The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Bill Benson
Columnist 

Four Presidents

 

January 20, 2021

Four outgoing Presidents have boycotted the incoming President’s inauguration: John Adams, his son John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, and Andrew Johnson.

The second President, John Adams, was first elected in 1796, by defeating Thomas Jefferson 71 electoral votes to 68. Four years later, in 1800, Jefferson won the election by defeating Adams 73 electoral votes to 65.

A bitter Adams refused to attend Jefferson’s inauguration on March 4, 1801.

Four men ran for President in 1824: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and William H. Crawford. Jackson won the popular vote, 153,544 to Adams’s 108,740, with Clay and Crawford each earning less than 50,000 votes.

Jackson also won the most electoral votes, 99, to Adams’s 84, with Clay winning 37, and Crawford winning 41. Officials pointed out though that Jackson had not won a majority. A winner needed 131 electoral votes.

The issue went to the House in early 1825, to let the Representatives vote and decide who would become the next President.

Because Clay detested Jackson, he swung a deal. “Clay met privately with Adams and assured him of his support.” On the first ballot, the House elected John Quincy Adams.

Days later, Adams announced that Henry Clay would serve as his new Secretary of State.

Jackson and his common folk supporters were livid. They shouted a roar of protest against Adams and Clay’s “Corrupt Bargain,” and that roar accelerated throughout the next four years.

In 1828, Andrew Jackson, a popular candidate, won the election, 178 electoral votes to Adams’s 83. John Quincy Adams though refused to attend Jackson’s inauguration. He had had enough of Jackson.

Martin Van Buren also served one term, 1837 until 1841, but he lost to William H. Harrison in the 1840 election. For reasons never clarified, Van Buren chose not to attend Harrison’s inauguration.

Harrison’s speech on March 4, 1841, was the longest of any new President, 8445 words. Three weeks later, on March 26, he caught a cold that turned into pneumonia, and he passed away on April 4, after serving as President for just 31 days, the shortest term of any President.

Vice-President Andrew Johnson became President after John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, Good Friday, at Ford’s Theater. Lincoln died the next morning.

Johnson clashed with the Radical Republicans in Congress over the issue of Reconstruction.

These Congressional firebrands submitted one law after another to Johnson for his signature, and he would veto each in turn, because he argued that they were unconstitutional.

The Radical Republicans dubbed him “Sir Veto,” and “Andy Veto,” and they in turn would override each of Johnson’s vetoes.

“Not content with curbing Johnson’s authority, the Radical Republicans decided to remove Johnson altogether by constitutional processes, and replace him with the Radical Senator, Benjamin Wade of Ohio, then the Senate’s president pro tempore.” Wade had gone so far as to pick out his own cabinet.

In 1867, the Radical Republicans passed the Tenure of Office Act, over Johnson’s veto. It required a President to receive Senate approval before he could terminate any of his appointees. In 1868, Johnson fired his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, because Stanton sided with the Radical Republicans.

On March 3, 1868, the House voted 126 to 47 to impeach Johnson on 11 articles of impeachment, for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” because he had not received Senate approval to terminate Edwin Stanton, a violation of the Tenure of Office Act.

On May 16, the Senate voted 35 to 19 on the first article of impeachment, a single vote short of the necessary two-thirds majority. Ten days later, the Senate voted on two more articles, and the vote was the same, 35 guilty and 19 not guilty.

Ten independent-minded Republicans had refused to vote for Johnson’s conviction on the three articles, and Johnson remained President. Ulysses S. Grant won the 1868 election, but Andrew Johnson refused to attend Grant’s inauguration on March 4, 1869. He had had enough.

U. S. history includes a constitution, laws, elections, popular votes, and electoral votes. It appears messy. Voters push aside one man or woman in favor of another. Feelings get hurt.

The 2020 election is not that much different than what has happened throughout the 233 years of U. S. history. Trump is not the first president to clash with Congress, to suffer impeachment and a trial, to lose an election for a second term, or to boycott an inauguration for a new President.

What is unique about the 2020 election is the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Never before has a president provoked a mob to interfere in Congress’s duty to verify an electoral count. How can anyone make sense of that? Democracy is messy, but it is not violent or destructive.

 

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