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EDMUND G. ROSS II

August 18, 2012

EDMUND G. ROSS II

Knoxville, Tennessee (JFK+50) Today we continue our report on Senator John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Profiles In Courage.”  


JFK’s book highlights the stories of eight United States Senators who risked their political careers to pursue justice.


In the introduction to the Memorial Edition, Robert Kennedy writes:


“Courage is the virtue that President Kennedy most admired.  That is why this book so fitted his personality, his beliefs.”

 

JFK Library Image

The title of Chapter V is Edmund G. Ross.


JFK writes that on February 24, 1868, a new House resolution to impeach President Andrew Johnson was adopted in “a tremendous vote” with a YEA vote by “every single Republican.”


Pennsylvania congressman, Thaddeus Stevens, said:


“Let me see the recreant who would vote to let such a criminal escape.  Point me to the one who will dare do it & I will show you one who will dare the infamy of posterity.”


The Senate trial of Andrew Johnson began on March 5th & was presided over by the Chief Justice.


Of the 11 charges against the President, JFK tells us, the 1st 8 were related to his violation of the TENURE OF OFFICE ACT by dismissing Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton without majority consent of the Senate.


Since the Constitution requires a 2/3 vote of the Senate for conviction, this meant of the 54 Senators, 36 guilty votes would be required.


One Republican senator, however, Ross of Kansas, “would not announce his verdict” in a preliminary poll.


The Radicals were angry with Senator Ross & began a systematic pressure campaign to get him on line.


On the day of the vote, JFK writes, quoting Ross himself:


“The galleries were packed. Tickets…were at an enormous premium.  Every chair on the Senate floor was filled….”


By the time the Chief Justice called the name of Senator Ross, 24 GUILTY votes had been cast.  10 more guilty votes were CERTAIN, with 1 additional almost certain.


JFK writes:


“Only Ross’s vote was needed to obtain the 36 votes necessary to convict…”


The Chief Justice said:


“Mr. Senator Ross, how say you? Is the respondent Andrew Johnson guilty or not guilty of a high misdemeanor as charged….?


Edmund Ross later recalled….


“The Senators….leaned over their desks, many with hand to ear…..I almost literally looked down into my open grave.  Friendships, position, fortune…..were about to be swept away…”


Ross responded, but his answer could not be heard throughout the chamber.  He was asked to repeat his vote.


Senator Edmund Ross of Kansas repeated in a voice “that could not misunderstood….”


“NOT GUILTY!”


Andrew Johnson was thus acquitted by the Senate of the United States.


Ross was lambasted by the press in his own state.  A Kansas newspaper wrote:


“Poor, pitiful, shriveled wretch, with a soul so small that a little pelf would outweigh all things else that dignify….manhood.”


JFK tells us that Edmund Ross was not the only Senator to suffer as a result of his vote:


“Neither Ross nor any other Republican who had voted for the acquittal of Johnson was ever re-elected to the Senate.”*


And when Ross returned home in 1871, he & his family were beset by ostracism, physical attack & poverty.



*The others were William Pitt Fessenden of Maine, John B. Henderson of Missouri, Peter Van Winkle of West Virginia, Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, Joseph Smith Fowler of Tennessee & James W. Grimes of Iowa.

 

Impeachment Trial of Andrew Johnson, Illustration by Theodore R. Davis, Harper’s Weekly, April 11, 1868



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