Review: Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy

by James Durney on June 15, 2009 · 2 comments

Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy

by David O. Stewart

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 12, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416547495
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416547495

impeachedthetrialofpresidentandrewjohnsonandthefightforlincolnslegacyWhy don’t I like this book?

David Stewart is an excellent writer who displays his talent in this book.  He has the ability to present what is often nothing more than speeches and meetings in a fresh and readable manner.  A lawyer who has handled impeachment cases, he uses this experience and training to good effect.  He makes both the issues and legaleze understandable and interesting.  This is no small feat, as impeachments can be very political while requiring a legal foundation.  The author manages to establish the legal and political reasons behind this impeachment as we move through all the maneuvering by both sides.

The author’s sympathies are with Congressional Reconstruction and he clearly favors impeaching President Johnson.  For the majority of the book he tries to avoid a “soapbox” approach.  This falls apart in the last fifty pages as an agenda emerges.  At this point it makes little difference in the narration but I found the switch unsettling.

Camp Pope Publishing

In many ways this is bad guys vs. worse guys, with the reader deciding who is who.  Neither the Radicals in congress nor the President tried to avoid a confrontation.  The positions of the two sides were not compatible and comprise was all but impossible.  The book has a good history of the confrontations between the President, Congress, the defeated South and the victorious North.  All of this is plays out in the shadow of U.S. Grant, who everyone expects to be President in 1868.

Why don’t I like this book?

First, the author’s sources are questionable.  For much of the chapters on bribing senators he uses the Butler hearings as a source.  All of the bribery information is presented as established fact.  However, in the chapter on the hearings, the author admits the hearings established nothing, no one admitted anything, and Butler seemed unwilling to push the issue.  This undercuts several previous chapters in this book and weakens most of his conclusions.

Many of the sources are contemporary works by authors that he agrees with.  Many historians rate some of these books questionable, at best.

Second, the author has not properly footnoted.  There are no footnote numbers on the pages.  At the end of the book is a list of footnotes for each page.  I spent as much time trying to determine which statement went with the source as I did reading the book.  The author makes a number of assertions about Grant’s role, Seward’s actions, and Sherman’s political connections that need detailed primary sources.  This lack presents a major problem for me.

Since the author makes statements about Grant, Seward, and Ross that are on the edges of accepted history, solid contemporary sources properly footnoted seem required.

Lastly, the combination of questionable sources, lack of footnotes and sympathy for one side brings into question much of his work.  I do not wish to imply that the author is lying but I worry he is spinning.

While very well written and persuasive, I have serious reservations about what the author says.  However, this will be a very popular book and fits into the Emancipation Tradition School of American Civil War history.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

David O. Stewart June 15, 2009 at 11:14 am

I posted the following response on Amazon.com, where this review first appeared: “I appreciate Mr. Durney’s enthusiasm for history and the nice things he says about the book. His complaints about the sourcing are not, however, accurate. All of my conclusions about the corruption surrounding the Senate vote are based on original sources that are detailed in the endnotes — the notes of Johnson’s secretary (Col. Moore), the Impeachment committee investigation and transcripts of testimony before that committee that are in the Butler papers at the Library of Congress, the National Archives’ records of that committee, and the contemporary investigation by the extraordinary reporter Henry V.N. Boynton and other journalists. Indeed, I relied on primary sources for the entire book. I sympathize with his frustration matching the endnotes to the statements in text; commercial publishers will not include footnotes in text so we are left with this format, which requires extra work by the reader. To reach a general audience with a commercial publisher, that’s a compromise I have to accept. Finally, I think the book is quite clear that although the evidence is circumstantial and not complete, I reached the conclusion that senators’ votes were purchased at the end of the impeachment trial. That approach, it seems to me, shows balance and judgment, not spin. Other historians have neglected most of this evidence, and it is my great privilege to share it with readers.”

David O. Stewart

Reply

Naim Peress June 15, 2009 at 7:13 pm

The best history books are those that examine both sides and sympathize with both, where sympathy is possible. Clearly, Impeached is not one of those books.

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