May 16, 1868: In the last of three U.S. Senate votes on whether to convict President Andrew Johnson after the U.S. House impeached him in connection with his attempt to fire U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, U.S. Sen. William Pitt Fessenden (1806-1869), a Republican from Portland, and six other Republicans break ranks with their party and vote against Johnson’s conviction.

 

Johnson is acquitted by a single vote in all three voting sessions, and he serves out the remainder of his term. Fessenden’s action later earns him a mention in future President John F. Kennedy’s 1957 book “Profiles in Courage.”

Before the vote, Fessenden, who admired Stanton and found Johnson wanting as a leader, wrote that he nonetheless “would rather be confined to planting cabbages for the remainder of my days” than vote in contradiction to his own judgment.

“It is rather hard at my time of life, after a rather long career, to find myself the target of rather pointed arrows from those whom I have faithfully served. The public, when aroused and excited by passion and prejudice, is little better than a wild beast. I shall at all events retain my own self-respect and a clear conscience, and time will do justice to my motives at least,” Fessenden wrote.

 

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

 


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