“This life is slow suicide, unless you read.”Herman Wouk

Friday, January 17, 2020

Bribery, Courage, and Cowards—Reflections on Impeachments Past


You wrote: “Was Senator Edmund Ross of Kansas, whom JFK and the Vice President single[d] out, one of those [courageous] men? Definitely not. He was bribed for his not guilty vote. Ross was promised lots of federal patronage if he voted in favor of the President.” That seems pretty bold: Do you have good sources for that?

I thought the standard claim against Ross was that he feared that his already-in-office patronage would be removed by the Senate President Pro Tem should President Johnson be removed and replaced by the SPPT (who was next in the line of succession). Andrew Johnson [if not convicted and removed] would just leave [Rosss] people in the federal offices they already held. That’s hardly a “promise[] [of] lots of federal patronage.” And I am pretty confident that behavior (or, in this case, inaction) does not amount to being “bribed.” Even that more limited claim—that Ross voted in order to keep his people in the Executive Branch and on the federal payroll—has (as far as I know) only threadbare support. What is the support you have for your position? Is it just David O Stewarts book? What exactly was his support?

You also wrote: “These senators [who voted to acquit Johnson] were, in fact, cowards.” I dont see how you can say that about W.P. Fessenden—the chair of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction. He, and the other 6 Republicans who voted to acquit Johnson, committed political suicide against the will of rank-and-file Republicans back in their home states. Everyone knows that. Are you really saying that each and every of the 7 Republican senators who voted to acquit did so because they were bribed or otherwise self-interested? That is hard to square with the fact that each committed political suicide. Do you actually have support for that statement—in regard to each of the 7 seven?

Again, you wrote: “The real profiles in courage were the House impeachment managers, led by John Bingham, who fought body and soul for the Fourteenth Amendment against President Johnsons determined opposition.” I think your statement is something akin to a non sequitur. The opposition Bingham faced in regard to the 14th Amendment was in the House and Senate—where he needed to reach 2/3—and in parts of the country which opposed slavery, but did not support broader moves toward civil [and political] equality across racial lines. Johnson opposed the Amendment, but his support was not necessary to it, as the President does not have a veto power over proposed amendments. This particular partisan fight—the fight over the 14th Amendment—was not the same as the partisan fight over the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. Kennedys book addressed the latter partisan fight. I do not see how you can make your point stick (about courage and cowardice) by pointing to evidence involving the former. And I think it telling that this is the first evidence you offer in support of your point.

Johnson did things that I think were bad: very bad. Whether his actions warranted impeachment—is another matter. And whether the 7 Republicans voted to acquit him had decent publicly spirited motivations for doing as they did, or did so for self-interested or illegal reasons, or had motivations which were more in a zone of twilight—is something we should carefully consider. Painting ones claims with over broad brush strokes about groups of people—who took their decisions separately—asserting that they were bribed or cowards...I just dont see how that can be the right approach.

Why not put your cards on the table? What precisely do you think Johnson did wrong that warranted his impeachment such that the House managers acted rightly in trying him before the Senate? Was it just his naked opposition to the 14th Amendment? That would be odd.

Seth

Seth Barrett Tillman, Bribery, Courage, and Cowards—Reflections on Impeachments Past, New Reform Club (Jan. 17, 2020, 10:17 AM), <https://reformclub.blogspot.com/2020/01/bribery-courage-and-cowardsreflections.html>;

Responding to Gerard N. Magliocca, Profiles in Cowardice, Balkinization (Jan. 17, 2020, 8:59 AM), <https://balkin.blogspot.com/2020/01/profiles-in-cowardice.html>;

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