The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation

The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation

America's first presidential impeachment: A prize-winning author tells the story of the efforts by heroic citizens to preserve the victories of the Civil War by removing a bigoted president who ruled as if he were king.When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and Vice-President Andrew Johnson became "the Accidental President," it was a dangerous time in America. Congress was...

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Title:The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation
Author:Brenda Wineapple
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Edition Language:English

The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation Reviews

  • MJBurroughs

    The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple is an engrossing history of one of the most important moments in American history: reconstruction after the Civil War. This was a period that was never taught too much in school at least from my experiences. It could have been that I just wasn't paying enough attention in class, but that's a story for another time. Due to my obsession with Ken Burns documentaries, I have a fairly good grip on the narra

    The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple is an engrossing history of one of the most important moments in American history: reconstruction after the Civil War. This was a period that was never taught too much in school at least from my experiences. It could have been that I just wasn't paying enough attention in class, but that's a story for another time. Due to my obsession with Ken Burns documentaries, I have a fairly good grip on the narrative of the Civil War. But once Lincoln was assassinated, I don't remember learning about much between that point and the 20th century. Andrew Johnson has the honor of being the first president to be impeached, and this was a piece of trivia I actually knew, especially from being raised in the era of Bill Clinton's trial in the late 1990s, but that was about it. This book spares no detail in setting the stage for how our country came to this crossroads, and all of the important people involved. I'll try my best to summarize: Abraham Lincoln, seeking reelection in 1864, in the midst of that pesky Civil War, needed to bring balance to his campaign ticket. Johnson, a staunch believer in Union preservation, but from the southern state of Tennessee was just what Lincoln needed to appease the less radical voters. Unfortunately, after his tragic assassination, nothing seemed to go according to plan. Johnson was sworn in as president, and to everyone at the time, seemed committed to the progression and activism required to put the pieces of the country back together. Rebuilding the Union after the Civil War meant progressive ideas that were frankly tough to swallow for people located below the Mason-Dixon Line. After all, there were around 4 million Americans newly freed from the shackles of slavery and looking for their deserved basic liberties and human rights. Post war, more radical members of Congress believed that after a costly conflict to decide its meaning, the Constitution was to be taken literally, for the rights of ALL who lived under it. Johnson however, seemed to have other ideas...

    I hope you can forgive my ignorance, but I had no idea Andrew Johnson was such a complete sack of crap. Johnson proclaimed that, "This is a country for white men, and as long as I am president, it shall be a government for white men." Of course, Johnson's line of thinking wasn't unheard of, but it's clear through the study of this book that Johnson as president didn't have the balls to confront everything that was happening around him. Tough decisions needed to be made, not only about freedmen, but about how the former members of the Confederacy were to be confronted and dealt with. While Congress passed numerous Reconstruction Acts to guarantee liberties and keep Confederates from controlling the states, Johnson worked against them, and tried tirelessly to block their execution. As Johnson and members of Congress fought tooth and nail, one could imagine the prospects of the country once again falling apart, and something drastic needed to be done. In 1868, Andrew Johnson was formally impeached.

    Ok, enough of the history lesson out of me, I want to examine and talk more about the writing style of the book. It's a quite interesting blend of informational text combined with lyrical story telling. With quotes and musings of persons of note sprinkled in with the narrative, The Impeachers reads like an entertaining documentary spread out on paper. Despite the vastly intellectual subject matter, the style lends itself to be comfortably read with ease, so long as you spare the time to read it. My only struggle was trying to figure out just the right voice actors speaking the lines in my head.

    After the Bill Clinton proceedings in the 1990s, we say the word "impeachment" with a far different thinking than those from generations long before. While the interpretations of impeachment have come a long way from "high crimes and misdemeanors", the Andrew Johnson trial forever shifted its use to enforce the intended balance of power in our government. It's truly amazing to me how after over 150 years from both the Civil War and the Johnson impeachment, the vestiges of their respective results plague our thoughts and actions to this very day.

    Verdict: The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple is a brilliantly cultivated history of the struggle between legislative and executive that framed the era of Reconstruction after the American Civil War. Enjoyable to read while still being fully engrossing, this book is well worth the investment of time that it takes for a full appreciation. It's a heavy handed thing to say in the political climate we're in, but I think it's warranted: those who do not learn history, are all but doomed to repeat it.

    A special thanks to Random House Publishing Group for generously supplying an advanced review copy to TehBen.com, all views and opinions are my own.

    Review to be published on tehben.com on May 1st, 2019

  • Bob

    Impeachment. Only twice in American history has Congress pursued impeachment proceedings against a President of the United States. Neither instance resulted in conviction of "high crimes and misdemeanors." This book chronicles the first instance where this remedy was pursued, during the presidency of Andrew Johnson.

    Brenda W

    Impeachment. Only twice in American history has Congress pursued impeachment proceedings against a President of the United States. Neither instance resulted in conviction of "high crimes and misdemeanors." This book chronicles the first instance where this remedy was pursued, during the presidency of Andrew Johnson.

    Brenda Wineapple gives us a well-crafted account of the presidency of Andrew Johnson, the circumstances leading to his impeachment, the key figures from the House of Representatives that prosecuted the impeachment, as well as the presiding Chief Justice, the defense, and the final denouement.

    Andrew Johnson was always a bit of a lone wolf, rising from tailor to accidental president when Lincoln was assassinated. When the Civil War began, though sympathetic with the white supremacy of the South, Johnson argued against secession as unconstitutional, and that in fact it was impossible for states to secede from the Union, a position he maintained later on as president. When Tennessee seceded, he continued to take his seat in the Senate. Later, Lincoln named him military governor of Tennessee. When it came time for Lincoln the Republican to run for his second term, he did the unusual thing of offering Johnson, a Democrat, the Vice Presidency, partly to weaken the Democrats, and perhaps with a view toward the restoration of the Union.

    Wineapple describes how Johnson quickly instituted his own version of Reconstruction, allowing many of the old leaders of the south to return to office, undercutting newly won civil rights for blacks, and looking the other way when blacks were violently attacked, lynched, and slaughtered. He undercut the efforts of moderate Republican Lyman Trumbull to extend the Freedman's Bureau by vetoing the bill, even after Lyman's extensive consultations with Johnson led him to think it would be passed. It increasingly appeared that all the sacrifice of Union troops was for naught, as Blacks still were treated as slaves in all but name. The crowning insult was Johnson's campaign trip, the "swing around the circle" during the 1866 elections where he denounced Republicans Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, and Wendell Philips by name.

    While Republicans in Congress seethed at this treatment and the reversal of gains fought for during the Civil War, all of this occurred under the cloak of legality. Wineapple then discusses the efforts to limit the military occupation, including the work of Secretary of War Stanton and General Grant. This was one of the remaining protections for Black citizens. To protect Stanton, Congress passed over Johnson's veto the Tenure in Office Act, prohibiting the firing of cabinet officials without Congressional approval. Johnson, believing the act unconstitutional, eventually sacked (or tried to) Secretary Stanton, which represented the crossing of a threshold that triggered the vote of impeachment in the House, and the impeachment trial in the Senate.

    Wineapple takes us through the trial, introducing us to the managers for the House prosecution: Benjamin Butler who presented much of the evidence, and George Boutwell, and the courageous Thaddeus Stevens, enfeebled and dying. She gives us sketches of Chief Justice Chase, the defense for the president, key senators like Ben Wade, who stood to succeed to the presidency if Johnson was convicted, and correspondents including Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Georges Clemenceau. Then came the vote, 35-19, with a key Republican, Edmund Ross changing his vote to acquit at the last hour. Six other Republicans joined him and twelve Democrats in voting to acquit. Though never proven, there was evidence of payoffs.

    Johnson served out his term, but was disappointed not to receive the appointment of his party. He eventually returned to the Senate, dying in office in 1875. Ulysses Grant succeeded to the presidency, reversing to some degree the effects of Johnson's "Reconstruction." But the promise briefly glimpsed by Lincoln was never to be.

    Wineapple does an outstanding job of unfolding the history and the fascinating characters around the impeachment. Her account of the life and death of Thaddeus Stevens was particularly striking. Her book makes the case for the challenges of impeachment: the ambiguities of language and procedure. The truth was, Andrew Johnson was a disaster and a white supremacist and could not be removed for these reasons alone. Only the violation of a questionable law (later ruled unconstitutional) provided the pretext. Even this effort fell short. Wineapple also shows us that white supremacy is nothing new but has a long and ugly history in our country, one accustomed to the commission of sordid acts and the constraining of civil liberties with the pretext of respectable legality.

    Essentially, impeachment is an unproven remedy for the removal of presidents considered to have committed "high crimes and misdemeanors." Section IV of the 25th Amendment has never been attempted. This brings us back to the critical importance of the choices we make for who we elect to be president and vice-president. Whether in office by vote or accident, the only proven way presidents may be removed from office is by the Electoral College, reflecting (hopefully) on a state by state basis the results at the ballot box, an opportunity that comes only every four years. The attacks of White Supremacists on voting rights in Johnson's day also remind us of the vital task of rigorously protecting voting rights for all our citizens, recognized as critical for "liberty and justice for all" then--and now.

    ____________________________

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review e-galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

  • Casey Wheeler

    This book is well written and researched. I have read about the presidency of Andrew Johnson, but this is the first that goes into detail about his impeachment. It is well a well known fact that Andrew Johnson was not one of the better Presidents that we have had lead our nation. He worked to overturn many of the intended consequences as a result of the southern states losing the Civil War and extended extreme racial bias on a wide basis for another century and more. The book goes into detail ab

    This book is well written and researched. I have read about the presidency of Andrew Johnson, but this is the first that goes into detail about his impeachment. It is well a well known fact that Andrew Johnson was not one of the better Presidents that we have had lead our nation. He worked to overturn many of the intended consequences as a result of the southern states losing the Civil War and extended extreme racial bias on a wide basis for another century and more. The book goes into detail about the many people who played a role in the impeachment and trail of Johnson and does so in an informative manner.

    I recomend this book for those looking for more information on the specifics of the first impeachment trail of a President in the United States.

    I received a free Kindle copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook and Twitter pages.

  • Christopher Saunders

    Engaging account of Andrew Johnson's disastrous presidency, centering on Congress's failed efforts to impeach him. Wineapple knows this period and these personages well, having covered them in previous works like Ecstatic Nation, and does an excellent job crafting the rush of Reconstruction figures into a cohesive narrative. Johnson, taking office after Lincoln's assassination, squandered an initial outburst of goodwill as his plans for Reconstructing the South prove a betrayal of racial ideals.

    Engaging account of Andrew Johnson's disastrous presidency, centering on Congress's failed efforts to impeach him. Wineapple knows this period and these personages well, having covered them in previous works like Ecstatic Nation, and does an excellent job crafting the rush of Reconstruction figures into a cohesive narrative. Johnson, taking office after Lincoln's assassination, squandered an initial outburst of goodwill as his plans for Reconstructing the South prove a betrayal of racial ideals. He pardons and coddles Southerners even as they work to rebuild the edifice of white supremacy, while dismissing blacks as inferior and unworthy of rights or protection, and attacking Republicans in Congress, the military and his own cabinet as disloyal traitors. Johnson's portrayed, harshly though convincingly, as a thin-skinned near-madman who rages against his enemies, embarrasses himself with public intoxication, racist rants and inflammatory speeches; he comes to view racial equality and the rule of law itself as a conspiracy against him. As Johnson schemes and stonewalls, the postwar South descends into race riots and terrorism against freed blacks and white Republicans; in the North, lingering wartime idealism battles with a yearning for normalcy and reconciliation. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans debate the feasibility of impeachment, couching their efforts as principled opposition to Johnson's destructive agenda - and conniving the Tenure of Office Act, designed to protect Secretary of War Edwin Stanton from dismissal to force a showdown. The tale's contemporary relevance is obvious, though Wineapple wisely leaves such comparisons between the lines. She ably sketches Johnson, Republican leaders like Stanton, Thaddeus Stevens (Congress's crabbed, sulfrous racial egalitarian), Charles Sumner (who married conviction and caution in equal measure) and Benjamin Butler (mercurial, memetically ugly but a gifted lawyer), with a smattering of celebrities, writers and activists - Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Georges Clemenceau and Walt Whitman among them - providing commentary. Most authors, even those sympathetic to Johnson's foes, couch impeachment as a legally dubious mistake; Wineapple disagrees, arguing it was a necessary if disreputable step to curb Johnson's abuses of power and obstruction of civil rights legislation. Historians will undoubtedly debate her interpretation; readers, especially those reading with an eye to modern politics, must decide for themselves. Either way, it's a well-written, sharply observed look at a perilous time in American history, where Americans faced a choice between chaotic reforms, an unequal but deceptively comforting status quo...and an unstable president acting as a law unto himself.

  • Socraticgadfly

    This book is in general, great to fantastic.

    At the same time, it's got a flaw bad enough that it loses as star for it and also makes me somewhat question Wineapple as a historian.

    All the good stuff first, then the flaw at the end.

    First, Wineapple does a great job of setting the stage. Long before the KKK was invented and Bedford Forest was asked to lead it, white violence against blacks was real. As in the first days after the war ended.

    Johnson’s failure to act immediately could be seen as polit

    This book is in general, great to fantastic.

    At the same time, it's got a flaw bad enough that it loses as star for it and also makes me somewhat question Wineapple as a historian.

    All the good stuff first, then the flaw at the end.

    First, Wineapple does a great job of setting the stage. Long before the KKK was invented and Bedford Forest was asked to lead it, white violence against blacks was real. As in the first days after the war ended.

    Johnson’s failure to act immediately could be seen as political paralysis for a couple of weeks. But, not after that.

    Second, Congressional Republicans weren’t really Radicals vs conservatives. They were more tripartite, Radicals, moderates and centrists.

    Wineapple plays this out on a background of the GOP already splitting on hard money vs soft money factions, fearing that this might wreck the party, fearing that not deciding what to do with Johnson might wreck the party, and that not knowing in 1867 whether Grant was Republican or Democrat hung over their heads.

    And, did you know there were multiple impeachment attempts in 1867? The first failed in the Judiciary Committee. The second passed it but failed on the floor of the House.

    When impeachment was approved in 1868, the House then muddled on an actual bill of charges, and Thad Stevens worried that leading with the Tenure of Office Act issues was wrong.

    Wineapple also does a very good job with the start of the Senate trial. First, among the brevity of items the Constitution mentions about impeachment, it does NOT say the Chief Justice has to preside.

    Salmon P. Chase wormed his way in. She does a good job of noting all the demands he listed to the Senate and largely got accepted by it. And, per Stevens’ fears, this turned the trial from a matter of presidential competence to one of legal acts. (In light of Trump, Mueller’s refusal to indict, and the Justice Department’s advisory opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, I believe that note, and the related idea of how Chase framed the trial, were and are wrong.)

    The problem? “Presumably” does NOT mean the same as “allegedly,” but Wineapple acts like it does in the book. She mixes them up 10 or more times.

    Example (at least the fifth by this point) on 217:

    “Grant presumably conceded [in a dispute over what he had or had not agreed to tell Johnson about resigning as interim Secretary of War], adding that he’d been busy with General Sherman and other matters.”

    No, he ALLEGEDLY conceded.

    When empirical evidence points in a direction that a person likely acted in such and such a way, but you can’t prove it, it’s “allegedly.” Or “reportedly.” But NOT “presumably.”

    Ditto, when a person is presented by historical legend as having said something, but it can’t be verified.

    ‘I know only two tunes,” Grant presumably said. “One of them Yankee Doodle and the other one isn’t.”

    Since this is an allegation (and the bon mot was told of Lincoln as well, among others), it’s “allegedly” or “reportedly” said.

    This is more than a grammatical error; it’s a literary one, and it risks promoting a false narrative line, as in the first cited example, in a history book.

    And it’s one that a professional historian simply should not make.

    And, if she is making it, it’s one that a professional book editor shouldn’t allow her to make.

    ==

    There’s also, for its brilliance otherwise, errors here and there. Ben Wade can’t have worked on the Erie Canal after moving to Ohio. Think about it. Yes, he did work on the Canal, but before moving to Ohio.

  • Jean

    Now that the congress is conducting an impeachment investigation of Trump, I thought it would be a good idea to read about Johnson’s impeachment trial. Wineapple recounts the struggle over the implication of the Civil War amid the impeachment of an erratic president.

    The book is well written and researched. Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) was a Southern Democrat born in North Carolina. He wanted to return the South to the way it was prior to the War. He had lenient reconstruction policies toward the S

    Now that the congress is conducting an impeachment investigation of Trump, I thought it would be a good idea to read about Johnson’s impeachment trial. Wineapple recounts the struggle over the implication of the Civil War amid the impeachment of an erratic president.

    The book is well written and researched. Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) was a Southern Democrat born in North Carolina. He wanted to return the South to the way it was prior to the War. He had lenient reconstruction policies toward the South and he vetoed the Reconstruction Act. He started his political career in the Tennessee legislature. In 1843 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee. Wineapple discusses Johnson’s presidency (1865-1869). The impeachment as well as what goes into an impeachment. Congress had tried multiple times to impeach Johnson before finally succeeding to trial only to lose. Wineapple includes the history primarily in the South post the Civil War emphasizing the treatment of the freed slaves. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I learned a lot about Johnson and the difficulties of impeachment.

    I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is fourteen hours and thirty-six minutes. Gabra Zachman did a good job narrating the book.

  • Donna Pingry

    If only a decent president had followed Abraham Lincoln! Andrew Johnson was a much bigger crook than Nixon yet Nixon at least had enough honor to leave. This book got long winded in many parts but that's politics for you. I didn't know anything about the Radical Republican Party before I read this book. I find myself wondering why none of this is required high school teaching. Just like today, political opinions are easily bought and paid for. Promises and honor lay in the dust. Our generation i

    If only a decent president had followed Abraham Lincoln! Andrew Johnson was a much bigger crook than Nixon yet Nixon at least had enough honor to leave. This book got long winded in many parts but that's politics for you. I didn't know anything about the Radical Republican Party before I read this book. I find myself wondering why none of this is required high school teaching. Just like today, political opinions are easily bought and paid for. Promises and honor lay in the dust. Our generation is still struggling with the evil caused by that time and we've learned absolutely nothing. So sad.

  • Porter Broyles

    I suspect that most people who are reading this book are doing so because this is a new book and the current political environment has elevated the concept of impeachment. If that describes you, then this is a perfectly suitable book. {EDIT: Please make sure to read the comment I added 2 weeks after finishing this book.}

    The book is well written and enjoyable.

    The book is on exactly what the title describes, “The Impeachers.” Wineapple tells the story by providing short bios on the major characte

    I suspect that most people who are reading this book are doing so because this is a new book and the current political environment has elevated the concept of impeachment. If that describes you, then this is a perfectly suitable book. {EDIT: Please make sure to read the comment I added 2 weeks after finishing this book.}

    The book is well written and enjoyable.

    The book is on exactly what the title describes, “The Impeachers.” Wineapple tells the story by providing short bios on the major characters and largely through quotes of these participants. She does not delve too deeply to explain why the characters said or did things. She simply recounts the events--often taking the characters words as truth. Thus, while sharing a fair amount, the book lacks depth.

    While she often repeated things, there were key facts that were either ignored or glossed over. For example, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson was not the first attempt, but the fourth such attempt.

    The Republicans passed the “Tenure of Office Act” over a presidential veto. In simplistic terms, the TOA was an effort to prevent the President from firing officials without congressional approval. Congress knew that Johnson would not accept the validity of the law and his failure to accept it would provide the pretext for an impeachment. Wineapple does not adequately address this facet.

    Stanton and Johnson could not stand each other, and the battle for control of the Department of War seemed abbreviated. Stanton literally bunkered himself in the War Department Office as if the person who physically possessed the office held the title!

    The ramification for the 1868 presidential election was largely overlooked. While Wineapple discusses Chief Justice’s Salmon Chase’s aspiration for the White House and Senator Wade’s being next in line of succession, the book does not fully discuss the 1868 election. U.S. Grant was in an unusual situation. Grant was largely seen as the presidential candidate and likely next president. Both the Republicans and Democrats were hoping that he would run under their banner. Republicans knew that Johnson was removed from office, and then Wade would likely become the Republican presidential candidate--forcing Grant to run as a Democrat and likely losing. But Wade apparently had a negative disposition and many Republicans did not want to see him as president and feared the prospect of his being the Republican Nominee in 1868 and winning!

    Thus, there was a political reason not to convict Johnson months prior to the election.

    The book alludes to the various underhanded shenanigans, but understates them. By the time the final vote occurred, there was enough political machinations on both sides to make one’s head spin. Johnson may have survived impeachment by one vote, but that's because a number of Republicans abstained. There is a common belief that had Edmund Ross not voted for acquital, then one or two of the abstaining votes would have changed their vote to acquittal.

    In short, the decision not to convict was decided not so much on the merits of the case, but rather upon other considerations. Those considerations are mentioned on in passing in Wineapple's book.

    Another one of my problems was her conclusion that Lincoln would have aligned himself fully with the Radical Republicans. She seems to have proof texted quotes from Lincoln to portray him as a hardline Radical. She seems to have forgotten that Lincoln repeatedly declared that the southern states could not have left the Union. That his plan for readmittance of the South was much more lenient than the one proposed by Congress. When Congress presented him with a hardline stand on Southern Reconstruction in the form the “Wade Davis” bill, Lincoln took the bill and placed it in his pocket. (Thus the origin of the phrase ‘pocket veto’). Lincoln believed that restoration of the Union was of tantamount importance and would have welcomed the South back before Congress resumed and could do anything.

    In short, this was an easy book to read, but provided only a pulp history view of the subject.

  • Ben Babcock

    I grew up in the ’90s, and I vaguely remember on TV when I was a kid some kind of scandal involving this guy named Bill Clinton, whom I knew as the President of the United States. The word

    kept getting thrown around, but of course I didn’t really know what that meant. Fast-forward 20 years, and the word has resurfaced as a possible fate for the current President, Donald Trump—and this time, I knew what the word meant, but I didn’t really understand what impeachment

    . So Brenda

    I grew up in the ’90s, and I vaguely remember on TV when I was a kid some kind of scandal involving this guy named Bill Clinton, whom I knew as the President of the United States. The word

    kept getting thrown around, but of course I didn’t really know what that meant. Fast-forward 20 years, and the word has resurfaced as a possible fate for the current President, Donald Trump—and this time, I knew what the word meant, but I didn’t really understand what impeachment

    . So Brenda Wineapple’s book on the impeachment of Andrew Johnson came into my life at an opportune time.

    explains the nature of presidential impeachment through a case study of one of the only two presidents ever to be impeached. However, it is much, much more than that. It’s really a snapshot of American history immediately following the American Civil War. Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the eARC.

    Here in Canada, we learn some very bare-bones American history (which means we learn slightly more than the average American does about American history). So obviously I knew what the Civil War was, what it was about, causes, etc. I knew the names Lincoln and Grant and (vaguely) Johnson. As history classes in school often do, however, they elide the difficult reconstruction parts that follow any massive conflict. I had known the Civil War was a thing, and that it had led to Emancipation. Never did I really pause to think what that actually looked like, how the Confederate states were readmitted into the Union, the immediate effects of emancipating slaves in the South, the violence that ensued … but

    , the moment Wineapple starts describing the headaches, problems, and loss of life, it was immediately obvious. Just because the Union had “won” the war didn’t mean everyone in the South was suddenly going to magically be all right with living next to free Black people. Duh.

    So Wineapple spends the first part of the book on a brief history of the United States right at the beginning of Johnson’s presidency: Lincoln assassinated, the country still fractured, legislators deeply divided on what an equitable Reconstruction looks like. Wineapple frames this as Johnson essentially being the wrong man at the wrong time, his temperament and ideology inappropriate for the task of Reconstruction. As I mentioned above, lots of this was new to me. I had no idea about Johnson’s political views on secession, suffrage, etc.

    Wineapple also covers a lot of the animus and internecine racial conflict in the South. She doesn’t mince words: the Union might have won the war and abolished slavery, but that didn’t end racism any more than Obama’s election in 2008 ended it. White people were lynching Black people (and white allies) quite openly. The overall effect is to belie the comfortable idea that the violence and unrest in the present-day United States of America is somehow a new or different condition than earlier in its history. So many people seem interested in “returning” to the better days, of making America—dare I say—great

    . Although Wineapple doesn’t come right out and say it, we can infer that there is a strong possibility America was never “great” in that sense. Indeed, even with the civil war “won,” the idea that the former Confederate states would simply return to the Union was not a foregone conclusion….

    So, impeachment trial itself aside,

    provides such valuable insight into US history just after the Civil War. How does it fare with the impeachment though?

    Honestly, there are more details here than I probably wanted. This will be an excellent reference for anyone who is a student of this era. Wineapple is careful to go into the backstories of anyone who might be anything more than a passing player in this drama; there are even photos! Believe me, I’m not criticizing the book for these attributes—but they do add up for a somewhat drier experience than I typically look for in my history books. This is just a case of mismatched book and audience, though, not a reflection on the book’s quality.

    When we

    get to the impeachment trial, things feel more anticlimactic. Again, Wineapple wants to recount everything in as much detail as possible, drawing out the inevitable acquittal (uh … sorry, spoilers) that we know must be coming. Again, if detail is what you want, then you will not be disappointed. I really just wanted to know

    happened and hear Wineapple’s take on the

    and

    .

    On the other hand, all of the back and forth helps us understand what impeachment is and is not. Firstly, it’s not clearly laid out in the Constitution. This first presidential impeachment was very improvisational and ad hoc. It’s not a criminal procedure—it’s a political one, despite the Chief Justice presiding. Finally, its political origins mean it hangs more on the well-chosen words and backroom deals of political vote-grubbing than it does on any type of evidentiary support. At the end of the day, Johnson is acquitted not because he’s “innocent” of the articles of impeachment but because enough senators had doubts, or professed to have doubts because it was more politically expedient for them to do so.

    I understand now better the issues at stake as people call for the impeachment of Donald Trump. It’s not just a procedural but an inherently political decision. And, without meaning to downplay the direction in which the United States is currently heading, this book reminds us that there have definitely been Constitutional lacunae previously in American history. It’s true that we don’t really know what Americans and their government will do if Trump finally crosses some kind of line he hasn’t already crossed with apparent impunity—but the United States has actually been in similar situations before. Now, I don’t say this to be reassuring in any way. Instead, I just want to observe that

    is a good lesson in why learning one’s history is so important: if we remember where we’ve been, we have a better sense of the precedents that can shape our future.

    Anyway, as a non-American who doesn’t often read about American history, this was a pretty OK read. A little too technical/detailed for my history-reading tastes. A student of history might be more appreciative of that kind of thing, though. This definitely improved my understanding of an important period of American history and helped put some current events in a new perspective. If we take that to be part of history books’ purpose, then on that scale,

    succeeds.

  • John DiConsiglio

    Andrew Johnson’s impeachment was once seen as Reconstruction run amok. (Even JFK applauded his “courage.”) Historians have long since adjusted their thinking. An “accidental president” who took office 6 weeks into Lincoln’s 2nd term, Johnson was an unapologetic racist. He saw himself more as a king than a chief executive. Wineapple juggles a large Civil War cast & the ill-defined impeachment process. She handles it like a courtroom drama, even if we already know the verdict. Is it fair to co

    Andrew Johnson’s impeachment was once seen as Reconstruction run amok. (Even JFK applauded his “courage.”) Historians have long since adjusted their thinking. An “accidental president” who took office 6 weeks into Lincoln’s 2nd term, Johnson was an unapologetic racist. He saw himself more as a king than a chief executive. Wineapple juggles a large Civil War cast & the ill-defined impeachment process. She handles it like a courtroom drama, even if we already know the verdict. Is it fair to compare Donald Trump to Andrew Johnson? Probably not. One is a bigoted, egomaniacal despot. And the other is Andrew Johnson.

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