Who was United States Senator Edmund G. Ross of Kansas? I suppose you could call him a “Mr. Nobody.” No law bears his name. Not a single list of Senate “greats” mentions his service.
Yet when Senator Ross (1826-1907) entered the Senate in 1866, he was considered the man to watch. He seemed destined to surpass his colleagues, but he tossed it all away by one courageous act of conscience. Let’s set the stage……
Conflict was dividing our government and our nation in the wake of the Civil War. President Andrew Johnson was determined to follow Lincoln’s policy of reconciliation toward the defeated South. Congress, however, wanted to rule the downtrodden Confederate states with an iron hand so they acutely felt that they had lost the war.
Congress decided to strike first. Shortly after Senator Ross was seated, the Senate introduced impeachment proceedings against the hated President. The radicals calculated that they needed thirty-six votes, and smiled as they concluded that the thirty-sixth vote was none other than Ross’.
The new senator listened to the vigilante talk. But to the surprise of many, he declared that the president “deserved as fair a trial as any accused man has ever had on earth.” The word immediately went out that his vote was “shaky.” Ross received an avalanche of anti-Johnson telegrams from every section of the country. Radical senators badgered him to “come to his senses.”
The fateful day of the vote arrived. The courtroom galleries were packed. Tickets for admission were sold at an enormous premium.
As a deathlike stillness fell over the Senate chamber, the vote began. By the time they reached Ross, twenty-four guilty votes had been announced. Eleven more were certain. Only Ross’ vote was needed to impeach the President.
Unable to conceal his emotion, the Chief Justice asked in a trembling voice, “Mr. Senator Ross, how vote you? Is the respondent Andrew Johnson guilty as charged?” Ross later explained, at that moment, “I looked into my open grave. Friendships, position, fortune, and everything that makes life desirable to an ambitions man were about to be swept away by the breath of my mouth, perhaps forever.”
Then, the answer came unhesitating, unmistakable: “Not guilty!” With that, the trial was over. And the response was as predicted.
A high public official from Kansas wired Ross to say: “Kansas repudiates you as she does all perjurers and skunks.” Ross’ “open grave” vision had become a reality. Ross’ political career was in ruins. Extreme ostracism, and even physical attack awaited his family upon their return home.
One gloomy day Ross turned to his faithful wife and said, “Millions who are cursing me today will bless me tomorrow……though no one but God can know what the struggle has cost me.” It was a prophetic declaration. Twenty years later Congress and the Supreme Court verified the wisdom of his position, by changing the laws related to impeachment.
Ross was appointed the Territorial Governor of New Mexico. Then, just prior to his death, he was awarded a special pension by Congress. The press and the country took this opportunity to honor his courage which, they finally concluded, had saved our country from crisis and division.
Thanks to Jon Johnston for this story.
Our nation has been going through troubled times, especially for the last five years. I won’t be alive to see it, but in twenty years many of the events that are happening today in our government may well be seen in a completely different light.
What political events going on today do YOU think will be seen in a different light in twenty years?
IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IRRITATED OR OVERWHELMED, IT’S A SIGN YOU’RE SPENDING LESS TIME WITH GOD AND MORE TIME WITH THIS WORLD!