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The Tenure of Office Act

June 22, 2016

Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States.  He took office in April 1865 after Lincoln was assassinated.  During the next two years he would veto or pocket veto 15 pieces of legislation.  Seven of these vetoes were overridden by Congress.  One of the vetoed and overridden bills became the Tenure of Office Act of 1867.  Johnson then deliberately violated this law hoping it would be overturned by the Supreme Court.  But instead of suing the President, the House of Representatives impeached him.

Johnson and Congress each had their own idea regarding Reconstruction.  Johnson believed the Southern states had never legally been out of the Union but had been co-opted by a relatively small number of rebel leaders.  Congress subscribed to the theory of state suicide.  They organized the 10 occupied states into five military districts, and they did this without President Johnson’s signature.  His only leverage was to have control of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.  In order to prevent this, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act the same day they initially passed the legislation that divided the South into military districts.

The Tenure of Office Act prohibited the President from firing cabinet members without first receiving the permission of the Senate.  This meant he could not get rid of the Secretary of War who was refusing to follow the President’s lead on Reconstruction.  Johnson was not about to let Congress run the Executive Branch, and he wasn’t done vetoing their legislation either!



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