Summary: Edmund Ross (Chapter VI) from Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy
Published: January 26th, 2021
U.S. Senate, summary of JFK’s ‘Profiles in Courage’ chapter 6
Edmund Ross, a Kansas Republican, cast the deciding vote that ended the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson.
The proceedings began because doctrinaire “Radical Republicans,” then in control of the Senate, passed a Tenure of Office Act to prevent a president from firing cabinet members without Senate consent.
This was done to try to stop Johnson from firing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Johnson believed Stanton was a tool of the Radicals who wanted to establish a military dictatorship in the South.
Johnson felt the wiser course would be to reconstruct the Confederate states back into the Union as quickly as possible without unnecessary military intervention, as [Abraham] Lincoln had intended. (https://www.senate.gov/about/powers-procedures/impeachment/impeachment-johnson.htm)
When Johnson fired Stanton, the impeachment began. The House voted for impeachment and the trial then moved to the Senate. As the trial went on it became clear that the Republicans had no intention of giving Johnson a fair trial; rather, their emphasis was on convincing enough Senators to find Johnson guilty. (https://bioguide.congress.gov/search/bio/J000116)
Ross was overheard saying that while he had no sympathy for Johnson, he would do his best to see that he was fairly tried. Because Ross had previously been such a partisan Republican, he became the principal target of abuse from the press, the public, and his fellow Republican legislators. (https://bioguide.congress.gov/search/bio/R000445)
Nonetheless, Ross voted against convicting Johnson, reasoning that if a president could be forced out of office by insufficient evidence that was based on partisan disagreement, the presidency would then be under the control of whatever congressional faction held sway.
Ross’s action unleashed relentless criticism. Neither he nor any other Republican who voted to acquit Andrew Johnson was reelected to the Senate, and Ross and his family suffered ostracism and poverty upon their return to Kansas in 1871.
Eventually, Ross was vindicated by the Supreme Court, which declared the Tenure of Office Act to be unconstitutional, and praised by the press and the public for having saved the country from dictatorship.