longer hold their true meaning. Disagree with the left and you will surely be labeled one of those terms and called out for hate speech Lets set aside the identity politics for a moment and look at what the President has actually done for the black community. The president is doing his best to secure the border as hundreds/thousands of people a day are coming to our southern boarder. The millions of refugees and illegal immigrants will be looking for jobs. The laws of supply and demand apply to the workforce as well. If you flood the workforce with millions of non-citizen workers, the job market slows which decreases wages that will disproportionately affect minorities. And this, at a time when wages are finally rising for American workers. Along with the unemployment rates for minorities being at all time lows, the black youth unemployment rate just hit an all time low this week. While millions more minorities are working under Trumps policies we have seen a drop of over 3000000 people from the food stamp programs. The president signed into law The First Step Act allowing hundreds of thousands on non-violent offenders to be released from jail or considered for early release. Around 90% of the non-violent offenders eligible for release are black people. This action on President Trumps part was something that most black people thought President Obama should have done because he campaigned on criminal justice reform. After less than 2 months in office the president signed an executive order making Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) a priority and promising more in funding the first year of his presidency than Obama did his entire 2 terms in office. With strong push back from democrats and teachers unions, the president wants a school voucher program for schools. This would benefit minorities the most giving parents who otherwise cant afford to, the option to send their kids to schools that perform better rather than the inner city schools that have failed them for decades. The democrat party doesnt want to see the black community or minorities rise up and be productive members of society. They need a permanent underclass in our society that will be dependent on the government and the free stuff they are being promised which is also why they want open boarders and millions more dependant on them. This is their future voter base. Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angelas, and all the major US cities that have been run by democrats for decades are modern day plantations. When was the last president that helped minorities as much as he has in the first 2+ years of his presidency. It amazes me that some people are so taken back by some of the presidents WORDS (many have been distorted by the media and then passed along as truth by bloggers), yet fail to see the ACTIONS that the president has taken to help those that he is falsely reported to be superior to.

    • August 4, 2019 at 6:43 pm

      I guess we all see what we want to see. This president has a long track record of racism that precedes his presidency. He was sued by the government early in his career for refusing to rent to black tenants. He sought execution of the Central Park 5, 5 young black men, even after they were exonerated. If he was not a racist where is his support among Black people? That support is non-existent. Do black people not know who is a racist? I don’t think so. As a Jewish person I will never forget his comments after Charlottesville about the fine people on both sides. That was a march organized by Neo-nazis. They killed an innocent woman. He has never backed down from his Charlottesville comments. You ignore his big base of support among the Klan, Nazis and white supremacists. Why do they love him so? That is no accident. Trump is mostly about feathering his own nest and supporting his one percent friends. You did not address my article but I totally stand by it.

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