The Impeachment of President Andrew Johnson

This week marks the 149th anniversary of the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson for High Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Andrew Johnson became president of the United States on April 15, 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Johnson, like Lincoln, was in favor of reunifying the country quickly. He planned to grant amnesty to all but the highest ranking Confederate officials and military leaders and allow the seceded states to reform a government and send representatives to Congress once one-tenth of the state’s voters had sworn a loyalty oath to the United States. Furthermore, President Johnson firmly opposed both suffrage and civil rights for the newly freed slaves. This stance did not endear him with the Radical Republicans in Congress who painted President Johnson as a Confederate sympathizer, comparing him to Andrew Jackson and warning of a return to pre-War slavery in all but name if the president was not kept in check.

After many attempts to curtail the president’s power, on March 3rd of 1867, the Tenure of Office Act became law. It stated that every person except members of the Cabinet “holding any civil office to which he has been appointed by and with the advice and consent of the Senate … shall be entitled to hold such office until a successor shall have been in like manner appointed and duly qualified…” In effect, it was intended to restrict the power of the President of the United States to dismiss officer-holders from their positions without the approval of the Senate. The House attempted to amend this Act, arguing that a president must have faith in his advisers and any adviser who has lost the faith of the president, either politically or personally, should be removed without delay, but the Senate prevailed and the Act passed over President Johnson’s veto.

Whether this Act was written specifically to force President Johnson into an impeachable situation or if it was genuinely intended to safeguard the interests of a fractured and reeling nation, it wasn’t long before President Johnson defied it. On August 12 of 1867, President Johnson dismissed his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, for, among other things, his support of the Radical Republican’s reconstruction plan. In Stanton’s place, President Johnson appointed General Ulysses S. Grant. When Congress reconvened, they overruled the appointment and General Grant resigned, reestablishing Secretary Stanton.

On February 21st 1868, President Johnson formally dismissed Edwin Stanton and on February 24th, Congress voted to impeach the President by a vote of 126 to 47. The trial began on March 13th under the direction of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Salmon P. Chase and lasted 8 long weeks. In the end, President Johnson was acquitted by a one-vote margin, but his power was effectively and irreparably diminished.

 

Find out more about this historic trial and read the original, full text documents and reports from the Senate through HeinOnline at the Law Library! Searching the Legal Classics Library for “Andrew Johnson Impeachment” will bring up thousands of results on the topic. Limiting the publication date to 1850-1899 will get you closer. Some of the available materials are:

United States. 40th Congress, 2nd session, Senate., Trial of Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, before the Senate of the United States, on Impeachment by the House of Representatives for High Crimes and Misdemeanors (1868)

United States. 40th Congress, 2nd session, Senate., Trial of Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, before the Senate of the United States, on Impeachment by the House of Representatives for High Crimes and Misdemeanors (Benjamin Perley Poore, ed.) (1868) Preliminary Proceedings in the House of Representatives in the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson, President of the United States - For High Crimes and Misdemeanors

United States. 40th Congress, 2nd session, Senate., Trial of Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, before the Senate of the United States, on Impeachment by the House of Representatives for High Crimes and Misdemeanors (1868)

 

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