Author & Speaker

Making the Most of May

Slightly late, I am struck by the coincidence of anniversaries in the month of May which play a central role in my two books. For The Summer of 1787, May 14 was the date when the Constitutional Convention was supposed to convene.
But only two state delegations were present in Philadelphia on May 14, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Since the Pennsylvanians all lived around Philadelphia, the Virginians definitely won the Punctuality Prize for the summer. Not until May 25 were seven state delegations in town (a quorum), so that is the real anniversary of the convention’s beginning.
The impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson — the subject of the book I’m working on now — has a similar bounty of anniversaries this month, but they mark an ending. On May 16, 1868, the Senate took its first vote on whether to convict Johnson and remove him from office. The count was 35-19 for conviction on Article XI, one vote short of the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution.
Stunned by the failure, the impeachers took a ten-day recess (which included the Republican National Convention in Chicago) and then tried again on May 26. The first vote was on Article II. The count was identical, 35-19. The senators voted one more time, on Article III. Same margin. Then the Republicans gave up. No votes were ever taken on the remaining eight articles of impeachment that the House of Representatives had approved.
As I strain to wrap up the manuscript about the impeachment, I find myself in stronger and stronger disagreement with most of the traditional interpretations of the impeachment drama. I don’t think Johnson’s acquittal “saved” the presidency or the government; indeed, it was a setback for the principles of freedom and good government. Nor do I think those who “saved” him were heroes; several were scoundrels.
But, details to come with that book . . . film at eleven!
I should note the final coincidence: the paperback editions of The Summer of 1787 are being released as you read this.