Overthrown by a bloody cabal of
radical Republicans by Eric Lipps
says: what if Andrew Johnson had been convicted at his impeachment
trial? muses Eric Lipps. Please note that the opinions expressed in this
post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
In 1868, on May 16th
President Andrew Johnson was convicted by the U.S. Senate in his impeachment
trial, becoming the first president of the United States to be removed from
The outcome hinged on a single vote, that of Sen. Edmund Ross of Kansas,
who had said nothing through the entire trial up to that point. Ross had
been subjected to intense pressure by both sides as the importance of his
swing vote became clear; it would be claimed, in fact, that pro-Johnson
forces had actually tried to buy his vote along with those of other
Forced to step down, Johnson was publicly gracious. "The Senate has
spoken, in accordance with the Constitution," he said in his farewell
address the following day. "Although I continue to maintain myself to have
been in the right and to have acted within the bounds of my lawful powers
throughout, I must honor its decision in the name of that principle, that
ours is a nation of laws and not of men, upon which the legitimacy of that
government depends". Privately, he was far less temperate, raging to
family and friends that he had been "overthrown" by a "bloody cabal of
radical Republicans seeking to stamp upon the throats of our vanquished
Southern brethren in the name of their foolish dreams of Negro equality
with the white race".
"[I have been] overthrown
by a bloody cabal of radical Republicans seeking to stamp upon the throats
of our vanquished Southern brethren in the name of their foolish dreams of
Negro equality with the white race". ~ Andrew JohnsonAs Johnson had
never named a vice-president to fill the slot from which President Abraham
Lincoln's assassination had elevated him in April 1865, Sen. Ross's fellow
Kansan, Sen. Benjamin Wade, then serving as president pro tem of the
Senate, was next in line to assume the presidency-much to the distress of
Southerners, for Wade was a hard-line Reconstructionist who favored much
tougher policies toward the defeated South than had President Johnson. The
Wade-Davis bill he had cosponsored with Maryland Sen. Henry W. Davis had
called for a Southern state to be readmitted to the Union only when a
majority of that state's citizens took a so-called "ironclad oath" that
they had never supported the Confederacy-a far more stringent requirement
than that favored by Lincoln, who had vetoed the bill and had preferred a
ten-percent threshold, or Johnson, who had followed his slain
predecessor's lead. With Johnson out of office in disgrace, Wade, as
president, convinced Davis to reintroduce the bill, which passed both
houses of Congress just as it had the first time.
As a practical matter, the new law excluded the former Confederate states
from the Union and legitimized their continued military occupation for a
full generation, for it would take at least that long for enough of those
states' old populations to die off and be replaced to make it possible to
meet the majority standard without winking at mass perjury. This was not
lost on either Democrats or Southerners.
The Democrats quickly began calling for Wade to follow in Johnson's
footsteps, and demanding sanctions against Senator Davis as well. The
Southern response was a fresh wave of terrorism under the leadership of
former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, to which President Wade
responded with thousands of additional federal troops and a presidential
order demanding the arrest and execution (nothing was said of trial) of
Forrest and "any and all persons found to be aiding this individual in his
attempt at a new insurrection".
Rather than suppressing the violence, Wade's actions made matters
worse-and as the bloodshed escalated, the President's popularity plunged.
The extraordinary manner in which he had assumed the office had made Wade
vulnerable form the start, in ways he seemed not to recognize, and there
were plenty of opportunistic figures eager to exploit that fact-among them
Gen. George McClellan, the defeated 1864 Democratic presidential nominee,
who saw in Wade's travails an opportunity to promote himself. McClellan,
who during the war had come to favor a negotiated settlement even while
serving as commander of the Army of the Potomac, now began calling loudly
for "true peace," by which he appeared to mean what amounted to the
readmission of the ex-Confederate states into the Union on terms which
effectively recreated an independent CSA within the USA.
And watching from the sidelines was England, which had covertly aided the
Confederate cause during the war and saw an opportunity to use the renewed
bloodshed and political turmoil to take back territory in Maine, the upper
Midwest and the Northwest which it had bargained away in prior treaties.
British-backed subversion would play a significant role in subsequent
developments of the long, bloody struggle for Reconstruction.
says to view guest historian's comments on this post please visit the
Today in Alternate History web site.
Other Contemporary Stories
Eric Lipps, Guest Historian of
Today in Alternate History, a Daily
Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today.
Follow us on
Facebook, Myspace and
Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit
differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items
explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist
superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy
Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting