On This Day in 1868, Lincoln’s successor President Andrew Johnson escaped being removed from office by the Senate by one vote after being impeached by the House of Representatives for allegedly violating the Tenure of Office Act 1867 by removing Secretary of War Edward Stanton from his cabinet.
Andrew Johnson differed in his response to the Southern States which had formed a Confederacy than his predecessor Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had felt that they needed to ensure loyalty in the aftermath of the war, but Johnson felt that as long as they ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery, then no radical overhaul was required. This interpretation split Johnson’s cabinet, largely remnants of Lincoln’s who had been assassinated early into his second term, as well as splitting Congress, where Congressional Republicans were more persuaded by Lincoln’s interpretation.
In the 1866 Congressional elections, the Republicans dominated, gaining a two-thirds supermajority in the House of Representatives and being appointed a similar majority in the Senate [side note: There were no direct elections to the Senate until the 17th Amendment of 1913. Prior to that, a state’s two Senators were appointed by the State Legislature]. This allowed for the passage of the 1867 Tenure of Office Act which Johnson vetoed but had overturned the same day.
The Act was passed to secure the position of dissenting opinions in Johnson’s cabinet; namely that of War Secretary Edwin Stanton. Stanton had worked closely with Lincoln over the Reconstruction era plan and had been a close war time ally. However, Johnson and Staton were completely polarised on the issue, and Johnson wished to replace him with a more supportive voice. His attempts to do so violated the Tenure of Office Act 1867, but Johnson had hoped to get around this by encouraging a Supreme Court case on the issue.
Within days, the House of Representatives had started impeachment proceedings against the increasingly unpopular Johnson, agreeing to 11 article on March 2nd and leading to the Senate trial. The 11 articles were;
- Dismissing Edwin Stanton from office after the Senate had voted not to concur with his dismissal and had ordered him reinstated.
- Appointing Thomas Secretary of War ad interim despite the lack of vacancy in the office, since the dismissal of Stanton had been invalid.
- Appointing Thomas without the required advice and consent of the Senate.
- Conspiring, with Thomas and “other persons to the House of Representatives unknown,” to unlawfully prevent Stanton from continuing in office.
- Conspiring to unlawfully curtail faithful execution of the Tenure of Office Act.
- Conspiring to “seize, take, and possess the property of the United States in the Department of War.”
- Conspiring to “seize, take, and possess the property of the United States in the Department of War” with specific intent to violate the Tenure of Office Act.
- Issuing to Thomas the authority of the office of Secretary of War with unlawful intent to “control the disbursements of the moneys appropriated for the military service and for the Department of War.”
- Issuing to Major General William H. Emory orders with unlawful intent to violate the Tenure of Office Act.
- Making three speeches with intent to show disrespect for the Congress among the citizens of the United States.
(The eleventh article was a summation of the first ten)
Abraham Lincoln Supreme Court nominee Salmon P. Chase headed the trial which begun on February 24th and lasted for 11 gruelling weeks, with the President’s enemies using it as an opportunity to attack and discredit him. However, Johnson was highly diplomatic, promising to enforce the Reconstruction Acts and to give no more speeches attacking Congress.
On May 16th the final vote came. 36 votes in favour were required to remove Johnson from office. 35 were cast in favour.
Although ranked relatively poorly, Andrew Johnson maintained his position as President and implemented his vision of Reconstruction, one of the most important jobs any President has ever done. Nevertheless, Johnson remains the first and one of only two Presidents to be impeached by the House of Representatives, the other occurring 131 years later with President Bill Clinton.