NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times • The New York Times Book Review • NPR • Publishers Weekly
“This absorbing and important book recounts the titanic struggle over the implications of the Civil War amid the impeachment of a defiant and temperamentally erratic American president.”—Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Soul of America
When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and Vice-President Andrew Johnson became “the Accidental President,” it was a dangerous time in America. Congress was divided over how the Union should be reunited: when and how the secessionist South should regain full status, whether former Confederates should be punished, and when and whether black men should be given the vote. Devastated by war and resorting to violence, many white Southerners hoped to restore a pre–Civil War society, if without slavery, and the pugnacious Andrew Johnson seemed to share their goals. With the unchecked power of executive orders, Johnson ignored Congress, pardoned rebel leaders, promoted white supremacy, opposed civil rights, and called Reconstruction unnecessary. It fell to Congress to stop the American president who acted like a king.
With profound insights and making use of extensive research, Brenda Wineapple dramatically evokes this pivotal period in American history, when the country was rocked by the first-ever impeachment of a sitting American president. And she brings to vivid life the extraordinary characters who brought that impeachment forward: the willful Johnson and his retinue of advocates—including complicated men like Secretary of State William Seward—as well as the equally complicated visionaries committed to justice and equality for all, like Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, Frederick Douglass, and Ulysses S. Grant. Theirs was a last-ditch, patriotic, and Constitutional effort to render the goals of the Civil War into reality and to make the Union free, fair, and whole.
Praise for The Impeachers
“In this superbly lyrical work, Brenda Wineapple has plugged a glaring hole in our historical memory through her vivid and sweeping portrayal of President Andrew Johnson’s 1868 impeachment. She serves up not simply food for thought but a veritable feast of observations on that most trying decision for a democracy: whether to oust a sitting president. Teeming with fiery passions and unforgettable characters, The Impeachers will be devoured by contemporary readers seeking enlightenment on this issue. . . . A landmark study.”—Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Grant
As scholar Wineapple (White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson) persuasively argues in this detailed and lucidly written history, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, who ascended to the presidency after a mere six weeks as Lincoln's v-p, was motivated by the impeachers' view of Johnson's actions as undermining the sacrifices Americans had made throughout four years of war. Many of Johnson's fellow Republicans believed that his policies were antithetical to their aims of reconstructing the nation and helping millions of former slaves build new lives as free people. In February 1868, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Johnson, but this decision was based less on his alleged offense violation of the Tenure of Office Act than on his refusal to support his party's aims. While previous scholars have viewed the impeachment, which failed to remove Johnson from office and allowed him to serve out his term, as an embarrassing political grudge fight, Wineapple argues convincingly that it clearly upheld the limits of presidential authority and the power of the constitutional system of checks and balances. Her arguments are novel and her prose lively (she describes the 14th Amendment as "a farrago of political jockeying, political compromise, and nagging anxiety about the future of a country where all people are created equal"). This book has much to offer enthusiasts of both historical and contemporary American politics. Illus.