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TICKETS OFFER LINK TO OTHER IMPEACHMENT.

Byline: P. Catherine Shanks Community Columnist

The year was 1868, and my great-great-grandfather had two tickets to an unprecedented event in U.S. history. The large blue passes admitted him to the Senate gallery, to witness a day in the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.

John Peter Cleaver Shanks was a member of the House of Representatives at the time Democratic President Johnson found himself in the middle of a political struggle with Republican radicals over the issue of Reconstruction. Congressmen clashed with Johnson over his abundant post-Civil War pardons of the Confederates charged with criminal acts and indiscretions.

Adding insult to injury in the eyes of the radicals, Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Bill of 1866, which would have accorded African-American Freedmen with citizenship and voting rights.

In the wake of the veto, a huge power struggle ensued. Congress passed acts that usurped the power of the president, prompting a self-righteous Johnson to become even more vocal and extreme.

In a last-ditch effort to regain power, Johnson fired Republican Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, thus violating the 1867 Tenure of Office Act. Johnson had convinced himself that he was reacting to an illegal act of Congress and an attempt by the lawmaking body to override the decisions of the executive branch.

The House of Representatives tried to impeach Johnson three times before finally succeeding in February 1868. Eleven articles of impeachment were drawn up and Johnson was charged on four counts.

The U.S. Senate subsequently voted 35-19 against Johnson - just one vote shy of the number needed to remove him from office. Politically weakened, Johnson remained in office until later the same year, when Republican Ulysses S. Grant was elected president.

It is difficult for historians to determine what motivated each of the individuals who tried to remove Johnson from the highest office in the land. On the surface, the impeachment appears to have been politically motivated - one party against the other - partisan politics replacing reason and good judgment. It would appear that the unpopular president retained his job only because the Senate was uneasy about removing a president over what boiled down to a policy disagreement.

Now, 130 years later, I thought of the souvenirs of the 1868 impeachment trial, which I had tucked away in a safe deposit box. I thought of the historic events that had led our country to take action against its chief executive so many decades ago.

As I considered the lessons of history and my impressions of current events, I began to refine my thoughts on the impeachment of President Clinton. I compared the circumstances faced by the two leaders during their respective tenures of office.

Both Clinton and Johnson were met with rumblings and talk of impeachment from unsupportive members of Congress within months of assuming office. Both presidents fought against enormous opposition from extreme Republican Congress members bent on affecting societal change by way of measures designed to alter the existing structure of society.

The actual grounds on which both presidents were impeached were shaky, at best, leaving room to doubt the strength and validity of the impeachment process itself.

I wondered what Rep. John P.C. Shanks had felt about the impeachment of his president. Johnson was also a self-made man with no formal education. He began as a lawyer, became prosecuting attorney, senator, and finally, member of the House of Representatives. I felt a strange bond with my great-great-grandfather, brought on by the impeachment trial of President Clinton. Because of the two blue tickets, my present time and great-great grandfather's past were linked.

The tickets have been handed down through five generations of the Shanks family. In 1943, my grandmother attended a preview of the film ``Tennessee Johnson.'' Upon seeing the re-enacted Senate impeachment trial on the movie screen, she remarked to her friend, ``Why, I have tickets to that.''

Grandmother loaned the tickets to the theater manager, who displayed them in a window in downtown Kokomo, Ind.

Maybe because I was the oldest, my mother entrusted me with the tickets. She said that I would understand and appreciate their value. What she handed me was history and a treasure beyond any that money could buy. I was proud to learn my great-great grandfather had served as an aide-de-camp to Gen. John C. Fremont, that he had been brevetted brigadier general for meritorious service and that he had served as a special commissioner for the Department of the Interior. It was fascinating to find out that he had refused a general's commission offered by President Abraham Lincoln.

An appraiser once led me to believe that he would be far more interested in acquiring hens' teeth than he would be in acquiring the tickets. That was fine with me, since I was not about to part with them. A museum curator did all but yawn in my face when I asked if the museum specializing in American history might like to display the tickets for schoolchildren and Civil War afficianados to view. A representative at a larger museum said, ``Oh, we have plenty of those.'' Some people have made jokes about the tickets. ``Great seats, but you're a little late for the show.''

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO (Color) Two tickets to the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson in 1868 provide a link to current events.

Andy Holzman/Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 28, 1998
Words:894
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