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Paul Sloca API article

World News
Impeachment Furore Last Century also Featured a Young Woman
Story Posted October 19, 1998 at 08:45
By Paul Sloca

7 - Vinnie Ream wearing hat - photo by Sarony

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) _ More than a century before Monica Lewinsky became the woman some feared might finish a president, an attractive young female sculptor named Vinnie Ream was blamed for saving one.

Ream was 20 years old in 1868 when she became the focus of a smear campaign by a Republican faction claiming she'd persuaded Senator Edmund Ross (R_Kan.), to cast the deciding vote against the ouster of impeached President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat. ‘‘They blamed her because they said she had used her wiles as a woman to influence Ross,'' says Missouri state archivist Kenneth Winn, who is writing a book about Ream. ‘‘It's somewhat murky as to what she actually did, but Republicans certainly felt she had influence.''

Ross was a boarder in the Ream family home. The families had known each other in Kansas, where Vinnie's father was a surveyor before taking a government job in Washington. Rumours had been following his daughter since at least 1866, when she became the first woman and, at 18, the youngest person ever awarded a federal commission. She was paid $10,000 to sculpt a marble statue of the slain Abraham Lincoln _ an honour critics asserted had more to do with charm and political connections than artistic ability.

That same year, Ross arrived in Washington and moved in with the Reams, just as a faction of the GOP known as the Radical Republicans was taking off after Johnson. They felt the new president, a Tennessean, was being too soft on the defeated Confederacy. To pressure the president, Congress passed a law requiring him to get Senate consent to dismiss appointed officials. When a defiant Johnson removed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, the House impeached him for ‘‘impeding the will of Congress.''

The president went on trial in the Senate, where Radical Republicans assumed that Ross would side against Johnson. But Ross refused to disclose his position, and rumours arose that Ream, believed sympathetic to Lincoln's successor, was trying to sway the 40-year-old senator's vote.

Winn cites contemporaneous accounts that described Ream as a charmer with a gleaming smile. She stood just 5 feet tall and weighed little more than 90 pounds. Photographs show dark flowing hair and dark eyes. On the evening before the vote, Republicans sent an emissary to the Ream home to determine where Ross stood. Daniel Sickles, a Johnson foe since the president removed him from a military posting in the Carolinas, was also regarded as a ladies man who might charm the protective Ream into letting him see Ross.

Ream managed to put Sickles off for hours, serving tea and even singing for the one-legged Civil War veteran, Winn says. At various times, she whispered with someone behind a door, believed to be the reluctant Ross. Finally, the frustrated Sickles asked Ream if she knew Ross' intentions. She reportedly told him the senator would vote for acquittal.

As Sickles left the house at 4 a.m., he told Ream, ‘‘He is in your power and you chose to destroy him.'' Ross cast his ‘‘not guilty'' vote later that day and a week later wrote to his wife: ‘‘Millions of men are cursing me today, but they will bless me tomorrow. But few knew of the precipice upon which we all stood.''

Ream and Ross steadfastly denied any impropriety, but Ross' national career was doomed. Kansans voted him out. Years later, he became territorial governor in what is now New Mexico. The young sculptor was stunned by the political furore swirling around her, says Glenn V. Sherwood of Longmont, Colo., a Ream descendant who spent a decade going through documents, including letters Ream wrote and congressional records, to write ‘‘Labour of Love, The Life and Art of Vinnie Ream.'' Republicans branded her a ‘‘female lobbyist,'' then a sly bit of innuendo directed at women whose favours politicians sometimes traded among themselves. The House voted to evict her from her Capitol studio where she had worked two years on the Lincoln statue. Ream fought back, and some sympathetic reporters took up her cause. The New York World wrote about the eviction campaign under the headline ‘‘How Beaten Impeachers Make War On Women.''

‘‘This was a 20-year-old woman who knew how to manipulate men with lots of power,'' Winn says. ‘‘Vinnie had a clear idea what she wanted to be and what she wanted to do.'' Her unlikely saviour was Representative Thaddeus Stevens (R_Pa.), who had led the fight to impeach Johnson. He convinced legislators just before his death that Ream should be able to keep working in her studio.

The statue was unveiled in 1871 in the Capitol Rotunda, where it stands today. Ream died in 1914 at age 67 and is buried along with her husband, Richard Leveridge Hoxie, a longtime Chief of Army Engineers, in Arlington National Cemetery.

Winn draws some parallels between Ream's ordeal and what Lewinsky is going through. ‘‘They were both about the same age and were hanging out with men that were more than twice their ages,'' Winn says. ‘‘You might say that young women have had an effect on older men for a long time and can make them do very foolish things.''