Year
1808

Andrew Johnson is born

On this day in 1808, future President Andrew Johnson is born in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Johnson’s career took him from mayor of Greeneville (1834) to the Tennessee legislature (1835) and then to the U.S. House of Representatives (1843). He went home to serve as Tennessee’s governor from 1853 to 1857, but then returned to Washington as a U.S. senator in late 1857. In 1864, he accepted Abraham Lincoln’s offer to run with him as vice president for Lincoln’s second term. Lincoln was shot on the night of April 14, 1865, and died the next day, making Johnson the 17th president of the United States.

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 alleged involvement in the Watergate scandal.) The main issue in Johnson’s trial was his staunch resistance to implementing Congress’ Civil WarReconstruction policies. The War Department was the federal agency responsible for carrying out Reconstruction programs in the war-ravaged and socially disrupted 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. Johnson was also accused of hurling libelous “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, which 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 to 19, Johnson was acquitted and finished out his term.

When Johnson’s presidency ended, he and his wife Eliza moved back to their home state of Tennessee. In 1869, they suffered tragedy: His son, an alcoholic, committed suicide. In early 1875, he launched a political comeback and was re-elected to the Senate in June of that year, but was never able to assume office. He suffered a stroke and passed away on July 31, 1875.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Worst air raid on London

On the evening of December 29, 1940, London suffers its most devastating air raid when Germans firebomb the city. Hundreds of fires caused by the exploding bombs engulfed areas of London, but firefighters showed a valiant indifference to the bombs falling around them and saved ...read more

Texas enters the Union

Six months after the congress of the Republic of Texas accepts U.S. annexation of the territory, Texas is admitted into the United States as the 28th state. After gaining independence from Spain in the 1820s, Mexico welcomed foreign settlers to sparsely populated Texas, and a ...read more

The making of an English martyr

Archbishop Thomas Becket is brutally murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights of King Henry II of England, apparently on orders of the king. In 1155, Henry II appointed Becket as chancellor, a high post in the English government. Becket proved a skilled diplomat and won ...read more

U.S. Army massacres Indians at Wounded Knee

On this day in 1890, in the final chapter of America’s long Indian wars, the U.S. Cavalry kills 146 Sioux at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Throughout 1890, the U.S. government worried about the increasing influence at Pine Ridge of the Ghost Dance ...read more

Germans raid London

On this day, German aircraft blanket incendiary bombs over London, setting both banks of the Thames ablaze and killing almost 3,600 British civilians. The German targeting of the English capital had begun back in August, payback for British attacks on Berlin. In September, a ...read more

U.S. Army massacres Sioux at Wounded Knee

In the tragic final chapter of America’s long war against the Plains Indians, the U.S. Cavalry kills 146 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Tensions had been running high on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota for months because of the growing popularity of a new ...read more

Cheers star Ted Danson born

On this day in 1947, the actor Ted Danson, who will become best known for his role as bar owner Sam Malone on the mega-hit TV sitcom Cheers, which originally aired from 1982 to 1993, is born in San Diego, California. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, where he ...read more

Bridge collapses in Ohio

A bridge in Ashtabula, Ohio, collapses on this day in 1876, causing a train to fall into a gorge, killing 80 passengers. The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway brought passengers into Chicago from points east. On December 29, a snow storm forced one of the trains (two ...read more

The “Railway Rapist” commits his first murder

The “Railway Rapist” attacks 19-year-old Alison Day and abducts her from a London train. Her strangled body was recovered two weeks later. Although the perpetrator had attacked and raped many women since 1982, this was his first murder. The Railway Rapist had a distinctive method ...read more

Battle of Chickasaw Bluffs

On this day in 1862, at the Battle of Chickasaw Bluffs, Union General William T. Sherman is thwarted in his attempt to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi, when he orders a frontal assault on entrenched Rebels. Chickasaw Bluffs was part of Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s attempt to ...read more

British capture Savannah, Georgia

On this day in 1778, British Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell and his force of between 2500 and 3600 troops, which included the 71st Highland regiment, New York Loyalists, and Hessian mercenaries, launch a surprise attack on American forces defending Savannah, Georgia. ...read more