Friday, February 24, 2006
The president was impeached today. Not THE president, but the president that guided America through the early stages of Reconstruction, following the Civil War. President Andrew Johnson, who, like President Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, but not convicted by the Senate, though, in Johnson’s case the final vote was very close. One vote saved him from removal.
This being Friday, I find it appropriate to contemplate the historical bookends of this week. On Monday, the nation celebrated President’s Day; a holiday that most adults remember because the mail is not delivered and children know through the mythical Washington and Lincoln. Today should be remembered for the success of the democratic process, though it is not.
When the House of Representatives issued articles of impeachment against President Johnson, uncharted waters were explored. This was the first time that a sitting President was impeached. Democracy in the American tradition is about improvising and compromise. This tradition began with Washington where every action established precedent and carried through with Lincoln who improvised throughout the Civil War.
This tradition was not present when Congress impeached Johnson or over one hundred sixty years later when Congress impeached Clinton. The democratic process however was. The fact that such precedent existed from President Johnson is proof enough.
To paraphrase from The American President, citizenship is not easy. It makes us work for it. As this week closes, it is fascinating to look at two historical bookends and see the true significance in them.