Our first impeachment

David Christy

“I guess we all died a little in that damn war.” 

Clint Eastwood’s character Josey Wales, from the movie “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”


The preceding was a fictional quote, from a fictional character in a movie about the Civil War.

While it didn’t happen exactly like the film portrayed, it still was a very stark and realistic portrayal of how the Border War prior to the Civil War affected average Americans who crossed paths with the inherent destruction and rage that sprang from it. It had great basis in fact.

The American Civil War has no peer when it came to the threat to the physical well-being of the United States of America, set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the subsequent U.S. Constitution.

It threatened to end the very fabric of democracy and union among the states.

It killed in excess of 620,000 American soldiers and sailors. It killed and ruined the lives of untold civilians. It wrecked the economy of the South which did not fully recover until World War II — some 80 years later.

We still deal with tangential issues that sprang from that conflict.

Today, we are dealing with the possible impeachment of a president.

Following the Civil War, America had to deal with another impeachment that was a direct result of that “damn war.”

Vice President Andrew Johnson, a Southern Democrat loyal to the Union who ran with then-president Abraham Lincoln, was left to pick up the pieces after the Civil War, to mend outrage over four years of hell the South put the country through over secession, slavery and other legitimate and sometimes not legitimate issues of North vs. South.

After Lincoln was assassinated, President Johnson had a no-win situation facing him in starting the country from scratch after a bitter war — the Brother’s War as some called it.

It had many, many names.

This from various websites:

A component of President Lincoln’s plans for the postwar reconstruction of the South, he decreed that a state in rebellion against the U.S. federal government could be reintegrated into the Union when 10% of the 1860 vote count from that state had taken an oath of allegiance to the U.S. and pledged to abide by Emancipation.

Voters could then elect delegates to draft revised state constitutions and establish new state governments. All Southerners except for high-ranking Confederate army officers and government officials would be granted a full pardon. Lincoln guaranteed Southerners that he would protect their private property, though not their slaves.

In fact, a year before the war ended — by 1864 — Confederate states Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas had established fully functioning Unionist governments.

Yes, there were many pockets of loyal Union American citizens across the South, a fact many overlook when thinking the South was solidly behind secession.

Lincoln’s policy was intended to shorten the war by offering a moderate peace plan and to further his emancipation policy by insisting that the new governments abolish slavery.

Congress reacted sharply to Lincoln’s plan. Most moderate Republicans in Congress supported the president’s proposal for Reconstruction because they wanted to bring a swift end to the war, but other Republicans feared the South’s planter aristocracy — which basically had started the war — would be restored and African-Americans would be forced back into slavery.

Lincoln’s Reconstruction policy toward the South was lenient because he wanted to popularize his Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln had feared compelling enforcement of the proclamation could lead to the defeat of the Republican Party in the election of 1864, and that popular Democrats could overturn his proclamation.

The so-called Radical Republicans opposed Lincoln’s plan, as they thought it too lenient toward the South. Radical Republicans believed that Lincoln’s plan for Reconstruction was not harsh enough because, from their point of view, the South was guilty of starting the war and deserved to be punished.

Radical Republicans hoped to control the Reconstruction process, transform Southern society, disband the planter aristocracy, redistribute land, develop industry and guarantee civil liberties for former slaves.

Although the Radical Republicans were the minority party in Congress, they managed to sway many moderates in the postwar years and came to dominate Congress in later sessions. In the summer of 1864, the Radical Republicans passed a new bill to oppose the plan, known as the Wade-Davis Bill.

These radicals believed that Lincoln’s plan was too lenient, and their new bill would make readmission into the Union more difficult. The bill stated that for a state to be readmitted, the majority of the state would have to take a loyalty oath, not just 10%. Lincoln later pocket-vetoed the bill.

That was left for Andrew Johnson to somehow manage, and helped lead to his impeachment. He stayed in office when the Senate failed by a single vote to convict him.

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Christy is news editor in charge of the layout desk and a columnist for the Enid News & Eagle.

Have a question about this opinion piece? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a column idea for David? Send an email to davidc@enidnews.com.

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3rd-generation journalist, Univ. of Oklahoma School of Journalism 1968-1972, OU Sports Information Office, sports editor Sherman (Texas) Democrat, editor weekly Waukomis Hornet, news editor Enid News & Eagle. Retired 27-year volunteer firefighter and EMT.

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