On this day in 1868, the House of Representatives voted to adopt a resolution that became eleven articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson after he dismissed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton without the approval of the Senate in violation of the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson had attempted to remove Stanton on two occasions. He suspended Stanton during a Senate recess and then dismissed him after the Senate rejected the initial suspension. The removal of Stanton was Johnson’s latest action in his battle against the implementation of congressionally favored reconstruction policies in the South. Johnson was narrowly acquitted on articles eleven, two, and three by one vote in the Senate. At that point, the Senate adjourned the trial without considering the rest of the articles.
The judgment of history has not been kind to President Johnson’s policy preferences on reconstruction, which included a limited view of the rights of former slaves and favored the lax treatment of former Confederate officials. However, Johnson’s claim that the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional was vindicated by the Supreme Court of the United States fifty-one years after his death in Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52 (1926). In Myers the Court held that the president has the exclusive power to remove executive branch officials and does not require the consent of the Senate, although that ruling has been limited in scope by subsequent decisions.
You can explore the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson on the Library of Congress site Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation.
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