Skip to content

The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

June 29, 2016

Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States.  Since Lincoln was his immediate predecessor, Johnson was bound to look bad by comparison.  Since Reconstruction was the main issue facing the country, his chances for a successful Presidency were limited.  Johnson had even less formal education than the self-made Lincoln, but he had held more public offices.  Lincoln had served only in the Illinois legislature and had been elected to only one Congressional term.  Johnson, on the other hand, had been in the Tennessee legislature, served a few terms in Congress, been Mayor of Greenville, Governor of Tennessee, U.S. Senator, military governor with the rank of brigadier general, and Vice President.  Surely all that experience should have prepared him to handle the unique problems he was now facing.

But, instead of using his experience and political skill to form a more perfect Union, Andrew Johnson devoted himself to preserving white supremacy.  When General Sheridan tried to protect the civil rights of the freedmen in Louisiana and Texas, Johnson overruled him.  This alone proved that Johnson was not faithfully executing the laws of the United States.  This alone was grounds for impeachment.  Unfortunately, the Moderate Republicans in Congress refused to act in concert with the Radical Republicans.  Although the Moderates disagreed with Johnson’s conduct, they believed he had acted within the normal limits of executive discretion.  If Johnson were to flagrantly violate some law, then he could be impeached and removed.

The Tenure of Office Act was specifically designed to accomplish Johnson’s removal from office.  It was not popular and was eventually repealed, but in 1867 it was the bait that Johnson would definitely grab.  When the vote to remove or acquit reached the Senate, seven Republicans voted to acquit.  If only one of them had voted otherwise, Johnson would have been removed from office.  Because the Tenure of Office Act was a bad law, many historians have celebrated these seven for standing on principle.  Historians have also been very critical of the Radical Republicans.  As for Andrew Johnson, his admirers have been few and far between.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: