Wednesday, May 16, 2007

May 16, 1868:

President Johnson Acquitted

It seemed to come down to Sen. Edmund Ross of Kansas (pictured, left). The New York Times described the scene in the US Senate on May 16, 1868, when that chamber came within a vote of convicting President Andrew Johnson and removing him from office:

"Then a thousand pair of eyes shot into the very heart of the modest, quiet little man who rises, at the call of the name of Ross. Nervously and quickly he responds, "not guilty." A suppressed condemnation is heard on all hands, and the fate of impeachment is sealed. The remaining votes cannot save it...

"The indignation centres terribly and almost wholly upon poor Ross, and he has a hard position to occupy. Five times, once in writing, as his colleague Pomeroy says, he can swear he has promised to vote for conviction. So late as last night at dinner at the latters house he promised. Until within two or three days he has never been doubted. He was not outspoken except to his friends, to whom he frankly stated ten days ago that his opinion was that the President was guilty. So much evidence of this kind is in existence that his friends are overwhelmed with shame and grief at his alleged duplicity."

In 20th century, Ross' vote was portrayed in Profiles in Courage as, well, a profile in courage. It certainly helped maintain the office of the presidency. But not everyone thinks Ross acted from unselfish motives. There's a school of thought that holds that Ross mainly didn't want to see President Pro Tem of the Senate Benjamin Wade as acting president, for fear of his losing control of patronage.

David Greenberg wrote in Slate on January 21, 1999: "Since the other six pro-Johnson Republicans had declared their intentions before voting, the ensuing attention focused on the apostasy of Ross, whose vote came as the biggest surprise. But Ross' vote wasn't the lone act of bravery it was later made out to be. At least four other senators were prepared to oppose conviction had their votes been needed--a fact that has been forgotten, maybe, because it doesn't square with the High Noon portrait of Ross as the man of principle facing down the mob.

"Ross wasted no time exploiting Johnson's debt to him. On June 6, he wrote to Johnson to have him install one of his cronies as Southern superintendent of Indian affairs, and Johnson agreed to oust his own friend in order to comply. Sensing opportunity, Ross kept upping the ante, like a Mafia henchman running a protection racket. ("Nice little presidency ya got here--hate to see anything happen to it.") On June 23, he wrote to Johnson to secure a position for Perry Fuller, his 1867 election sponsor. On July 1, he asked Johnson to make his brother a federal mail agent. On July 10, he pressed the president for jobs for three more friends, invoking his impeachment vote, just in case Johnson had forgotten." The entire article is here.

May 16 is also the birthday of Levi Parsons Morton (pictured, right), born in Vermont in 1824. He grew up to become a Congressman from New York, 22nd Vice President of the United States (under Benjamin Harrison, 1889 to 1893) and governor of New York after that. He died on May 16, 1920, the longest surviving vice president until John Nance Garner lived longer in the 1960s. Morton remains the only vice president (or president) to die on his birthday.


Anonymous said...

Luigi: (looking round office casually)"You've ... you've got a nice army base here, colonel."
Colonel: "Yes."
Luigi: "We wouldn't want anything to happen to it."
Colonel: "What?"
Dino: "No, what my brother means is it would be a shame if..." (he knocks something off mantel)
Colonel: "Oh."
Dino: "Oh sorry, colonel."
Colonel: "Well don't worry about that. But please do sit down."
Luigi: "No, we prefer to stand, thank you, colonel."
Colonel: "All right. All right. But what do you want?"
Dino: "What do we want, ha ha ha."
Luigi: "Ha ha ha, very good, colonel."
Dino: "The colonel's a joker, Luigi."
Luigi: "Explain it to the colonel, Dino."
Dino: "How many tanks you got, colonel?"
Colonel: "About five hundred altogether."
Luigi: "Five hundred! Hey!"
Dino: "You ought to be careful, colonel."
Colonel: "We are careful, extremely careful."
Dino: "'Cos things break, don't they?"
Colonel: "Break?"
Luigi: "Well, everything breaks, don't it colonel. (he breaks something on desk) Oh dear."
Dino: "Oh, see, my brother's clumsy colonel, and when he gets unhappy he breaks things. Like say, he don't feel the army's playing fair by him, he may start breaking things, colonel."

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing a dramatization of the Profiles in Courage version of Senator Ross' decision to vote for aquittal back in the Sixties. IMDb confirms that the there was in fact a short-lived series based on Profiles of Courage. The episode about Edmond Ross was broadcast on March 21, 1965. Bradford Dillman played Senator Ross. (In 1977 Dillman played another role from the same period: John Wilkes Booth in something called The Lincoln Conspiracy.) ANK