HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS: The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson by Gene Smith
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HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS: The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Civil War, Ford's Theatre, the nation is up for grabs, and Smith's dramatic montagerie--on first and best display in When The Cheering Stopped--traces the brawling at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to its inevitable showdown on the Senate floor. Impeachment doesn't come up until twelve out of fifteen chapters have sketched in the background: a ""radical"" Congress demands vengeance on Johnny Reb--military rule, instant equality for freed slaves, Reconstruction by ordeal. ""His Accidency"" Andrew Johnson, the tailor from Tennessee and only Southern senator to stick with the Union, infuriates the North with a sudden espousal of Lincolnian forgiveness. Momentous, still-debated issues arise, but Smith sticks closer to personalities, with undeniably intriguing results. The Johnson portrait is a miniature compared to the Wilson of Cheering Stopped, but here are his phenomenal climb from illiterate po'-whiteness, his private taciturnity, his public ranting. And here are his enemies: vicious, dying Thad Stevens, that erudite child-man Charles Sumner, a broodingly cautious Ulysses Grant, unflappable Secretary of War Stanton. The cagey selection of bits of yellow journalism and red-in-the-face conversation (defense attorney Evarts ""sought to become immortal by being eternal,"" said John Bingham) keep things breezing along, but one wonders if Smith's subject might be just too wide and deep this time for the folksy approach. Was Johnson, in fact, ""the nightmare that crouches upon the heaving breast of this nation"" or a stolid defender of the Constitution? What about the impeachment process? Did it--does it--work? Smith isn't saying. But what he does say is entertaining enough to satisfy a lot of people and seductive enough to propel the others into the history stacks looking for more.

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1976
Publisher: Morrow