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Senator Edmund G. Ross of Kansas


By Larry Cunning and sent to us by Lu Hickey

This American Scot is little known but undoubtedly a man whose indomitable courage, at a crucial moment in U.S. history, certainly made a difference. No less a person than President John F. Kennedy recognized the watershed in history represented by one man and his lonely, memorable vote in the U.S. Senate on May 16, 1868. Kennedy included him in his work, Profiles in Courage.

Senator Ross was not cut from political cloth. He was a railroad venture capitalist, a director of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, which he named. He was appointed to fill out the term of Kansas Senator Jim Lane, who had died unexpectedly. It was Ross’ fate to be swept up in the national hysteria engendered by President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s vice-president and successor after the assassination. Johnson had adhered to Lincoln’s hope-for policy of rebuilding the South, and re-engaging the Confederacy in a postwar effort to rebuilding the whole country.

Lincoln died for that hope as a probable sacrifice at the hands of political extremists who believed that "the South should pay." Johnson took office with Lincoln’s manifesto, to comfort the widows and orphans, to bind up the wounds of war "with malice towards none" very much his own. He immediately became a target of vindictive sentiments in the North, trumpeted by an angry press, and widely believed-in by much of the northern populace. It was not long until Johnson was targeted by a vicious cabal in Congress (many of whom owed their election to "carpet baggers" working to maximize their wealth through harsh administration of the pacification laws, stripping the South of its remaining portable wealth). The petition to impeach Johnson soon passed the House, directing the Senate to try Johnson for malfeasance and other crimes.

The senators were under an oath from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in acting as jurors, to "do impartial justice." Fortunately nearly half the Senate took this charge seriously, although in the public sentiment, the uproar had only increased with the main proponents (pollsters today) fiercely feeding the worst opinions and sentiments. In retrospect, the future of the U.S. as a real Constitutional body was at stake.

On the morning of May 16, 1868 as Kennedy wrote almost 90 years after, the substitute Senator Ross from Kansas, figuratively looked down into his own political grave. Nonetheless, he voted his own convictions, for President Johnson’s acquittal of the mainly sensational charges. Without this man’s courage to vote for justice, not hysteria, Constitutional government was saved for our present benefit. He did "impartial justice," but his life in Kansas to which he returned, was torment, and he later moved to the end of the line, the New Mexico hub of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe, his railroad. He died in virtual obscurity in 1907. A Scottish-American who made a difference