I, like most people from my home state of Illinois, am a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln.
Recently I’ve wondered what would have happened had Nancy Pelosi been the Speaker of the House when Abraham Lincoln was president.
Would Speaker Pelosi’s House Democrats use the same flimsy impeachment standard they are currently using to impeach Honest Abe, one of the greatest presidents in the history of our country?
In 1998 I was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives during the Clinton impeachment, and in 2009, as the 40th governor of Illinois, I had the unhappy experience of being impeached and removed from office.
Nevertheless, I offer this interesting and unique perspective about impeachment as I sit here in prison.
Consider the possibilities.
First, today’s Democrats would have impeached Lincoln for obstruction of Congress and abuse of power when he unilaterally issued his Emancipation Proclamation.
Lincoln didn’t ask Congress for permission when he declared an end to nearly 250 years of slavery and offered freedom to millions of slaves in the American South. He neither consulted Congress nor sought its consent before he acted.
In fact, at the time Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the Democrats of that day opposed it.
And then there’s the matter of the job offer to Robert E. Lee. Shortly after the firing on Fort Sumter by secessionists in South Carolina, and one day after Virginia seceded from the Union, President Lincoln sent an emissary to Robert E. Lee to offer him command of the Northern armies.
General Lee declined the offer.
When his native state of Virginia left the Union, General Lee left with it, eventually going on to become the commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia and the greatest military leader of the Civil War.
Can’t you see how a Speaker Pelosi and many of today’s House Democrats would call for the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate Lincoln for “Confederate Collusion” and bring impeachment charges for abuse of power for offering the top military command to a guy who would go on to become the top military commander of the other side?
And surely, articles of impeachment would be brought against Lincoln by today’s House Democrats for suspending the writ of habeas corpus across the Union as it related to traitors, spies, prisoners of war and Union soldiers.
And then there’s the political side.
Would Lincoln face impeachment for some of the activities by his political aides who helped him secure the Republican Presidential nomination at their party’s convention held in Chicago in 1860?
Today’s Democrats would have argued that the routine horse trading employed by Lincoln’s political operatives at the convention was bribery and that Lincoln should be impeached.
It is commonly known among historians that in order to gain the support of the delegate-rich Pennsylvania delegation, Lincoln’s aides offered a cabinet position to Simon Cameron, the senator from that state.
After Pennsylvania voted to nominate Lincoln, Cameron was appointed Secretary of War.
Undoubtedly, today’s House Democrats would bring impeachment charges against Lincoln labeling that routine political log rolling an illegal quid pro quo.
Would today’s House Democrats seek the impeachment of Lincoln for his campaign’s use of unconventional political tactics?
Taking a page from the playbook that would later be associated with the old-style Chicago Democrat machine, Lincoln’s campaign aides made full use of their home-field advantage by printing 5,000 counterfeit tickets to the Republican convention to pack the halls with Lincoln supporters.
This tactic worked. With throngs of Lincoln supporters in the convention hall gallery cheering on their favorite son, a steamroller effect was created that led to the dark-horse Lincoln winning the nomination on the third ballot.
Would today’s House Democrats impeach Lincoln for alleged fraudulent practices at the convention claiming he was an illegitimate president?
Two generations before Abraham Lincoln led the struggle to preserve our fractured nation through the crucible of civil war, the Framers of our Constitution established the criteria to impeach a president.
They rejected the weaponizing of impeachment as a political tool by expressly limiting it to “treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors.”
They did this because they foresaw how tempting the use of impeachment could be to advance partisan ends.
Indeed, Alexander Hamilton warned of the great danger that the decision to impeach a president could be made for political reasons, “on the comparative strength of parties,” rather than on the limited and expressed criteria written in the Constitution.
It is hard to imagine how history would have been changed had Lincoln been impeached. Thankfully, that never happened.
But to think that it could have happened is a reminder of how fragile our Republic is and how vulnerable our freedoms are.
No president is safe if a majority of hyperpartisan House members from the opposition party are willing to abuse the Constitution and vote to impeach.
And the worst part of it is, that should this happen, those politicians are taking from the people their right to choose their own leaders though free elections.
So much for “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” not perishing from this earth.
Rod Blagojevich served as the 40th governor of Illinois, 2003-2009