Impeachment of Andrew Johnson, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

In the opinion of many leading American historians, Andrew Johnson (1808 to 1875), the 17th President of the United States, was the worst President to ever serve in the White House and was certainly “the worst possible person to have been President at the end of the Civil War,” due to his failure to bring about a satisfying conclusion to the war, “his racist views, his gross incompetence in federal office, and his incredible miscalculation of public support for his policies.” 1 In effect, these were the primary reasons behind the movement to impeach President Johnson by the U.S. Congress in February of 1868; however, it should be pointed out that Johnson was not convicted of any crimes and was allowed to serve out his term after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April of 1865. 2

Eight months after the end of the Civil War, President Johnson, the former Vice President of Abraham Lincoln, defended his policies related to the Thirteenth Amendment that gave Negroes their long sought-after freedom. However, many Republicans resented Johnson’s attempts to act independently of the U.S. Congress, especially related to Johnson’s return to power of ex-Confederates in the southern states. In response, Congress “refused to seat senators and representatives from former Confederate states” 3 and then passed two bills that many Republicans hoped would be acceptable to the President, being an extension of the Freedman’s Bureau and granting Negroes equality with whites in civil rights. Johnson quickly vetoed both bills, an act that shocked the Republicans who had earlier fully supported the President. As a result, “Johnson’s former Republican supporters joined the President’s avowed enemies to push through the Fourteenth Amendment” which granted citizenship to all persons living in a state, including Negroes. 4

In mid 1866, President Johnson’s opponents “exploited the Northern fear that Johnson had allied himself with traitors and rebels” which appears to have worked beautifully because two-thirds of the open seats in the U.S. Congress were won by Johnson’s avowed enemies, both Republicans and Democrats. Nonetheless, Johnson continued to undermine the power of the U.S. Congress while stalling their efforts to create Reconstruction in the war-ravaged South. Thus, on one point, all of the Republicans agreed–they must impose upon the South their own program for political Reconstruction.

When Johnson attempted to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court by nominating one of his ardent supporters who stood in opposition to military Reconstruction in the South, the Republicans immediately passed a bill that reduced the size of the court from nine to seven, thereby making Johnson’s nomination of his supporter null and void. By this time in early 1866, the U.S. Congress had made it clear that Johnson was grossly incompetent as President and had done everything in his power to block movement on southern Reconstruction. Congress had also begun impeachment proceedings against Johnson, but the House defeated the resolution. However, Johnson himself “revived the proceedings attempting to have Secretary of War Edwin Stanton removed from office” 5 which Congress saw as a deliberate breach of the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 which provided that officeholders appointed by Congress could only be removed by the consent of the Senate.

Thus, because of Johnson’s refusal to bring about Reconstruction in the South, combined with his efforts to keep black Americans as non-citizens without any rights and his blatant disregard for the powers given to the U.S. Congress through the Constitution, the House adopted seven articles of impeachment, most of which were related to Johnson’s efforts to remove Stanton from office. However, Johnson was found not guilty and served out his term as President, but the seven Republicans who voted for Johnson’s acquittal were never nominated for another public office by the Republican Party. 6

Endnotes

  1. “American President: A Reference Resource: Andrew Johnson,” The Miller Center, University of Virginia, accessed June 14, 2012, http://millercenter.org/president/johnson/essays/biography/1.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Chester G. Hearn, The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2007), 145.
  4. Edmund G. Ross, History of the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson (UK: General Books, Ltd., 2012), 187.
  5. Ibid, 194.
  6. Ibid, 203.

Bibliography

“American President: A Reference Resource: Andrew Johnson.” The Miller Center, University of Virginia. Accessed June 14, 2012. http://millercenter.org/president/johnson/essays/biography/1.

Hearn, Chester G. The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2007.

Ross, Edmund G. History of the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson. UK: General Books, Ltd., 2012.

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