The impeachment of President Andrew Johnson

Within three hours after Abraham Lincoln expired, Andrew Johnson took the oath of office as the seventeenth President of the United States. the Presidential life of Lincoln had been one long period of civil war. That of his successor was destined to be one of political difficulty and struggle, in which the war seemed transferred from the nation to the government, and a bitter strife arose between Congress and the president. The task of reconstruction of the conquered territory was no light one, and could hardly, in any case, have been achieved without some degree of controversy, but Johnson, who at first expressed himself in favor of severely punishing the rebellious States, soon placed himself squarely in opposition to Congress.

He declared that a State could not secede, and that none of the Southern States had actually been out of the Union, and took measures to reconstruction of which Congress decidedly disapproved. Johnson's doctrine was ignored by a Congressional declaration that the seceding States actually were out of the Union, and could be readmitted only under terms prescribed by Congress. The Civil Rights Bill, which made negroes citizens of the United States, was enacted April 19, 1866. Shortly afterwards a fourteenth amendment to the Constitution was proposed, guaranteeing equal civil rights to all persons, basing representation on the number of actual voters, declaring that no compensation should be given for emancipated slaves, etc. This was adopted by the requisite number of States, and became a part of the Constitution on July 28, 1868.

As the work of reconstruction proceeded, the breach between the President and Congress grew more decided. Bill after bill was passed over his veto, and finally, February 24, 1868, the House passed a resolution, by a large majority, to impeach the President for "high crimes and misdemeanors" in the conduct of his office. Of the acts of President Johnson, on which this resolution was based, that of the removal of Secretary Stanton from his cabinet office was the most essential. It was in direct contravention of the Tenure of Office Act, which declared that no removal from office could be made without the consent of the Senate. Stanton protested against this removal, and was sustained in his protest by the Senate, yet was soon afterwards removed again by the President. This brought the quarrel to a climax, and the impeachment proceedings immediately began.

The impeachment trial continued until May, on the 16th of which month the final vote was taken. It resulted in a verdict of "not guilty." The excitement into which the country had been aroused gradually died away, and "the sober second thought" of the community sustained the action of the Senate, though for a time very bitter feeling prevailed.

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