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The Unfortunate Impeachment of President Andrew Johnson

Posted by RALEIGH DEGEER AMYX on Tue, Feb 24, 2015 @ 08:00 AM

Only two Presidents in America’s history have been impeached: President Andrew Johnson and President Bill Clinton. Neither one was convicted, resulting in both presidents finishing their terms in office. Many Americans these days know the story of Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Andrew Johnson’s is a lesser known story.

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ANDREW JOHNSON - 17TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Johnson Becomes President

Andrew Johnson, a democratic senator from Tennessee during the Civil War, was the only US Senator from a seceding state to remained loyal to the Union. This, plus the fact he was a democrat, gave President Abraham Lincoln a strong reason to choose Johnson as a running mate. Together, they were victorious in the 1864 election, gaining approval from both Republicans and Democrats. Less than 5 months after the election, President Lincoln was shot and killed. President Johnson stepped into his place, however unprepared, with plans to unite a broken nation.

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ABE LINCOLN CHOOSES ANDREW JOHNSON AS HIS RUNNING MATE

His Unending Struggle with Congress

President Johnson, an overt racist, struggled against a Republican Congress in his plan to reconstruct the South. President Johnson’s Reconstruction Policy for the South was so lenient, it preserved the entire system of slavery under a different name. “Black Codes” were laws designed to restrict blacks’ rights and ensure they remained cheap, if not free, labor. Johnson’s Reconstruction Policy also granted complete amnesty to ex-Confederates. This left the Republican Congress enraged.

In response, Congress created the Civil Rights Act to ensure blacks had the right to buy property and testify in court. Johnson vetoed the Act, but Congress overrode the veto by a single vote. The power struggle continued and eventually came to a climax when Johnson tried to replace Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, with Generally Ulysses S Grant. This was a direct violation of the Tenure of Office Act - another act passed over the President's veto. Grant turned the office back to Stanton due to the Senate's protests.

Andrew Johnson wasn’t easily going to give up, though. He decided to again try to replace Stanton, this time with General Lorenzo Thomas. Stanton put up quite a fight this time, barricading himself in his office. The House of Representatives was not going to stand for Johnson’s shenanigans anymore. They formally impeached him on February 24th, 1868. Congress brought forward 11 Articles of Impeachment, many of which charged the President with illegally removing Stanton from office. The last two articles were more vague; saying Johnson slandered Congress through "inflammatory and scandalous harangues."

Unfortunately, Johnson didn’t even have the public on his side. Throughout his term, there had been many personal attacks aimed at him. He was accused of being a "drunken imbecile" and "ludicrous boor.” Johnson had indeed shown up drunk to his vice presidential inauguration and insulted many high ranking officers.

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ANDREW JOHNSON'S IMPEACHMENT TRIAL

The Impeachment Trial

Johnson’s impeachment trial began on March 13th. Three different votes were held and they each ended the same: Congress was one vote short of convicting President Johnson. A young republican senator, Edmund Ross of Kansas, stood between Congress and their goals to see Johnson removed from office. Senator Ross stood his ground, voted “not guilty” each time, and essentially ended the impeachment trial. President Johnson finished his term, moved back to Tennessee, and successfully ran for Senate. Only a few months after returning to DC as a Senator, he suffered a paralytic attack and passed away.

Andrew Johnson’s downfall came from his views on how to effectively handle the Reconstruction of the South, combined with his inability to work peacefully with Congress. He started and ended his political career as a senator, showing that he insisted to the end on having a hand in government, no matter the position.

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RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX - HISTORIAN AND COLLECTOR

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