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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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Another ‘Thank You’ to local law enforcement for its community policing

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A couple of weeks ago, a friend told my wife this true story, based on self-experience.

“The lady had just brought her dog home after major surgery. The dog went downstairs and opened its stitches. She found the dog downstairs bleeding to death. It died in her arms. She did not want her daughter coming home to the scene, but also did not know how to move an 80-pound dog.

She called the Front Royal Police and soon admitted an officer. He was very happy to help and told her so. The officer gently placed the dog’s body in his car, asked her where she would prefer it be taken. With her following, he then took the dog’s body to where she asked. He was respectful, solicitous, and considerate the entire time. He told her that the entire force was there to serve the community.

After hearing this story from my wife, I had to ensure that the Front Royal Police Department be thanked. The Police get a lot of bad press, mostly because of a small number of bad apples. I wanted to make sure they were thanked for their service, and got some positive press, for a change.

Lalit Piplani
Front Royal, VA

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A missing child search and a heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to local law enforcement

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Last night, July 2, around 11 p.m., on a very starry night, the sound of a chopper circling and circling over the High Knob Community broke the stillness.

A check of Facebook group pages revealed a 3-year-old child had gone missing. The mother informed us her baby had presumably followed the dad who had taken the family pup outside for a late evening relief. When the parents discovered the child was missing and couldn’t be found, they called for help and our local deputies responded in a hurry.

In addition to sweeping the area and calling in a search and rescue helicopter, nearby concerned neighbors turned on their yard lights and looked for the missing child. While the outside work was underway, a thorough search of the home was undertaken. And there that 3-year-old was, hidden under a pile of blankets playing hide-and-seek.

What a relief!

So we have a happy ending. The deputies were able to go home, neighbors headed back to bed, and we were all secure in the knowledge that a cherished child was safe.

A big thank you from a neighbor to all the deputies who jumped to help find a missing child, and to the officers who were flying the search and rescue helicopter. That’s a job with some big risks over mountainous terrain. I happen to know the local police department and sheriff’s department spend a lot of their resources in looking after our vulnerable children and teens. If we can get better mental health services throughout the Commonwealth, the schools to jails pipeline could be broken, and lives mended.

Please if you see a police officer or sheriff’s deputy, thank him or her for being ready to serve, protect, and rescue the most vulnerable in our community. Right now they need to know we appreciate their service very much. And yes, indeed, there are some things that need fixing. Nonetheless, if we all work together, every mother’s child will be safe.

Rea Howarth
High Knob, Warren County

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What are American values?

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Today, we have many debates over the values of Americans. We disagree on some, but some ring true to most:

Human dignity: Every human being is entitled to what our founders called life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The rule of law and equal justice: The powerful person will not be allowed to escape the law. The accused person must have the right to face accusers, state his case, and be judged by fellow citizens. No one person or group of persons should be exempt from facing justice or winning justice. The mob does not determine guilt, innocence, or punishment, but only by due process of law can a person be found guilty or innocent.

Respect for women: The empowerment of women is visible everywhere, from business to academia. In every walk of life, women should have the same rights as men.

Private property: This fundamental belief reaches into every aspect of our lives. We can start a business by hanging out the shingle. Our home is our own. Our property is sacred. And tucked into this notion of private property is ultimately the idea of ownership of your ideas and work.

Free speech: Free speech is one of the most radical ideas in history. The common man can criticize the government; the powerful man can do the same. Each should be able to do so equally and without restrictions.

Religious tolerance: For centuries, the king’s religion was yours. Period. But free people today recognize freedom of conscience and religion, to believe or not as they will.

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Continental Congress calls upon the Black Regiment

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The debating was over, and the Declaration of Independence had been approved by the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia on a hot July day. Questions abounded still and anxiety as to the future was on the minds of men who had now affixed their signatures to a piece of paper destined to be the greatest and most historic document in the history of the world.

At the bottom of the original Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress had ordered that when printed and ready for distribution on July 4th the documents would be sent to parish clergy and ministers. The importance of this is that the instructions did not direct this circulation to town clerks or newspapers, but to preachers of the Gospel, men known as the “Black Regiment” thus named for the black robes they wore.

The pulpit had already played and would play a more important role in American freedom. The black-robed ministers would encourage activism and many would personally join in the fighting and serve as soldiers and chaplains. As many as one hundred would leave the pulpit of the church for the “pulpit of the camp and battlefield.”

The Declaration when it arrived in the hands of the clergy was “required to read the same to their respective congregation, as soon as divine service ended, in the afternoon, on the first Lord’s Day after they have received it.”

Church members would find it hard to have services without their ministers now gone to war and with attendance dropping off for lack of clergy personnel on the home front. However, the war and home front would be the same… every place where the British chose to camp and sought to destroy George Washington’s “rag tag” army in the north and Nathanael Greene’s in the South.

Tempers flared in all corners of the land and debates were held between Loyalists and patriot members of congregations. In Loudoun County, Virginia, at Ketoctin Baptist Church, a debate between Tory John Osborn and Preacher John Marks was arranged. Heated tempers caused the debate to be called off and John Marks joined General Washington’s Army as a Chaplain. John Osborn would not give up his support of the King’s cause and in defiance would name a new son Tarleton after one of General Cornwallis’ most cruel officers, Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Tarleton is portrayed in Mel Gibson’s movie The Patriot as merciless and inhumane.

The Rev. Jonathan Boucher, Anglican Priest, would carry not just his sermon into the pulpit but also a loaded pistol. His congregation was split and the danger of personal attacks was ever present.

The Rev. Peter Muhlenberg of Woodstock, Virginia, preached regularly for the cause of freedom for the American colonists. He had a surprise for his congregation on the day of his final service in his Woodstock church to drive home his point that the American Revolution must succeed. Following the final hymn, he threw off his black robe as he recited Ecclesiastes 3:1 to reveal his uniform of a militia colonel. He then recruited men of his congregation to join the fight for independence and they became known as the “German Regiment.” He had been licensed as an Anglican priest and ministered to the German settlers of the Shenandoah Valley. He served with honor as a Revolutionary War officer and rose to the rank of major general. There is a statue of this black robed priest in the yard of the old courthouse in Woodstock honoring the Rev. Major General John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, Priest, Patriot, Soldier and Hero.

The majority of Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Puritans, Methodists, and most of the denominations in the Colonies excepting the Quakers would join in preaching the insurrection. Anglican priests were split because of their vows of allegiance to the King but still many would heed the call of Independence. The torch of Independence was lit early with Anglican George Whitefield’s arrival in the Colonies in 1740. He was known as the greatest preacher in the Colonies. He preached salvation through Jesus Christ and gave warning to the people about the oppression of the King in his revivals and launched the “Great Awakening.” He traveled from New England to Georgia setting attendance records and started “field preaching” which Anglican John Wesley also used. The difference in the political points of view of Whitefield and Wesley were commonly known. Wesley taught “obedience” to the Crown and Whitefield spoke of “man’s right of freedom” from oppression, including the slaves.

We cannot avoid, ignore, or abandon our responsibilities in striving to preserve the heritage secured by our Founders. Laity and the clergy must be vigilant and ever ready to fight for our Republic to ensure it is not weakened by interlopers and left for scavengers who come to suckle from the breast of Liberty bought with the blood of patriots. We must speak out against the mocking of our form of government and the eschewing of our Constitution to satisfy alien purposes while abandoning individual freedoms we treasurer. Our Founders knew and voiced the reality that moral values of Christianity are the “bedrock” foundation of our Republic and it will crumble without them.

I invite all true Americans from the mountains to the plains, from sea to shining sea, from Alaska to the Keys, and from Virginia to Hawaii to light the fires of that “old time religion” and preserve the freedoms won on the frozen tundra of Valley Forge, in the icy Delaware River, on the dusty field at Guilford Courthouse, in the snake filled swamps of South Carolina, and finally, on the sandy beaches at Yorktown.

Arise if you heart is filled with concern for the future of our Country.

Larry Wilson Johnson
Front Royal, Virginia

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Is there something to hide regarding past County actions at FR Golf Club?

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My name is Brandon Tolson. I have been a member and\or worked at the Front Royal Golf Club for the last 2 decades, under the member-run tenure and the current county-run administration. With that being said I’ve been part of, and witnessed firsthand many different good and bad situations. That is why I’m trying to get as much information out that many county citizens know little about.

First, being how the County inherited such a prime piece of commercial real estate. It was decided by 1 vote in the end, and there are still people to this day that voted nay to County occupation who believe it was a payed-for land grab. Many still want the members to take back control of this facility. But let’s move past that and talk about what the County has done at Front Royal Golf Club.

Well after the initial handshaking and back patting died down and we got past all the “what the county was going to do for you” talk, the wheels quickly appeared to start spinning on how to sell some of the property – and it was moved as Dominion Power became interested in the area. Some would say for the good others for the bad, I let you be the judge of that.

So then most folks would say there should have been some profit here since you sold/leased off prime long-term equity for short-term gains, right? There must have been. With that being a one-time deal you would think if you were in it for the love of historic recreation and a frugal money manager (which you should be when you handle all our tax dollars) you would know that you would have to set that aside for minor restoration and upkeep at the very least.

Even at this point a large investment and major restoration could offer even larger rewards. But instead, it was put in the county government fiscal year churn and spit out God knows where, with both the County and the EDA involved in the property’s advisory group.

Then they did their patent move: raise the price on everything to the club membership and guests.

At this point I can only speculate whether it was to start to sink the ship for a land movement, or was it just because they thought they could. But basically what you’ve done for your loyal followers thus far was to sell or lease one-third of our land; did nothing new for the golf course or boat ramp; and put a walk trail thru it which everyone with proper mental compacity was against, citing hitting little white rockets at children and chihuahuas as potentially cruel and inhumane. But they did it anyway to diversify the recreational uses and because they’re trying to connect that corner of the world with walk trails.

And some lucky fella down river has been getting fencing material ever since. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good walking trail, and my son and soulmate and I have even enjoyed the Shenandoah National Park at the top many times, as I’ve witnessed many families do. But I wouldn’t have built a walking trail thru a dead man’s memorial golf course built for his unfortunate son, pre-WW II and left basically to the people – too much opportunity for a BAD golf ball/hiker accident. I wish I could have met them both so I could shake their hand and say thank you for all the recreation and employment it has given me; not to mention just the life lessons learned while being out watching other earthlings operate.

But looking past headache lane, the course was handicapped further when all stormwater and trash from the Walmart and Lowes-anchored shopping center was allowed to run off on top of the course and what we couldn’t clean up, was in to your beloved Shenandoah River for years now. All the trash that doesn’t make it in the dumpsters, and even some that does, goes on our course and then in the river. It seems the course is used as a filter. Does the course get paid to be a trash and litter filter?

Wait there’s more: then we started the whole indentured servant program picking up prisoners from RSW to work for free on the course. Then forcing your workers to take responsibility of inmates without any training or pay increase. And making them pick up different sex inmates which anybody would know you are putting your workers in a bad situation, as well as the inmate. Not to mention the county-wide expenditures put on the golf course cost code.

Year after year; bad decision after bad decision.

But to be honest with you, how could we not at least give these new guys that got some love for the game a shot at running it just for the very least to get to the bottom of a financial enigma using them as a cheap 3rd party audit, and maybe a long-term good thing for us, the people Mr. Carson Sr. intended the course’s use for into the future.

So what if they are competing with other businesses? If the course loses there will be a Home Depot or it’s like competing there, providing pollution and no recreation. Did I mention by then we might just find out what was really going on out there at the Front Royal Golf Club?

The only way they can’t take the new deal being offered that brings money to the county is if they’re scared of uncovering a financial trail to explain some of what I have described above; or they are just incompetent. One thing I know thru all my experience – and for anyone that doesn’t know me, it’s vast and I know multiple successful golf business owners here and abroad – that place can operate at a tenth of the cost of what they’re telling you at the worst. The place didn’t stay in business for 80 years losing money. I don’t think we have a Golf Course Problem as much as we’ve had a county management problem. Properly managed it is just fine with the beautiful river beside it. And even during the recent turmoil it has remained a place for many to get out and find themselves, as I think Mr. Carson intended beyond his and his son’s lives. Damn near any county would be grateful to have it as a municipal recreational option for its citizens.

Say yes to the new course management contract offer and no to incompetence and abandonment.

Brandon Tolson
Warren County, Virginia

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Domestic Military Action

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If you read this column, then you know my goal is not to persuade a particular belief but to merely inform with historical knowledge. Such is the case with many online comments I have read over the past few weeks. With protest marches widespread, President Trump has threatened to use military action to stop the violence. I read recently that if the President uses military action against American citizens, then this country as we know it is over. I am not saying that we should use the army, and I am hoping it is not necessary. However, historically speaking, it has been done before, and actually our Constitution was created because of it.

As always first things first, something we don’t always use as much as we should. The Preamble to the Constitution lays out the five main roles of the federal government. The government is to establish justice, provide defense from our enemies, promote the welfare of its people, secure our liberty, and of course ensure domestic tranquility. In other words, one of the principal functions of the government is to protect us from internal threats.

In the first century of our nation, those functions meant very different things. This was the century where the federal government had little role in people’s lives. One area the government took seriously was domestic tranquility, especially when it came to strikes. As labor unions grew and began to strike, the American government always took sides with management. If the companies and their people could not break strikes themselves, then state militias and even the federal government was always willing to step in. Arguably the most famous of these strikes was the Pullman strike.

In 1894 the American Railway Union went on strike. It started at the Pullman company town outside Chicago. Among the many complaints was that the Pullman Company reduced wages but not rent on the home’s employees were forced to live in. When railway workers across the nation struck, President Cleveland called out the Army to put it down.

As I said in the beginning, the idea of using federal forces helped lead to the Constitution. When men like Alexander Hamilton called for a stronger federal government at the Annapolis Convention in 1786, they did not receive much support. However, shortly after they adjourned, Massachusetts experienced Shays’ Rebellion. As always, my space is limited, so suffice to say a group led by Daniel Shays, upset with treatment from the Massachusetts government, marched in Boston. Governor Bowdoin called out the militia, but Shays’ men were veterans and many were part of the militia. Bowdoin was forced to collect private funds to raise a private militia. Under the current government then, there was no federal support. Shays’ Rebellion scared the other states who were having similar incidents and worried about what might happen with rebellions in their own areas. Shays’ Rebellion was one of the incidents that motivated leaders to meet at the Constitutional Convention to secure federal protection against domestic insurrection.

It did not take long for the new government and Washington to use the army. In 1794 when western Pennsylvania farmers protested a new tax on whiskey, Washington sent out the U.S. Army to squash the protesters and show the nation that there was a new sheriff in town or at least a new government. He even led the army part of the way, the only time a president marched at the head of the U.S. Army.

Washington was not alone. In fact, three of the four presidents respected enough to make Mount Rushmore used the army domestically. Most people know Lincoln used the army to maintain martial law in the south, but he also used it to influence domestic affairs in officially union states, like Missouri and Kentucky. The army even arrested the Democratic candidate in the 1863 Kentucky governors’ election. Teddy Roosevelt did not end up using the army, but in 1902 during the Anthracite Coal strike, when management refused to negotiate with the union, he threatened to use the army to take over the mines.

Throughout the rest of the 20th century, presidents continued to use the army in domestic affairs. When WWI vets marched on Washington to collect their promised bonus in 1932, President Hoover called out the army to disperse them. Then of course there are all the events during the Civil Rights Era. In 1957 when Governor Faubus of Arkansas blocked the Little Rock Nine from entering Central High, President Eisenhower called out the 101 Airborne Division. There were several riots in 1967 and 1968, especially after the death of Dr. King, and while National Guard units handled most of the violence, in some episodes the army was called out.

I am hoping the army is not needed in the protests and that the message is given without violence. You can also share your opinions on whether the President should or should not use the army on civilians. Make your arguments for both sides, but make them correctly.


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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