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

The Impeachers

The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times; The 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.

cover image of the book The Impeachers

Praise for The Impeachers

A stunningly well-timed book on a question ripped from the headlines.

- Washington Post

[A] riveting and absorbing book… Wineapple’s depiction of Johnson is so vivid and perceptive that his standoff with Congress arrives with a doomed inevitability. …Wineapple dips into the intrigue and the whiffs of corruption that surrounded the vote, including a cloak-and-dagger narrative that features incriminating telegrams. She brings the same feel for drama to the trial itself…. A noble conclusion to an illuminating book.

- New York Times

Absorbing… Wineapple ponders impeachment’s legal, political, and constitutional aspects, and also its essential meaning

- The New Yorker

Ms. Wineapple’s gift for portraiture, is on display as she sets out her cast of characters…The first instruction to draw from The Impeachers is the importance of stakes.

- The Wall Street Journal


- Financial Times

Wineapple writes the kind of popular nonfiction that deserves a wide audience, blending graceful prose with a deeply researched but accessible history. …‘The Impeachers’ offers insights and a distillation of events that have undeniable parallels with this moment in our history.

- Christian Science Monitor

A gifted stylist whose knowledge of the politics of Reconstruction is both intimate and vast. In The Impeachers, [Wineapple] tells an elegant story stuffed with alluring character sketches and dramatic moments, both legal and political.

- The New Republic

Approachable, dramatic, event riveting, Wineapple’s volume is both guidebook and cautionary tale for our times.

- The Boston Globe

Compulsively readable, meticulously researched, and passionately suspenseful

- The Providence Journal

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)

[Wineapple’s] arguments are novel and her prose lively…. This book has much to offer enthusiasts of both historical and contemporary American politics.

- Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

A superb contribution to presidential history.

- Kirkus (Starred Review)

Brenda Wineapple has written a book entirely right for its moment, a history of the perils and politics of impeachment … Not merely the story of a trial (and likely associated corruption), engrossing though that is… this is a story about race in American politics.

- The Guardian

A timely, well-written and –documented history on the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson (1801-75), incorporating elements of drama involving colorful and powerful characters.

- Library Journal

Much as Doris Kearns Goodwin did in her acclaimed book, “Team of Rivals,” Wineapple brushes the patina of a century from the politicians, cabinet members, lawyers and power brokers involved in the attempt to remove a vile and unelected chief executive from office.

- Lincoln (NE) Journal Star

The past, as William Faulkner taught us, is never dead; it isn’t even past. In this absorbing and important book, Brenda Wineapple recounts the titanic struggle over the implications of the Civil War amid the impeachment of a defiant and temperamentally erratic American president: Andrew Johnson. Readers seeking to make sense of the perennial national tension between hope and fear will find much to ponder in these pages.

- Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Soul of America

With scholarly authority and literary grace, Brenda Wineapple has written the best account we have of the impeachment and trial of Andrew Johnson. The Impeachers clarifies, as only a responsible historical work can, an increasingly urgent public question: by what standards ought Congress to consider impeaching and removing a sitting president? As ever, Wineapple’s work exemplifies how objectivity need not come at the expense of dramatic engagement, let alone shrewd personal and political judgments.

- Sean Wilentz, George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History, Princeton Univ.

This is a terrific book. In The Impeachers, Brenda Wineapple ‘s wide-ranging research, her astonishing skill at painting vivid word portraits, and her masterful story-telling combine to turn one of the least-understood events in American history into the momentous, suspenseful national drama it really was. Not to be missed.

- Geoffrey C. Ward, author of A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt

The Impeachers is a historical barnburner 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 Heart of the Sea