Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 8.28.34 AMI think that we can all agree that Andrew Johnson was a first-rate dickhead. He certainly ranked among the most egregious offenders when I recently conducted a “who’s the biggest dickhead in US history” survey.  So when it comes to his impeachment trial, given the chance, we would all probably be inclined to convict. But on what grounds…legally? I mean, last I checked, trying to obstruct congressional legislation and an amendment specifically designed to protect freedmen was the monumentally lame move of a king asshat – but not really illegal. And violating the Tenure of Office Act? Hmmmm….

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Front row seat.

So what do you say? Imagine yourself a senator in 1868 faced with the decision to convict (or not) and thus oust the president (…or not). What do you do? Remember…AJ’s lawyer has promised that he would make nice for the rest of his term and radical Benjamin Wade from Ohio is next in line for the job.

With compliments,


PS – I had a group of about 60 students do this exercise once…bonus points if you can guess what the majority decided.

2 thoughts on “Should He Stay or Should He Go?”

  1. The only think I’ve ever read about the impeachment–besides various textbooks–is a recent biography of Senator Edmund Ross, who cast the deciding vote in Johnson’s favor. My understanding from that is that the who process built up to be more than just a matter of Johnson’s guilt or innocence of certain alleged high crimes. It appears, at least from Ross’ point of view, a referendum on which branch of the Republican party would lead in the future. And it wasn’t about abolitionist politics at all. Ross was a dyed-in-the-wool Kansas Jayhawker, after all. But he perceived the tidal wave of cash, corruption, corporate interests, and all the other extravagances that came to mark the Guilded Age that Mark Summers has chronicled, in the campaign to oust Johnson.

    So I guess what I’m suggesting–and maybe your students figured this out as well–is that the whole episode was more than a legal indictment of Johnson and even more than a referendum on freedpeople, but an even more pressing (to the Congress and northern voters in the rapidly developing corporate-friendly Republican machine politics) question of national direction.

    1. Certainly a valid observation – thanks. In addition…I think that folks were beginning to grow weary of extreme politics and were seeking moderation. Plus, as you suggest, were looking toward economic issues, currency, business, etc.

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