The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson President Andrew Johnson assumed office following Lincoln's assassination. Johnson had his own ideas of Reconstruction and tried to take his own course of action in putting the Union back together following the Civil War. 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 far-reaching transformation of Southern social and economic life, permanently ending the old planter class system, and favored granting freed slaves citizenship and voting rights.
After the war, they came to believe whites in the South were seeking to somehow preserve the old slavery system under a new appearance, (Divine 389). 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 conflict between the races. Congress overrode the veto by a single vote. This marked the beginning of the escalating power struggle between the President and Congress, (Divine 395).
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", (Divine 393). 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. Moderate voters in the North began leaning toward the Radicals. 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, (Les Benedict 18). 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 compliance 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, (Les Benedict 18-19). Many in Congress wanted to keep Radical sympathizer, Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, in Johnson's cabinet. The political feud between the president and Congress climaxed as Johnson sought to remove 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, (Les Benedict 95-97). 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 Thomas. This time Stanton refused to budge and even barricaded himself inside his office.
Three days later, the House of Representatives voted impeachment on the grounds of disregarding the laws Congress had passed to limit his power to hinder reconstruction, (Les Benedict 104). 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, (Fone r 334-335). The trial in the Senate began on March 5, 1868, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding.
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 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 voted against conviction, effectively ending the impeachment trial. On May 26, two more ballots produced the same 35-19 result.
Thus Johnson's impeachment failed by a single vote, and he remained in office, (Les Benedict 174).