The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson Essay
Born in North Carolina in 1808 to impoverished parents, Andrew Johnson had no formal education. He became a tailor’s apprentice at age fourteen. He later moved to Greenville, in eastern Tennessee, where he established a thriving tailor shop and went into local politics. Andrew Johnson was a lifelong Democrat and slave owner who won a place alongside Abraham Lincoln on the 1864 Republican ticket, in order to gain the support of pro-war Democrats. Their election was closer in the popular than in the electoral columns; in the end they pulled off a victory.
Lincoln received fifty-five percent of the popular, and ninety-one percent of the electoral votes. Johnson became vice-president. During the time period between the election and Lincoln’s inauguration seven states left the Union. Worried that the election of a Republican would threaten their rights, especially slavery, the lower South seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. By the time Lincoln arrived in Washington, D. C. , for his inauguration the threat of war hung heavy in the air.
On March 4th in 1861, the inauguration took place.
Lincoln made sure to make no specific threats against the Southern states in his remarks. In his speech he extended an olive branch to the South, but also made it clear that he intended to enforce federal laws in the states that seceded. The second matter was the behavior of Johnson, who is said to have come to the ceremony in a state of intoxication. It was later said, that Johnson was ill and had merely taken and extra strong shot of whiskey; however, his behavior at the inauguration was to plague him for years. At about ten-thirty on April 14th in 1865, Andrew Johnson got the news that changed his life.
John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre. His assassination had a long-lasting impact upon the United States. A few hours after Lincoln’s death, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase swore Johnson in as President of the United States. An ardent admirer of Andrew Jackson, Johnson believed strongly in the former Democratic president’s idea of state rights, that is, a limited national government with the states having the power to handle all matters not specifically designated in the Constitution as federal responsibilities.
During political campaigns he portrayed himself as a man of the people. Although Johnson came into the presidency with much political and administrative experience, the task confronting him would require extraordinary talents of leadership that Johnson had yet to exhibit. From the day of his inauguration until December of 1865, the question of Reconstruction was almost totally in the hands of Johnson, because Congress had recessed shortly before he took the oath of office. In those eight months, Johnson rushed to implement his own Reconstruction policies based upon his interpretation of Lincoln’s program.
On May 29th in 1865, Johnson issued two presidential proclamations as part of his reconstruction plan. One was an offer of amnesty to pardon Southerners who had supported the Confederacy. Congress authorized general amnesties like this in 1862, as part of a law that permitted the confiscation of Confederates’ property. The Confiscation Act of 1862 allowed the granting of amnesties to those who were willing to declare loyalty. It also allowed the seizure of property as a punishment for rebellion against the United States.
The government throughout the Civil War rarely used confiscation provision of the law, and the amnesty provision. The general amnesty Johnson issued excluded fourteen categories. Members of these excluded classes were able to apply for individual pardons. Johnson’s second proclamation, as a first step in restoring civil government, appointed a provisional governor for the state of North Carolina. It also called for a convention of the state’s loyal citizens to draw up a new state constitution.
The North Carolina proclamation and other southern state proclamations; issued later, provided that delegates to a state constitutional convention must take the oath of loyalty given in the amnesty proclamation. Johnson then informed these delegates, that he expected them to draft constitutions for him. These constitutions would recognize the results of their military defeat by rescinding the state secession laws, ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery, and rejecting the Confederate war debts.
The president’s proclamations seemed reasonable enough, and some of their provisions were not significantly different from Lincoln’s actions during the war. Northerners supported Johnson’s wise first steps in rebuilding the Union. The Northerners weren’t troubled by the absence of black Southerners voting rights. The Northerners were on Johnson’s side. Johnson’s amnesty proclamation seemed to be working fine, therefore an effective way of preventing Confederate leaders from gaining too much power. However, once the pardons became easier to receive, and not as selective all of this changed.
The Northerners were heated with Johnson when the pardoned Confederates began turning up in the new state governments. The anger in Northerners continued to rise when a new state constitution was drafted, along with some new laws passed by Southern state governments. Isobel Morin explains the laws passed in his book, Impeaching the President. Morin states, “The so-called Black Codes generally guaranteed the right of the former slaves to marry, to sue and be sued, to make contracts, and to acquire property. The codes barred blacks from voting, however, and severely restricted their ability to own land and to testify in court.
Moreover, in an effort to compel the former slaves to work, many Black Codes required blacks to enter into labor contracts each year, with severe penalties imposed on them for contract violations. ” (Morin 30) The last straw for much of the North was the large number of former Confederate officials elected to Congress in 1865. When Congress came back into session the Republicans were not happy. Various measures, some of which were central to the Reconstruction project, were passed, vetoed, and then passed again over the President’s veto.
In total Johnson had more vetoes during his brief period in office, than the president’s before him put together. An adamant struggle for power was shaping up between the executive and legislative branches. The United States Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and made ratification of this amendment a prerequisite for readmission to the Union. Johnson opposed the amendment and urged the states not to ratify it. Edward Sagarin, a writer who studied at the University of New York, wrote a book about trials that changed history.
One of these trials is Andrew Johnson’s impeachment. Sagarin explains Johnson’s actions, in response to Congress’s actions. “The President denounced the Freedmen’s Bureau and vetoed an 1866 act of Congress extending its life. He issued wholesale amnesties and pardons to the men whom he had so recently denounced as traitors, vetoed a District of Columbia black suffrage bill, denounced blacks as too ignorant to cast a ballot, and vetoed a whole series of Reconstruction bills as well as the historic Civil Rights Act of 1866. (Sagarin 75,76) Continuing his attack against Congress, Johnson went on a whistle-stop tour through numerous Northern cities. His severe tones and unrestrained manners during speeches got him thrown off the stand on multiple accounts, Congresses next step was the passing of the extremely controversial Tenure of Office Act, in an attempt to not only humiliate Johnson, but also to reduce his office to one of ineffectiveness so that he could not carry out his program, and would be forced to turn to Congress.
Without the Senate’s consent, the president no longer had the power to remove from office those whom he has appointed. Convinced that the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional, Johnson removed the secretary of war, Edwin, and replaced him with a general named Lorenzo Thomas. When he did this, he acted under a provision of the Tenure of Office Act; however, he was immediately accused with violation of the law. Congressional leaders claimed that he was guilty of a “high crime and misdemeanor” such as demanded by the Constitution as a qualification for removal.
Although Johnson’s arguments were reasonable, and he did a good job defending him self, the Senate was not inclined to take sides with the president. A couple days after Johnson’s dismissal of Edwin, the House of Representatives voted 126 to 47 in favor of the impeachment. The House drafted eleven articles of impeachment. Morin lists and summarizes Johnson’s offenses, “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 Appropriations Act.
This article referred to a conversation the president had on February 22, 1868, with Major General William H. Emory, the commander of the Washington military district…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. It also charged that he unlawfully attempted to prevent the execution of the Tenure of Office Act, the Army Appropriation Act, and the first Reconstruction Act.
The eleventh article charged the president with declaring in a public speech that the Thirty-Ninth Congress, as a Congress of only some of the states, had no authority to exercise legislative power. ” (Morin 55,56) About a week later, the House elected a committee of managers to conduct the prosecution of the impeachment before the Senate. The manager’s chosen, included two Republicans, John A. Bingham and James F. Wilson, who had voted against impeachment, and two of Johnson’s most outspoken radical opponents, Thaddeus Stevens and Benjamin F. Butler.
The impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson opened before the Senate on March 13, 1868. A successful impeachment requires a two-thirds majority, or thirty-six of the fifty-four members seated in the Senate. Many Republicans, believing that the president’s guilt was obvious, expected a quick trial and conviction. Those who hoped for a speedy trial were disappointed. On the first day, Johnson’s defense committee asked for forty days to collect evidence and witnesses since the prosecution had had a longer amount of time to do so, but only ten days were granted.
The proceedings began on March 23. Senator Garrett Davis argued that because not all states were represented in the Senate the trial could not be held and that it should therefore be adjourned. The motion was voted down. After the charges against the President were made, Henry Stanberry asked for another thirty days to assemble evidence and summon witnesses, saying that in the ten days previously granted there had only been enough time to prepare the President’s reply. John A. Logan argued that the trial should begin immediately and that Stanberry was only trying to stall for time.
The request was turned down in a vote forty-one to twelve. However, the Senate voted the next day to give the defense six more days to prepare evidence, which was accepted. The trial commenced again on March 30th, opening with a three-hour speech by General Ben Butler. After the speech was concluded, the trial began. Johnson was represented by William Maxwell Evarts, leader of the American bar, and Benjamin Curtis, formerly a justice of the Supreme Court. The trial centered on the Tenure of Office Act.
The two main questions concerning this law were whether it was constitutional, and whether it protected Stanton. The attorneys argued that the law was unconstitutional and that the President had not violated the letter of the law, because Stanton had been appointed by Lincoln, not Johnson, and that cabinet officers were meant to be advisors to the president, therefore when their services are no longer needed they should not stay in office. Another issue was whether Johnson’s belief that the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional relieved him of the duty to see that it was obeyed.
His attorneys pointed out that the president’s obligation to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution required him to resist congressional attempts to limit his constitutional powers. The House managers responded that the president was obliged to obey the law regardless of his belief. Otherwise, the president could decide for him-self which laws to enforce and which to ignore. The trial went on for many weeks. The Senate met on May 16th to discuss the verdict. They felt that voting seemed to be their best chance for obtaining a conviction.
The vote results were thirty-five to nineteen in favor of conviction; these results were one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed for impeachment. The final vote maintained the principle that Congress should not remove the President from office simply because its members disagreed with him over policy, style, and administration of office. But it did not mean that the President retained governing power. For the rest of his term, Johnson was a cipher without influence on public policy. For the most part, historians view Andrew Johnson as the worst possible person to have served as President at the end of the American Civil War.
Michael Les Benedict states his opinion on the impeachment as “the most insidious assault on constitutional government in the nation’s history. ” Because of his gross incompetence in federal office and his incredible miscalculation of the extent of public support for his policies, Johnson is judged as the greatest failure of all Presidents in making a satisfying and just peace. He is viewed to have been a rigid, dictatorial racist who was unable to compromise or to accept a political reality at odds with his own ideas.
Instead of forging a compromise between Radical Republicans and moderates, his actions united the opposition against him. His bullheaded opposition to the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the Fourteenth Amendment eliminated all hope of using presidential authority to affect further compromises favorable to his position. In the end, Johnson did more to extend the period of national strife than he did to heal the wounds of war. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson, the first of only two Presidents to be impeached in U. S. History involved complicated issues of law, politics, and personalities.