|Rutgers Model Congress
Representative John A. Bingham/ Ohio
The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
East Brunswick High School
The founding fathers established the Constitution with the belief that its keepers would maintain the truth and justice it represented. However, they realized that protections were required for the sanctity of the American government within this hallowed document and borrowed the concept of impeachment from Great Britain. In these trying times, it becomes clear that an impeachment is in order against one of the highest of all officials within the American administrative body, the president himself. With his multiple contraventions against the well being and dignity of the United States of America, it is imperative for President Andrew Johnson to be impeached and removed from office.
Impeachment is in itself "a formal document charging a public official with misconduct in office" ("Impeachment Definition" 1). An elected official is put on trial for transgressions committed against the state in regards to "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors," not necessarily meaning a conviction ("Impeachment"). The Constitution of the United States of America provides for the House of Representatives to formally charge a federally elected official and for the Senate to perform the trial. While this part of impeachment is clearly stated in Article I of the Constitution, what is indicative of the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" is still up for debate. It can be said that these high crimes consist of whatever the House of Representatives considers them to be at that present time, but it is also this ambiguous wording that has since provided other defendants with an acquittal. In 1805, sixty three years prior to this date, Justice Samuel Chase was acquitted on the basis that his crime was not an indictable offense by the Congressional legislative body ("Impeachment"). The history of impeachment in America is brief, with only five previous cases on record, four of those being federal judges, and the first being a U.S. senator ("Impeachment"). Never before has a U.S. president ever been impeached by the legislative body, however, never before has a U.S. president ever committed such a blatant abuse of his executive powers. Regardless of precedent, it is imperative for this council of elected officials, to represent our constituents in our endeavor to provide them with the best possible leader for this country.
Currently, the United States of America is undergoing a delicate period in its young, yet turbulent history. Trying to repair its severed ends from over four years of civil war has been a long and difficult process, not facilitated by the overreaching arguments of the Southern states. The Civil War began with a breach of the Union by the secession of the state of South Carolina and proceeded from there by the secession of the remaining Southern states ("Civil War Timeline"). After having over 110,000 Union soldiers die in action, and hundreds of thousands wounded, the Northern states are understandably still quite bitter over the turn of events ("Statistical Summary on America's Major Wars"). As the losers of the Civil War, the Southern states, try to assimilate back into the Union, it is obvious that much conflict would be met and the transition would be rocky. For committing such a high treason against the state of the Union, there is no surmountable cause as to why these seditious states should be reinstated without any punishment whatsoever. Too many lives have been lost to preserve this country for the explicit reason that a few states had the minority opinion on the issue of slavery and state rights. Simply allowing them to return without any justice is unwarrantable. President Andrew Johnson, however, feels otherwise.
First and foremost, Andrew Johnson is not the rightful president of the United States. Having taken up the office after President Lincoln's assassination, Johnson fulfilled his role as vice president. As being one of the only remaining Southern politicians in Washington D.C. during the Civil War, the delegate from Tennessee was often regarded warmly for his dedication to the Union. It is often stated that Lincoln proposed lenient policies pertaining to conflict and that Johnson tried to mirror this leniency, but it is obvious to see that Johnson is no Lincoln in his new role as president. While countless Union-supporters continue to mourn the gross loss of life and try to rehabilitate themselves, the once Confederate states are still continuing in their belief that they were justified in seceding and going against the rule of the federal government. Instead of executing his power as president by uniting the country as a single stronghold and emphasizing that federal power supercedes that of the states, President Johnson is favoring his ancestry before his office ("Civil War and Reconstruction"). The deceased President Lincoln maintained the opinion that the United States of America garnered its power from the unison of the states. If Johnson truly wished to emulate the last president, he would take up the passion in Lincoln's first inaugural address, "You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it " ("Biography of Abraham Lincoln"). Johnson has neglected his duty as President by foregoing the opinions of Congress, the voice of the people, and bending towards the will of the transgressors against the nation. While Lincoln professed that the states should be treated equally and as a whole, President Johnson is completely disregarding his office. Instead of uniting the nation, he is actually favoring the Southern states! The nation has endured too much strife as is without having to continue on with an even worse agitator. A president who did not even win the vote of the nation, is running the country as a Confederate supporter. Even though Congress is trying to pass reform after reform to literally reconstruct the nation, President Johnson is inhibiting it ("Impeachment: Andrew Johnson"). Johnson became president through succession, not election, and hence, with all of his crimes, does not deserve the post of President of the United States any longer.
The beginning of this bitter conflict between the Legislative and Executive branches began with the issue of reconstruction. Barely staying in one piece, the country was in shambles, both physically and in the hearts of the American citizens. While the Congressional body felt that secession was a punishable high crime not to be treated lightly, the president thought otherwise. Congress surmised that since the South seceded from the Union, there must be special measures established in order to reinstate them. As previously stated, the civil war was fought to protect the Union and also to end slavery. During Reconstruction, "Congress wanted to enact a sweeping transformation of southern social and economic life, permanently ending the old planter class system, and favored granting freed slaves full-fledged citizenship including voting rights" ("Impeachment: Andrew Johnson"). While Congress was not in session, President Johnson sought his own reform policy and practically pardoned the entire region, while establishing "special" presidential pardons for those of wealth and eminence ("Biography of Andrew Johnson"). Hundreds of thousands of men, both white and black, fought to protect the inviolability of the Union, but also the inviolability of the Constitution in that all men are created equal. From the presidential pardons and to the lack of regard to the newly passed thirteenth amendment, the South took it upon itself to pass multiple regulations against Blacks which basically euphemized slavery. Known as "black codes," these laws prevented Blacks from "testifying against whites, allowing unemployed blacks to be arrested for vagrancy and hired out as cheap labor, and mandated separate public schools. Blacks were also prohibited from serving on juries, bearing arms or holding large gatherings" ("The Civil War and Reconstruction"). For all the strife and conflict, from the war to the passing of an entire amendment to the Constitution, Blacks were no better off as freedmen than they were as slaves. President Johnson only furthered this infringement on human rights by turning a blind eye towards the politics of the Southern governments.
To contest these wrongs against the Blacks and the Union, Congress diligently attempted to combat the many laws passed by the states. From ". . .the fourteenth amendment. . . to the Military Reconstruction Act, Command of the Army Act, and Tenure of Office Act . . ." Congress constructed means of reestablishing order in the Southern states and the Union as a whole ("Impeaching Andrew Johnson"). President Johnson chose to execute the power of the veto for each one on the basis that they violated states' rights. Although Congress overrode the vetoes, it is important to point out that President Johnson felt states' rights had to be placed ahead of basic human freedoms and the rights of the Union.
From all of these acts, there is mainly one that is the complete basis for this impeachment, that being the violation of the Tenure of Office Act. The Tenure of Office Act, passed on March 2nd, 1867, essentially "forbade the President to remove any federal officeholder appointed by and with the advice and consent of the Senate without the further approval of the Senate. It also provided that members of the President's cabinet should hold office for the full term of the President who appointed them and one month thereafter, subject to removal by the Senate" ("Tenure of Office Act"). Meaning that officials approved by the Senate can not be removed simply because the president has grown tired of their opposition. Any dismissals must first be approved by the Senate. While the president could suspend an official while Congress is not in session, once session restarts, that official must be reinstated. This clearly reduced an executive power, but was essential in the war between the legislative and executive branches. From this war stemmed Edward M. Stanton, Secretary of War to Lincoln and now a major champion for the Republican Congress.
Edward M. Stanton, a popular figure in today's politics, was appointed first by the late President Lincoln as his Secretary of War. However at his death, vice president Johnson took on not only his presidential duties, but his already appointed officers, including Stanton ("Tenure of Office Act"). By the Military Reconstruction Act, the South was to be divided into five federally established and controlled military districts in which Unionist interests were to be maintained in order for Southern readmittance into the Union. When Stanton informed President Johnson that under the newly passed act the "five military governors in the South were now answerable to Congress and not to the President and that the new military chain of command passed from the Commander of the Army through the House of Representatives," Johnson became so infuriated that he illegally suspended him. In his place, President Johnson, again illegally, attempted to appoint Ulysses S. Grant as his Secretary of War ("Impeachment: Andrew Johnson"). Grant turned down the position, but Stanton is still valiantly continuing to hold his post by barricading himself within his office and preventing Johnson's new appointee, Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, from assuming his position ("Impeaching Andrew Johnson"). This flagrant defiance of Constitutional law fully proves that Andrew Johnson is unfit to bear the title of President of the United States.
Nevertheless, it now becomes a question of the American legal system: is Congress entitled to impeach Andrew Johnson under this charge? To answer this question bluntly-- yes. It is completely within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress to impeach a president under Article I of the Constitution for treason and high crimes. Treason can be defined as: "a crime that undermines the offender's government; disloyalty by virtue of subversive behavior; and, an act of deliberate betrayal" ("Treason"). By supporting the black codes and blatant disobedience of federal regulations in state governments, Johnson undermines the national government. By patronizing Southern traitors, pardoning the masses and providing presidential pardons to the powerful, disregarding human rights and the Constitution, and vetoing each Reconstruction Act, Johnson is acting in a seditious manner towards the Union. By suspending Stanton from his rightful office, Johnson is deliberately betraying his nation. In every sense of the definition, President Andrew Johnson has committed treason, and treason is an impeachable offense.
Johnson, as previously established, is treasonous; however, is the violation of the Tenure of Office Act a viable case? Yes, it is. According to Article II of the Constitution, "In case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President . . ." ("United States Constitution"). Even though Johnson is living out the remainder of Lincoln's term, as vice president, he was obliged to take up the entire weight the presidency carries, including the various officers of the executive cabinet. The argument that because Stanton was not Johnson's own appointed Secretary of War he was not entitled to maintain his position is invalid, because Lincoln's death made Stanton Johnson's secretary as well. This argument also does not absolve him from the fact that he unlawfully tried to dismiss an official without prior Senate approval. The Tenure of Office Act is rightfully passed legislation requiring the complete executive support that Johnson did not provide. From a legal standpoint, Andrew Johnson has every expectation to be indicted on the basis of the Tenure of Office Act.
Representing the victorious half of the nation, the Republican party has felt wronged by President Johnson since the beginning of the Reconstruction period. It is simple to imagine how highly Republicans held Johnson in their esteem prior to this period, having placed him on the election ballot and having voted for him as Lincoln's vice president ("Civil War and Reconstruction"). However, in every possible way, Johnson has proven to be one disappointment after another. As leader of the United States, the president is obligated to maintain an impartial hand and to enforce the acts of the Congressional legislative body through his constitutional jurisdiction. President Johnson has yet to do either. In the Republican National Party Platform of 1860, it was specifically stated that
"the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Federal Constitution . . . is essential to the preservation of our Republican institutions; and that the Federal Constitution, the rights of the states, and the Union of the states, must and shall be preserved. That . . . we denounce those threats of disunion . . . as . . . contemplated treason, which it is the imperative duty of an indignant people sternly to rebuke and forever silence . . . That the normal condition . . . of the United States is that of freedom . . . it becomes our duty, by legislation, whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the constitution against all attempts to violate it . . ." ("Republican Party National Platform 1860").
Varying considerably with the Democratic party platform, the Republican party believes that strength from the U.S. lies not in the states, but in the fortitude of the federal government. By failing to execute the Civil Rights Act, President Johnson ignored the complete foundation of the Republican party platform, which is cemented in the banishment of slavery and the propagation of freedom. Even though the Southern states ratified the thirteenth amendment, by passing their own regulations through "Black codes," the issue of Blacks gaining their freedom within society has been cheapened. The Republican party can simply not stand to witness this brazen degradation of the pillars of the Union and of its dogma any longer.
As the representative of the honorable state of Ohio, I, John A. Bingham, believe myself to be a qualified evaluator of this situation. Having nearly thirty years of legal experience as a lawyer and political experience in various positions, including representing my state for multiple terms, I find that I can assess this predicament from both a political and legal perspective ("John Armor Bingham"). While many of my more extreme colleagues have been pushing for this impeachment for quite some time, my moderate views have allowed me to hold out until President Johnson's breach of the Tenure in Office Act ("Bingham"). A complete violation of a congressionally mandated law is completely intolerable in the eyes of a seasoned lawyer and politician such as myself. Even prior to the Civil War, I was an early advocate for emancipation, and it greatly disappoints me that such a valiant attempt to promote freedom is being diminished through the passage of black codes. To contend with these transgressions against the freedmen race, I helped write the first articles of the fourteenth amendment to ensure equality for all in the face of the law ("John Armor Bingham"). My perspective in this situation is not that of an offended Republican, but that of a wronged American. My president failed me, his people, and the Constitution, and it is necessary that he be impeached and removed from office to preserve the honor of this position.
President Andrew Johnson has done more than just violate a piece of legislation. President Johnson has violated the Constitution, the highest law of the land. By failing to meet the standards set up by Article II, by disregarding the basic principles of the Constitution, and by supporting the South, he has committed treason and high crimes against the Union. Since treason is an impeachable offense, it is obvious that the time has come for Johnson's dismissal. It is in this nation's best interests to send this man to the court of the Senate to determine his guilty verdict and to then remove the presidency from the grasp of an unfit ruler.
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