President Johnson constantly clashed with Congress, which wished to impose a significantly more radical version of reconstruction on the South. Finally, the radicals in Congress decided to try to impeach and indict Andrew Johnson. The impeachment vote passed in the House. The Senate voted 35 for and 19 against conviction; one vote short of the needed 2/3rds majority.
The impeachment vote passed in the House. The Senate voted 35 for and 19 against conviction; one vote short of the needed 2/3rds majority.
From the moment Lincoln was assassinated the stage had been set for clashed between Congress and the new President, a Southerner from Tennessee. Johnson had been the only southern senator to remain loyal to the Union. Lincoln had picked him to be his Vice Presidential candidate in act of reconciliation, with Union victory all but certain in 1864 he wanted to show that he intended to rapidly reintegrate the South into American life. His policy was that Southern States only had to renounce slavery in order to reenter the Union. Johnson continued Lincoln's policies but without the authority that Lincoln had. The Republicans in Congress believed that a harder line should be taken with the southern states and that Congress and not the President should be responsible for the policy relating to the Southern States. The clash was ongoing.
In 1867, Congress passed the "Tenure Act." Under this act the President was forbidden to remove certain public officials without the consent of the Congress. In the beginning of February, President Johnson removed Secretary of War Stanton from office. Johnson felt that Stanton, who was a radical Republican, was undermining the policies of the president.
In response to Johnson's actions, on February 24th, the House voted 126-47 to impeach President Johnson, for "high crimes and misdemeanors." The senate allowed Johnson only 10 days to prepare his defense.
On May 16th, the first of the articles of impeachment came to a vote. The Senate vote was 35-19; one vote short of the two thirds needed for a conviction.
Seven Republican senators joined the Democrats in voting for Johnson's acquittal.
Building the Case for Impeachment, December 1866 to June 1867
Moderate Republicans, who made up the largest group, wanted to protect the freedpeople—the formerly enslaved men and women living in the defeated Confederacy—from violence and help them acquire economic security. But there were limits to moderates’ support for reform, especially when it came to the political rights of African Americans. After four years of war, moderates wanted to complete the process of readmitting the southern states by the 1868 presidential election. Any longer, they feared, and public support in the North for Reconstruction would erode and spark even more aggressive resistance in the South. Impeaching Johnson was a nonstarter.
The other group of Republicans in Congress, the Radicals, took a more expansive view of Reconstruction, and were willing to confront Johnson directly. At the heart of their Reconstruction vision, Radical Republicans sought to create an egalitarian and multiracial society by ensuring the civil and political rights of newly-freed African Americans. Radicals wanted freedmen to have the vote, putting them on the path not only to economic parity but also full political participation. Distrustful of southern leaders, Radicals passed a series of Reconstruction Acts in 1867 which outlined the process by which southern states could rejoin the Union and divided the former Confederacy into five military districts, each commanded by a U.S. Army general vested with considerable power to keep the peace and protect the rights and the lives of the freedpeople. Radical Republicans were willing to work on Reconstruction and deploy the U.S. Army in the southern states for as long as was necessary to uphold the rule of law. 20
One of the first party-wide discussions on impeachment came in December 1866, as House Republicans met to plan for the end of the 39th Congress (1865–1867) in March 1867. Radical George Boutwell of Massachusetts raised the issue of impeachment during the caucus meeting but moderates, who saw no political benefit, quashed the discussion. 24 Later that month Ashley tried to open an impeachment inquiry but was voted down. 25 Afterward, seeking to intercept and derail any additional impeachment efforts, moderate Republicans passed a rule that tied the hands of Radicals who wanted Johnson gone. The new rule required both a majority of House Republicans and a majority of the Judiciary Committee to approve any measure having to do with impeachment in party caucus before it could be considered in the House. 26
Undeterred, Radicals continued to pursue the issue, finding their way as they went. Before Johnson, the House had impeached five people in total: one U.S. Senator, three district court judges, and one Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. But Johnson was President and there were no blueprints for impeaching a President. On January 7, 1867, two Republicans from Missouri, Benjamin F. Loan and John R. Kelso, introduced impeachment resolutions against Johnson. The House refused to open debate or vote on either one. 27
In the waning days of the 39th Congress, Republicans took two important steps to protect their Reconstruction plans from the President’s wrath. On March 2, 1867, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act over Johnson’s veto. The law forbade the President from removing executive officials—including high-ranking appointees such as the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretaries of War and of the Navy—without the explicit consent of the Senate. It was partly meant to prevent Johnson from installing new Cabinet officials who could effectively undermine Congress by failing or refusing to carry out policies passed by the House and Senate. The Tenure of Office Act required the President to alert Congress if he terminated any appointed official confirmed by the Senate and stated that any violations by the President would be deemed “high misdemeanors” and criminal acts—in other words, potentially impeachable conduct. 30 The second crucial development occurred in the Judiciary Committee. Working from Ashley’s impeachment resolution, the Judiciary Committee receded from the public spotlight as it gathered evidence from witnesses in closed sessions. Eventually the committee ran out of time and the 39th Congress came to an end. But the committee had gathered “sufficient testimony” to continue the investigation in the new 40th Congress (1867–1869). 31
As Johnson secretly kept tabs on the House impeachment inquiry using the Pinkerton Detective Agency, the 40th Congress opened and the Judiciary Committee picked up the investigation where the previous Congress left off. 32 But on June 3, 1867, after months of additional closed-door hearings, the committee voted against any additional action on impeachment. Three moderate Republicans teamed up with the two Democrats on the committee to kill impeachment in a close 5 to 4 vote. 33
But events would soon force a reconsideration.
Which is the BEST description of the southern economy during Reconstruction? The southern economy was stabilized because of trade relationships with Great Britain and France. The southern economy was still based on agriculture and cotton, but now depended on sharecropping rather than slave labor.
Western expansion, Indian wars, corruption at all levels of government, and the growth of industry all diverted attention from the civil rights and well-being of ex-slaves. By 1876, Radical Republican regimes had collapsed in all but two of the former Confederate states, with the Democratic Party taking over.
1 “War Department,” 22 February 1868, New York Times: 1. See also “Washington: Secretary Stanton Removed,” 22 February 1868, New York Tribune: 1.
2 Congressional Globe, House, 40th Cong., 2nd sess. (21 February 1868): 1326.
3 Richard White, The Republic For Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and The Gilded Age, 1865–1896 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017): 50–55.
4 Hans L. Trefousse, Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997): 224.
5 Congressional Globe, House, 40th Cong., 2nd sess. (21 February 1868): 1328.
6 The quotation attributed to Pike has many permutations. This one comes from a contemporary source: “Removal of Mr. Stanton,” 22 February 1868, Baltimore Sun: 1. See also Michael Les Benedict, A Compromise of Principle: Congressional Republicans and Reconstruction, 1863–1869 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1974): 297.
7 Congressional Globe, House, 40th Cong., 2nd sess. (21 February 1868): 1329.
Impeachment of President Johnson - History
17th U.S. President
The trial in the Senate began on March 5, 1868, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding. The prosecution was conducted by seven managers from the House including Thaddeus Stevens and Benjamin F. Butler. Johnson did not appear in person.
On March 16, a crucial vote occurred on Article 11 concerning Johnson's overall behavior toward Congress. A straw poll indicated the Senate was one vote shy of the necessary two thirds (36 votes out of a total of 54 Senators) needed for conviction. Johnson's fate rested upon the single undecided vote of a young Radical Republican named Edmund G. Ross.
Despite monumental pressure from fellow Radicals and dire warnings that a vote for acquittal would end his political career, Ross stood up at the appropriate moment and quietly announced "not guilty," effectively ending the impeachment trial.
On May 26, two more ballots produced the same 35-19 result. Thus Johnson's impeachment was not upheld by a single vote and he remained in office.
After completing his term, Johnson returned to Tennessee but surprisingly did not retire. He ran for Congress in 1872 and lost. Two years later he ran for the Senate and won. In 1875, he made an emotional return to the Senate, entering the place of his impeachment trial. He thus became the only former President to serve in the Senate. However, a few months later he suffered a paralytic attack and died on July 31, 1875. He was buried in Greeneville, Tennessee.
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Comparing Impeachments Across U.S. History
Note: This lesson is adapted from materials contained in the Bill of Rights Institute’s forthcoming U.S. History resource entitled Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: A History of the American Experiment. This free online resource covers 1491 to the present day, is aligned to the College Boards AP U.S. history framework, and will be available for use in the 2020 school year. To learn more and to receive updates, visit our website. Lesson Objectives:
- Students will review the Founders’ intentions for the practice of impeachment using excerpts from Madison’s Notes on the Debates of the Federal Convention and the Constitution.
- Students will compare the contexts for the impeachment proceedings of Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump.
- Students will evaluate the significance of the process of impeachment as a component of the system of checks and balances.
- Handout A: The Constitutional Provisions on Impeachment (see below)
- Handout B: Impeachment in U.S. History (see below)
Warm-Up Activity (5–10 min) Write this question on the board: If a U.S. president does the following actions, should she or he be formally accused, tried, and removed from office if found guilty in a fair trial? Then list actions 1–5 below the question and have students write on a sheet of paper their yes or no answer to each. Students should be prepared to explain their reasoning. After students have individually voted “yes” or “no” for each action, then call for a show of hands for each action to tally the student results. Start with the action that received the most “yes” votes and ask a few student volunteers to justify their response by referring to a specific part of the U.S. Constitution. Explain that “impeach” does not mean “remove from office.” Impeach means to formally accuse and bring to trial. According to the U.S. Constitution, if a president is impeached by a majority vote of the House of Representatives and found guilty by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, the punishment is removal from office. Wait until the end of the lesson to give the historical examples.
- The president receives gifts from a foreign power without the approval of Congress. (Historical example: hypothetical scenario from the Philadelphia Convention debates)
- The president orders detention of a racial or ethnic group for national security reasons. (Historical example: Franklin D. Roosevelt in World War II)
- The president refuses to enforce laws passed by Congress. (Historical example: Woodrow Wilson refusing to abide by a law governing the removal of postmasters)
- The president participates in a conspiracy to conceal evidence that his associates have committed a burglary. (Historical example: Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal)
- In a sexual harassment lawsuit, the president lies under oath. (Historical example: Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones/Monica Lewinski proceedings)
Exploration (20 min) Assign students to work in small groups to discuss the constitutional provisions related to impeachment in order to answer the Questions for Discussion at the bottom of Handout A. Application (30 min) Using Handout B: Impeachment in U.S. History, have students read the four narratives and answer the Comprehension Questions at the end of each one. Conclusion and Assessment (5–15 min) Write a few of the Reflection Questions on the board and conduct a whole-class discussion to provide a big-picture view of the use of impeachment with respect to the American presidency. Close by having students write their responses to Reflection Question 7: Using 50 words or fewer, answer this question: How has the process of impeachment affected the institution of checks and balances in American politics? Handout A: The Constitutional Provisions on Impeachment The Constitution, Article II, Section 4 The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. The Constitution, Article I, Section 3, Clause 6 The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of the two thirds of the Members present. The Constitution, Article I, Section 3, Clause 7 Judgment in Cases of Impeachments shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust, or Profit under the United States, but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment, and Punishment, according to Law. The Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 The President. . . shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment. Questions for Discussion: Use the excerpts of debates at the Constitutional Convention and the specific wording of constitutional provisions related to impeachment to infer the Framers’ answers to these questions:
- Should impeachment be considered as a method of removal from office for a president who has proven to be incompetent, but not necessarily guilty of criminal behavior?
- Should impeachment be used as a mode of removing a president as a result of partisan differences when the president is of a different party than the majority of Congressional leaders and has become an obstruction to legislation?
- What should the Congress do if the president is guilty of crimes but appears to have the confidence of the majority of the people who believe he can serve the country well in spite of his personal flaws?
Handout B: Impeachment in U.S. History The Senate has tried three presidents: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump. All three were acquitted because the prosecuting attorneys failed to convince two-thirds of the senators present of their guilt. A fourth president, Richard Nixon, resigned when it became clear that the House would impeach him and the Senate would find him guilty of the charges against him. ANDREW JOHNSON Andrew Johnson became president upon Abraham Lincoln’s death. He was hopeful about restoring the Union in a manner that would be lenient toward the South and preserve many powers of the states. Johnson saw restoration of the southern states as his responsibility. While Congress was not in session in 1865, Johnson quickly moved to readmit southern states on the basis of their ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. Lacking congressional support or political skills, he was met with determined opposition from Radical Republicans in Congress who wanted to punish the South and its leaders. Congress refused to seat the representatives of these readmitted states and asserted that reconstruction of the Union was properly a responsibility of the legislative branch, not of the executive. The Republican leadership sought to guarantee the civil and legal rights of African Americans and bar former Confederate leaders from voting or holding office. Congress, with no states from the former confederacy represented, passed numerous laws protecting freedmen and restricting the powers of states. Johnson vetoed the laws and Congress overrode his vetoes. Johnson’s cabinet consisted mostly of Lincoln appointees, and several cabinet members, led by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, bitterly opposed Johnson’s policies. In February 1867, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, prohibiting Johnson from unilaterally dismissing any office holder whose appointment had required Senate approval. Johnson (and all members of his cabinet) believed the law was unconstitutional Johnson vetoed the law, and Congress overrode his veto. In violation of the Tenure of Office Act, Johnson fired Stanton, who refused to leave. Eventually, Stanton barricaded himself in his office at the War Department, supported by armed volunteers who stood watch to be sure Stanton would not be removed by force. Republicans in the House of Representatives hardened their stance against the president and in February 1868 passed an impeachment resolution. Johnson’s trial before the Senate began the next month. Benjamin Curtis, a former Supreme Court Justice and one of two dissenters in the infamous Dred Scott decision, led the president’s defense team. They made three main arguments: First, they maintained that the language of the Tenure of Office Act was vague, leaving doubt about whether it even applied in Stanton’s case, because Stanton was appointed by Lincoln, not by Johnson. Second, Curtis argued that the law was unconstitutional because it interfered with the president’s ability to “take care that the law be faithfully executed.” A president cannot carry out the law if he cannot trust his advisors. Third, the defense insisted that the proper way to remove a president for political misdeeds was through election, not through impeachment. The prosecution team was led by Benjamin Butler. Their main points were that the president had clearly violated the Tenure of Office act by dismissing Stanton without consent of the Senate, and that the Constitution requires the president to faithfully execute a law duly passed by Congress, even if he believes it is unconstitutional. More broadly, the president’s accusers charged him with trying to return the “Slave Power” to the United States, violating the spirit of the Thirteenth Amendment if not its text. Johnson’s defenders accused the Republicans of using the judicial procedure of impeachment as a tool to carry out partisan goals. After a three-month trial, 35 of the 54 Senators voted to convict Johnson, but that was one vote short of the two-thirds majority necessary for conviction and removal from office. Johnson served the remaining ten months of his term, but the standoff against the Republicans continued. Johnson vetoed bills he thought were unconstitutional. Congress continued to override his vetoes, and the president’s influence was crippled. Importantly, Johnson enforced the laws passed by Congress, despite his initial veto of them. Comprehension Questions
- What is the difference between the restoration that President Andrew Johnson advocated and the Radical Republicans’ approach of reconstruction?
- To what extent did Johnson’s impeachment trial prove the effectiveness of the impeachment process as a way to preserve the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches?
- To what extent was the impeachment of Andrew Johnson prompted by partisan political goals as opposed to specific constitutional charges?
- Put the following thought in your own words: “So vague a term [as maladministration] will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate.”From: James Madison. “Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention.” The Avalon Project. https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/debates_908.asp
- Do you believe President Johnson committed “high crimes and misdemeanors”? Justify your opinion with specific evidence.
RICHARD NIXON Just over a century later, another constitutional crisis arose as a result of Richard Nixon’s use of executive privilege, which is the long-recognized power of the president to keep certain information secret. For a president to receive honest advice, his staff must be able to speak freely and in confidence. Beginning with George Washington, presidents had insisted on executive privilege as part of the separation of powers doctrine. In 1968, Nixon won the presidency in a close election and his supporters immediately began planning his campaign strategy for the 1972 election. The Committee to Re-Elect the President carried out a variety of illegal activities designed to spy on the Democrats, sabotage rival candidates, and silence political criticism of Nixon. These activities included hiring burglars and paying hush money, along with various “dirty tricks” intended to discredit Nixon’s critics. In June 1972, burglars were caught in the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, DC. Law enforcement officers suspected a connection between the burglars and the Nixon administration and investigations soon began, though White House officials denied any connection. Just before the November election, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) established that the Watergate break-in was indeed part of the political spying carried out by the Nixon campaign, but Nixon won reelection in a landslide. However, over the next few months, former members of the White House inner circle were convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and wiretapping as they attempted to cover up the administration’s connection with the illegal activities. Several of Nixon’s closest advisors resigned to protect the president, who denied he had known about any of the crimes until after the election. But by June 1973, former White House Counsel John Dean had told Senate investigators that Nixon personally participated in the cover-up. At this point it was Dean’s word against the president’s. Investigations by the courts, FBI, Senate, Department of Justice, and two different special prosecutors were conducted to learn “What did the president know and when did he know it?” Investigative reporting by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post focused the nation’s scrutiny on the growing storm and provided daily reports of developments in the investigations. In the course of the congressional investigation, it was revealed that Nixon secretly recorded all conversations in the Oval Office. At this point, a tug-of-war began between the president and those charged with finding answers about what had become known as the Watergate Scandal. Investigators demanded he surrender the tape recordings of his conversations, and the president refused, countering that executive privilege protected him. He also maintained that national security matters were discussed in the recorded conversations and releasing those details would endanger the country. The House of Representatives began mobilizing for a possible impeachment while a process was devised to allow the White House staff to remove sensitive national security information. In April 1974, the White House finally released not the recorded conversations but more than 1,200 pages of heavily edited transcripts to the House Judiciary Committee. This move raised more questions than it answered and momentum built toward impeachment. In United States v. Nixon in July 1974, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Nixon must turn over the actual recordings of certain conversations that investigators had determined were specifically related to the Watergate matter. Their ruling explained that the chief executive is entitled to great deference, especially in matters of national security and defense. However, “a generalized assertion of privilege must yield to the demonstrated, specific need for evidence in a pending criminal trial.” The House Judiciary Committee passed the first article of impeachment, charging the president with obstruction of justice. Nixon finally released the tapes demanded by the special prosecutor. What came to be called the “smoking gun tape” demonstrated that the president had known about the burglary and actively participated in the cover-up at least since June 23, 1972, six days after the burglary. By this tim
, Nixon’s impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate were a certainty, and he resigned on August 9, 1974. Therefore, Nixon avoided an impeachment trial. He could have been tried in a court of law as an ordinary citizen after he left the presidency, but within a month of the resignation, President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed. Comprehension Questions
- In United States v. Nixon 1974, the Supreme Court opinion noted that the president is entitled to great deference regarding executive privilege in matters related to national security and defense. To what extent did those matters seem to be relevant in the Watergate investigations?
- To what extent did the constitutional systems of separation of powers and checks and balances function appropriately in the case of Richard Nixon?
- What is the role of a free press in ensuring that no one, not even the president, is above the law?
- To what extent was the proposed impeachment of Richard Nixon prompted by partisan political goals as opposed to specific constitutional charges?
- Do you believe President Nixon committed “high crimes and misdemeanors”? Justify your opinion with specific evidence.
BILL CLINTON Andrew Johnson was impeached and acquitted in 1868. Bill Clinton, elected in 1992 and reelected in 1996, was the second U.S. president to be impeached. The atmosphere in Washington, DC, in the 1990s, as in the 1860s, was one of hyper-partisanship. Clinton’s political opponents eagerly searched for weapons to use against him and alleged that he and his wife Hillary had been engaged in real estate fraud through the Whitewater Development Corporation in Arkansas before he became president. Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr investigated the Whitewater questions, but ended up recommending the president’s impeachment on completely different matters. In 1994, Paula Jones sued President Clinton for sexual harassment as a result of a 1991 encounter. The judge allowed Jones’s lawyers to investigate Clinton’s background for evidence that he had demonstrated a pattern of harassment. Linda Tripp, a former White House employee, contacted Jones’s lawyers with information about Monica Lewinsky, an unpaid White House intern. Lewinsky had confided to Tripp about a sexual affair that Lewinsky claimed she had with the president starting in 1995. Jones’s lawyers called Tripp, Lewinsky, and other women to testify in Jones’s case to establish a pattern of sexual misconduct. However, Lewinsky hoped to return to work at the White House and, in 1998, signed an affidavit denying the affair about which she had previously confided to Tripp. Tripp had secretly recorded her conversations with Lewinsky, and she turned the recordings over to Special Prosecutor Starr. Unable to prove that the Clintons had engaged in fraud in their real estate dealings, Starr turned his attention to an investigation of the president’s sexual misconduct. Clinton gave his pretrial deposition for the Jones lawsuit in January 1998, stating that he had never had an affair with Lewinsky. In a press conference a few days later, Clinton again denied a sexual encounter with Lewinsky. A few months later, the judge dismissed the Jones lawsuit, ruling that Clinton’s behavior had not met the legal definition of sexual harassment. (Jones later agreed to drop her appeal in exchange for $850,000.) Starr believed Clinton had committed perjury and obstruction of justice with respect to the Lewinsky case, so he empaneled a grand jury and continued his investigation. Finally, Lewinsky admitted to the grand jury that she had lied in denying the affair. Clinton later appeared before the same grand jury, refusing to give direct answers to questions about his relationship with Lewinsky. Then the president, in a televised address to the American people, admitted his inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky, apologizing to his family and to the American people. In his four years of investigating the president, Starr provided evidence of 11 impeachable offenses. The House of Representatives brought two articles of impeachment, both dealing with the president’s lies about his relationship with Lewinsky. The trial in the Senate began in January 1999. House prosecutors argued that Clinton was guilty of “willful, premeditated, deliberate corruption of the nation’s system of justice through perjury and obstruction of justice.” Clinton’s lawyers responded, “The House Republicans’ case ends as it began, an unsubstantiated, circumstantial case that does not meet the constitutional standard to remove the president from office.” The president’s job approval rating had gone up throughout September, and by January had reached 70 percent. It became clear that prosecutors would not be able to achieve a two-thirds vote to convict Clinton in the Senate, and both sides were ready to end the proceedings. Forty-five Senators voted that Clinton was guilty of perjury, and 50 found him guilty of obstruction of justice. Because prosecutors failed to achieve a two-thirds vote (67 Senators), President Clinton served out the remainder of his second term as president. Comprehension Questions
- In the beginning of Kenneth Starr’s investigation, what topic was he pursuing? What topic ended up prompting the House to vote for articles of impeachment?
- To what extent was the impeachment of Bill Clinton prompted by partisan political goals as opposed to specific constitutional charges?
- Do you believe President Clinton committed “high crimes and misdemeanors”? Justify your opinion with specific evidence.
Donald Trump While Andrew Johnson was the only president to be impeached in the first 200 years of the United States, the impeachment of Donald Trump came only a few decades after the impeachment and acquittal of Bill Clinton. In September 2019, the House of Representatives began an investigation of whether President Donald Trump committed impeachable offenses during a phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. While the Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was initially hesitant to begin an impeachment inquiry against Republican President Trump, she deemed the interactions between President Trump and President Zelensky to be clearly improper and warranting of a new set of proceedings. During the summer of 2019, President Trump spoke on the phone with President Zelensky. Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as well as his son Hunter Biden, who had connections with a Ukrainian gas company. President Trump also discussed U.S. economic aid to Ukraine in the same phone call. Democrats in the House of Representatives brought an article of impeachment that stated Trump abused his presidential powers by asking a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election process by attempting to discredit his potential rival, Joe Biden. Additionally, this first impeachment article stated that Trump “sought to pressure the Government of Ukraine [to interfere in the election] by conditioning official United States Government acts of significant value to Ukraine on its public announcement of the investigations.” In other words, this article charged that Trump threatened to withhold U.S. aid from Ukraine if they did not pursue the investigation of the Bidens. The House also brought a second article of impeachment against President Trump for obstruction of Congress during the phone call investigation. President Trump argued that the charges were fabricated in an attempt by Democrats to remove him from office. Even if he implicitly threatened to withhold aid from Ukraine if it did not begin an investigation, Trump argued that such an action did not warrant removal. In February, the Senate voted to acquit President Trump of both charges. In a 48-52 vote, senators acquitted Trump of the charge of abuse of power, and in a 47-53 vote, senators acquitted him of obstruction of Congress. Since 67 votes were required to find the president guilty, Trump remained in office. Every Democrat and the two Independents in the Senate voted for both articles of impeachment. Only one Republican voted for the abuse of power article, while joining the rest of his party to vote against the obstruction of Congress article. Comprehension Questions
- What event caused the House of Representatives to begin an investigation of President Trump?
- What were the two articles of impeachment brought against President Trump?
- To what extent was the impeachment of Donald Trump prompted by partisan political goals as opposed to specific constitutional charges?
- Do you believe President Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors”? Justify your opinion with specific evidence.
Lesson Reflection Questions
- Should impeachment be considered as a method of removal from office, for example, of someone who has proven to be incompetent or as a result of partisan differences, or is it strictly a method of removal for criminal activity?
- What constitutes an impeachable offense?
- Is impeachment a political process or a criminal process?
- What does “high crimes and misdemeanors” mean?
- To what extent should partisanship drive the results of an impeachment trial?
- Compare and contrast the impeachments of two of the following presidents:
Andrew Johnson Bill Clinton Donald Trump
Extension Activity The Think the Vote platform is designed for students to practice civil discourse and their writing skills-and potentially getting paid to do so! Every two weeks, a new question is released on a current events topic. Students with the best answer on each side will win an Amazon gift card, BRI swag, and be entered to win our $1,000 grand prize. Plus, referring teachers receive their own gift card and swag. This week’s question: Do you agree with the outcome of the impeachment proceedings of President Trump?
The Impeachment Inquiry-Turned-Resignation Of President Richard Nixon, 1973-74
Twitter President Richard Nixon cried “witch hunt” when the Senate’s Watergate hearings got too close for comfort.
Technically, President Richard Nixon’s Watergate saga didn’t end in impeachment, since he resigned before it could get to that point, but by the time Nixon resigned, the House and the Senate had collected enough evidence to move forward with the impeachment process.
Nixon’s impeachment proceedings largely stemmed from his complicity in the June 17, 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D. C. The Nixon administration tried at every step to prevent any cooperation with the House, spawning a constitutional crisis.
But it turned out that Nixon had secretly tape-recorded private conversations in the Oval Office, and that some of those recordings explicitly showed Nixon himself trying to use his presidential powers to halt the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate break-in.
On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court finally forced Nixon to turn over the tapes. The tapes were damning, and if Nixon had stuck around long enough to proceed to an impeachment trial, then he would have had to contend with a majority-Democratic House and Senate. It was clear Nixon would be impeached, and soon.
While many were considered, the three articles of impeachment that were approved by the House Judiciary Committee were obstruction of justice (related to the Watergate break-ins and its attempted coverup by Nixon and his staff, as well as withholding the infamous Nixon White House Tapes), abuse of power, and contempt of Congress.
But the full House wouldn’t get to vote on impeachment, as Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974. “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body,” Nixon said in a televised speech that attempted to spin his presidency as a win for the U.S. “To have served in this office is to have felt a very personal sense of kinship with each and every American. In leaving it, I do so with this prayer: May God’s grace be with you in all the days ahead.”
Wikimedia Commons President Richard Nixon’s resignation letter. Aug. 9, 1974.
At noon the next day, he gave the reins of the presidency to Vice President Gerald Ford. Ford pardoned Nixon just a month later, protecting him from potential criminal indictment or prosecution.
ArtII.S220.127.116.11 Impeachable Offenses: Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
The impeachment and trial of President Andrew Johnson transpired in the shadow of the Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. 1 Footnote
See William H. Rehnquist , Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments 185–98 (1992) . President Johnson was a Democrat and former slave owner who was the only southern Senator to remain in his seat when the South seceded from the Union. 2 Footnote
Eleanore Bushnell , Crimes, Follies, and Misfortunes: The Federal Impeachment Trials 128 (1992) . President Lincoln, a Republican, appointed Johnson military governor of Tennessee in 1862, 3 Footnote
Id. and Johnson was later selected as Lincoln's second-term running mate on a Union ticket. 4 Footnote
Emily F.V. Tassel & Paul Finkelman , Impeachable Offenses: A Documentary History from 1787 to the Present 222 (1999) Given these unique circumstances, President Johnson lacked both a party and geographic power base when in office, which likely isolated him when he assumed the presidency following the assassination of President Lincoln. 5 Footnote
Bushnell , supra note 2, at 128 .
The majority Republican Congress and President Johnson clashed over, among other things, Reconstruction policies implemented in the former slave states and control over officials in the executive branch. 6 Footnote
Michael Les Benedict , The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson 1–25 (1973) Keith Whittington , Constitutional Construction 113–57 (1999) . President Johnson vetoed 21 bills while in office, compared to 36 vetoes by all prior Presidents. Congress overrode 15 of Johnson's vetoes, compared to just 6 with prior Presidents. 7 Footnote
Tassel & Finkelman , supra note 4, at 222–23 . On March 2, 1867, Congress reauthorized, over President Johnson's veto, the Tenure of Office Act, extending its protections for all officeholders. 8 Footnote
Tenure of Office Act, 14 Stat. 430 (1867) . Tassel & Finkelman , supra note 4, at 224 . In essence, the Act provided that all federal officeholders subject to Senate confirmation could not be removed by the President except with Senate approval, 9 Footnote
Tenure of Office Act, 14 Stat. 430 (1867) . See Michael J. Gerhardt , Constitutional Arrogance , 164 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1649, 1663 (2016) . although the reach of this requirement to officials appointed by a prior administration was unclear. 10 Footnote
Rehnquist , supra note 1, at 228 . Congressional Republicans apparently anticipated the possible impeachment of President Johnson when drafting the legislation Republicans already knew of President Johnson's plans to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and the Act provided that a violation of its terms constituted a high misdemeanor. 11 Footnote
Les Benedict , supra note 6, at 92–125 .
President Johnson subsequently fired Secretary Stanton without the approval of the Senate. Importantly, his cabinet unanimously agreed that the new restrictions on the President's removal power imposed by the Tenure of Office Act were unconstitutional. 12 Footnote
Rehnquist , supra note 1, at 230 . Shortly thereafter, on February 24, 1868, the House voted to impeach President Johnson. 13 Footnote
Cong. Globe , 40th Cong., 2d Sess. 1400 (1868) . The impeachment articles adopted by the House against President Johnson included defying the Tenure of Office Act by removing Stanton from office 14 Footnote
See Act of March 2, 1867, ch. 154, § 6, 14 Stat. 430 . Incidentally, such tenure protections were later invalidated as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. See Myers v. United States , 272 U.S. 52, 106 (1926) . and violating (and encouraging others to violate) the Army Appropriations Act. 15 Footnote
Tassel & Finkelman , supra note 4, at 226 . In addition, one article of impeachment accused the President of making utterances, declarations, threats, and harangues against Congress. 16 Footnote
id. at 235 .
The Senate appointed a committee to recommend rules of procedure for the impeachment trial which subsequently were adopted by the Senate, including a one-hour time limit for each side to debate questions of law that would arise during the trial. 17 Footnote
Rehnquist , supra note 1, at 219–20 . Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presided over the trial and was sworn in by Associate Justice Samuel Nelson. 18 Footnote
Id. at 221 . During the swearing-in of the individual Senators, the body paused to debate whether Senator Benjamin Wade of Indiana, the president pro tempore of the Senate, was eligible to participate in the trial. Because the office of the Vice President was empty, under the laws of succession at that time Senator Wade would assume the presidency upon a conviction of President Johnson. Ultimately, the Senator who raised this point, Thomas Hendricks of Indiana, withdrew the issue and Senator Wade was sworn in. 19 Footnote
See Akhil Reed Amar , America's Unwritten Constitution (2012) .
An important point of contention at the trial was whether the Tenure of Office Act protected Stanton at all due to his appointment by President Lincoln, rather than President Johnson. 20 Footnote
Rehnquist , supra note 1, at 221 . Counsel for President Johnson argued that impeachment for violation of a statute whose meaning was unclear was inappropriate, and the statute barring removal of the Secretary of War was an unconstitutional intrusion into the President's authority under Article II. 21 Footnote
Id. at 230–31 .
President Andrew Johnson for Kids: "The Tennessee Tailor"
Summary: Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), nicknamed the "Tennessee Tailor" , was the 17th American President and served in office from 1865-1869. The Presidency of Andrew Johnson spanned the period in United States history that encompasses the events of the Reconstruction Era and the Gilded Age . President Andrew Johnson represented the Republican / National Union political party which influenced the domestic and foreign policies of his presidency. This was the period of the Wild West with its famous cowboys, lawmen and gunslingers and the expansion of the nation with the 1867 purchase of Alaska.
The major accomplishments and the famous, main events that occurred during the time that Andrew Johnson was president included the Reconstruction of the South, the ratification of the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution, the infamous 'Black Codes', the Carpetbaggers and Scalawags the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1868 Impeachment Proceedings of Andrew Johnson began when he breached the Tenure of Office Act. The president was acquitted following the impeachment trial. Andrew Johnson died of a stroke on July 31, 1875, aged 66. The next president was Ulysses Grant.
Life of Andrew Johnson for kids - Andrew Johnson Fact File
The summary and fact file of Andrew Johnson provides bitesize facts about his life.
The Nickname of Andrew Johnson: The "Tennessee Tailor" or "Sir Veto"
The nickname of President Andrew Johnson provides an insight into how the man was viewed by the American public during his presidency. The meaning of the nickname "Tennessee Tailor" refers to his humble upbringing and early profession as a tailor in his home state of Tennessee. The meaning of his derogatory nickname "Sir Veto" because he tried to use the power of the veto to expand the power of the executive branch. The use of his vetos angered Congress and his violation of the Tenure of Office Act led to his impeachment.
Character and Personality Type of Andrew Johnson
The character traits of President Andrew Johnson can be described as reserved, direct, polite and determined. It has been speculated that the Myers-Briggs personality type for Andrew Johnson is an ISTJ (Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judgement). A reserved, well-regulated and serious character and a strong traditionalist. Andrew Johnson Personality type: logical, organized, sensible, thorough and dependable.
Accomplishments of Andrew Johnson and the Famous Events during his Presidency
The accomplishments of Andrew Johnson and the most famous events during his presidency are provided in
an interesting, short summary format detailed below.
Andrew Johnson for kids - The Reconstruction Era
Summary of the Reconstruction Era: The Reconstruction Era refers to the Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War. This period is referred to in American history as the Reconstruction Era and lasted from 1865-1877. Reconstruction is the term applied to the time period, or era, when the South was occupied by United States Federal troops whilst state governments and economies were established and the infrastructure of the South was rebuilt.
Andrew Johnson for kids - The Wild West
Summary of the Wild West: The Wild West (1865 - 1895) reflected the lawlessness of the untamed territories west of the Mississippi River during its frontier period, famous for cowboys, native Indians, the lawmen, gunslingers, the pioneers, the prospectors, the gamblers and, the outlaws.
Andrew Johnson for kids - Civil Rights Act of 1866
Summary of the Civil Rights Act of 1866: The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was enacted on April 9, 1866 to protect ex-slaves from legislation such as such as the Black Codes and the Vagrancy Laws and to help African Americans obtain equal status under the law.
Andrew Johnson for kids - The Ku Klux Klan
Summary of the Ku Klux Klan: The secret organization called the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was based in the South and founded on December 24, 1865, during the Reconstruction Era. The goals of the KKK were to organize white southern resistance to the Reconstruction-era Republican policies which were aimed at establishing political and economic equality for blacks.
Andrew Johnson for kids - The Carpetbaggers
Summary of the Carpetbaggers: The Carpetbaggers were opportunist Northerners who went to the South (often carrying their possessions in a carpet bag) whose aim was to exploit opportunities for financial gain and personal power.
Andrew Johnson for kids - The Scalawags
Summary of the Scalawags: The Scalawags were native born Southerners who looked to gain money and advancement during the Reconstruction Era. Scalawags often came from poor backgrounds and resented the southern elite plantation owners. Scalawags were deemed traitors to the South.
Andrew Johnson for kids - Reconstruction Act
Summary of the Reconstruction Acts: The series of laws and statutes called the Reconstruction Act, aka the Military Reconstruction Act, were passed during 1867 and 1868 gave control to Radical Republicans in Congress. The purpose of the Reconstruction Acts was to determine the terms to be fulfilled for the former Confederate States of America to be re-admitted to the Union. The series of laws divided the seceded states into five military districts, and required each state to draft a new state constitution and ratify the 14th Amendment.
Andrew Johnson for kids - The Tenure of Office Act
Summary of the Tenure of Office Act: The Tenure of Office Act was passed by Congress on March 2, 1867 and was designed to limit the powers of the President and prevent President Andrew Johnson dismissing radical Republicans from office. Andrew Johnson attempted to veto the law, but failed. He went on to ignore the Tenure of Office Act and suspended Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War which led to the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson.
Andrew Johnson for kids - Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
Summary of the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson: The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson began February 24, 1868, when Congress resolved to impeach Andrew Johnson for high crimes and misdemeanors. President Johnson had to answer 12 articles of Impeachment and was acquitted in the Senate by one vote less than the two-thirds necessary to remove him and was allowed to continue his term of office that ended on March 4, 1869.
President Andrew Johnson Video for Kids
The article on the accomplishments of Andrew Johnson provides an overview and summary of some of the most important events during his presidency. The following Andrew Johnson video will give you additional important history, facts and dates about the foreign and domestic political events of his administration.
Accomplishments of President Andrew Johnson
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