Andrew Johnson and Impeachment

"Mr. President, (of the Senate), in obedience to the order of the House of Representatives, we appear before you, and in the name of the House of Representatives and all of the people of the United States we do impeach Andrew Johnson, President of the United States of high crimes and misdemeanors in office." Thaddeus Stevens

 
Thaddeus Stevens reads Johnson's impeachment announcement before a group of standing Senators
Thaddeus Stevens announces Johnson's impeachment

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"Let them Impeach and be damned!" Andrew Johnson

 

IMPEACHMENT


Andrew Johnson was the first American president to be impeached. This was a sensational thing to happen after four years of war, and the country was riveted to learn the outcome of this political battle between the President and Congress.

Mark Twain was serving as a journalist during Johnson's impeachment trial, and he surmised most people "did not know what impeachment was, exactly, but they had a general idea that it would come in the form of an avalanche, or a thunder clap, or that maybe the roof would fall in."

What Does Impeachment Mean?

To impeach is to:

a. make an accusation against,
b. to charge with misconduct in office before a proper tribunal,
c. to challenge or discredit

Impeachment is an accusation of wrong-doing. The United States Constitution provides that the House of Representatives "shall have the sole Power of Impeachment" and that "the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments." ( Article I, section 2 )

Impeachment only results in removal from office when there is a conviction by the Senate.

 

Why was Andrew Johnson Impeached?


The Tenure of Office Act
“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That every person 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…

Provided, That the Secretaries of State, of the Treasury, of War, of the Navy, and of the Interior, the Post-Master General, and of the Attorney General, shall hold their offices respectively for and during the term of the President by whom they may have been appointed and for one month thereafter, subject to removal by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.”


The Tenure of Office Act, which passed over Andrew Johnson's veto in 1867, stated a President could not dismiss appointed officials without the consent of Congress. Although President Johnson and Congress had been grappling with different ideas for reconstructing the country, the political backing to begin impeachment came when Johnson breached the Tenure of Office Act by removing Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, from his cabinet.

Edwin Stanton had been the hinge of this act for both sides. He was an ally of the Republicans in Congress, who wanted to protect his position, but he had also been a problematic cabinet member for Johnson, at one point withholding information from Johnson regarding the New Orleans riots.

Stanton's removal, therefore, was not only a political decision made to relieve the discord between the President and his cabinet, but a test for the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson believed the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional and wanted it to be legally tried in the Supreme Court. It was the President himself, however, who was brought to trial.
 

Articles of Impeachment


The House of Representatives formulated eleven articles of Impeachment. Most of them had to do with Johnson's removal of Stanton.

Read the full text of The Articles of Impeachment
 
Green impeachment ticket to Johnson's trial
One of the colored tickets to Johnson's trial

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Impeachment Tickets

“When I reached there at noon, it was difficult to make one’s way through the wide lobbies and passages, so great was the throng. There was not a vacant seat in the galleries, and all the doorways leading to them were full of tiptoeing men and women, with a swarm of anxious citizens at their backs, eagerly watching for such scanty crumbs of comfort as chance opportunities of glancing between their shoulders or under their arms.” Mark Twain

Tickets to Andrew Johnson's trial were in great demand. A certain number were printed each day, and they were color coded for ease in daily entry. Find out how many
tickets were issued per day.

 
People watch the trial from a balcony with much gusto
Spectators engage in the Impeachment trial proceedings - from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1868

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Political cartoon shows Andrew as a king celebrating his acquittal
Harper's Weekly newspaper lampooned Johnson's reaction to the vote on the 11th article and his acquittal

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The Trial and Outcome

"The country is going to the Devil!" Thaddeus Stevens


The House of Representatives voted for impeachment and the Senate tried the case. From March to May in 1868, the prosecution and defense presented their arguments. The President did not attend or participate in the trial, upon the advice of his counsel.

On May 16, the Senate took a vote on the most wide-sweeping of the articles: the 11th. In a riveting count, the last undecided Senator, Edmund Ross of Kansas, cast a not-guilty vote. The outcome was acquittal by a margin of 35 guilty to 19 not guilty - one vote short of the two-thirds needed to convict. Although the Senate took votes on the 2nd and 3rd articles on May 26, the results were the same. The trial was over, and Johnson finished his term in office.

In 1926, the Supreme Court ruled all Tenure of Office Acts unconstitutional.


See how each Senator voted.

 

The Family Reaction

Johnson's personal bodyguard, William H. Crook, wrote in his memoirs that he had the honor of telling Eliza Johnson that her husband had been acquitted:

“Then the frail little lady – who looked frailer than ever – rose from her chair and in both her emaciated hands took my right hand. Tears were in her eyes, but her voice was firm and she did not tremble once as she said, ‘Crook, I knew he’d be acquitted; I knew it…Thank you for coming to tell me.’”

 
For more specific dates of the impeachment trial, see Andrew Johnson's Impeachment Timeline.

Last updated: June 16, 2020

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