The political climate of Missouri grew increasingly tense as the nation moved toward Civil War in the early months of 1861. As a slave state with strong economic ties to the North, Missouri was torn by bitter fighting between secessionists and unionists. Ultimately, the state was forced to remain in the Union but at the cost of heavy casualties on both sides. During this struggle, both senators, Waldo P. Johnson (D) and Trusten Polk (D), angered their Senate colleagues by supporting the Missouri secessionists. Earlier in 1861, the Senate had penalized senators from the seceding states either by declaring their seats vacant and omitting their names from its roll call or, once the war began, through the harsher move of expulsion. To many senators, the blatant support for the South voiced by these members from a Union state demanded an equally strong response.
Statement of the Case
On December 10, 1861, Solomon Foot (R-VT) asked that Waldo P. Johnson be expelled, based on the Missourian's sympathy for and participation in the rebellion. On December 18, Charles Sumner (R-MA) called for the expulsion of Trusten Polk as a traitor. Although the dates and the wording of the resolutions differed slightly, the Missouri situation essentially represented one case.
Response of the Senate
General floor discussion about the Missouri senators took place on December 12 and 18, 1861. In the debates earlier in the year, feelings had run so high that the expulsion question moved to a vote without first being referred to committee. By mid-December, however, senators had retreated to their traditional concern for evidence, form, and precedent. James McDougall (D-CA) and James A. Bayard, Jr. (D-DE) urged that correct procedures be followed. McDougall acknowledged that, while in the July cases he supported an immediate vote on the expulsions, in this case, there was no need for unseemly haste. He reminded the Senate that this was a serious matter, and their actions might be invoked as precedents in the future.
Senators who pressed for immediate action emphasized that neither Missouri senator had appeared at any time during the session to claim his seat or to answer the charges against him. Their failure to communicate with those in Washington lent credence to the unofficial information that Johnson held an officer's position in the Confederate army and that Polk wrote public letters urging Missouri to join the southern cause. The Senate, however, sent the complaints about both senators to the Judiciary Committee.
On January 9, 1862, the committee issued reports supporting the charges made against Johnson and Polk. Both were reported to have secretly crossed into rebel territory. Satisfied that neither demonstrated the slightest interest in answering the Senate charges and that both participated in secessionist war activities, the committee recommended expulsion. On January 10, 1862, the Senate expelled Waldo Johnson by a vote of 35 to 0 and Trusten Polk by a vote of 36 to 0.
In expelling Johnson and Polk the Senate continued the trend established in the John C. Breckinridge case resolved in December 1861. The Senate could not tolerate a situation in which senators from a Union state gave open support to the enemy government.
Despite the insistence of their supporters that the charges against them were only rumor, Polk and Johnson belied this confidence by slipping back and forth into southern territory. Waldo Johnson, wounded at the Battle of Pea Ridge only two months after his expulsion, recruited and organized troops for the Confederate army, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served in the Confederate senate, lived briefly in Canada after the war, and returned to Missouri, where he served as president of the state's constitutional convention in 1875. He practiced law until his death in 1885. Trusten Polk accumulated a similar record of service for the Confederacy, first as a colonel in the Confederate army and later as a military judge in Mississippi. After the war he practiced law in St. Louis. He died in 1876.
As in the Breckinridge case, these expulsions left vacancies to be filled. On January 17, 1862, the governor appointed Unionists John B. Henderson and Robert Wilson as the new senators from Missouri.
Source: U.S. Senate Historical Office, United States Senate Election, Expulsion and Censure Cases: 1793-1990 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1995), pp. 104-105.