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President Andrew Johnson Impeachment Trial: 1868

Johnson Becomes An Unpopular President

Johnson lacked the stature that Lincoln had gained as the president who held the Union together. Although Lincoln would probably have approved of Johnson's moderate policies toward Reconstruction, Johnson did not have the prestige necessary to convince Congress or the American people that he was suited to the job. The electorate of the victorious Union, having undergone the bloodiest war in American history, sent mostly Republicans to Congress because the Republicans had been Lincoln's party. Within Congress, the Republican majority became Johnson's enemy.

The political antagonism between Johnson and Congress was further aggravated by Johnson's opposition to the Fourteenth Amendment, which expanded Constitutional protection of basic civil liberties, and such Congressional initiatives as establishment of the Freedmen's Bureau to assist freed slaves. Johnson went on a nationwide speaking tour, known as the "Swing Around the Circle," in which he made a series of abrasive and blunt speeches full of accusations against his political enemies in Congress. The Swing Around the Circle only served to erode further Johnson's public support.

Sensing vulnerability, Congress moved against Johnson by passing the Tenure of Office Act, which limited Johnson's ability to remove cabinet officials without Congressional approval. Predictably, Johnson fought the act, particularly because he wished to rid his cabinet of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who was now allied with the opposition. When Johnson attempted to fire Stanton, Congress retaliated. Thaddeus Stevens, a Representative from Pennsylvania who spoke for radical Republicans in favor of harsh treatment for the South as "conquered territory," led the House of Representatives to a 126-47 vote in favor of a short but historic resolution: "Resolved, that Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanors in office."

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882President Andrew Johnson Impeachment Trial: 1868 - Johnson Becomes An Unpopular President, Senate Tries President Johnson, Senate Republicans Thwart Johnson's Defense