The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson occurred in 1868, when the United States House of Representatives resolved to impeach President Andrew Johnson, adopting eleven articles of impeachment detailing his “high crimes and misdemeanors”, in accordance with Article Two of the United States Constitution. The House’s primary charge against Johnson was with violation of the Tenure of Office Act, passed by Congress the previous year. Specifically, he had removed Edwin McMasters Stanton, the Secretary of War (whom the Tenure of Office Act was largely designed to protect), from office and attempted to replace him with Brevet Major General Lorenzo Thomas. Contrary to popular belief, Johnson was not impeached for temporarily replacing Stanton with General Ulysses Grant earlier while Congress was not in session.
The House formally agreed to the articles of impeachment on March 2, 1868, and forwarded them to the Senate. The trial in the Senate began three days later, with Chief Justice of the United States Salmon P. Chase presiding. The first vote on one of the eleven impeachment articles concluded on May 16 with a failure to convict Johnson. A ten-day recess was called before attempting to convict him on additional articles, but that effort failed on May 26. The 35-to-19 votes on the three articles actually voted on were all one short of the required two-thirds needed for conviction.
This was the first impeachment of an incumbent President since creation of the office in 1789. The culmination of a lengthy political battle between Johnson and the Republican majority in Congress over how best to deal with the defeated Southern states following the conclusion of the American Civil War, the impeachment and the subsequent trial were among the most dramatic events in the political life of the nation during the Reconstruction Era. Together, they have gained a historical reputation as an act of political expedience, rather than necessity, based on Johnson’s defiance of an unconstitutional piece of legislation, and with little regard for the will of a general public which, despite the unpopularity of Johnson, opposed the impeachment. There would not be another serious attempt to impeach a President for 106 years when, during the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon resigned from office, rather than face impeachment and trial. The only other impeachment trial of a President would occur 131 years later with the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
Date: Mar 13, 1996