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Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

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With the assassination of President Lincoln, the presidency fell upon an old-fashioned southerner named Andrew Johnson. Although an honest and honorable man, Andrew Johnson was one of the most unfortunate Presidents. Over time there has been a controversial debate as to whether Johnson deserved to be impeached, or if it was an unconstitutional attempt by Congress to infringe upon the president's authority. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson was politically motivated. The spirit of the Jacksonian democracy inspired Andrew Johnson. In 1857, Johnson was then elected to represent Tennessee in the US Senate. "While serving in the Senate, Johnson became an advocate of the Homestead Bill, which was opposed by most Southern Democrats and their slave owning, plantation constituents." 1 This issue strained the already tense relations between Johnson and the wealthy planters in western Tennessee. Eventually the party split into regional factions. Johnson made the decision to back the Southern Democratic nominee, John Breckinridge. By this time the rift between Johnson and most Southern Democrats was too deep to heal. The break became final when Johnson allied himself with pro-union Whigs to fight the Secessionist Democrats in his state for several months. 2

When the Civil War began, Johnson was the only Senator from a Confederate state that did not leave Congress to return to the South. During the war, Johnson made the decision to join the Republicans in the National Union Party. In 1864, Johnson's big break came. Lincoln selected him as his vice presidential nominee. "When it came time for Johnson to deliver his inaugural address he delivered it while inebriated, lending credence to the rumors that he was an alcoholic."3 Even with these rumors

floating around it didn't stop the victory of Lincoln and Johnson in the 1864 election. Within six weeks of taking office as Vice President, Johnson succeeded to the Presidency after Lincoln's assassination. Johnson wasn't prepared for this position and faced many difficult decisions. Johnson's first difficult situation was developing a policy for the postwar reconstruction of the union. Johnson's Reconstruction Plan allowed the former confederate states to return quickly to the Union. This plan would have left the civil rights of former slaves completely under the auspices of former-slave owners (Kennedy). Johnson believed secession was illegal. "He felt that the Southern states were still in the union and only had to set up loyal governments to resume legitimate relations with the United States."4 Congress didn't share the same views as the president though, they felt that the freedmen should be protected and the power of the Republican Party should be sustained in the South. Since the President could not guarantee civil and political rights to the newly freed slaves, it caused opponents to pass the fourteenth Amendment in hope of securing them. "His continued intransigence led to the framing of the Reconstruction Acts, remanding the Southern states to military rule until they enfranchised the blacks and ratified the amendment." 5

Radical Republicans in Congress wrestled control of Reconstruction from the President and began passing their own program over Johnson's vetoes. The result was the passage of the Tenure of Office Act. This act prevented the President form dismissing officials appointed by him and with the advice and consent of the Senate without the body's approval. In addition to this act, there was the Army Appropriations Act that stipulated that the President must transmit his orders to the military through the

Commanding General of the Army in Washington. During Johnson's term, General William H Emory was the commander of the Washington military district. On February 22, 1868, Johnson had a conversation with General Emory where Johnson expressed his feelings that the Army Appropriation Act of 1867, which required all orders to military commanders to be issued through General Grant, was unconstitutional. 6 The House Republicans interpreted the President's remark as a suggestion that Emory pass along Johnson's own military commands without referring them to Grant. According to the Republicans, this was a clear violation of the law. "Around the same time Johnson violated the Tenure of Office act by removing Stanton and not receiving the Senate's approval. With these two violations committed by Johnson the Judiciary Committee voted to submit a report recommending impeachment."7

The House of Representatives drafted eleven articles of impeachment. The first eight articles described specific actions by the President that violated the Tenure of Office Act. The ninth article charged the President with trying to persuade an army officer to violate the 1867 Army Appropriation Act. The tenth article charged that in numerous public speeches the President deliberately tried to set aside the rightful authority and powers of Congress by subjecting it to disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt, and reproach." 8 The eleventh article charged the President with declaring in a public speech that the Thirty-Ninth Congress, as a Congress of only some of the states, had no authority to exercise legislative power. "Rumors of an armed conflict between the President and Congress spread. Grant ordered the army garrison in Washington to remain

on alert for trouble and stationed extra troops at the War Department building." 9

The expected clash never occurred however. On February 28, 1868, when the house voted along strict party lines to impeach President Johnson, the House appointed seven members to argue the House's case before the Senate. "These seven "managers'" included two Republicans who had voted against impeachment in 1867 and two of Johnson's most outspoken radical opponents, Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, and Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts." 10 The trial centered on the Tenure of Office Act. There were two main questions concerning this law--whether it was constitutional and whether it protected Edwin Stanton. It became obvious during the trial that the real reason for impeachment was not the dismissal of Stanton but the long-standing quarrel between the President and Congress about Reconstruction.11

When the Senate met on May 16, 1868, to decide on its verdict, it agreed to vote first on the eleventh article, which seemed to offer the best chance for obtaining a conviction. When the final votes came in three states voted to acquit, Tennessee, Kentucky, and

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