It didn’t take long for the 1868 impeachment of President Andrew Johnson to get going.

And despite national upheaval prompted by the charges, Missouri U.S. Sen. John Brooks Henderson of Pike County kept his cool.

Editor’s note: The following is the second part of a story by Louisiana author Brent Engel about the role of Pike County lawmaker John Brooks Henderson in the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.

It didn’t take long for the 1868 impeachment of President Andrew Johnson to get going.

And despite national upheaval prompted by the charges, Missouri U.S. Sen. John Brooks Henderson of Pike County kept his cool.

Johnson, a Democrat, was accused of violating a dubiously-passed law when he fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a Republican holdover from Abraham Lincoln’s administration.

The House of Representatives officially agreed upon 11 articles of impeachment on March 2, 1868. The Senate trial began March 23 with Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon Chase presiding.

Henderson warned against the kind of mob mentality that could lead to injustice, or worse.

“We must not convict men in this country for entertaining false notions of politics, morals or religion,” he said. “It is often difficult to determine who is right and who is wrong. In moments of temporary excitement and unfounded alarm, whole masses of people have rushed wildly to incorrect conclusions.”

Chase and Stanton knew each other well. Stanton was an Ohio native and Chase had practiced law in Cincinnati before serving as governor and a senator from the Buckeye State. Chase had recommended to Lincoln that Stanton be appointed.

Chase also was very familiar with disagreements between cabinet members and chief executives because he’d twice offered Lincoln his resignation. Lincoln accepted Chase’s third offer in 1864 and appointed him chief justice.

Chase was determined to make the impeachment trial fair. Henderson aided the effort through a resolution on March 31, 1868, to have Chase “rule on all questions of evidence and incidental” matters. Since Johnson was the first President to be impeached, there were few guidelines to follow. Henderson helped Chase create a road 

map.

In his book “The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson,” author David Miller Dewitt calls Henderson “a man of superior ability and unblemished character” who was “anxious to preserve harmony between the administration and his party” by “never indulging in abuse of the President.”

The Republican was “a refreshing contrast” to the “reckless band of fiery radicals that the doctored constituencies of his state had sent to the House,” Dewitt noted.

One criticism Dewitt had of Henderson was that, as with many politicians, the senator had been known to occasionally flip-flop on an issue. However, the author noted that Henderson probably knew the Missouri General Assembly would replace him the following year with “a more daring radical than he could pretend to be.”

“His course on the Impeachment was typical of the temper of mind which his embarrassing situation superinduced,” Dewitt told readers.

“Senator Henderson probably realized that his vote would retire him to public life, but he voted according to his convictions, and not according to the probable affect upon himself,” F.A. Sampson wrote in the July 1913 edition of Missouri Historical Review. “He was a statesman and not a politician.”

Henderson was rebuked during the trial while questioning one witness, but got an answer from Civil War hero William T. Sherman.

Henderson asked the general if Johnson had ever expressed “a fixed resolution” to remove Stanton from office. Sherman replied that Johnson never threatened forceable removal, but “he did most unmistakably say” he could no longer work with Stanton.

Another Henderson question about the legality of an interim appointment as Secretary of War was deemed inadmissible. Henderson later questioned whether some form of mitigation would be appropriate before senators ruled. Others objected that mitigation would come into play only after a verdict.

Newspapers printed transcripts of the trial and were full of speculation about how Henderson would vote. On the morning of May 11, 1868, the tide still seemed tilted toward conviction, but reporters began to notice a change of sentiment after speeches by Henderson and others.

The New Orleans Crescent speculated that the senator was among those “preparing opinions adverse to conviction.”

“I am not trying (Johnson) for his opinions,” Henderson said. “I am called to pass judgment on what he has done, not on what he claims a right to do.” (Italics by Henderson based upon Senate transcripts).

Henderson likened impeachment to debate before the outbreak of the Civil War as a perfect example of sentiment overtaking sensibility among lawmakers.

“And in this condition they are intolerant of moderation, and even of common sense,” he said. “From this spring mobs, derision, jeers, insults and personal violence. He who cannot resist these things and proclaim the right at the risk of personal sacrifice, cannot expect to promote the great cause of truth, and such a man has no business whatever in this body.”