Impeachment Of Andrew Johnson Essay, Research Paper
The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
With the assassination of 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 presidents authority. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson was politically motivated.
The spirit of the Jacksonian democracy inspired Andrew Johnson. From this influence he helped found the Democratic Party in his region and became elected to the town council in 1829. After serving in his town council for two years he was elected mayor in 1831. Johnson was a strict constructionist and an advocate of states’ rights who distrusted the power of government at all levels. Following his term as Mayor Johnson won elections to the Tennessee State legislature in 1835, 1839, and 1841. After serving these terms he was elected to Congress in 1843. As a member of the US House, Johnson opposed government involvement in the nations economy through tariffs and internal improvements. “In 1852 Johnson lost his seat in the US House because of gerrymandering by the Whig- dominated state legislature.” (Jackson) Following his loss he came back in 1853 to win a narrow victory for governor and served two terms. 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.” (Kennedy) 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 rupture 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. 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 vice presidential running mate on the National running mate. “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.” (Kennedy) 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
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.” (Trefousse) 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 black civil and political rights 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.” (Trefousse) 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. (Morin)
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. This was a clear violation of the law. “Around the same time Johnson violated the Tenure of Office act by receiving 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.” (Chaddock)
The house 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. This article referred to a conversation the president had on February 22, 1868, with Major General William H. Emory.
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.” (Zeitz)
The eleventh article charged the President with declaring on 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.” (Benedict) The expected clash never occurred however. On February 28, 1868, when the house voted along strict party lined 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.” (Stathis)
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 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
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 Philadelphia. Ten states voted to convict, California, Nevada, Oregon,
Nebraska, Ohio, Michigan, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and
Massachusetts. Eleven states had split votes, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota,
Wisconsin, Indiana, Maine, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and
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. The final vote for conviction was left up to the Kansas Senator Ed Ross. Senator Ross asked President Johnson for the assurance that he would cooperate in the readmission of the Southern States under the rules that Congress imposed. When Johnson agreed these stipulations Senator Ross casted his vote not to convict the President. This made the final vote 35-19 one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to convict the President.
The Republicans who voted for conviction were concerned about their own and
their party’s future, as well as the possibility that Johnson would allow the
former confederate leaders to regain their political power. The Democrats, on
the other hand, had nothing to gain by voting to convict a president who shared
their political views. (Morin)
The President’s own behavior during the trial also helped him. At the instance of his lawyers, Johnson stayed away from the Senate chamber and refrained from making inflammatory public speeches while the trial was going on. “Moreover, Johnson, who had so often refused to compromise on political questions, arranged deals with moderate conservative Republicans.” (Anonymous)
“As soon as the trial ended, Stanton resigned form office. Four days later the Senate confirmed General Schofield as Stanton’s successor.” (Benedict) In June 1868, Congress readmitted seven southern states that had complied with its requirements, leaving only Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia without congressional power.
At the end of Johnson’s term, he returned to Tennessee where he began to rebuild his political base of support and unsuccessfully seeking the Democratic vote for various offices. Finally in 1875, an alliance of Republicans and a fraction of the Democratic Party in the Tennessee legislature again elected him to the party in the US Senate. He served only five months before he passed away.
Today many historians agree that the claim of Johnson’s violation of the Tenure of Office Act was only a pretext for impeaching him. Had Johnson been convicted, the verdicts would have set a precedent that officials can be impeached just because Congress disagrees with their political views. The real issue was political- the president’s use of the powers of his office to abstract the execution of laws that Congress had enacted.
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