Impeachmentis the process that enables a legislative body to remove a public official fromoffice. It comprises two parts: (1) an accusation or indictment and (2) a trial.
Constitutionalprovisions for impeachmentof a president of theUnited States state thatthe Houseof Representatives has the sole power to impeach (to bring charges), and the Senate alone is responsible for trying the president. Conviction and removal fromofficecan occur only by a two-thirds vote of the Senate and must be based upon the president having committed treason,bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors.
Fact: President Johnson was impeached by the House of Representatives.
Based on what you know about President Johnson, his attitudes and actions during the Reconstruction era, and his relationship with Republicans in Congress, why do you think he wasimpeached? What might he have done, or what could the House charge him with doing in order to try to remove him from office?
The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
Source: Library of Congress-Johnson in Congress
On February 24, 1868, something extraordinary happened in the U.S. Congress. For the first time in history, the United States House of Representatives impeached a sitting president, Democrat Andrew Johnson. Now, Johnson faced trial before the U. S. Senate. If convicted, he would be removed from office.
Andrew Johnson Vice President Johnson had assumed office after John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln, on April 15, 1865. He was a Union man, but his roots were in the South. “This is a country for white men,” he had reportedly declared, “and as long as I am president, it shall be a government for white men.” Johnson had failed to win favor with the Radical Republicans. The Radicals, who included men like Thaddeus Stevens and Benjamin Butler, wanted to guarantee the rights of the freedmen. One way they tried to do so was by passing the Reconstruction Acts, laws that provided suffrage to freed slaves and prevented former Southern rebels from regaining control of the state governments.
Believing the Reconstruction Acts to be wrong and unconstitutional, Johnson repeatedly blocked their enforcement. He repeatedly gave pardons to ex-Rebels. He hampered military commanders' efforts to block the rise of Southern leaders to power. In frequent speeches and interviews, Johnson publicly expressed his defiance of the Radical Republicans. Congressmen knew that their program for reconstruction of the South could not succeed with Andrew Johnson in office.
The final blow to Johnson came after the Republicans passed the Tenure of Office Act in 1867. This law made it impossible for the president to dismiss, or “fire,” important government officials without the permission of the Senate. In a move than infuriated Congressmen, Johnson defied the act by dismissing member of his own cabinet. A president’s cabinet is composed of his most senior appointed officers of the federal government of the United States, who are generally the heads of the federal executive departments.
The president had long wanted to dismiss Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War. Stanton was the only member of Johnson's cabinet who supported the Radical Republicans' program for reconstruction. On August 12, Johnson suspended Stanton. In Staunton’s place, Johnson appointed the popular General Ulysses S. Grant as Secretary of War. By doing so, and actively defying the Tenure of Office Act, Johnson hoped to challenge the constitutionality of the Act so that it would ultimately be declared unconstitutional.
When Congress reconvened, however, they overruled Stanton's suspension and Grant resigned his position as Secretary of War. The event heightened Grant's popularity and depressed Johnson's -- at least as far as Republicans were concerned. Ignoring Congress, Johnson formally dismissed Stanton on February 21, 1868. With the support of the Republicans, Stanton responded by locking himself in his office and refusing to leave.
Andrew Johnson being served impeachment summons in the White House Angered by Johnson's open defiance, the Radical Republicans organized an effort in Congress to impeach the president as a payback for resisting their programs. Since even his sternest critics could not produce evidence of treason or bribery, the Radicals assembled an array of high crimes and misdemeanors, which included: violating of the Tenure of Office Act, pardoning of traitors (presumably Confederate officials), impeding the ratification of the14th Amendment and bringing into “disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt, and reproach the Congress of the United States.” The House of Representatives formally impeached him on February 24 by a vote of 126 to 47. It was then up to the Senate to try Johnson of these charges and to decide if he would be removed from office.
Johnson's trial began on March 4th and continued for 11 grueling weeks. During that long period, the president's enemies had time to reconsider the Stanton dismissal. Many of them were impressed with Johnson's good behavior during the trial. Johnson also took action to save himself. He promised to enforce the Reconstruction Acts and to give no more speeches attacking Congress. He also appointed a man well liked by most Republicans, General John M. Schofield, as the new Secretary of War.
On May 16, 1868, President Johnson escaped removal from office by just one vote. For the remainder of his time in office, he continued to veto reconstruction bills, but Congress continued to override his vetoes.
Homework- Read and annotate to answer the question:
Question: How have historians interpreted the impact of the failed impeachment attempt of Andrew Johnson?
Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, became the first President to be impeached when the House of Representatives on February 24, 1868, overwhelmingly passed an impeachment resolution. Following an 11-week trial, the Senate vote for conviction fell one short of the two thirds required by the Constitution to remove a president from office. That failure, some historians believe, may have had an adverse impact on the fate of Congressional Reconstruction.
Although radicals began to talk of impeachment as early as October 1865, moderates in the party agreed to use it only as a last resort after their efforts at Reconstruction had been blocked repeatedly by the president's resistance. Moderates joined radicals in their belief that the Democrats would gain the presidency in 1868 if Reconstruction was not successfully achieved. Andrew Johnson’s biographer, historian Hans L. Trefousse, contends, “A majority of the Republican party had become convinced that Reconstruction could not be completed successfully as long as Johnson occupied the White House,” so by 1868, impeachment seemed necessary in order for their vision for reconstruction to become a reality.
Yet impeachment carried with it grave risks for the Republicans. Its failure “would be interpreted as a stunning defeat for radicalism,” Trefousse writes. “Reaction would be revived in the South, and the foes of Reconstruction would be reassured and strengthened.” Trefousse views the failure to predict this outcome as “one of the greatest mistakes the radicals made.”
During the impeachment trial, seven moderate Republican senators voted for acquittal after deals were made with Johnson to ensure that he would not interfere with Congressional Reconstruction and would appoint a new secretary of war agreeable to the moderates. Ultimately, because these seven senators voted to clear the president of the charges against him, Johnson was not removed from office.
In the short term, Congressional Reconstruction did not seem to be affected adversely by Johnson's acquittal because the Republicans remained in control of Congress and could still override any of Johnson’s vetoes. Reconstruction's success in the long run, however, was impossible without strong presidential support. “If Johnson had not been as persistent and if the impeachment had succeeded,” Trefousse concludes, “it is conceivable that the outcome of Reconstruction might have been different, and more positive.” We might have never seen the “Jim Crow” South come into existence. Johnson's latest biographer, Annette Gordon-Reed, concurs with Trefousse, explaining that “as a result of Johnson’s acquittal, Johnson preserved the South as a white man's country.”
Extra Credit: Write a paragraph (or more!) response answering why President Johnson was impeached AND explaining how the failure to remove Johnson from office impacted Reconstruction.