Archive for January, 2020


Why Andrew Johnson Was Impeached

Andrew Johnson had a long political career, as an alderman, mayor, Tennessee house member; governor, U.S. Senator, Vice-President, President, and finally Senator again.

When President Lincoln ran for re-election in 1864, he dropped Vice-President Hannibal Hamlin, as well as the Republican label, and instead headed a new “National Union Party” with Johnson as his Vice President.

Why did Abe pick a Southern Democrat who had owned slaves until he was forced to release them under the Emancipation Proclamation? Lincoln tagged him because: 1) he fought to preserve the Union; 2) he did not oppose the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery; and 3) he could help carry the Border States in the 1864 election.

Johnson had in fact been the only Southern Senator to vote against secession. After he called his former friends and neighbors traitors, he himself was branded a turncoat. As the Tennessee militia set out to arrest him, he narrowly escaped on horseback.

Greenville, Tennessee, where Johnson lived, changed hands 27 times during the Civil War. With Andrew gone, the rebels ransacked his home and left threatening messages on his walls. His wife Eliza was detained for two days before she was released. Johnson’s son Charles, who enlisted as a doctor in the Union Army, would die in uniform in 1863.

So why was the loyal Johnson targeted for impeachment? Even though it was Abe who dumped Republican Hamlin to make way for a Southerner, Johnson took the blame. The basic problem was Johnson was a States Rights Democrat. and as such, he was isolated, because his fellow Southern Congressmen had not yet been re-seated.

Johnson was not against all things Republican. For example, he supported the Office of Education, as he understood the value of learning. Since he had never been to school, his wife had to teach him how to write. The fundamental disagreement was over the use of federal legislation to override state measures endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

When white supremacists created “Black Codes” in 1865 to perpetuate unequal treatment for blacks in the state courts, Congress passed a bill to supersede them, but Johnson vetoed it. When Congress tried again to guarantee equal treatment under the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Johnson again vetoed, but this time he was overridden.

As the Klan continued interfering with the voting rights of former slaves, Congress passed a Reconstruction Bill (1867) directing the armed forces to register all black voters, but Johnson vetoed it, as he believed the states should decide such questions. As the Republicans overrode yet another veto, the U.S. Army proceeded to register black voters.

Many former Confederates demanded that Johnson remove Sec. of War Edwin Stanton over what U.S. troops were doing. Anticipating a discharge of Stanton, Congress passed the Tenure in Office Act (1867), which barred the Commander-in-Chief from firing any military commander without Senate approval.

The President vetoed the Tenure Act, as he viewed it as unconstitutional, saying he felt it infringed on his executive powers. After his veto was overridden, Johnson went ahead and fired Stanton anyway, but the Sec. of War stubbornly refused to vacate his post.

Johnson was impeached over his alleged violation of the Tenure Act and his belief that Congress could not lawfully pass any bill, unless the former rebels were first reseated. The hysteria ran so high, some alleged Johnson conspired to kill Lincoln. Many forgot that Andrew was also targeted by the assassins and the only reason he lived was that the man who was to shoot him lost his nerve.

After the House voted 128 to 47 to impeach (accuse) Johnson, the case moved into the Senate, where a two-month trial (with live witnesses) was held from March through June 1868. Thanks to two Senators from Iowa and Kansas, who changed their minds late in the proceedings, Johnson was acquitted by just one vote.

After Johnson’s “not guilty” verdict, Congress shunned him and he spent his final ten months as a “lame duck.” The President did however get back at the Republicans, as he granted amnesty to Jefferson Davis and pardoned all Southerners who fought in the Civil War. Once again popular in Tennessee, Johnson was returned to the U.S. Senate in 1874.


President John Tyler’s Impeachment

With the Trump impeachment trial, pundits often refer to the trial of President Andrew Johnson, the impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon (which led to his resignation), and the “not guilty” verdict as to President Bill Clinton, but the historians seem to have left out President John Tyler and the very first attempt at impeachment.

As a Democrat in Virginia, Tyler won a House seat in 1816, became governor in 1825, and joined the U.S. Senate in 1827. After a policy clash with Democratic President Andrew Jackson (1829-37), Tyler abandoned his party and joined the Whigs.

Following the first great depression under Democrat Martin Van Buren (1837-41), the Whigs took the White House under William Henry Harrison in 1840. To balance the ticket, the northerner Harrison had tagged former Southern Democrat Tyler as VP.

After Harrison’s death, just 30 days into his term, Tyler assumed command in 1841, at a time when many interpreted the Constitution to mean that a VP could only serve as an “acting” President and not technically as a full-fledged Commander-in-Chief. Many argued Tyler was illegitimate, because he had never been elected in his own right.

Things got worse for Tyler, as Whig leader Henry Clay passed a bill to re-establish a National Bank. Clay assumed his party’s new President would simply sign the law, but Tyler snubbed the Whigs, and instead vetoed it with harsh words. After a revised bank bill was sent to the President, Tyler again returned a veto in 1841.

Tyler would proceed to alienate Whigs by vetoing other measures. He vetoed a bill to give the states money from the sale of federal lands. When Sen. Clay passed two tariff bills in June 1842, Tyler vetoed both, before reluctantly signing a third in Aug.

After Tyler totally infuriated Congressional Whigs, the party finally expelled him, and he became known as “a man without a party,” a lonely designation in Washington, D.C. He had previously abandoned the Democrats and now the Whigs had dropped him.

Some Whigs were so angry they burned Tyler in effigy. The tensions escalated to the point where an Impeachment Resolution was introduced in the House. Tyler would survive the measure thanks to Democrats in a vote of 127 to 83 on Jan. 10, 1843.

While Tyler was fighting his impeachment in the House, he had the added pressure at home of a disabled wife, who was unable to perform any White House functions. His wife Letitia died just 17 months into his term, as the Congressional battle was heating up.

After Tyler beat the impeachment rap, his luck changed, as he met Julia Gardiner, age 24, some 30 years younger than the 54-year-old President. By all accounts, she was a beautiful young lady. Following his proposal in 1843, they married in 1844. John would turn 68 the year their seventh child was born.

History would note that John Tyler was the first President to marry while in office and the first to have successfully survived an Impeachment Resolution in the House.