The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson | The Nation

The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson


All things considered, Andrew Johnson was probably ill-suited for the presidency, which is ironic considering he was a tailor before entering politics. The seventeenth President was poorly educated, hot tempered and, as the witnesses to his vice presidential inaugural address quickly found out, liked his moonshine a little too much. Whether he deserved being the first President to be impeached by Congress, however, is a question that is still being debated by historians nearly 150 years after he was brought to trial.

Johnson was a first-term senator from Tennessee when the thirteen states of the Confederacy seceded in 1860. Despite his background as a former slave owner, Johnson was a fierce unionist. He called secession "treason" and was the only Southern senator who refused to vacate his seat in the Capitol. For that, he was rewarded with the vice presidency in 1864 by Republicans who were eager to attract votes from pro-Union Democrats. Who knew that with Johnson, the next President of the United States had been chosen.

As a Democrat in a period when anti-slavery Republicans were the dominant political faction, Johnson must have known he was in for a bumpy ride, even if radical Republican Senator Benjamin Wade extended his initial support, declaring, "Johnson, we have faith in you." Alas, the honeymoon was a brief one. Johnson quickly butted heads with those Republicans who demanded the White House take a harsher stance toward the former confederate states. They also wanted the federal government to have a stronger hand in guaranteeing the civil rights of the freedmen. Johnson, a strict constructionist, felt that the matter was better left to the states. Less than two years since the end of the Civil War, the Republicans were not sanguine about the prospect of the former Confederate states insuring the voting rights of the former slaves.

Tensions came to a head after Johnson vetoed the Freedman's Bill and the first civil rights act. When the Republicans reacted in fury, Johnson fired back with a series of intemperate speeches that prompted the first calls for his impeachment. The dispute culminated with a sitting President being put on trial for his political life and reputation. But even more important, at the trial, which began on March 30, 1868, the very direction the country would take in regard to civil rights and healing the gaping wounds opened by the Civil War was at stake.

In This Pack

An editorial discusses the angry response to President Andrew Johnson's harsh words for his Republican opposition (March 1, 1866).

The Duty of the Hour
The Nation compares the President to his predecessor and suggests what it thinks is the appropriate response to his remarks (March 8, 1866).

A report on the passage of the civil rights bill (March 22, 1866).

For the first time in the country's history, the Senate has overridden a president's veto (April 12, 1866).

The magazine reports that tensions have eased in Washington since the veto and expresses the hope that the President will learn from the experience (April 19, 1866).

General Butler has been traveling around the country promoting the idea of impeaching President Johnson (October 11, 1866).

The Impeachment
While stating its opposition to President Johnson's behavior and policies, The Nation says that impeachment is not a good idea (October 18, 1866).

The Senate has begun to move toward impeachment, and passage of the Tenure-of-Office Act has set the stage for confrontation with the President (February 7, 1867).

A newspaper recounts the President's response to the growing clamor for impeachment in Congress, and The Nation faults the President for his misuse of the language (March 14, 1867).

The case for impeachment is about to be presented to the Senate (July 4, 1867).

The End at Last
The Nation mistakenly believes that passage of the Reconstruction bill signifies the end of the impeachment effort (July 25, 1867).

The firing of Edwin Stanton will certainly reawaken tensions between the President and Congress (August 15, 1867).

General Grant is taking a political gamble by joining the Johnson cabinet, and the magazine serves up more commentary on the likely impact of Stanton's firing (August 22, 1867).

Rumors are flying that the President may use force against Congress (October 3, 1867).

Congress begins impeachment proceedings (March 5, 1868).

The President hires counsel, and The Nation expresses dismay with the impeachment (March 12, 1868).

Opening speeches at the trial. The prosecution's case was not especially well presented, according to The Nation (April 2, 16 1868).

The defense presented its case, and summations are set to begin (April 23, 1868).

Closing speeches (April 30, 1868).

The Probable Effect of the Impeachment Trial
The trial has produced little excitement among the public. What does it mean? (April 30, 1868).

The verdict has been delayed The Nation expects an acquittal (May 14, 1868).

By a narrow vote, the President's job is saved (May 28, 1868).


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