May 16

This Day in History

Presidential

May 16, 1868:

Senate acquits Johnson of high crimes and misdemeanors

On this day in 1868, the U.S. Senate votes against impeaching President Andrew Johnson and acquits him of committing "high crimes and misdemeanors."

In February 1868, the House of Representatives charged Johnson with 11 articles of impeachment for vague "high crimes and misdemeanors." (For comparison, in 1998, President Bill Clinton was charged with two articles of impeachment for obstruction of justice during an investigation into his inappropriate sexual behavior in the White House Oval Office. In 1974, Nixon faced three charges for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.) The main issue in Johnson's trial was his staunch resistance to implementing Congress' Civil War Reconstruction policies. The War Department was the federal agency responsible for carrying out Reconstruction programs in the war-ravaged southern states and when Johnson fired the agency's head, Edwin Stanton, Congress retaliated with calls for his impeachment.

Of the 11 counts, several went to the core of the conflict between Johnson and Congress. The House charged Johnson with illegally removing the secretary of war from office and for violating several Reconstruction Acts. The House also accused the president of hurling slanderous "inflammatory and scandalous harangues" against Congressional members. On February 24, the House passed all 11 articles of impeachment and the process moved into a Senate trial.

The Senate trial lasted until May 26, 1868. Johnson did not attend any of the proceedings and was not required to do so. After all the arguments had been presented for and against him, Johnson waited for his fate, which hung on one swing vote. By a vote of 35-19, Johnson was acquitted and finished out his term. Presidents Johnson and Clinton are the only presidents for whom the impeachment process went as far as a Senate trial. Nixon resigned before the House of Representatives could vote on impeachment.

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