30 May 2010

The "I" Word, Part 2: The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

Part 2 in a Series: Contemplating the "I" Word

The Sestak Incident gained a lot of ground in only 24 hours. The facts presented by the Obama Administration today brought in a surprise player, former President Bill Clinton. Interesting. A former impeach-ee, and coincidentally, the subject of Part 4 of this series. The thick, as they say, plottens.
Yesterday, I wrote:
 Just what is meant in the US Constitution regarding impeachment proceedings, especially if it involves a POTUS? What are "high crimes and misdemeanors"? Has Bribery been committed? Treason?
The Obama/Sestak situation is looking like a charge of bribery just might stick.  And worse, a cover-up appears to have already started. For an excellent analysis by Mark Levin, click here.

 my distant cousin 
The impeachment of Andrew Johnson was insanely politically motivated. He was my kinda politician, too, since he was a big supporter of States's Rights, a rather hot topic just coming off the War Between the States. But I'm not biased just because he's something like my great, great, great cousin 5 times removed or something like that.  I'll blog about this later this month, when I visit my father in California and go through more of my grandfather's (Glenn S. Callaghan, like a Progressive Democrat, who worked at WPA for FDR in WV!) stuff.

A tailor by trade, Andrew Johnson entered politics on behalf of the laboring people of eastern Tennessee. Throughout his political career Johnson identified with and advocated for the interests of the working class. His passion for political debate aided his rise from obscurity to the U.S. Senate. Because of his loyalty to the Union during the American Civil War (1861–65) Abraham Lincoln tapped Johnson to become his vice president in March 1865, and upon Lincoln's death on April 15, 1865, Johnson assumed the presidency. The battles between Johnson and Congress over the fate of the former Confederacy led to an unprecedented attempt to remove President Johnson from office. A great website on President Johnson, is at AndrewJohnson.com, where you can see actual coverage, including political cartoons, from the leading newspaper at the time, Harp Week.

Here's what happened to President Johnson in 1868, from The History Place:

A series of bitter political quarrels between President Johnson and Radical Republicans in Congress over Reconstruction policy in the South eventually led to his impeachment.
Radical Republicans wanted to enact a sweeping transformation of southern social and economic life, permanently ending the old planter class system, and favored granting freed slaves full-fledged citizenship including voting rights.
The Radicals included such notable figures as Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania and Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Most Radicals had been associated with the Abolitionist movement before the Civil War.
After the war, they came to believe whites in the South were seeking to somehow preserve the old slavery system under a new guise. They observed an unrepentant South featuring new state governments full of ex-Confederates passing repressive labor laws and punitive Black Codes targeting freed slaves.
Black Codes in Mississippi prohibited freedmen from testifying against whites, allowed unemployed blacks to be arrested for vagrancy and hired out as cheap labor, and mandated separate public schools. Blacks were also prohibited from serving on juries, bearing arms or holding large gatherings. When the U.S. Congress convened on December 4, 1865, representatives sent from the South included the former vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens of Georgia, along with four ex- Confederate generals, eight colonels, six cabinet members and numerous lesser known Rebels. Northern congressmen, furious upon realizing this, omitted the southerners from the roll call and thus denied seats in Congress to all representatives from the eleven former Confederate states.
Radical Republican views gathered momentum in Congress and were in the majority by the end of 1865. In April of 1866, Congress enacted a Civil Rights Act in response to southern Black Codes. The Act granted new rights to native-born blacks, including the right to testify in court, to sue, and to buy property. President Johnson vetoed the Act claiming it was an invasion of states' rights and would cause "discord among the races." Congress overrode the veto by a single vote. This marked the beginning of an escalating power struggle between the President and Congress that would eventually lead to impeachment.
Bitter personal attacks also occurred with Johnson labeled as a "drunken imbecile" and "ludicrous boor," while the President called Radicals "factious, domineering, tyrannical" men. Unfortunately for Johnson, he had appeared drunk in public during his vice presidential inauguration. Weakened by a fever at the time, he had taken brandy to fortify himself but wound up incoherent and lambasted several high ranking dignitaries who were present.
In June of 1866, Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing civil liberties for both native-born and naturalized Americans and prohibiting any state from depriving citizens of life, liberty, or property, without due process. The Amendment granted the right to vote to all males twenty-one and older. Johnson opposed the Amendment on the grounds it did not apply to southerners who were without any representation in Congress. Tennessee was the only southern state to ratify the Amendment. The others, encouraged in part by Johnson, refused.
Amid increasing newspaper reports of violence against blacks in the South, moderate voters in the North began leaning toward the Radicals. Johnson made matters worse by attempting to join all moderates in a new political party, the National Union Party, to counter the Radicals. To drum up support, he went on a nationwide speaking tour, but his gruff, uncouth behavior toward his political opponents alienated those who heard him and left many with the impression that Johnson's true supporters were mainly ex-Rebels. As a result, the Radicals swept the elections of November 1866, resulting in a two-thirds anti-Johnson majority in both the House and Senate.
With this majority, three consecutive vetoes by Johnson were overridden by Congress in 1867, thus passing the Military Reconstruction Act, Command of the Army Act, and Tenure of Office Act against his wishes.
The Military Reconstruction Act divided the South into five military districts under federal control and imposed strict requirements on southern states in order for them to be re-admitted to the Union including ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment and new state constitutions in conformity with the U.S. Constitution.
The other two Acts limited Johnson's power to interfere with Congressional Reconstruction. The Command of the Army Act required Johnson to issue all military orders through the General of the Army (at that time General Ulysses S. Grant) instead of dealing directly with military governors in the South. The Tenure of Office Act required the consent of the Senate for the President to remove an officeholder whose appointment had been originally confirmed by the Senate.
Many in Congress wanted to keep Radical sympathizer, Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, in Johnson's cabinet. The political feud between the President and Congress climaxed as Johnson sought to oust Stanton in violation of the Tenure of Office Act.
During a cabinet meeting in early August, Stanton had informed the President that the five military governors in the South were now answerable to Congress and not to the President and that the new military chain of command passed from the Commander of the Army through the House of Representatives.
On August 12, 1867, an outraged Johnson suspended Stanton and named General Ulysses S. Grant to replace him. However, the Senate refused to confirm Johnson's action. Grant then voluntarily relinquished the office back to Stanton.
On February 21, 1868, challenging the constitutionality of the Tenure of Office Act, Johnson continued his defiance of Congress and named General Lorenzo Thomas as the new Secretary of War and also ordered the military governors to report directly to him. This time Stanton refused to budge and even barricaded himself inside his office.
Three days later, the House of Representatives voted impeachment on a party-line vote of 126-47 on the vague grounds of "high crimes and misdemeanors," with the specific charges to be drafted by a special committee.
The special committee drafted eleven articles of impeachment which were approved a week later. Articles 1-8 charged President Johnson with illegally removing Stanton from office. Article 9 accused Johnson of violating the Command of the Army Act. The last two charged Johnson with libeling Congress through "inflammatory and scandalous harangues."
The trial in the Senate began on March 5, 1868, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding. The prosecution was conducted by seven managers from the House including Thaddeus Stevens and Benjamin F. Butler. Johnson did not appear in person.
On March 16, a crucial vote occurred on Article 11 concerning Johnson's overall behavior toward Congress. A straw poll indicated the Senate was one vote shy of the necessary two thirds (36 votes out of a total of 54 Senators) needed for conviction. Johnson's fate rested upon the single undecided vote of a young Radical Republican named Edmund G. Ross.
Despite monumental pressure from fellow Radicals and dire warnings that a vote for acquittal would end his political career, Ross stood up at the appropriate moment and quietly announced "not guilty," effectively ending the impeachment trial.
On May 26, two more ballots produced the same 35-19 result. Thus Johnson's impeachment was not upheld by a single vote and he remained in office.
After completing his term, Johnson returned to Tennessee but surprisingly did not retire. He ran for Congress in 1872 and lost. Two years later he ran for the Senate and won. In 1875, he made an emotional return to the Senate, entering the place of his impeachment trial. He thus became the only former President to serve in the Senate. However, a few months later he suffered a paralytic attack and died on July 31, 1875. He was buried in Greeneville, Tennessee.
Copyright © 2000 The History Place™ All Rights Reserved

For more on the trial, visit The Impeachment Trial of Andrew Johnson
by  Douglas O. Linder

1 comment:

  1. The radical Republicans in Congress had little use for A. Johnson or Abe Lincoln when it came to dealing with the south following the union victory in 1865 and in the end had their way with a harsh reconstruction plan. A plan that would cost the Republican party the southern vote for many years after the last federal troops were removed. Great factual post. You visited one of my secondary blogs today. My primary site is TOTUS at http://totus-blog.blogspot.com I'm adding you to my blogroll there. I'm an old retired American history teacher so I like this type of post.


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