MOOC | Impeachment and the Fifteenth Amendment | The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1865-1890 | 3.4.7
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MOOC | Impeachment and the Fifteenth Amendment | The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1865-1890 | 3.4.7


>>Now one of the oddities of the Reconstruction Act of 1867 is that it puts the implementation of Reconstruction into the hands of the military. And who is the commander-in-chief of the military? Andrew Johnson, who is completely opposed to this policy and vows to obstruct it in every way he can. So that’s kind of strange. Now, Congress tries to work around this. They pass a law saying that all military orders must be issued through the general-in-chief of the army. That’s Ulysses S. Grant. Grant, by the way, was a pretty shrewd political actor, although a lot of people don’t realize it. He had been cooperative with Johnson early on, and then when he saw which way the wind was going, he shifted over to the Republican majority. But they figured that he can’t get rid of Grant. Grant is the preeminent hero coming out of the Civil War. So Johnson’s orders must go through Grant, and Grant, they think, will not allow orders that undermine the Reconstruction plan. They also passed the so-called Tenure of Office Act, which said that any presidential appointee who was approved by the Senate — certain, you know, certain judges and cabinet members, others, you know, their appointment has to be approved or ratified with the advice and consent of the Senate. If they’ve been approved by the Senate, they can’t be removed without the Senate’s approval. This is to protect Secretary of War Stanton, a Radical who’s still in Johnson’s cabinet. And since he’s the secretary of war, he’ll also have a say, obviously, in how Reconstruction is implemented. So they’re trying to work around. Now, the Radicals said, hey, let’s just get rid of Johnson, let’s impeach him, this is ridiculous. He’s a total pain in the neck, let’s get rid of him. But you know, this gets to what is an impeachable offense, anyway? The Constitution says the president or others may be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But of course, it doesn’t say what those are. What is a high crime and misdemeanor? Well, Johnson, eventually Johnson is impeached of course, because after several months he actually removes Stanton, the secretary of war, and appoints someone else in his place, and that is a direct violation of the Tenure of Office Act. Now, Johnson says, wait, that act’s unconstitutional. But that’s not for the president to decide — the courts. That comes in early 1868. But moderate Republicans are nervous or reluctant about impeaching and removing Johnson. It’s only when he directly violates a law that has been passed, this Tenure of Office Act, that they finally go along with impeaching him. What is an impeachable offense? If racism was, incompetence, stupidity, just being totally annoying and impossible, they’d all have agreed to get rid of Johnson. But those weren’t crimes, you know? And even the violation of the Tenure of Office Act, a lot of people said, hm, is that a high crime and misdemeanor? Hm, not so clear. So Johnson is impeached in the House and goes on trial before the Senate. The one of only two presidents who have been tried before the Senate (the other, of course, being Bill Clinton) in a trial of impeachment, and he’s acquitted, of course. It requires a two-thirds vote. They came one vote short of convicting Johnson and removing him from office, partly because his lawyer, William Evarts of New York, fundamentally made a deal with some moderate Republicans, in which he said, look, I will promise you that if you leave Johnson (and it’s only, what? another year basically that he’s going to be in office), he will stop being a pest. He will not try to block Reconstruction. He will just stay out of your way. And indeed, that’s what happened. Johnson stopped being annoying and obstructionist and just stayed there for a year. But they accepted this — enough of them who just didn’t like the precedent of impeaching the president, enough of them voted for acquittal that he was not removed from office. Now, when President Clinton was on trial, I had a call from a very famous high-class journalist, Geraldo Rivera, you remember him? [laughter] I did, I got a call from Geraldo. I was sitting in my office and he says, Professor, I’d like to talk to you about impeachment and Johnson and Clinton. I said, well, sure, what do you want to know? He said, well, I’d like you to come on my show. I said, great. He said, well, now, here’s the thing, I have a theory, I’ve uncovered something that both of these impeachments were really about sex. I said, well, yeah, that’s true about Clinton, but Johnson? I’ve never heard about that, I’ve never seen any documentary evidence. What are you talking about? He said, well, there was a… He starts going on with this kind of crazy story about a woman. I don’t know. I said, you know, Geraldo, I think you should present this on TV. I don’t think I want to actually get involved in this, so I’ve missed my chance there. Another reason Johnson was acquitted was: who would take Johnson’s place were Johnson removed? There was no vice president. Today, we have a procedure where the president — if there’s no vice president, the president could appoint a vice president. When Nixon resigned to avoid being tried for impeachment, and Gerald Ford became president, he then appointed a vice president, who was, I guess, Rockefeller, right? Didn’t he? Yeah. Now, Ford himself had been appointed vice president, because Spiro Agnew, who’d been elected with Nixon, had to resign because of corruption. So in 1975, ’76 for the first and only time in American history, we had a president and a vice president who nobody had voted for. Nobody had cast a vote for either Ford or Rockefeller. Very weird situation. But they didn’t have that back then, so the next in line was the president pro tem of the Senate, who was Senator Ben Wade of Ohio, who was a Radical. He was really radical. He was in favor of women’s suffrage. He had been giving speeches in 1867 saying that now that the slavery issue is settled, the main question facing us is capital versus labor. In fact, here’s a trivial question — trivia question — it may be trivial, too: Who was the only American quoted in Volume 1 of Marx’s Das Kapital, which appears right at this time? Ben Wade. Marx liked Ben Wade’s speech about the coming war between capital and labor and mentioned it as a sign of the times in Kapital. But anyway, the members of the Senate weren’t so sure they wanted Ben Wade to become president, because he might then get re-nominated and serve another four years. But anyway, of course, what happens quickly is General Grant is nominated as the presidential candidate and goes on to win election in 1868. This is the last time that race is really fundamental to the… Let’s see if I can find out where I am. Oh, here we go. This is a campaign ribbon for the Democrats, Seymour of New York and Blair. “Our ticket.” There they are, Seymour and Blair. And here’s the motto. See? “Our motto: This is a White Man’s Country; Let White Men Rule.” 1868 is the last presidential election where racism is the explicit slogan, the explicit policy of the Democratic Party. For reasons we’ll see down the road, it will recede in the 1870s. The final act, just take one more look, we’re going to end in a minute, the 15th Amendment. With the election of Grant, Congress now tries to put African-American male suffrage into the Constitution. The 15th Amendment is very brief compared to the 14th Amendment, as you see. “The right…to vote shall not be… abridged…on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Alright, now this is not what the Radicals wanted. Radical influence is waning. The Radicals wanted an affirmative, an affirmative amendment, saying something like “every male citizen age 21 or above has the right to vote.” What’s the difference between that and this? What’s the difference between saying every male citizen has the right to vote and saying you cannot take the right to vote away because of race or color? This leaves open other ways of taking away the right to vote that are not explicitly racial, and as we will see — By the way, this is going on today. States are passing laws, you got to have a state-issued ID to vote, right? There’s nothing about race there, they don’t say anything about race. The courts have upheld this. It’s not a violation of the 15th Amendment, even though the aim is to eliminate, basically, Hispanic and black voters in a lot of these states, or many of them, particularly Hispanics, who may not have these kinds of documents. When the right to vote is finally taken away, it will be by literacy tests, and poll taxes, and understanding clauses, which are not racial on the face of it, even though they are applied in a purely discriminatory manner. And of course, the women’s rights movement is disappointed with this, because it allows deprivation of the right to vote because of sex. Sex is not in this, right? There’s nothing in here that says a state can’t take away your right to vote or deny your right to vote because of sex or gender. So it’s a weaker amendment and it causes a lot of problems in the future. Nonetheless, this is the end or the culmination of the constitutional revolution of Reconstruction, which has, as I said, has really reshaped our Constitution. We’re going to end, but I just want to show you one other thing here. This is the Radical vision, and to some extent, it was enacted. “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner.” It’s hard to see, but this is a dinner with Uncle Sam in there, and universal suffrage in the middle. There’s blacks, there’s Hispanics, there’s Chinese, there’s a Native American. There are white people. This is the Radical vision of a country of equality, regardless of race. And that was the hope, anyway, of Reconstruction. Next week, we’ll see how it actually worked out.

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