February 24, 1868: US President Andrew Johnson is impeached. Johnson became the President after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. He was a moderate who was in disagreement with the “Radical Republican” movement which was prevalent in Congress and hoped to control Reconstruction policies. Johnson was a Southerner but had been vehemently against secession. The cadre of men in Congress were hoping for an extreme hardline stance against the South. They wanted punishment meted out to former slave holders as well as Confederate politicians and military officials. They were also interested in protecting the newly freed slaves.
Lincoln had favored a more moderate stance and Johnson was following along in that plan which upset Congress. Within six weeks of taking office, Johnson was hoping for general amnesty for most former Confederates. He vetoed legislation that extended civil rights and financial support to former slaves. Johnson did not help himself during a speaking tour of Northern states and the situation in Washington, D.C. became more tense. Midterm elections were at stake and Johnson’s tour did not help bring in the officials to Congress as he had hoped. Instead, the Radicals were able to pass civil rights legislation as well as carving up the old Confederacy into five military districts. However, Johnson did keep control of the military, despite his other losses.
Edwin Stanton had been Lincoln’s Secretary of War and he was still in office. Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act in 1867 to ensure that Stanton would not be replaced by Johnson whose veto of the bill was overridden. The act said that all Cabinet members could not be fired by the President but their release had to be okayed by the Senate. However, Johnson was able to suspend Stanton when Congress was not in session. Johnson then appointed Ulysses S. Grant to the post. The Senate did not accept this replacement. Grant did not accept the nomination anyway and so that meant that Johnson still did not have a replacement. He asked William Sherman who also declined. Finally Lorenzo Thomas was willing to take the position and it was he who took Stanton his walking papers.
Stanton did not leave office, believing the orders to be illegitimate. Three days later, on this date, the House voted 126 to 47 in favor of impeaching President Johnson for violating the Tenure Act. A week later the House had eleven articles of impeachment against Johnson. Johnson’s trial began on March 13 but an immediate delay was granted. Finally, the trial was held with a vote 35 guilty and 19 non-guilty and 36 guilty votes were needed to remove Johnson from office. In 1887, the Tenure Act was repealed and in a later ruling, the US Supreme Court ruled that a President can fire a Cabinet member without having approval from Congress.
The goal to strive for is a poor government but a rich people.
Honest conviction is my courage; the Constitution is my guide.
I hold it the duty of the executive to insist upon frugality in the expenditure, and a sparing economy is itself a great national source.
Who, then, will govern? The answer must be, Man – for we have no angels in the shape of men, as yet, who are willing to take charge of our political affairs. – all from Andrew Johnson
Also on this day: Smile – In 1938, DuPont created a nylon-bristle toothbrush.
Opera – In 1607, the first opera premiered.
Murder, She Wrote – In 1981, Jean Harris was convicted of murder.
Religious Persecution – In 303, the new sect, Christians, were the subject of a Roman edict.