By Harry Welty
The first history book I ever read was Profiles in Courage. I checked it out from the library in 9th grade. I knew that it had been written by our recently martyred, President Kennedy. The book’s title led me to believe that I would be reading about war heroes like Kennedy but the heroes in JFK’s book were all politicians. Kennedy’s heroes had faced down the popular will not bullets and shrapnel.
I was particularly drawn to the story of the obscure Kansas
Senator, Edmund G. Ross, because I was a Kansan myself. I was also drawn to his
story because his act of courage sprang from the Civil War an Era my revered
Grandfather, George Robb, knew like the back of his hand. Like JFK my
Grandfather was an elected official and a war hero only of a more exalted rank.
In 1962 our family had to badger Grandfather to accept the new President’s
invitation to join him in
So, just who was Senator Edmund G. Ross?
Ross was an ardent pro-union man elected to the United
States Senate in 1866 from Kansas the most radically and rabidly Republican state in the
When Edmund Ross joined the Senate in 1866 it seemed a sure bet that he would join the Radicals. But when the House of Representatives hurriedly impeached the President for “high crimes and misdemeanors” Ross made it clear that he intended to see the Senate give the President a fair trial. This announcement set off alarms throughout the Party. While the Senate was two-thirds Republican, six of the two-thirds were unreliable moderates. Without Ross the Radicals were one vote shy of veto-proof control and/or the ability to remove the President. A vengeful frenzy, fueled by the North’s loss of 360,000 soldiers, was set loose against Ross. Bribes were offered for a vote to remove the President. Threats were hurled at Ross including that of assassination. For months he endured pressures that few American politicians have known.
Ross had everything to gain by doing what was politically popular. He was bright, articulate and ambitious. Had he voted to remove the unpopular President he would probably have reached the highest levels of power and been remembered as one of the nation’s leaders. But Ross believed in a balance between presidential and congressional power and he believed in fair trials. The vote he cast for his conscience and his nation’s sanity cost him his office. Newspapers across the nation called him a craven, sniveling, coward. In Kansas he was reviled and his family reduced to penury. Although Ross’s fate was the grimmest he was not alone. Six other Republican Senators who cast their votes with Ross were to lose their seats. Years later Ross won vindication when the law used to impeach the President was ruled to be unconstitutional.
Today’s virulent politics are reminiscent of the politics of 1868. Pundits on the left call for impeachment of the President. Pundits on the right call everyone on the left treasonous.
My Grandfather was as solid a Republican as you could find. The only vote he ever cast for a Democrat he regretted till the day he died but he did not know the kind of vitriol which consumes the nation today. He flew off to Washington to pay his respects to that Democrat, Kennedy. I keep the picture of the two men shaking hands on the wall of my office. It reminds me of a time when Americans could agree to disagree.
Welty is a small time
politician who lets it all hang out at: www.lincolndemocrat.com
my recorded version of this essay its an experiment.