I'm an old movie buff (preferably Depression-era movies) so this past week-end I watched a double-feature of Abe Lincoln in Illinois and Tennessee Johnson (Andrew Johnson.)
I was just starting to pay attention to the world in the Watergate era so I grew up knowing that Andrew Johnson was the only president to be impeached but I never actually paid attention to why he was impeached. I just assumed he got caught doing something wrong, like Nixon. After watching the movie, I did some reading.
One of Lincoln's wisest political beliefs was that the southern states should be welcomed back into the Union when the war ended and not punished as traitors. This was at least a factor in his decision to press for Johnson as vice-president in his second term. Johnson was a former Governor of Tennessee and was the only southern Senator who did not resign his office when the south seceded. A vice-president from a Confederate state presented hope for unity and forgiveness.
Radical Republicans (a phrase used to describe a group within the Republican party which came into power in the 1866 election cycle) weren't so forgiving. They were strong supporters of freed slaves and they wanted harsh punishment for the Confederacy. Among them, were cabinet members Johnson inherited from Lincoln, including Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. (Stanton may be best known for saying "now he belongs to the ages" at Lincoln's deathbed.)
In an effort to prevent Johnson from removing Radical Republicans from his cabinet, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act which required the President to get Senate approval before firing any of his appointees whose appointment had been approved by the Senate. The act, effectively, made it impossible to Johnson to appoint his own cabinet members who might share his belief in reconciliation. Johnson vetoed the bill but it was over-ridden and became law.
Johnson suspended Stanton, in keeping with the act, but when the Senate did not approve the suspension, he defied the law and fired him anyway.
So Johnson was not the scoundrel I always believed him to be. I only have a slight understanding of Johnson's impeachment but he seemed to be a bold leader who was willing to sacrifice himself for the betterment of our country.
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