The Impeachers

The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation
Narrated by: Gabra Zackman
Length: 14 hrs and 36 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (245 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Named one of the Best Books of the Year by Jennifer Szalai, The New York TimesThe New York Times Book Review • NPR • Publishers Weekly

"This absorbing and important book recounts the titanic struggle over the implications of the Civil War amid the impeachment of a defiant and temperamentally erratic American president." (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of America)

When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and Vice-President Andrew Johnson became "the Accidental President", it was a dangerous time in America. Congress was divided over how the Union should be reunited: when and how the secessionist South should regain full status, whether former Confederates should be punished, and when and whether black men should be given the vote. Devastated by war and resorting to violence, many white Southerners hoped to restore a pre-Civil War society, if without slavery, and the pugnacious Andrew Johnson seemed to share their goals. With the unchecked power of executive orders, Johnson ignored Congress, pardoned rebel leaders, promoted white supremacy, opposed civil rights, and called Reconstruction unnecessary. It fell to Congress to stop the American president who acted like a king.

With profound insights and making use of extensive research, Brenda Wineapple dramatically evokes this pivotal period in American history, when the country was rocked by the first-ever impeachment of a sitting American president. And she brings to vivid life the extraordinary characters who brought that impeachment forward: the willful Johnson and his retinue of advocates - including complicated men like Secretary of State William Seward - as well as the equally complicated visionaries committed to justice and equality for all, like Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, Frederick Douglass, and Ulysses S. Grant. Theirs was a last-ditch, patriotic, and Constitutional effort to render the goals of the Civil War into reality and to make the Union free, fair, and whole.

Praise for The Impeachers

"In this superbly lyrical work, Brenda Wineapple has plugged a glaring hole in our historical memory through her vivid and sweeping portrayal of President Andrew Johnson’s 1868 impeachment. She serves up not simply food for thought but a veritable feast of observations on that most trying decision for a democracy: whether to oust a sitting president. Teeming with fiery passions and unforgettable characters, The Impeachers will be devoured by contemporary readers seeking enlightenment on this issue.... A landmark study." (Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Grant)

©2019 Brenda Wineapple (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Fans of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals will appreciate how Wineapple’s narrative carries forward the saga of the men Lincoln so relied on during the Civil War.” (Booklist, starred review)

“Her arguments are novel and her prose lively. . . . This book has much to offer enthusiasts of both historical and contemporary American politics.” (Publishers Weekly

The Impeachers is a historical barn burner of a book - a vivid cast of characters caught in a terrifying and eerily familiar moment in our nation’s history. This is history of the best kind - passionate, evocative, razor-sharp, and relevant.” (Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Hurricane’s Eye)

What listeners say about The Impeachers

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  • Overall
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Forgotten American History Revitalized

An in depth, highly interesting account of the all but forgotten impeachment and trial of Andrew Johnson. There's much fascinating detail about the personalities and events during the precarious era of reconstruction after the nightmare of the Civil War and how close America came to continued bloodshed and possible disunion. Gabra Zackman's narration is excellent.

6 people found this helpful

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Absorbing

Now that the congress is conducting an impeachment investigation of Trump, I thought it would be a good idea to read about Johnson’s impeachment trial. Wineapple recounts the struggle over the implication of the Civil War amid the impeachment of an erratic president. The book is well written and researched. Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) was a Southern Democrat born in North Carolina. He wanted to return the South to the way it was prior to the War. He had lenient reconstruction policies toward the South and he vetoed the Reconstruction Act. He started his political career in the Tennessee legislature. In 1843 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee. Wineapple discusses Johnson’s presidency (1865-1869). The impeachment as well as what goes into an impeachment. Congress had tried multiple times to impeach Johnson before finally succeeding to trial only to lose. Wineapple includes the history primarily in the South post the Civil War emphasizing the treatment of the freed slaves. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I learned a lot about Johnson and the difficulties of impeachment. The book is fourteen hours and thirty-six minutes. Gabra Zachman did a good job narrating the book.

5 people found this helpful

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Tremendous & Timely

The Impeachers is a first-rate review of the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and the controversial Reconstruction era in which it took place. It is full of compelling personality portraits: Johnson, Edwin Stanton, Thaddeus Stevens, William Seward & William Sumner. The descriptions of atrocities in the post-Civil War South are incredibly gripping and appalling, but Northern states and politicians are by no means always right or righteous. Wineapple does a great job describing the details of the impeachment; but an even better one in putting that event in the larger historical context. The listener can come close to feeling and understanding what it was like to live in that tumultuous time. It is a sad and sobering tale overall, but extremely educational and thought-provoking. Certain similarities between that time and the present one are undeniable, and this book provides a valuable backdrop for considering the modern scene. Well-narrated, too.

2 people found this helpful

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First rate narrative history

Tells the story of early reconstruction through a cogent, compelling narrative of Johnson’s impeachment, with wonderful mini-biographies of most of the key political players of the era.

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very timely

In view of the recent string of impeachments of Nixon, Clinton and Trump, this book could not be more fascinating. Johnson's personality profile was a lot like Trump's. The impeachment focused on a single act -- firing of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, which was illegal only because Congress had passed a law prohibiting firing of Cabinet officers (congress also sought to protect Lincoln's Secretary of State, Seward. But Johnson opposed most of the policies of his own party -- the Republicans sought to give blacks power, not merely rights and Johnson stood in the way. Highy partisan and personal, like today's impeachment, it proceeded to a suprisingly rational resut. My opinion is that special prosecuters and impeachers really overstep the line.

1 person found this helpful

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Fantastic History Lesson

The Epilogue of the book is oddly pertinent in our society today. This is a story about a man who became President but may not have had the temperament to be President.

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Interesting piece of forgotten history

If you want to understand what happened between the death of Abraham Lincoln and the civil rights movement of the 1960's, this book is a great place to start. It does a great job of describing the institutional bigotry and division that remained embedded in the country after the civil war and for decades to come. It's also interesting to read in light of current politics. If Andrew Johnson wasn't convicted by the senate after he was impeached, is it possible that anyone ever will be?

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Extremely well written and rich account of a seldom discussed event.

Great writing first of all. I’ve made it a point to read up on the civil war and reconstruction literature and this book is certainly among the best of what I’ve found so far. My only warning is to be prepared to hear about probably the worst American ever to serve be at his worst for several hours.

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Prescient Work

A clarifying, in-depth work examining the impeachment of Johnson that parallels much of the present

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Familiar Issues

This excellent history reminded me that, no matter how terrible and disturbing we find some of the racism and violence in our society today, they pale next to the uncontrolled violence against Blacks in the South following the Civil War. I was not aware of the hateful massacres of Blacks in Memphis and New Orleans in the years after the war, in which Southern white leaders were complicit if not active participants. And the refusal of Andrew Johnson to condemn or stop these massacres or the other steps taken to prevent freed slaves from exercising their civil rights seemed to justify his impeachment. Under pressure, Johnson became a lot like the current president: autocratic, self-absorbed, stubborn, indifferent to those less fortunate and dismissive of those with whom he disagreed. The book focuses on the impeachers, of course, as much as Johnson. Brenda Wineapple skillfully draws portraits of so many of them, like Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner and Benjamin Butler. She does not spare her opinions as to which members of Congress were inspiring, brave, ambitious or corrupt. She also provides useful perspectives from contemporary observers like Mark Twain, Walt Whitman and Georges Clemenceau. Gabra Zackman was an outstanding reader, providing clarity and the right amount of emotion to her reading. She had a tendency, when quoting figures of the time, to put on a lower, nasally voice which was kind of amusing.