Wait - I know your first instinct is to run at the very mention of that word! Bear with me, though - I promise no personal partisan politicking pertaining to my own personal persuasions shall pass this way.

It's a dicey subject, at best, as we all have our own thoughts and beliefs, and there is nothing outside of religion so guaranteed to ruin a conversation as a political discussion.

And partisanship has absolutely no place in a column such as this.

That having been said, the world of Politics is nevertheless ideal fodder for the folklorist, especially after a suitable amount of time has passed.

It was the dawn of 1999, and Impeachment proceedings were underway (does anyone even remember that?). I decided to use the contemporary scenario as a jumping off point to examine the only other Impeachment trial in American History.



Well, really, what choice did I have? Compared to the other relatively trivial problems facing the world today (little things like North Korea threatening to go nuclear, the possiblity of a new Great Depression on the horizon, the probability that in less than a year a whole lot of computer systems are going to play goldfish and go belly up, etc.), there is obviously no story of more life-shattering import than the current Senate Presidential Trial.


I can hear Mom screaming already - what the heck is Joe thinking of, doing a political column for a Book Store newsletter? I therefore hasten to reassure both the staff of Book Again and you wonderful readers out there that I officially have absolutely no opinion whatsoever about the current proceedings. None. Zero. Why, I am arguably as unopinionated as my brother Michael (Book Again Manager and website contributor)!

Seriously, the fact that what is ostensibly a moral and legal question is being argued completely on party lines shows pretty clearly that Congress is simply behaving in its usual historic fashion - to hammer away tooth and nail at the other side with every weapon they can get their hands on. This should not cause anyone to lose faith in any of our institutions, however - it is seriously remarkable that the brilliant checks and balances inherent in the two party system have allowed this nation to survive so long, while being able to accomodate more nuts than one is likely to find in the average Skippy factory.

The system works, and it will (or maybe has, as you read this) survive the current state of affairs.

And, if you think about it, they really are being more civilized these days - certainly more so than around 1800, for instance, when one party actually placed members of the other under house arrest during the campaign. And there are certainly less duels being fought between political foes these days.

Politics is, of course, all about power, the getting and keeping of it. It's the way of the world, and should at times be taken with about as much due respect as one would give to wrestling or roller derby.

For it can be darned entertaining at times!

(Mike's gonna edit so much of this out - I see it now . . . )

Anyway, I've said as much as I plan to on current events. My original idea was to look through my dusty books and see if any other esteemed United States Presidents had any similar skeletons in their closets. After about an hour I had to give up, since I realized I would end up writing a book.

It then occured to me that we might as well look back to the only other President to be impeached and tried: Andrew Johnson.

Here goes:

Johnson was rather unique: he was a Southerner, and governor of Tennessee shortly before Lincoln was elected and the South began to secede. Johnson was, however, adamantly opposed to secession. This, as you might imagine, made him not the most popular fellow in the pre-Civil War South.

As a matter of fact, he was pursued and grabbed by a mob in Virginia, and they were actually placing a noose around his neck when an old gentleman observed that there was a mob waiting to hang Johnson back home in Tennessee, and it didn't seem sporting to rob them of their rightful due. This seemed reasonable to the mob, and Johnson escaped (presumably hightailing it North as fast as he could).

At any rate, Lincoln was already thinking about the inevitable need to bring the country together post-war when he began to run for his second term. The idea of having as his running mate a Southerner must have proved irresistable, and so Johnson found himself sworn in as Vice President in the Spring of 1865.

Now, he was sick with fever that day, and hadn't actually wanted to attend the ceremonies, but Lincoln insisted, cryptically suggesting that it might not be "safe" for him to be anywhere else that day.

So, Andrew Johnson, feverish, showed up, and decided to have a quick drink to bolster his spirits. From all accounts, his spirits must have required quite a bit of bolstering, for when he rose to give his speech later that day in the Senate he was staggering drunk, waving his arms about and generally mortifying the President.

The next day, the Senate voted to ban liquor from the Senate chambers.

Now, Congress didn't care for Johnson anyway, for obvious reasons: he was a Southerner, and, since the South was still at war with the North, Johnson was one of the only Southerners holding office in Washington.

All of which would have counted for little, if not for the assassination of Lincoln a month later. Johnson was now President, and not only was he from the South, he (rather naturally) favored a relatively civil patching up of things, and a speedy, conciliatory reintroduction of the Southern states into the fold.

Congress would have none of that, of course. Anti-Southern feelings were common anyway, and Lincoln's murder was the final blow. The South must pay, and therefore Johnson had to go.

The first thing they did was to actually accuse him of being a part of the conspiracy to kill Lincoln. This plan pretty much fell flat when the main accuser went on to rant about his belief that previous Presidents had been poisoned by their Vice-Presidents. Congress coughed politely, turned the other way, and changed tactics.

They then passed a law prohibiting the President from firing any member of his cabinet. This was not necessarily within their jurisdiction to do - at any rate Johnson was sure it wasn't. He fired a member of the cabinet, and was promptly impeached. Amazingly, although the Senate tried him, they came one vote short of removing him from office.

Needless to say, however, Johnson was not renominated come the next election.

No parallels should be drawn from this tale - I merely wished to point out that our current elected officials are behaving far more civilly than their distinguished predecessors, as the fact that I consider this First Impeachment quaint and alien enough to deem it folkloric should attest to. It doesn't matter which side you're on, or indeed if you even have one. We've been through worse crises, and at the very least some of them are darned entertaining . . .

See you on Groundhog Day!