Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
- Jan 7, 2013
- Long Island, NY
The Impeachers:The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple published by Random House (2019) 576 pp. Hardcover $32.00, Kindle $13.99.
Brenda Wineapple's newly published volume on the Andrew Johnson impeachment process is, in its first week, probably the most talked about Civil War Era book published in 2019. I have seen many mentions of it far beyond the book reveiw pages and history web sites. It comes after months of new books being published discussing the legalities of impeachment from jurisprudential scholars. Where Wineapple's work differs from most other impeachment books published over the last two years is over the question of whether the first-ever impeachment of president back in 1868 is even worth considering as a serious historical precedent.
When I was growing up in the 1960s, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson was considered an abomination. Presidents like FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Ike were strong men who guarded America's safety and prosperity. The idea of Congress trying to control the president through impeachment seemed like a massive Congressional overreach. This is why, I was told by my teachers, no president was ever again impeached.
JFK enshrined this view by making one of the senators who voted against impeachment a hero of his Profiles in Courage.
The recent impeachment books by law professors tend to simply skip over the Johnson case in their discussions of precedents. I have read three of these works, and at most they have given a couple of pages to the 1868 impeachment crisis. Most see neither precedent nor lesson in that 151 year old case.
Wineapple argues that the Johnson impeachment must be taken seriously. She sees it as a key battle in the struggle for civil rights and as an effective measure to stem presidential usurpations of the powers of Congress. While she draws no parallels to the 21st Century, she says that modern Americans need to understand the Johnson impeachment case to see how Congress can effectively block bad presidential behaviour without actually removing the president.
Maybe she is right. Five years after my teacher told me we would never see an impeachment again, President Nixon stepped down from his high office rather than face an impeachment vote.
Note: Because of its length, this review will be posted in several installments.