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Collection A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates 1774 to 1875

The Impeachment Trial of President Andrew Johnson

Supplement to the Congressional Globe, 40th Congress, 2nd Session

The Congressional Globe, the predecessor to the Congressional Record, was published from 1833 to 1873. After the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868 the Globe published a supplementary volume that provides a record of the documents and debates from the Senate trial.

Students and researchers on the subject of impeachment may find it useful to consult the following Today in History webpages:

  • On May 16, 1868, the U.S. Senate failed by just one vote to convict President Johnson on articles of impeachment.
  • Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth president of the United States, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on December 29, 1808.
  • When impeachment proceedings were brought against President Johnson, Senator Reverdy Johnson of Maryland was instrumental in securing the President's acquittal.
  • Salmon P. Chase, appointed on December 6, 1864, by President Abraham Lincoln as chief justice of the United States, presided over the Senate's impeachment trial of President Johnson in 1868.

Historic Background on the Impeachment and Trial of President Andrew Johnson

The Significance of President Johnson's Impeachment and Trial

Johnson's impeachment trial is considered to be important because it checked the attempt among certain Members of Congress to establish congressional control of federal policy and relegate the President's role in governance to that of a chief minister's. The acquittal of Johnson also prevented later Congresses from using the threat of impeachment as a means of settling policy differences with the executive. Finally, the acquittal meant that in future impeachment trials the defendant would have to have committed an actual crime in order to be convicted.

The Impeachment

President Andrew Johnson became the first President of the United States to be impeached by the House of Representatives. He was impeached in 1868 for dismissing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton without the approval of the Senate as required in the Tenure of Office Act and for attacking congressional policies on the Reconstruction in the South. Congressional opposition to Johnson's policies on the Reconstruction of the southern states had been building, however, since early in his term, and in 1867 the Committee on Judiciary of the House of Representatives had conducted an investigation as a preliminary to impeaching Johnson. The attempt to impeach Johnson as a result of this investigation was unsuccessful. However, because the War Department was responsible for administering most of the policies on the Reconstruction that the Congress, overriding Johnson's vetoes, had enacted into law, the removal of Secretary Stanton was viewed as an attack on these policies and was an additional motive for seeking Johnson's ouster. The House of Representatives impeached Johnson on February 24, 1868, by a straight party line vote of 126 to 47. On February 27, the House of Representatives adopted eleven articles of impeachment that were then submitted to the Senate.

The Senate Trial

Johnson's trial began with procedural motions on March 5, 1868, with the Chief Justice of the United States, Salmon P. Chase, presiding. The managers for the House of Representatives included John A. Bingham of Ohio, who served as chairman, Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts, and Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania. Johnson's defense team included former Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Curtis; William Evarts, a prominent Republican lawyer; and Henry Stanbery, a former Attorney General in Johnson's cabinet. Opening arguments and testimony in the trial began on March 30 and continued through April 20. On April 22 the summary phase of the trial began and was concluded on May 7. Issues in dispute during the trial included whether the Tenure of Office Act applied to Stanton, whether the Act, if it did apply, was constitutional, and whether Johnson committed an impeachable offense in attacking Congress for its policies on Reconstruction. The first vote, on article eleven which charged Johnson with bringing disrespect to Congress and its policies on Reconstruction, was held on May 16. The vote on the article was one vote short (35 to 19) of the two thirds majority needed for conviction. The trial was then recessed for ten days. On May 26 the Senate also failed by the same margin (35 to 19) to convict Johnson on articles two and three. At this point the Senate voted to adjourn the trial sine die without considering the remaining articles.