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

  • KJ

    I received an advance ebook copy of this book in return for my honest review.

    For anyone interested in getting a more in-depth idea of the thoughts of the key Congressional figures in Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial and the dilemmas with which they grappled, this book is for you!! The author's thorough research into the extensive cast of characters involved in this particular historical event shines through on each page. The book adopts a chronological narrative form, which allows each person

    I received an advance ebook copy of this book in return for my honest review.

    For anyone interested in getting a more in-depth idea of the thoughts of the key Congressional figures in Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial and the dilemmas with which they grappled, this book is for you!! The author's thorough research into the extensive cast of characters involved in this particular historical event shines through on each page. The book adopts a chronological narrative form, which allows each person to come onto the stage in the book only when they entered into center stage during the events of 1867. With this decision, the author has made the huge cast more accessible and minimizing confusion over who is who.

    Andrew Johnson is only one character in this book on his trial and serves as a great companion piece to the previously-published book on Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial "Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy" by David O. Stewart.

    There are a couple of places where the author adds in little details about the historical figures that sometimes seem more like a way to spice up the writing, as these little tidbits of their lives are of little relevance to the particular topic at hand. But this is minimal and does not detract from the information in the book.

    I did feel that sometimes there were moments where the content delves too deeply into the motives and motivations of historical figures that I felt we were straddling the line of speculation as well. The narrative makes little use of words and phrases such as "may have," "could have," "perhaps," and "maybe," so it is difficult to tell where the line between solid evidence and historian speculation occur.

    However, I still believe that this is a solid read for anyone wishing to understand more about not only the trial, but the political climate surrounding Andrew Johnson's impeachment, the causes, the reactions, and the temperament of the population at large. The many quotes taken from females commenting on the subject was particularly refreshing to see as well. There is a sense - not deliberately stated - that women were actively involved during this time as well, not only fighting for women's suffrage, but commenting upon, witnessing, opining, and - in the case of Vinnie Ream - more than a sideline involvement in the events.

    As the author mentions near the end of the book, many of the dilemmas with which these historical figures grappled are still unsolved during today. Very apropos for anyone interested in seeing where our current situations have already appeared in history. Definitely worth the read!

  • 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.

  • 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.

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