The House voted to impeach the President.

The House voted to impeach the President.

The President didn’t really give the House much of a choice. He was considered something of an accidental President, having assumed office under questionable circumstances. He was inappropriate, and unpopular nationwide. Even by the standards of the time, the President was crude, vulgar, and a virulent nativist. He demeaned public and private figures by name, without any pretense of statesmanship.

Also, ya know, there was that OTHER thing: his efforts to thwart Congressional attempts to grant citizenship, voting rights, and justice to nearly a million recently liberated Americans after the ultimate sacrifice of over 360,000 Union soldiers. Lincoln’s 1860 campaign song “Lincoln & Liberty” was explicit about the effort:

“Come all you true friends of the nation
Attend to humanity’s call
Oh aid of the slaves’ liberation
And roll on the liberty ball”

But Lincoln had been felled by a Southerner’s bullet, ushering in a new President from the South with the assassin’s sympathies.

And so, in the year 1868, President Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House of Representatives. The House vote fell largely along party lines. So did the trial in the Senate. On May 26, 1868, President Johnson was acquitted on two articles of Impeachment.

The May 27th edition Baltimore Sun reported on the “End of Impeachment” on the front page.

Also joining the Impeachment story on page 1? Austin College President Samuel McKinney.

Austin College was suffering in 1868. The aftermath of Texas participation in the Confederacy, to which President Johnson was sympathetic, was part of the reason. Epidemics in and around AC’s home in Huntsville, TX also played a role. What AC needed in 1868 was greater enrollment and financing. With the spring term over, McKinney left Texas in May of 1868 for the East Coast in order to secure it. He was headed to Baltimore for the annual convention of General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS). The convention was scheduled to begin on May 21st.

The House vote to impeach had already occurred in March of 1868, and the Senate fight was still waging in May when McKinney departed. McKinney’s trip from Huntsville took him to Baltimore by way our nation’s capital, which sits just 30 minutes south. Before the completion of Union Station in 1907, Washington D.C. rail traffic passed through the New Jersey Ave Station located just one block north of the U.S. Capitol. The slow journey of the Austin College President to Baltimore may have allowed the Roo some time to take in the Senate trial from the balcony in Washington.

How did Texas senators vote on the acquittal of President Johnson? There weren’t any. Texas re-admission would not come until 1870, after the Lone Star state had accepted the 14th and 15th amendments guaranteeing constitutional birthright citizenship and the right to vote for all citizens. AC President Samuel McKinney watching from the balcony may have been the closest possible thing to Texas representation in the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson.

McKinney left D.C. for Baltimore, and participated in the PCUS General Assembly meetings from May 21st to May 30th. The meetings were held at the Franklin Street Presbyterian church in Baltimore, just as the Impeachment trial was reaching a fever pitch. A local DC newspaper reported on both events in a Baltimore section within its May 22nd edition:

“Baltimore: The General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church, old School, commenced at [the Franklin Street} church at noon today. The managers of all the telegraph offices have been summoned before the managers of the investigation committee on impeachment in Washington.”

In Baltimore, McKinney (perhaps not surprisingly) advocated for greater church support for Presbyterian higher education across the nation, including the defeated states of the Confederacy. McKinney was making his pitch at the Franklin Street church on May 26th, when the final Senate vote on Johnson’s impeachment occurred just 30 minutes to the south.

At the conclusion of the PCUS meetings, McKinney returned to Huntsville to begin preparations for another AC academic year. The problems of East Texas after the Civil War would continue though, forcing the school to move north to Grayson County eight years later. McKinney, a founding Austin College Trustee alongside Sam Houston, passed in 1879.

You may be thinking that SURELY there can be no contemporary Roo ties with an AC President who witnessed the Impeachment of 1868, right? Nope. A great-grandson of McKinney, Jim Phillips, is a former colleague here at the University of Texas System Administration. Jim’s UT System colleagues include Barbara Holthaus, Phil Dendy, and Jana Bessent Pankratz. Jim’s Roo FB friends include Tom Nuckols, Keith Hopson, and Adam Haynes.

Number of colleges in the state of Texas in 2019: 143

Number of colleges in the state of Texas who have witnessed ALL THREE House Impeachment votes and Senate trials: 2

Austin College sees you there Baylor! The Bears and Roos are Old School. Our historic past? It is unimpeachable.