The Herald, Sharon,
PA Published Tuesday, Jan. 19, 1999


Local native was House manager in Johnson trial

By Hal Johnson
Herald Writer

A House manager rose to a podium to speak in the U.S. Senate chamber.

"In no mere partisan spirit, in no spirit of resentment or prejudice, do I come to this argument of this great issue. As representative of the people, upon the obligation of my oath by order of the people's representatives, in the name of the Constitution and the laws ... I pray, Senators, to hear me for any cause," he said.

The plea for impartiality and open minds could have been heard last week from U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, chairman of the House impeachment managers.

But it wasn't.

The words were of Mercer native John A. Bingham in the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.

An Ohio congressman and a former Tuscarawas County, Ohio, district attorney, Bingham was one of seven House managers and co-counsel with fellow Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, who prosecuted the case against Johnson.

A detailed report and transcript of the impeachment trial said Bingham was born in Mercer. His South Diamond Street birthplace now houses the Mercer County Republican Committee headquarters.

As House prosecutors last week presented their case against Clinton, Robert F. Lark, a Butler High School history teacher from West Middlesex, dusted off the report and transcript on the Johnson impeachment. Lark, who is Mercer County Democratic Committee chairman, said he found the 122-page book in a box of books he bought about 20 years ago at an auction at a house in Jackson Center. He said he paid $4 or $5 for the box.

A Philadelphia publisher printed the report on the Johnson impeachment trial. Lark said the report's publication in book form was similar to the publication of the Starr report on Clinton or the 1964 Warren Commission report on the Kennedy assassination. In 1868, there was no C-Span or CNN. Lark said the press likely did not report the Johnson impeachment trial in as much detail as the media does now.

Hyping its content as "The Great Drama of Impeachment," the book includes a minutely detailed, day-to-day account of the proceedings and testimony, and transcripts of counsel's closing arguments.

Last week, House managers argued Clinton put himself above the law. In 1868, Bingham argued Johnson usurped the Constitution and the rule of law. But the similarities end there. The House's 11 articles of impeachment against Johnson all stemmed from Johnson's firing of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

Johnson became president when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. A Southern Democrat, Johnson was at odds with the Northern Republicans in Congress and with Stanton over Southern reconstruction after the Civil War. Stanton wanted the Army to enforce reconstruction. Johnson wanted the Army out of the South.

Congress passed the Tenure Act, which prohibited a president from firing a cabinet member without congressional approval. Johnson fired Stanton in violation of the law, Bingham argued.

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Updated Jan. 19, 1999
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