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President Andrew Johnson Impeachment Trial: 1868

Johnson Becomes An Unpopular President, Senate Tries President Johnson, Senate Republicans Thwart Johnson's Defense

Defendant: President Andrew Johnson
Crime Charged: "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" within the meaning of Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution
Chief Defense Lawyers: William Maxwell Evarts and Benjamin R. Curtis
Chief Prosecutors: Seven "trial managers" from the House of Representatives
Judges: U.S. Senate, with Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding
Place: Washington, D.C.
Dates of Trial: March 30-May 26, 1868
Verdict: No impeachment

SIGNIFICANCE: The U.S. Congress for the first time exercised its Constitutional prerogative to try a president of the United States for impeachable offenses. Johnson survived the Senate impeachment trial by one vote, but his hopes for re-election in 1868 were destroyed. Johnson was succeeded by the corrupt administration of Ulysses S. Grant.

After five years of bloody Civil War, the Union emerged victorious. President Abraham Lincoln and his Republican administration were vindicated. On April 14, 1865, to the shock and horror of the Union, while attending a performance at Ford's Theatre, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. The next day, Vice President Andrew Johnson was sworn in as president of the United States. Ironically, the man who would lead the United States into the Reconstruction era was a Southerner.

Born in North Carolina and raised in Tennessee, Johnson entered into politics and had enjoyed a successful career with the Democratic Party. He was chosen to represent Tennessee in the U.S. Senate. When the Southern states left the Union to form the Confederacy, Johnson was widely admired in the North for being the only Southern senator to remain loyal while his state seceded.

Johnson's loyalty and newfound fame caught the attention of President Abraham Lincoln. First, Lincoln appointed Johnson the Union's military governor of Tennessee. When Lincoln was up for re-election in 1864 against General George McClellan, Lincoln chose Johnson as his running mate. As a Southern Democrat and loyalist, Johnson would attract moderate voters in addition to the abolitionist and radical Republican forces already in Lincoln's camp.

Lincoln won the election of 1864. Although his assassination makes it impossible to know for certain how his Reconstruction administration would have proceeded, he had chosen Johnson as vice-president and had used the phrase "with malice toward none, with charity for all" in advocating leniency toward the South. Thus, many historians have concluded that Lincoln would have pursued a moderate and conciliatory approach toward the reunited Confederate states.

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