Monday, December 16, 2019

The Impeachers by Brenda Wineapple

My first book for December was The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Pineapple. This book fits into my long term project to read books about all of the presidents.

Focusing on the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson, the book looks broadly at the four years from the Lincoln assassination to the election of Grant. It provides an overview of why Congress was trying to impeach him.

Reading this book was poignant from two perspectives. First, it walks through the mechanics of the first Presidential impeachment. This provides a solid framework for following the current Trump impeachment process. Second, while I was reading the book, we toured the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The book highlights how poorly Blacks were treated in the South right after the Civil War ended. Those experiences are reenforced touring the museum.

I give the book a solid "B.". It spends a lot of time looking at the other key players in the Andrew Johnson impeachment process. At some point, I will probably read another book that focuses on Johnson. I can't help but wonder how different things might have been in Lincoln had lived...

Andrew Johnson was born in poverty in Raleigh, North Carolina. He never attended school. Apprenticed as a tailor, Johnson worked in several frontier towns before settling in Greeneville, Tennessee. He served as alderman and mayor there before being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1835. After brief service in the Tennessee Senate, Johnson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843; he served five two-year terms. He became Governor of Tennessee for four years and was then elected by the legislature to the U.S. Senate in 1857.

As a Democratic Senator from a Southern State who didn't support succession, Johnson was added to Lincoln's ticket in 1860 as a show of unity. He became President when Lincoln was assassinated.

Johnson implemented his own form of Presidential Reconstruction. This included a series of executive orders directing the seceded states to hold conventions and elections to reform their civil governments. When Southern states returned many of their old leaders and passed Black Codes to deprive the free slaves of many civil liberties, Congressional Republicans refused to seat legislators from those states and advanced legislation to overrule the Southern actions. Johnson vetoed their bills. Congressional Republicans then overrode his veto. This set a pattern for the remainder of his presidency. Johnson opposed the Fourteenth Amendment which gave citizenship to former slaves.

As the conflict between the branches of government grew, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act. This restricted Johnson's ability to fire Cabinet officials. When he persisted in trying to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, he was impeached by the House of Representatives. Johnson narrowly avoided conviction in the Senate. After failing to win the 1868 Democratic presidential nomination, Johnson left office in 1869. He returned to the Senate from Tennessee in 1875, but died five months into his term.

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