Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson by David O. Stewart

Genre: History
Subject:impeachment of President Johnson
Setting: Washington, D.C.
Main Characters: Pres. Johnson, Ben Butler,
Ben Wade,Thadeus Stevens
Series: no
Dates Read: March 5 - March
Number of pages: 343
Off the Shelf (pre-2012)? Source?: no, public library
Category for 12 in 12 challenge: History class
Until President Clinton came along President Andrew
Johnson had the dubious honor of being the only US
President who went through an impeachment trial.
Others may have come close, but these two stand
alone in that aspect.
President Johnson was in a difficult position after
the assassination of Lincoln - he was a Democrat
that had been elected VP on a Republican ticket.
He had been chosen to help solidify the voters in
the election of 1864 for the areas that may have
had southern sympathies but remained in the Union.
Johnson was trying to have the Reconstruction
governments in the South based on Lincoln's plans
per se - generosity of spirit - reduced animosity
between that "conquered" and the victorious.
But the Northerners in the Congress wanted their
"pound of flesh" and wanted to increase their power
over the southern states.
The abolition of slavery removed the 3/5 counting
of slaves for representation purposes and adjusted
the negro counts to full. This would entitle the
southern states to 28 additional representatives
in the Congress plus 28 more electoral votes.
Efforts were made to adjust this "outrage" by
introducing a law that denied the southern states
the right to include the counts of the blacks for
representation if the blacks were denied the right
to vote.
The method of Reconstruction was a point of
dissention between Johnson and the Congress.
During his administration Johnson used his veto
power 29 times and was overridden 15 times.
At this time the Congress was trying various ways
to curtail the Executive power.
There were actually three different attempts at
impeachment. First try at impeachment,
Congressmen tried the facts that Johnson was
wrong when he restored Southern railroads and
when he removed men from office citing usurpation
of Congressional powers. This attempt was
abandoned by the Committee Chairman Wilson
when he said "Political unfitness and incapacity
must be tried at the ballot box, not in the high
court of impeachment." The second attempt
was also deemed to be a political rather than
legal issue and was again abandoned.
However, Thaddeus Stevens, the driving force
behind impeachment, resolved to cut Presidential
powers. For example, Stevens proposed to give
Grant complete control over the Reconstruction
efforts in the South - something Grant didn't want.
He also tried to limit the Supreme Court influence
by introducing a bill requiring 3/4 approval of the
Court before a law could be declared unconstitutional.
In early 1867 the Congress enacted the Tenure
of Office Act which denied the president the power
to remove from office anyone appointed by a past
president, without the approval of the Senate during
the next full session of Congress. This legislation
would be the main blockade for Johnson. This
struggle between Johnson and Stanton gave
Stevens what he needed.
All 11 articles of impeachment were related to
the ongoing struggle between Johnson and
Secretary of War Stanton. Johnson wanted
to remove him from office but the Tenure of
Office act which allowed only the Congress
to remove a high level official from his office
and also that should anyone try to violate this
law, they would be guilty of a "high misdemeanor".
A High Misdemeanor was one of the provisions
of the constitution for removal from office of the
Johnson was defended by Benjamin Curtis, a
former Supreme Court Justice. At the beginning
of Johnson's defense, Curtis dissected the Tenure
of Office Act and analyzed how it could be
interpreted in several different ways explaining
how Johnson acted as he did. A senator from
Maine praised Curtis by saying "Judge Curtis
gave us the law and we followed it."
As the trial progressed, it blatantly appeared more
a political dogfight that a legal battle. At times the
Senate allowed certain types of evidence admitted,
and then would reverse themselves again later.
Because of the handling of the procedures, few
had any idea of what the outcome would be.
When the time came for the vote, Senators
who could barely walk or talk, suffering from
strokes and other illnesses, still managed to
appear in the Senate to cast their vote. By
one vote, Johnson was acquitted. There was
speculation that some of the votes had been
purchased but no clear evidence was ever
brought forward. The senators that voted
for his acquitted were treated badly by their
parties but in the end Johnson survived the trial.
60 years later the Tenure of Office Act was
declared unconstitutional by the Supreme
Court headed by former President William
Howard Taft now Chief Justice. How ironic
that the law that brought Johnson to the brink
of removal from office wasn't even Constitutional.
I thought this book would be very dry and hard
to get through, but it read more like a novel than
historical fact. The writing was clear and concise
and the information was presented so that the
reader could understand the fight between
Johnson and Congress. Now I really understand
what the impeachment proceedings were about.
I'm definitely glad I read this one.

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