Impeachment of President Johnson
What does it mean to impeach a president? An impeachment is a charge against the President that accuses him of engaging in bad conduct while in office. What crime justifies impeachment? The U.S. Constitution is vague about this, but many would argue that quite a few presidents performed misdeeds and were NOT threatened with impeachment. One example of the difficulty of deciding this issue is Harry Truman's decision to drop a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan to end World War II which caused much suffering and loss of life.
Most of us know at least two of the three presidents that the U.S. Congress tried to impeach: William "Bill" Clinton escaped his charge of perjury while Richard "Dick" Nixon resigned before he could be convicted of obstruction of justice and tossed out of the White House. However, the very first president to be threatened with impeachment was Andrew Johnson, the man who replaced Abraham Lincoln following Lincoln's assassination.
Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton had similar backgrounds. Both were from the South and both were self-made men. Bill Clinton's father died before he was born and Andrew Johnson's father died when he was only three years old.
Johnson never went to school. He was apprenticed to a tailor at age 13 and while working in the shop he learned to read by reading newspapers aloud to his workmates. Once Johnson learned to read, he never stopped, and he devoured every piece of writing he could get his hands on. Johnson's favorite document was the U.S. Constitution. He used it like a bible - citing from it and thumping it in the Senate hall like an evangelical preacher.
At age 15 Johnson ran away from home. Four years later, he was married and owned a successful tailoring business in Tennessee. He moved his impoverished mother in with him and started a family. Soon, Johnson entered politics and rose rapidly up the political ladder, starting as an Alderman then becoming Mayor and onto State Senator, and finally being elected as a U.S. Senator. When the issue of the South seceding from the Union came to pass, Johnson opposed it adamantly. He claimed that rich plantation owners wanted to divide the nation to protect their own interests. He quite correctly warned the working class and poor people of the South would suffer the most if they fought to break from the Union.
Johnson was the only Senator to stay loyal to the Union when his state went with the Confederacy. This put him in a valuable position once the war was over. Since he was a Democrat and he represented the interests of the Southerners. In order to appease the South, Johnson was nominated for Vice President under his nemesis Abe Lincoln. In fact, here is what Johnson had to say about his political enemy Lincoln:
"I voted against him; I spoke against him; I spent my money to defeat him; but still I love my country; I love the Constitution; I intend to insist upon its guarantees."
The two men won handedly, but the inauguration was a mini-disaster for Johnson. He had just recovered from typhoid fever, and was a little delirious. He drank a little whisky because he thought it would "give him strength", but it ended up making him feel worse. During his inauguration speech he leaned all over the podium, slurred his words, and badly embarrassed himself.
On April 14, 1865, only six weeks after the inauguration, Abe Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. Andrew Johnson became president at the most sensitive time in American history.
In this delicate time, Johnson knew that if he dealt with the Southerners too harshly, they would become distrustful and hardened against the Union. He decided to encourage Southerners to rejoin the Union, and made it easy for them to do so. All a Southerner had to do was sign an oath of allegiance to the Union to become a full citizen again. The only people not allowed to easily re-enter the Union were rich plantation owners and conservative politicians.
His "middle way" did not sit well with the Radical Republican Congress. The Radical Republicans had some earth shaking ideas for their time. They thought that former slaves should be able to vote, and they sought harsh punishment for the "traitors" who had fought with the Confederacy. They also wanted to enact laws that would allow former slaves to vote, provide them with land, and encourage better health and education for African-Americans. Therefore, the Radical Republicans led Congress in an attempt to override Johnson's weak stance against the South with tons of legislation, but Johnson simply vetoed their new laws. This really ticked off those guys in the Capitol.
"Two idiots climb a mountain"
Things were not going too smoothly for Johnson in office either. On August 12, 1867, Johnson tried to fire his War Secretary Edwin Stanton. Stanton refused to leave and barricaded himself inside his office, and Stanton's appointed replacement, Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant, would not report to replace him.
The following February, Stanton was still locked in his office and Congress had come up with a list of reasons to hold an impeachment trial for President Johnson. Members of Congress argued that Johnson had violated the Constitution and conspired against Congress. The House of Representatives voted 126 to 47 in favor of having the Senate pursue a formal impeachment trial against President Johnson. The Senate then organized itself as a court in order to decide whether to remove Johnson from office based on the charges levied against the President by the House. In the end, the Senate acquitted President Johnson, but he avoided being removed from office by just one vote.
Johnson went on to finish his presidency and ended up returning to his seat in the Senate. But that's not the end.
As usual, after an exceedingly wordy dispatch, it's time for one of Teddy's Pop Quizzes! Yay!
Andrew Johnson was:
a) A catcher for the Mets
b) The first American president to be impeached
c) My next door neighbor who refused to wear clothes in the house
You can impeach a president if he:
a) Employs burglars to steal documents from his political enemies
b) Falls for a young seductress with a bad haircut
c) Is too soft on racists
d) All of the above
Nick's socks smell like:
a) A basket of three thousand year-old decaying eggs
b) A wet chicken
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Links to Other Dispatches
Neda - Assassination, ballot box stuffing, and eating in the bathroom: it's American politicking!
Stephanie - Segregation and how the South kept its evil ways
Neda - This is America. We all have the right to vote...or do we?
Nick - You're crazy! You can't do that!!!
Making A Difference - Getting mad about hate groups