It all started when a thoroughly Trump-deranged friend of long-standing–a Georgetown professor!–cited with approval on Facebook a critical article at the CNN site condemning the National Archives idiotic altering of an anti-Trump photo. I discussed the issue, and the article, here, #3, noting that Perry exposes himself as an unprofessional hack by using this incident to suggest, without evidence, untold document mischief throughout the Trump administration. Noting how completely historians have debased their profession by joining the “resistance” and engaging in partisan analysis, I promised to return to Perry’s unethical screed that day. Well, I’m late, but here it is.
Later in his article, Perry wrote, “Just last week, Vice President Mike Pence authored a mendacious op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, which touted one senator’s vote against the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson as a profile in courage, despite historians’ agreement that the senator was, in fact, likely bribed.”
I know all about Edmund G. Ross, celebrated in JFK’s “Profiles in Courage” as the Radical Republican Senator from Kansas who saved President Andrew Johnson from a political coup attempt very similar to what the Democrats are trying now to do to President Trump. Ross’s vote against impeachment conviction was the margin by which the two-thirds requirement for impeachment failed. Kennedy’s book (which he didn’t write, but that’s another ethics story) designated Ross a hero because he knew his vote would likely end his political career in Kansas, as indeed it did. Where did the alleged historical consensus that Ross was bribed come from?
The answer is nowhere. There is no such “agreement,” because there is no proof, only speculation. However, smearing Ross and denigrating his motives are essential to legitimizing a 19th Century Republican plot to remove a President who was obnoxious, defiant, and widely regarded as “unfit” as well as being looked down upon as too humble in his origins to be President. Doing so, you see, makes the current soft coup appear similarly legitimate. By this new analysis, Ross isn’t a hero but a villain, thus the assault on Pence for citing Ross as a role model
To make this contrives argument, the “resistance” historians have, like today’s House Democrats, redefined “bribery.” Ross was a politician, and parlayed his vote into benefits for his constituents. There is no evidence, none, that he accepted cash for his vote. Yet Gerard Magliocca, a professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, writes that Ross “was bribed for his not guilty vote,” as he “was promised lots of federal patronage if he voted in favor of the President.”
Does anyone remember all the reports of various goodies promised by the Obama White House to recalcitrant Democratic Senators when the Affordable Care Act was hanging by a thread? Did any historians call those “bribes”? How about “Lincoln,” the Spielberg film of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s political biography, showing how members of Congress were “persuaded” via threats and promises to vote for the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery and giving black citizens a vote?It’s bribery when the Left doesn’t like the result, and just politics when they do.
Here’s another “woke” historian, Brenda Wineapple:
Ross was a junior senator from Kansas and he needed money and favors. His constituents wanted him to vote to remove Johnson from office. There was no reason to vote the way he did—except that he was importuning Johnson for favors. He wanted all kinds of favors for his family. And treaties for the railroads interests pushing him. He wanted Johnson to support a treaty that would sell 8 million acres that belonged to Native Americans to a railroad for a fraction of what it was worth. He wanted his brother to get a government position in Florida. Then he wanted two friends to be appointed as Indian agents, and another friend to be Southern superintendent of Indian affairs, and another friend to be a surveyor in Kansas. In view of Ross’ vote, Johnson delivered on absolutely all of it. As we say today, there was plenty of quid pro quo.
That’s not how bribery works in law or politics, then or now, and Wineapple knows it, She is relying on the fact that journalists and members of the public don’t. Ross voted to save Johnson, and then attempted to get everything he could out of Johnson’s gratitude, as would have any politician before or since. There were no guarantees, nor are there any documents proving a quid pro quo arrangement. That vote was a big gift to Johnson—who still should not have been impeached—and any politician would have sought to collect his IOUs. The fact that Ross got political favors from the Johnson administration after his decisive vote doesn’t prove a bribe. Indeed, a far more egregious quid pro quo situation was ruled by the Supreme Court last year to be insufficient to prove bribery without hard evidence of a deal.
That is, however, not the definition of bribery that many historians are pushing. David O. Stweart writes that after promising his fellow Republicans that he would vote to convict Johnson,Ross abruptly changed his mind on the day of the vote.
“Records show that Ross immediately moved to cash in on his pro-Johnson vote with patronage appointments,” he writes. “The Kansan… requested the appointment of a friend as superintendent of Indian lands in which is now Oklahoma, stressing to President Johnson the “large amount of patronage connected with that office.” Johnson made the appointment. Then Ross asked for ratification of a treaty with the Osage Tribe, which Johnson swiftly granted.”
But that’s not bribery.
The assumption that Ross’s vote was corrupt comes from the fact that Ross was indeed a corrupt politician, just like most of the Senators who voted for impeachment, who also received various promises. But it is necessary to recast his reputation regarding Johnson’s vote to support the progressive revisionism holding that Johnson should have been impeached for pure policy disagreements with the Republicans once he became President after Lincoln’s death. Here’s Wineapple again:
Johnson’s position…was very clear; he said, “This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men.” Johnson not only opposed votes for blacks—he opposed political and civil rights for blacks, too. He vetoed civil rights legislation. He campaigned against the 14th Amendment. And instead of calling a special session of Congress after Lincoln’s assassination, he began to reconstruct the Southern government along his own lines. That included pardoning nearly 100 former Confederates a day, allowing them to rejoin the legislature, and letting those legislatures pass “Black Codes,” which were ordinances that reinstituted slavery by another name because they denied all civil rights to blacks, including the right to marry, to serve on a jury, even to move freely….Kennedy wrote that “the actual cause for which the President was being tried was not fundamental to the welfare of the nation.” Johnson was being tried for abuse of power and obstruction of justice—in particular, squandering the Union victory, turning back the clock, reinstating white supremacy, and keeping black people as third-class citizens. How could that not be central to the “welfare of the nation”? It’s absolutely outrageous.
No, her distortion of the Constitution is outrageous. Johnson’s policy’s were racist and wrong, but they were not crimes, they were not beyond his power to enact and they did not seem as obviously wrong in 1866 as they do now. The policies were not abuses of power except in the sense that his enemies strongly disagreed with them, and how the Southern legislatures used the authority Johnson restored to them is not a fair part of any pro-impeachment argument.
Congress knew it had no basis for impeachment, too: that’s why the linchpin for Johnson’s eventual trial was Congress passing, over Johnson’s veto, a clearly unconstitutional law, then citing Johnson’s defiance of that law as justification to impeach.
Kennedy <cough>was correct that Johnson’s impeachment would have set a disastrous precedent, and Ross’s vote was the right thing to do, no matter what his various motives were.
The attack on Ross also echoes the three-year assault on President Trump in another way: alleged and unknowable motives are being dishonestly used to impugn actions that are objectively defensible.
Here are facts:
- There is no evidence that shows Ross voted as he did because he was bribed.
- When he voted, Ross had no way of knowing what rewards, if any, he might receive, but he did know that the vote would end his political career in Kansas.
- What the historians are calling bribery was and is standard political horse-trading.
- Nobody knows why Ross decided to vote as he did. All we have is his words on the matter.
- His past conduct does not create proof of corruption in this instance, where there is none.
- Ross’s vote did prevent the impeachment conviction of Johnson, who should not have been impeached for being a jackass and favoring policies Congress disapproved of, just as Donald Trump should not have been impeached for similar reasons.
That many historians are now arguing that Johnson’s impeachment and conviction were legitimate in order to make Trump’s impeachment seem justified and to encourage his conviction demonstrates how corrupted American historians have allowed their profession to become.