Andrew Johnson

Essay by rculpepper March 2004

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Andrew Johnson took office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. A Democrat from Tennessee, Johnson was the Vice President nominee in 1864 because the Republicans wanted to show that their party was for all loyal men, even southerners.

When he became president, the Civil War had just ended and Johnson faced the challenge of mending a broken nation. Johnson favored leniency for the South. He handed out many pardons to member of the Confederacy, pushed to restore civilian control in the Southern states and shied away from implementing voting rights for blacks. From the beginning, Johnson was at odds with the majority party in Congress, the Radical Republicans, who favored "radical" reconstruction of the defeated Southern states, including military rule and distribution of both land and voting rights to blacks. This conflict lead to a constitutional stand off and an impeachment vote on February 24, 1868.

The charges against President Johnson stemmed from the Tenure of Office Act of 1867. This law, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 1926, required the president to get the Senate's permission to remove any officeholder whose appointment it had to confirm. Johnson was so angered by this challenge to the power of the president that he tested the law by suspending Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, the only Radical sympathizer in his cabinet, and replacing him with Ulysses S. Grant. Eleven articles of impeachment were brought, charging Johnson with unlawfully removing Stanton and violating the Reconstruction Acts. The House of Representatives passed a resolution impeaching Johnson by a vote of 126 to 47. When the trial began in the Senate, Johnson`s attorneys argued that the act was unconstitutional and did not even apply to Stanton because he was appointed by Lincoln and not Johnson. On May 16 the Senate...