Impeachment: An American History, by Jon Meacham, Peter Baker, Timothy Naftali, and Jeffrey A. Engel (Re-post)

Nine stars

I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.

This is Book #23 (a re-read) in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.

The term ‘impeachment’ has taken on a life of its own, particularly in the American political system. It has been bandied about numerous times, by legislators and media alike, to add fuel to a fire when an individual in a position of authority appears to stray from their constitutionally-permitted role. While many federal positions use impeachment to remove the office holder, only the three men who held the position of President of the United States (POTUS) are discussed in the essays that comprise this collection, along with some sentiments about potential future impeachment, based on the furor that appears to be growing. The scholars who penned these essays offer their own insights into the events that led to impeachment proceedings, or the potential of them. Jeffrey Engel offers the reader a primer on the basis of impeachment and how it found its way into the US Constitution, including the struggles the Founding Father’s faced when outlining the rules surrounding qualification and its use by Congress. As with with much within the US Constitution, the rules are vague and open to interpretation. Thereafter, Jon Meacham opens with an essay on the impeachment process of Andrew Johnson, the first POTUS to be thrust into this political drama. Strongly against Reconstruction after the Civil War and having been handed the job when Lincoln was assassinated, Johnson was vilified by many and it took three attempts to bring forth Articles of Impeachment before any would pass, tossing the case to the Senate. Johnson was firm in his beliefs and used southern sentiment to have the case fall a single vote short, in what Meacham aptly calls a ‘partisan impeachment’. One hundred years later, new impeachment threats were levied against Richard Nixon, in an essay penned by presidential historian Timothy Naftali. Arguing that it was not the Watergate break-in, but the cover-up and firing of the independent special prosecutor that pushed Nixon into the firing line, Naftali contrasts this situation with that of Johnson. While there was a strong partisan push for impeachment, Republicans joined the Democrats to call for Nixon’s removal, thereby creating the bipartisan momentum lacking in Meacham’s earlier essay. Naftali develops a wonderfully detailed narrative to expose the developing process whereby Congress took steps to rid themselves of a ‘crook’, though the man was able to read the tea leaves and left when hope seemed all but lost. Peter Baker takes up the torch in examining Bill Clinton’s actions, culminating in 1997-1998, which led to numerous Articles coming from the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee. While some would deem the entire situation salacious, Baker explores how perjury by a sitting president could push the realms of acceptable and lead some to draw parallels to the rule-breaking that Nixon did at will. Executive Privilge became the buzzword, leaving the Special Prosecutor and some within the Republican controlled House Judiciary Committee to launch into a form of witch hunt with the intent of embarrassing Clinton as he had America on the world scene. With a partisan split during Article voting, Clinton’s impeachment went to the Senate, the first in the era of television. Such drama evolved on screen, much like the trial of OI.J. Simpson did five years before. In the end, both sides agreed that substantiating the impeachment claims were never intended, but rather a wrap on the knuckles. As Jeffrey Engel returns to conclude, one must look at present circumstances to decide if impeachment is worthwhile, though it is surely not an act to be taken lightly. As is argued throughout, impeachment is a political, not legal, tool. It is also defined as whatever the majority of House members choose it to be. While many wait to see if Articles will come, now that the Democrats have control of the House, it should not be the central focus of the country’s legislators. At least for the time being, one has to worry about keeping the ship on course, as it enters murky waters. Highly recommended to those readers who enjoy political discussion and historical analysis of events, as poignant today as when they occurred.

There is no doubt that impeachment has been on the lips of many, especially since the Russia probe has begun to gain momentum. One need only look at publications of tomes and essays released since 2016 to see how many academics have weighed in already. Understanding the process is as important and the end result, something that the layperson in America may not fully comprehend. Impeachment, as is seen through the three central essays in the collection, as well as an introduction and conclusion, is a messy business that divides both along party and political lines. The three men whose names have come up in impeachment proceedings did something sever enough that the Founding Father’s might have agreed with the use of this stop-gap measure to keep America great, though it was the interpretation at each instance that led to different approaches to the same set of vague constitutional rules. While impeachment is a weapon used to threaten regularly, few holders of the Oval Office have had their names dragged through the constitutional mud. Why is that? Likely a heightened degree of seriousness that accompanies the threat, as well as the difficulty to enact it—which is not altogether a bad thing! Interested readers can bask in the details offered in this collection, as well as the poignant arguments made as threats of impeachment surface again. Is there enough to bring Articles? Would the Senate support it? While things tend to be political when it comes to Congress, the reader can decide for themselves, after receiving the plethora of information found in this book. The essays are not only penned by scholars, but they are easily digested, allowing the lay reader to fully comprehend the issues at hand. This is essential in an era where media spoon-feed the electorate at every opportunity. I await news from the Special Prosecutor and how the White House will react to it. That may—and precedent shows that it will—prove either the last nail in the coffin or used to disperse discussion until November 2020, when the electorate can speak with democratic voices. That being said, there remains a question as to how fair that venture might be. However, that is a discussion for another scholarly tome.

Kudos, Messrs Engel, Meacham, Naftali, and Baker, for this insightful piece. I learned so much and understand the system a lot better now. These insider explorations of events, left out of the history books, has helped me create a more grounded opinion on whether impeachment should rear its head again soon.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson, by William H. Rehnquist

Nine stars

At a time when ‘impeachment’ is as much a buzzword as ‘the wall’, I have taken time to explore the former topic through a detailed, academic lens. The idea of a constitutionally-entrenched means of removing certain figures in the American political system is not new by any means. There have been many impeachment trials—and even some successes—though they receive little fanfare in the history textbooks. Former (and late) Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (USSC), William Rehnquist, offers up a historic look at two significant impeachment trials of the 19th century, those of USSC Justice Samuel Chase and President of the United States Andrew Johnson. Rehnquist seeks not to offer a legal analysis of the rights and wrongs done in these trials, but to provide a thorough context that led up to events, the House debates over Articles of Impeachment, and the Senate trial.

In exploring the Chase impeachment, Rehnquist offers the reader a thorough backstory about the legal decisions that led House members to consider him unfit to serve on the High Court. These included refusal to hear witnesses in certain cases or lack of proper instruction to a grand jury in another case. Interestingly enough, Rehnquist points out that none of these actions took place when Chase was on the USSC, but rather in the years when he served in lower courts. The Articles were presented by a vindictive House and taken to the Senate, in hopes of a quick conviction. Many of the Articles were highly legalistic, perhaps losing their impact on the non-legal minded senators who sat as the congressional jury. Rehnquist shows in detail how the evidence was presented and what arguments were used to sway senators, before the voting began. With the severity of the act, a super-majority of two-thirds would be needed to convict, something that did not occur. There were, however, significant divisions within the American political system in the lead-up to the trial, which only deepened in its aftermath.

Shaken, but not toppled, the American state moved forward from the Chase Impeachment and into the ravages of slavery and how that tore apart the fabric of the country. Rehnquist offers a brilliant exploration of how the country used its constitutional foundation to either justify or deny the right of slavery in the country, which fuelled divisiveness in a country that was just shedding the mantle of infancy. With drums of conflict beating in the background—and soon in the foreground—the country elected Abraham Lincoln to guide them, though the selection was highly divisive across the regions. By the end of the US Civil War, the country was strongly divided and literally bloodied, only made worse when its so-called unifier was assassinated shortly after the formal truce had been signed. With Lincoln gone, it was Andrew Johnson who took over the reins of power, which led to years of conflict as the US Congress tried to right itself with legislation seeking to reconstruct the country under this new acceptance of all being equal and slavery being abolished. As Rehnquist explores through historical documentation, Johnson did little to assuage the climate of hostility, fanning flames and trying to assert his right to rule in his own way. Firing Cabinet officials and replacing them without seeking Senate consent—something enshrined in the Tenure of Office Act—while also developing his own form of reconstruction that contradicted much of the legislative plans enacted by Congress. Rehnquist explores how these clashes led House Republicans to begin drafting Articles of Impeachment, eleven in all. When they were approved, the case went to the Senate to be adjudicated. The impeachment trial proved a political spectacle that saw many of the divisions within the newly reassembled United States exacerbated. When the voting began, Johnson was saved from impeachment by a single vote, though only a few of the Articles were ever voted upon, leaving many others to wither away before the trial was closed.

I had heard much about Rehnquist’s book when reading the more recent academic discussions surrounding impeachment, but had never taken the time to read it. As I mentioned before, the book seeks not to analyse impeachment from a legal standpoint—though, who greater to offer a detailed analysis than the more senior juror in the United States at the time?—but rather a historic snapshot of events that actually took place. Rehnquist spends much time offering actual excerpts from newspaper headlines, articles, debates on the floor of the House of Representatives, as well as transcripts from the formal impeachment trials of both men. The reader is permitted to view some of the strongly worded arguments surrounding the Articles of Impeachment, as well as a little more of the context that would offer a well-grounded understanding of events and circumstances. Of note, Rehnquist does mention that both impeachments of which he writes were brought about my legislatures with a majority of members from the opposing party. This is not to say that impeachment is solely a political weapon, but the impetus to bring it about sometimes requires partisanship. Even in modern American politics, while many can see that the current president is paving the way to his ouster, a Republican House of Representatives did not act and the current (at time of this review) GOP majority in the Senate would not take the bold move and remove their renegade party leader. Penned and published seven years before Rehnquist would have to sit as figurehead arbiter of a presidential impeachment, many have said that this book helped substantiate the author’s knowledge of the nuances of impeachment proceedings. What I find most refreshing is that the text is written in such a way that the layperson can grasp and synthesise the concepts and that it is not a tome dripping with academic analysis that only the scholarly might enjoy. Impeachment has long been discussed and does occur more regularly than a few sitting presidents over the years, something that Rehnquist does hint at throughout. But it is nice to see factual presentation rather than overly partisan and esoteric verbiage to explore one of the more exciting parts of the American constitutional rule book. We shall see if impeachment remains a buzzword for the American public over the next little while. One thing’s for sure… doing so would not cost the American public upwards of $6 billion and likely lead to a shutdown. But… I digress!

Kudos, Chief Justice Rehnquist, for this masterful piece of work. While I admit to not agreeing with much of your sentiments during your time on the bench, I could not be happier with this piece of historical analysis.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Impeachment: An American History, by Jeffrey A. Engel, Jon Meacham, Timothy Naftali, and Peter Baker

Nine stars

The term ‘impeachment’ has taken on a life of its own, particularly in the American political system. It has been bandied about numerous times, by legislators and media alike, to add fuel to a fire when an individual in a position of authority appears to stray from their constitutionally-permitted role. While many federal positions use impeachment to remove the office holder, only the three men who held the position of President of the United States (POTUS) are discussed in the essays that comprise this collection, along with some sentiments about potential future impeachment, based on the furor that appears to be growing. The scholars who penned these essays offer their own insights into the events that led to impeachment proceedings, or the potential of them. Jeffrey Engel offers the reader a primer on the basis of impeachment and how it found its way into the US Constitution, including the struggles the Founding Father’s faced when outlining the rules surrounding qualification and its use by Congress. As with with much within the US Constitution, the rules are vague and open to interpretation. Thereafter, Jon Meacham opens with an essay on the impeachment process of Andrew Johnson, the first POTUS to be thrust into this political drama. Strongly against Reconstruction after the Civil War and having been handed the job when Lincoln was assassinated, Johnson was vilified by many and it took three attempts to bring forth Articles of Impeachment before any would pass, tossing the case to the Senate. Johnson was firm in his beliefs and used southern sentiment to have the case fall a single vote short, in what Meacham aptly calls a ‘partisan impeachment’. One hundred years later, new impeachment threats were levied against Richard Nixon, in an essay penned by presidential historian Timothy Naftali. Arguing that it was not the Watergate break-in, but the cover-up and firing of the independent special prosecutor that pushed Nixon into the firing line, Naftali contrasts this situation with that of Johnson. While there was a strong partisan push for impeachment, Republicans joined the Democrats to call for Nixon’s removal, thereby creating the bipartisan momentum lacking in Meacham’s earlier essay. Naftali develops a wonderfully detailed narrative to expose the developing process whereby Congress took steps to rid themselves of a ‘crook’, though the man was able to read the tea leaves and left when hope seemed all but lost. Peter Baker takes up the torch in examining Bill Clinton’s actions, culminating in 1997-1998, which led to numerous Articles coming from the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee. While some would deem the entire situation salacious, Baker explores how perjury by a sitting president could push the realms of acceptable and lead some to draw parallels to the rule-breaking that Nixon did at will. Executive Privilge became the buzzword, leaving the Special Prosecutor and some within the Republican controlled House Judiciary Committee to launch into a form of witch hunt with the intent of embarrassing Clinton as he had America on the world scene. With a partisan split during Article voting, Clinton’s impeachment went to the Senate, the first in the era of television. Such drama evolved on screen, much like the trial of OI.J. Simpson did five years before. In the end, both sides agreed that substantiating the impeachment claims were never intended, but rather a wrap on the knuckles. As Jeffrey Engel returns to conclude, one must look at present circumstances to decide if impeachment is worthwhile, though it is surely not an act to be taken lightly. As is argued throughout, impeachment is a political, not legal, tool. It is also defined as whatever the majority of House members choose it to be. While many wait to see if Articles will come, now that the Democrats have control of the House, it should not be the central focus of the country’s legislators. At least for the time being, one has to worry about keeping the ship on course, as it enters murky waters. Highly recommended to those readers who enjoy political discussion and historical analysis of events, as poignant today as when they occurred.

There is no doubt that impeachment has been on the lips of many, especially since the Russia probe has begun to gain momentum. One need only look at publications of tomes and essays released since 2016 to see how many academics have weighed in already. Understanding the process is as important and the end result, something that the layperson in America may not fully comprehend. Impeachment, as is seen through the three central essays in the collection, as well as an introduction and conclusion, is a messy business that divides both along party and political lines. The three men whose names have come up in impeachment proceedings did something sever enough that the Founding Father’s might have agreed with the use of this stop-gap measure to keep America great, though it was the interpretation at each instance that led to different approaches to the same set of vague constitutional rules. While impeachment is a weapon used to threaten regularly, few holders of the Oval Office have had their names dragged through the constitutional mud. Why is that? Likely a heightened degree of seriousness that accompanies the threat, as well as the difficulty to enact it—which is not altogether a bad thing! Interested readers can bask in the details offered in this collection, as well as the poignant arguments made as threats of impeachment surface again. Is there enough to bring Articles? Would the Senate support it? While things tend to be political when it comes to Congress, the reader can decide for themselves, after receiving the plethora of information found in this book. The essays are not only penned by scholars, but they are easily digested, allowing the lay reader to fully comprehend the issues at hand. This is essential in an era where media spoon-feed the electorate at every opportunity. I await news from the Special Prosecutor and how the White House will react to it. That may—and precedent shows that it will—prove either the last nail in the coffin or used to disperse discussion until November 2020, when the electorate can speak with democratic voices. That being said, there remains a question as to how fair that venture might be. However, that is a discussion for another scholarly tome.

Kudos, Messrs Engel, Meacham, Naftali, and Baker, for this insightful piece. I learned so much and understand the system a lot better now. These insider explorations of events, left out of the history books, has helped me create a more grounded opinion on whether impeachment should rear its head again soon.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons