Why Was Andrew Johnson Impeached?

President Andrew Johnson being served impeachment summons by George T. Brown. Editorial credit: Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com

The U.S. House of Representatives is the only body in the United States that has the authority to impeach an officer of the government, including the president. Since its first meeting in New York on March 4, 1789, the House of Representatives has only exercised its power to impeach the president on two occasions. A president can be impeached if charged with committing high crimes or failing to perform constitutional duties. Apart from impeachment, the 25th amendment of the Constitution contains a provision that allows for the forceful removal of a sitting president who cannot physically continue to serve. The 17th president, Andrew Johnson, and the 42nd president, Bill Clinton, were both impeached during their terms but neither left office.

Why Was Andrew Johnson Impeached?

Andrew Johnson was the 17th president of the United States who served from April 15, 1865 to May 5, 1869. He was impeached on February 24, 1868, after violating the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson had fired Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, which was in violation of the law that requires the president to get Senate approval before dismissing a member of the cabinet. Stanton was a radical and an influential Republican, and the Republican members of the House of Representatives sought to impeach the Democrat president three days later. Johnson had fired Stanton because of the constant clashes with members of the Republican Party concerning the treatment of the South after the end of the American Civil War. Republicans considered the president sympathetic and friendly to former slaveholders. Although the Republicans had more than the required two-thirds membership in the Senate, a small number of those members chose to support the president's action, and Johnson ultimately survived the conviction by a single vote.

The Impeachment of Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton was impeached on December 19, 1998, based on charges related to a lawsuit concerning his extramarital affair with a female White House intern. Clinton was charged with obstruction of justice and perjury, but was acquitted of both charges after an inquiry by the Senate.

Other Presidents Facing Impeachment

Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson are not the only presidents who came close to losing their seats due to impeachment. President Richard Nixon was nearly impeached and convicted for the infamous Watergate scandal, but resigned before the House of Representatives could discuss his impeachment. President John Taylor also came close to impeachment when he angered lawmakers for vetoing a bill they had passed, although the impeachment attempt failed.


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