Inside the Capitol

Sunday, May 28, 2006

5-31 NM's Greatest Governor

WED, 5-31-06

Santa Fe -- Remember a few months ago, when the descendents of a former governor rejected a legislative appropriation for a statue of territorial Gov. Edmund G. Ross? It was one of those believe-it-or-not moments in political history -- a once in a millennium experience.
We told you of Sen. Shannon Robinson, who represents a district of Albuquerque's Southeast Heights, asking the Legislature for $50,000 to honor one of New Mexico's greatest governors, who now lies in a poorly-marked grave.
The Legislature agreed, but Ross' descendents responded that although they were deeply appreciative of the gesture, they felt the $50,000 could be put to much better use for the people of New Mexico.
Several weeks ago, this column mentioned the occurrence and ventured that Ross, was New Mexico's best governor. In a later column, we will talk about his many accomplishments as governor. But today, let me tell you about the highly unusual developments that led to Ross becoming our governor.
Edmund G. Ross was a Kansan, a newspaper editor, until 1862 when he enlisted in the Union Army, from which he emerged a Major at the end of the war.
Andrew Johnson took over as president upon Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Lincoln had chosen Johnson, a Democrat from the South, as his running mate because Johnson had been the only Southern senator not to leave the Senate. Johnson was very much a man of principle but he also was highly disagreeable.
Lincoln wanted an honorable peace with the South and to bring those states back into the Union as quickly as possible. Johnson was committed to carrying out Lincoln's desires.
But a majority of Congress wanted nothing of that. They wanted to punish the South in every way possible. Congress passed bill after bill to accomplish its purposes and Johnson vetoed them. Often Congress was able to override the vetoes by a two-thirds majority, but sometimes, on crucial issues, it couldn�t.
The president had to go. A bare majority of senators would vote to oust Johnson. That bare majority included the new senator from Kansas, Edmund G. Ross, a firebrand member of the Radical Republicans, who had been a leader in hounding the previous senator for his conservative ways. Eventually, Sen. Jim Lane committed suicide.
He was replaced by Ross, whom everyone assumed would well represent the radical Republicans of Kansas in punishing the South and convicting President Johnson.
But upon Johnson's impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives, Ross mentioned to a colleague that although he opposed Mr. Johnson and his policies, he was determined to see him "have as fair a trial as an accused man ever had on this earth."
Those were not words the radicals welcomed. They were not interested in a fair trial. The charges developed by Congress were especially weak. But it had captured the majority of the public mind and was scarcely in the mood to brook delay or hear a defense.
It was then that pressure on Ross began. He was spied upon constantly and subjected to every form of scrutiny. The party press harangued him. Colleagues pestered him constantly. He received threats of political ostracism and even assassination.
With no experience in political turmoil, no independent income and representing the most radical state in the nation, Ross was judged the most sensitive to criticism and the most likely to be swayed. The threats increased and so did the offers of bribes. But Ross believed a strong Congress was trying to make a weak president even weaker, to the point the equality of the executive branch of government would be destroyed if Congress had its way.
Ross could see no way out but to vote against removal of the president. He did, and suffered the consequences. Ross said as he cast his vote, he looked down into his open grave.
It wasn't an exaggeration. A Kansas Supreme Court justice told him, "The rope with which Judas Iscariot hanged himself is lost, but Jim Lane's pistol is at your service." Moving back to Kansas was out of the question.
Ross chose New Mexico.



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