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Delmarva Heritage Series

* Shoreman Saves Andy Johnson

Salisbury Times - July 10, 1959

The Constitution of the United States reads that the President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office by the process of impeachment "for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Many times since the Constitution went into effect in 1789, individuals, sections, political parties, and special interest groups have talked about removing a president who seemed unsympathetic

with their views.

The trial of impeachment, under our system of government, is a method whereby Congress, and the people, have a check on the actions of the president or other civil officers. But the founding fathers did not want this power to be abused by a few willful men; thus the Constitution stated that the House of Representatives would have the "sole Power of Impeachment" and the Senate would have the "sole Power to try all Impeachment." One might say that the House was to act as State's Attorney and the Senate as Jury. But no person may be convicted by impeachment without the agreement of two-thirds of the Senators present.

Several Federal judges and other civil officers have been impeached since 1789 but only once, despite the many threats, has a President of the United States been charged by the House and tried before the Senate.

Probably the most famous trial in American history was the effort of the Radical Republicans to remove President Andrew Johnson by impeachment. These so-called Radicals in Congress were determined to remove all obstacles to their plan of reconstruction for the South after the Civil War. The Great Civil War historian Randall wrote:

"The effort of the Vindictives to remove President Johnson by impeachment was of a piece with the rest of the Radical program. The full story reveals the absence of the judicial attitude in House and Senate ... the House passed the impeachment resolution, to be followed by articles of impeachment, after which the President was put on trial for his official life and reputation before a Senate made up chiefly of his outspoken enemies. In the end, however, the Radicals failed of conviction by one vote. The final outcome was to fix the precedent that the weapon of Federal impeachment, which is not merely a 'Method of removal,' shall not be degraded to partisan purposes."

Senator Ross of Kansas and Senator Grimes of Iowa have been honored for the great stand which they took to defeat the impeachment plan. Some will recall the story of Senator Grimes being so sick that he had to be carried to the Senate to cast his vote, and those of you who have been fortunate enough to read Senator John Kennedy's book, "Profiles in Courage," know about Senator Ross' great display of courage in the face of the enemy. The two men, along with five other Republicans, had been under pressure to cast their votes against President Johnson, and failing to comply they were denounced as traitors.

The role that Senator George Vickers played in this exciting drama probably is not as well known, because he was a Democratic and expected to vote against impeachment. But Marylanders, and Shoremen especially, should know about Senator Vickers, for his vote was just as necessary to save President Johnson as that of Ross or Grimes.

George Vickers was born in Chestertown on November 19, 1801. He was educated in the classical tradition at Washington College. After graduation he worked in the county clerk's office for several years while he prepared himself for the profession of law. When he was admitted to the bar in 1832 began his practice in Kent County.

George Vickers was also very active in politics, being elected in 1836 as a Whig to the Senatorial College of Maryland. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he took a stand against the Secessionists, and when expressing this view to Governor Thomas Hicks, he asked that troops be raised on the Shore to combat the secessionist movement. In this same year he was commissioned by the Governor, a Major General of the militia for the Eastern Shore. General Vickers had two sons in the Federal Army and one in the Confederate Army. Although Vickers was opposed to secession and endeavored to keep Maryland in the Union, he disapproved of what he considered the unconstitutional acts on the part of the Federal Government.

In 1865 Vickers was elected to the Maryland Senate, and in the following year was a member of the Union Convention held at Philadelphia.

In February, 1867 Governor Swann of Maryland was elected to the United States Senate to replace John A. J. Creswell, whose term was to expire in March, but Swann heard of the plan in the Senate to refuse him the seat, and he declined and kept the governor's chair. Philip Francis Thomas of Talbot County was then elected by the Maryland General assembly, and although he was constitutionally eligible, and the Judiciary Committee reported favorably upon his credentials, he was refused the seat by a vote of 27 to 20.

The refusal of the United States Senate to seat ex-Governor Thomas was undemocratic. Historian Scharf wrote: "By this act a gross outrage was perpetrated upon the people of Maryland by a body which usurped despotic powers, and exercised them for purely partisan purposes. He (Thomas) was arbitrarily refused permission to enter the Senate Chamber, simply because his political views were not in accord with those of the radical members of that body, who were bent upon retaining control of the Government."

A rather large minority of the General Assembly in 1868 were in favor or re-electing Thomas, thus expressing their indignity; but the majority thought it best to elect another man. George Vickers on the 3rd ballot received the necessary majority and was announced elected. It is important that Maryland did not re-elect Thomas, for surely if that had been done the United States Senate would once again have excluded him and President Johnson would have lost the trial.

Quick action was necessary if Johnson was to be saved. The trial was in progress and public opinion was being aroused against him. Even the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, then in session in Chicago, offered a prayer that the Senators avoid error; and there seems little doubt that "error" meant the acquittal of the President. As Vickers was a Methodist he probably knew of this prayer, but nevertheless he was one of those responsible for the vindication of Johnson.

With the impeachment of President Johnson hanging in balance, the Democratic leaders in Washington sent word that the vote of Vickers was needed. Just as soon as the General Assembly adjourned on March 6, 1868 (the day Vickers was elected) an ice-boat was obtained and the friends of Vickers, led by J.Q.A. Robson of Baltimore, made the trip from Annapolis to Chestertown, breaking the ice in the bay as they went.

Upon arrival, about three o'clock in the morning, they found Vickers in bed. He was aroused, notified of his election and hurried to Baltimore by boat. In the city he was placed on a special Baltimore and Ohio train, furnished by the famous John W. Garrett, which brought him to Washington just in time to be sworn in.

When Vickers presented his credentials, Senator Sumner of Massachusetts the leader of the Radical forces in senate, made an unsuccessful attempt to have his admittance held up by the Judiciary Committee. But the new senator from Maryland was permitted to take his seat. As the impeachment proceedings against Andrew Johnson failed of success by a single vote, Senator Vickers' "Not Guilty" was just as much the saving one as that of the other 18.

Senator Vickers served in the Senate until March, 1873, and while a member of this body he took a major part in the debates on the Fifteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution - the one concerning suffrage and the Negro. He died October 8, 1879.

Matthew Page Andrews noted the real importance of Vickers' dash to Washington in 1868 when he wrote: "Hence, in view of the importance of the occasion, the Maryland Senator's journey to Washington may bear comparison with Caesar Rodney's ride to Philadelphia 92 years before. Rodney rode to cast his vote for the independence of the state as against tyranny without; Vickers sought to preserve the Constitutional rights of the states when imperiled by tyranny from within. Once more the influence of Maryland had helped to steer the Federal Ship of State away from the whirlpool of centralization on the one side and the rocks of radicalism on the other."

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