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Historical Impeachments

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Watching the Senate hearings over the past weeks I am happy to see historical arguments being made by both sides. As I have said, the Constitution is purposely vague, and it is no different when it comes to impeachment. There are three sections in the Constitution that discuss impeachment, but even with those sections there are still many questions. As with most Constitutional issues, the rest has been filled in with laws, the courts, and especially precedent. Several times both sides have referenced both the Andrew Johnson and William Clinton impeachment trials. In this vein, I think it is worth examining the lesser known of the two, the Johnson case, to see what we can learn from history and if there are similarities between the two.

There is a great deal of detail to explain Johnson’s election as V.P. Suffice to say, the Republicans in 1864 were concerned about Lincoln’s chances in the upcoming election. That may sound crazy, but he was not yet the super popular president that he would become. Johnson was a pro-war Democrat and Lincoln hoped that by bringing him on the ticket he could attract other pro-war Democrats. What made Johnson an even more interesting choice was that he was a pro-slave, state’s rights Democrat from Tennessee. Johnson was brought in for votes only. Once in office, Lincoln did not use him and he by no means was meant to ever be president.

The issue with Johnson’s impeachment revolves around Reconstruction. Even before the end of the War, Lincoln was already discussing his plans for how to treat the South. He basically wanted to make it easy for the southern states to return, including keeping their existing governments. His biggest opposition to Reconstruction was the radical wing of his own party. The so-called Radical Republicans wanted to punish the South and make it difficult for their return. They wanted to remove all past leaders and guarantee certain rights for the new freedman population

The Radicals were originally excited about Johnson as president. He said and did all the right things. However, when Congress left for recess, he put in his own plans for Reconstruction that were just as lenient as Lincoln’s, maybe even more so. When Congress returned, they attempted to retake the power. They tried to pass laws to help the ex-slaves but were blocked by Johnson’s vetoes. The Radicals did have enough support to overturn Johnson’s veto on the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave freedmen citizenship, but they faced an uphill battle. It was at this point they began looking for reasons to impeach the president. They tried twice unsuccessfully before they found a reason that stuck.

In 1867 Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, which basically said that the president could not fire any member of his own cabinet without congressional approval. This was done for two reasons. First, Congress was afraid that Johnson would start replacing Lincoln’s Republican Cabinet with a Democratic one. Secondly, they hoped this would trip up Johnson and give them a reason to impeach. The plan worked. Johnson, who had been fighting with his Secretary of War Edwin Stanton over keeping troops in the South, finally grew frustrated and fired him. Johnson did not think the Tenure of Office Act would hold up in court. He was right. But before the courts examined the case, the House acted first and charged Johnson with eleven counts of impeachment.

The eleven articles are incredibly repetitive. They all boil down to Johnson having broken his oath of office by firing Stanton and by hiring Lorenzo Thomas without consent of Congress. They basically said it in different ways, like he violated Stanton’s rights in one and conspired with Thomas against Stanton in another. In Article 10 Congress went as far as including that he criticized congress “with a loud voice, certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues.”

The trial lasted for three months. The defense argued that Johnson had done nothing wrong. They claimed he was challenging an unconstitutional law and basically his act did not meet the demands of a High Crime. What seemed like a slam dunk win at first fell apart by the end. From the beginning of the trial, Johnson worked with moderate Republicans to save his position by promising not to interfere any more with Reconstruction. Also, the managers had a week case. It became apparent the entire reason for the law was to remove the President. His only real crime was disagreeing with Congress.

In the end, seven Republicans voted to acquit. For some congressmen they were more concerned with the man who would replace Johnson, whom they saw as even more difficult. For others, when it really came down to it, they did not want to remove the President based on a power struggle. It would create a dangerous precedent that they did not want and could hurt the balance of power. When they received their assurances from Johnson, the Republicans were more than happy to leave him in office until the next year when they could replace him through voting. One senator said after, “I cannot agree to destroy the harmonious working of the Constitution for the sake of getting rid of an Unacceptable President.”

What is interesting about today’s impeachment is many will see similarities with Johnson’s trial and many will not. Supporters of Trump will see two presidents who disagreed with a hostile Congress which simply wanted the president removed for political reasons. Others will disagree with any similarities. More like the Nixon scandal, they see a president who clearly overstepped his authority and then tried to cover it up. The problem is this split happens to be along party lines, which is very much like the Johnson impeachment. With Johnson, Republicans had to cross the party line to clear him, whereas with Trump they had to cross party lines to convict. But either way the vast majority of the Senate in all three presidential impeachments trials voted along party lines instead of voting their consciences. So, what we can learn from studying Johnson is that in the end what we see is that impeachments are political above everything else.

For my Texas readers, if any of you are interested I will be speaking at the Weatherford College Interdisciplinary Academic Conference on Feb 27 at 5 PM. The conference is free and open to the public. For more information, you can call 817-598-6326. If you attend, make sure you come by and say hello.


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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Divided Parties

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Just when you thought our political leaders could not divide us any further, they have now turned on themselves. Right now, both parties are dealing with internal conflicts. The Democrats are struggling between the so called “progressives” (I still believe they are not using that term correctly) and the “moderates.” One recent difference is between how to respond to problems in Israel. As for the Republicans, they seem to have the bigger conflict right now, as seen by the removal of Liz Chaney from Republican leadership over her beliefs about Trump. Historically speaking, this is not new. During the Republicans’ most dominant period in history, they twice splintered into competing factions and both times allowed the Democrats to crack their control of the White House.

There have been two great runs in political history, one by each party, but the Republicans had the larger of the two. Between Abraham Lincoln who won in 1860 and FDR who won in 1932 and ended the Republican’s run, there were only two Democratic presidents. In other words, for a 72-year span, Republicans controlled 64 years and Democrats only eight. Yet instead of being satisfied with their dominance, the Republicans split into factions.

During the Gilded Age (1870s-early 1900s), three Republican factions emerged, two revolving around prominent figures. The first group were the Mugwumps. In a time of political corruption, mostly from the spoils system or rewarding political supporters, the Mugwumps were calling for reform. They wanted to see civil service exams so government jobs could be based on merit instead of patronage.  The Mugwumps were the weakest of the divisions.

Then there were the Stalwarts, led by the very powerful New York Senator Roscoe Conklin. These were the most traditionalist who wanted to keep the spoils system intact. It was this group that supported a third term for President Grant because they were profiting from the corruption in his administration. Finally, there were the Half-Breeds, led by the most powerful of them all, the Senator from Maine James Blaine. They took a page from the Mugwumps and called for reform, but in reality, they were no different than the Stalwarts, except they wanted Blaine as president.

The Republican party was able to stay together in 1880 when it compromised with Garfield, a Half-Breed presidential nominee who was not Blaine and Chester Arthur, a Stalwart for V.P. The partnership did not last long as Garfield was assassinated by what many thought was a Stalwart plot. However, before Garfield died, he pushed for some civil service reforms. When Arthur took over, he went against his own faction and pushed through the Pendleton Civil Service Act. Pendleton was a good start but not enough for the Mugwumps.

In the 1884 election, one of the more interesting that I have discussed many times, the Half-Breeds were tired of messing around. They dumped Arthur and succeeded in running Blaine for president. The Democrats took advantage of Blaine’s ties to corruption and cover-ups by courting the Mugwump vote when they ran a true reformer in Grover Cleveland. The move gave the Democrats just enough votes for the rare victory.

The next couple of elections danced around some as the Republicans took back the White House in 1888, only to lose again to Cleveland in 1892. Starting in 1896 the Republicans regained their control with McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, then Taft. However, even though the old three-way split in the party had dissolved some time earlier, a new division had grown by the 1912 election. Teddy Roosevelt left office after a term-and-a-half, and he handpicked his successor to follow through with his progressive reforms. (These were the real progressives, who wanted reform but slow moderate changes.)

By this point, both parties were divided between progressive and moderate wings. Complicating matters was that there were more internal conflicts than external between groups. The problem was TR’s replacement, who, though a good progressive, was willing to compromise too much with the moderates for TR’s liking. In 1912, Roosevelt decided to retake his party and ran for the presidency. Yet when Taft was re-nominated instead, TR stole away the progressive wing of his party and formed a third party, the Progressive Party, which became better known by the best party name in history, the Bull Moose Party. Of course, with the Republicans divided, the Democrats ran their own progressive, Woodrow Wilson, and won.

We will have to watch over the next few years to see if history will repeat itself. Will the divide between the progressives and moderates in the Democratic Party sink the party’s chances for reelection? If Trump runs again, will he cause a third-party split from the Republican party led by Republicans like Chaney and Romney. Time will tell, but, historically speaking, this could be a bumpy couple of years ahead for both parties.


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog.

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The day (June 6, 1944) in World War II

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The greatest mobilization of military forces in the history of the world. 10,000 casualties… 4,414 dead that day.

Let us remember the Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, Boatmen, Chaplains, Medics, Corpsmen, Nurses, Doctors, Cooks…. all that served!

And the wives, children, mothers, dads, loved ones back home with blue stars in windows…many of which would turn to Gold amid a tidal wave of tears…weeping mothers, dads, children, brothers, and sisters…relatives…aunts, and uncles…sweethearts. They gave that we might be Free. God bless their ever-lasting Souls. And God help US TO REMEMBER!!

In Jesus, we pray to be worthy of their sacrifice, AMEN

I was a small boy and saw the tears and heard the crying. Our next-door family lost their dad. His children were my playmates. My dad and uncles served. Thankfully they came home.

In my uniform before my dad was drafted. 

 

With my family saluting in my uniform.

 

The Rt. Rev. Larry W. Johnson
Front Royal, VA

On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foothold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops.

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Let us honor and remember the brave men and women who laid down their lives to preserve our freedom

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Dear Friends,

This Memorial Day, we pause with solemn gratitude to honor and remember the brave men and women who laid down their lives to preserve our freedom, and we pray for lasting peace throughout our Commonwealth, our nation, and the world so that future generations may enjoy the blessings of liberty.

Since the founding of our great Commonwealth, Virginians have proudly answered the call to duty and given their lives in heroic service to our nation. These patriots were bound by their love of country and united in their quest to uphold our founding ideals. Their selfless acts of courage and patriotism embody the very best of our Commonwealth and our nation, and it is our responsibility to ensure that their sacrifices were not in vain. We must come together as they did, to continue their work and to build a brighter and better future for everyone.

Today, and every day, we honor the extraordinary service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation. Let us pray for the fallen and for the loved ones they left behind. Let us continue our enduring mission of building a Commonwealth and a nation worthy of the patriots we honor today.

Glenn Youngkin

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Memorial Day – May 31, 2021: Remembering the service of the fallen

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On Memorial Day, we take time to honor the ultimate sacrifice made by those who fought for our country.

Many of those who died in the service of our country are known to us personally. They were our sons, our fathers, our uncles, aunts, or cousins, or they were our friends.

The heroes of wars long past are not forgotten. Veterans group walk the old graveyards to place flags on the tombstones of those who died in battles long past but still remembered. Their great sacrifices and honorable service helped our country become the nation it is today. We can never forget.

Many of their names are on tombstones in our own country and in cemeteries across the globe.

Some cannot be named specifically, and they are honored in a special way: at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

It is guarded by faithful sentinels night and day.

The importance of this duty is expressed in the “Sentinel’s Creed”:

My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted. In the responsibility bestowed on me, never will I falter. And with dignity and perseverance, my standard will remain perfection.

Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements, I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.


It is he who commands the respect I protect, his bravery that made us so proud.


Surrounded by well-meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored Glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

— Sentinel’s Creed of the Guard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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Crime and Policing Patterns

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One key job of historians is to find patterns.  Most things in history are circular and come and go throughout time.  The majority of what I do with this column is to try to show that current events have happened before and that nothing is new.  Knowing this can help us make better decisions in the future.  One such circular event is crime and policing.

Crime and policing in some way are as old as time itself, yet there have been periods in American history where crime was more common or at least thought to be.  The first period that comes to mind is the so-called “Wild West.”  Whether the cow towns were actually violent is debated, but Hollywood has engrained in our collective minds the wildness of towns like Dodge City, Tombstone, and Deadwood. What brought order to these towns were men as tough as iron.  These sheriffs were quick with a gun but sometimes were accused of being as violent as the men they arrested. To make the west safe, they had to enforce tough laws with a strong hand.  Hollywood has capitalized on men like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Bill Hickock.

Another period known for lawlessness was the 1920s.  Prohibition was the law of the land but that only opened the door to criminals who saw easy money in bootlegging.  Gangsters became household names like Al Capone, “Baby Face” Nelson, and John Dillinger.  There were also men like “Lucky” Luciano who helped organize the Five Families in New York.  Then there were crimes that are not as famous today but were know at the time like the Osage Murders in Oklahoma. The crimes of the 1920s helped turn the new and undermanned Bureau of Investigation into the modern trained and efficient Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The man responsible for the turnaround was the ruthless J. Edgar Hoover.  Before the 1920s, the public feared a national police force that could turn into secret police. However, the crime wave in the ’20s  and the inability or unwillingness of the local police to confront it, resulted in a public demand for help, even if some of the police tactics reminded some of a police state.

The Osage murders are a good example.  As shown in David Grann’s book Killers of the Flower Moon, which is currently being turned into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Osage Indians were being murdered in 1921.  The local police were unable or possibly unwilling to find the murderers.  In one of their first big high-profile cases, the FBI solved the crime.  I don’t want to give away more, but it’s a book worth reading.

Hollywood has always taken advantage of these times to make a bit of cash and that is no different than with the next major crime wave.  In 1971 America was introduced to a new character and catch phrase, when Dirty Harry first asked the bad guy, “Do you feel lucky?” The movie about a crime-ridden city and an ineffective police force resonated with the public.  It took an old school cop, one not afraid to use violence, to finally catch a sniper terrorizing the city.  However, the sniper was released because Harry had not followed all the rules.  Harry eventually catches him again, this time killing him, then throwing his badge into the river in protest to how crime was being handled.

Dirty Harry was not finished, however. His style of policing became so popular that he made four more movies and inspired several other similar movies.  Another standout was 1974’s “Death Wish.”  In this film, Charles Bronson’s character was a happy family man until thugs broke into his home and killed his wife and left his daughter barely alive.  After the police could not help, Bronson began walking the streets at night in Central Park hoping to get mugged so he could bring his own form of vigilante justice to the city.

Movies like “Dirty Harry” and “Death Wish” reverberated with people who were themselves afraid to walk in places like Central Park.  Crime rates had been on the rise since the 1960s but then started to fall in the 1990s.  The reasons for the decline in crime are still being debated today, but many give credit to men like New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who started controversial but effective policies to reduce crime. (Yes, he had a career before Trump.) One thing he did was to greatly increase the number of cops on the street.  Giuliani was attacked as a racist and his policies as Gestapo tactics, but people were able to walk the streets at night.  What we have seen in all these cases is that the population tolerated more policing for safety.  Yet over time, people became less tolerant, forcing less policing, and the cycle continued.

We are watching this cycle currently play out again.  Not only are we seeing calls to defund the police, but in cities like New York, police officers retiring is up more than 400% from the previous year.  Most are citing anti-police attitudes for the cause.  It has become so bad that NYC now restricts the number of officers who can retire each month.  Look at some of the movies that started coming out in the 2000s –”Training Day” in 2001, “Crash “in 2004, “The Departed” in 2006. All these depict police as corrupt and violent.  Yet at the same time, starting in 2020, we have seen an increase in crime.

Time will have to tell if crime on the rise is a matter of COVID or new attitudes towards policing.  Historically speaking, the attitudes towards policing and lower numbers of law enforcement will be followed by continuing higher crime rates until they get high enough that the next version of “Dirty Harry” will be required to clean up the streets.  Who knows how long that will take, but until then the only question to ask yourself is, “Do you feel lucky?”


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog.

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A ‘Rush to Judgement’ of Lord Fairfax in community college renaming effort?

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After 50 years of orogenic calm, suddenly the directors of Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC) are trying to change the college name, and the school’s public relations cadre has been in full-blown smackdown and smearing of the deceased namesake, Lord Fairfax the 6th.

We know Mr. Fairfax was a slave owner, but let’s look at the other things they have been saying about him.

The former college president said he was a “very minor historical figure”. Yet, Mr. Fairfax was responsible for the settling of over 5 million acres locally! Like it or not, he was the face of local colonial rule, and he helped-along George Washington, who grew-up to protest the colonial slave trade and lead the army which ended that rule.

They said Fairfax was an out-of-touch, stingy aristocrat, and “never had to work”. However, he donated land and performed civic duties, serving as a Frederick County Justice of the Peace and County Lieutenant. Historian Bishop Meade wrote, “It deserves to be mentioned of Lord Fairfax, that, titled as he was, and rich, he never failed to perform his duty as a citizen and neighbor”.

While, yes, through the colonial system, he came unto his land holdings, he did not sit in a recliner playing Xbox. That land had to be surveyed, appropriated and governed, by foot and horseback. Fairfax eschewed English castle life and settled in something visually similar to a horse barn, in the then-wilderness of White Post, Virginia.

Regarding privilege, it is only fair to note that the annual salary for the head of the Virginia Community College system is an aristocratic $481,045!

Moreover, LFCC’s website states: “There are historical records indicating he also engaged in long-term sexual abuse of enslaved women”. One member of the re-naming board said he “partook in a pay-for-rape scenario”. Where is the proof for these outrageous statements?

Similar claims are circulating on the Internet and likely derive from Stewart Brown’s biography on Lord Fairfax, published in 1965, a book referenced by the Board’s re-naming committee. Let’s take a closer look at it.

In the appendix, Brown said he had in-hand a receipt written by Fairfax’s clerk, to wit: “February 27, 1777: Received of Curtis Corley ten shillings on the Lord’s ship account, for bring a negro wench to bed. Cary Balengar”. Let’s assume that is an exact quote from receipt, because accuracy matters here.

Elsewhere in his book, Brown altered the included phrase into, “bedding down a negro wench”, and remarked that this meant Fairfax was paying for sex. He further speculated that this was evidence on a rumor that Fairfax had children by numerous slave women, and that at the age of 83, was thus “sufficiently virile” not to be near death. However, Brown gave no foundation for the rumor or his opinion.

Yet, the Collins Dictionary says “to be brought to bed” is an archaic British English expression meaning “childbirth”. Given that, does it make better sense that this was simply a receipt for delivering a baby, as others have already suggested?

Before we neuter and vandalize Fairfax’s name, let’s do OUR homework.

John Thomson
Rockland, Warren County, Virginia

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