Edmund G. Ross, the Man Who Saved Andrew Johnson
Curated/Reviewed by Matthew A. McIntosh
Edmund Gibson Ross (December 7, 1826 – May 8, 1907) was a politician who represented Kansas after the American Civil War and was later governor of the New Mexico Territory. His vote against convicting President Andrew Johnson of “high crimes and misdemeanors” allowed Johnson to stay in office by the margin of one vote.
As the seventh of seven Republican U.S. Senators to break with his party, Ross proved to be the person whose decision would result in conviction or acquittal. When he chose the latter, the vote of 35–19 in favor of Johnson’s conviction failed to reach the required two-thirds vote. Ross lost his bid for re-election two years later.
Ross was born in Ashland, Ohio on December 7, 1826, the third of fourteen children born to Sylvester Ross Sr. and Cynthia (Rice) Ross. He was educated locally and at age 11 was apprenticed as a printer at the Huron, Ohio Commercial Advertiser. In 1841 he moved to Sandusky, Ohio to join the staff of the Sandusky Mirror, which was owned by his brother Sylvester.
For several years in the late 1840s and early 1850s, Ross was employed as a journeyman printer and typesetter, traveling throughout Ohio and to several nearby states to accept temporary work whenever it was available. A Democrat who opposed slavery, in 1852, Ross moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he worked on first the Milwaukee Free Democrat, and then the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel.:1-2
In 1854, Ross was one of a group of several Milwaukee residents who came to the aid of Joshua Glover, an escaped slave who had been recaptured and was being held at the local jail.:22 The group stormed the jail, freed Glover, and enabled his escape to Canada.:1-2 At the founding of the Republican Party, Ross’ anti-slavery leanings caused him to join the new organization.
Start of Career
An opponent of slavery, during the 1850s dispute over whether to admit Kansas to the union as a free state or a slave state, Ross moved to Topeka, Kansas, as did several of his family members, who were also opponents of slavery. The dispute sometimes resulted in violence, and Ross joined the antislavery side’s militia.
He became a leader of the free state movement as publisher of the Topeka Tribune from 1856 to 1858 and founder of the Kansas State Record in 1859. Ross joined the board of directors of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, and was one of its chief promoters. In 1859, Ross was elected a delegate to the Kansas constitutional convention of 1859 to 1861.
A supporter of the Union during the Civil War, Ross joined the Union Army as a private in 1862. He was commissioned as a captain in command of Company E, 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. The regiment took part in several battles in the southwestern and western United States, including:
- Second Battle of Lexington
- Battle of Little Blue River
- Second Battle of Independence
- Battle of Byram’s Ford
- Battle of Westport
- Battle of Mine Creek
- Battle of Platte Bridge Station/Battle of Red Buttes
Ross was promoted to major during the war, and was mustered out after the surrender of the Confederacy in 1865.
United States Senator
After the war, Ross returned to Kansas to continue his newspaper career, and was editor of the Kansas Tribune from 1865 to 1866. In 1866, the governor of Kansas appointed Ross to the U.S. senate as a Republican, filling the vacancy caused by the death of James H. Lane. The state legislature subsequently elected him to complete Lane’s term, and he served July 19, 1866 to March 3, 1871. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection to the term which began on March 4, 1871. During his Senate service, Ross served as chairman of the Committee on Enrolled Bills (Fortieth Congress) and the Committee on Engrossed Bills (Forty-first Congress).
Andrew Johnson Impeachment
Ross is best known for casting the decisive vote which acquitted Andrew Johnson during his 1868 Presidential Impeachment trial. Some people have claimed that Ross voted against the conviction due to concerns about his colleague Samuel C. Pomeroy receiving patronage from Benjamin Wade, and as a means to receive patronage favors from Johnson. Others claim Ross cast his vote because he genuinely believed that Johnson had the right to replace Edwin M. Stanton, since he had been appointed during the Lincoln Administration.
Still others give voice to the opinion that, though the Kansas Senator did believe Johnson guilty of breaking the Tenure of Office Act, he did not believe that offense worthy of impeachment. Kansas newspapers thought clearly that Ross voted against his radical leanings in supporting Johnson because of the influence of his old Civil War colonel, Thomas Ewing Jr., an ardent Johnson supporter at the time.
Later in life, Ewing wrote Ross that he felt Ross was “preeminent for courage” among men – not only for his physical courage in battle but also for opposing Johnson’s impeachment. “In making [that] decision, you knew perfectly well that it could consign you to private life and the vehement denunciation of almost all your party friends.” However, there is significant evidence that suggests Ross was bribed.
Edmund G. Ross is one of eight U.S. Senators featured in Profiles in Courage, the 1956 Pulitzer Prize-winning history co-written by then-Senator John F. Kennedy and Theodore Sorensen in commemoration of past acts of political courage in Congress.
Upon retirement from the Senate, Ross went back into the newspaper business briefly, launching a publication in Coffeyville, Kansas. He left the Republican Party after 1872, and was affiliated with the Democrats. In 1880, he ran unsuccessfully for governor of Kansas. A trip to New Mexico in 1882 had a positive effect on his health, and he moved there permanently. He studied law and passed the bar, afterwards practicing in Albuquerque and beginning work on a history of the Johnson impeachment.
From 1885 to 1889, Ross served as governor of New Mexico Territory, appointed by President Grover Cleveland. He served as secretary of the New Mexico Bureau of Immigration from 1894 to 1896. In 1896, Ross published his book History of the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Time caused Kansans to look on Ross more favorably with respect to his role in the Johnson impeachment; In 1907, General Hugh Cameron of Lawrence visited Ross in New Mexico and brought testimonials from many citizens of Kansas.
- Cade, Leslie A. (1991). “Biographical Note, Edmund G. Ross”. Edmund G. Ross Collection, Manuscript Collection No. 491. Topeka, KS: Kansas Historical Society. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
- Ruddy, Richard A. (2013). Edmund G. Ross: Soldier, Senator, Abolitionist. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 4–5.
- Ronald D. Smith, “Thomas Ewing Jr., Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General,” Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008, see the discussion at pp. 292–299.
- Thomas Ewing Jr. to Ross, July 16, 1894, Thomas Ewing Jr. Papers, Kansas State Historical Society.
- Stewart, David O. (April 24, 2009). Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy (Reprint ed.). Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc. pp. 185, 186, 188, 189, 242, 269, 278, 279, 280, 282, 285, 292, 297–99, 309.
- Ross, Edmund G. – KS-Cyclopedia – 1912 Archived June 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
- Ross, Edmund G. (1896). History of the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, by the House of Representatives, and his trial by the Senate for high crimes and misdemeanors in office, 1868. Santa Fe, New Mexico: New Mexican Printing Co. p. 1 – via HathiTrust.
- Bumgardner, Edward, 1949. The Life of Edmund G. Ross. The Fielding-Turner Press, Kansas City, Missouri.
- Lamar, Howard R. “Edmund G. Ross as Governor of New Mexico Territory.” New Mexico Historical Review 36#3 (1961): 177+
- Roske, Ralph J. “The Seven Martyrs?.” American Historical Review 64#2 (1959): 323-330. in JSTOR
- Ruddy Richard A. Edmund G. Ross: Soldier, Senator, Abolitionist (2013) online review
Originally published by Wikipedia, 09.19.2004, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.