By February 1868, President Andrew Johnson had been at odds with Congress for years.
Johnson had been Vice President for barely a month when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1864, and his battles with Congress started from practically Day 1.
Johnson shared Lincoln’s view that the Confederacy should be swiftly and gently reintegrated back into the Union after the Civil War; neither wanted to penalize the South.
But at the time, Congress was filling up with politicians known as “Radical Republicans” who were anything BUT moderate.
They wanted to punish the South and mandate reunification with all sorts of strings attached– the opposite of what Andrew Johnson wanted to accomplish.
So Johnson vetoed nearly reunification bill that Congress passed.
Congress only had one key ally in the Executive Branch– Secretary of War Edward Stanton, a Radical Republican who did not see eye-to-eye with his President.
And just as Johnson was about to fire Stanton, Congress passed a bill called the Tenure of Office Act, which prohibited the President from firing ANY member of his cabinet.
The law was specifically designed to ensure that Stanton could not be fired– which is COMPLETELY unconstitutional.
Johnson vetoed the bill, but Congress had enough votes to override his Presidential veto… so the Tenure of Office Act still became law of the land.
Johnson ignored this unconstitutional law and fired Stanton anyhow. And within a matter of days he was brought up on 11 articles of impeachment. In addition to violating an unconstitutional law, Johnson was also accused of:
* Making speeches to the public which were “intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous…against Congress amid the cries, jeers, and laughter of the multitudes…”
* bringing “the high office of the President of the United States into contempt, ridicule, and disgrace, to the great scandal of all good citizens…”
Mostly, Johnson was severely disliked by these Radical Republicans. He was a southern ex-slave owner… a potent combination that attracted seething hatred from his contemporaries. And his impeachment articles were just code for “We hate this racist asshole.”
Realistically, though, Johnson’s impeachment was just an attempted coup.
Congress had a policy agenda they wanted to pass, and Johnson kept getting in the way. So they came up with a bunch of silly charges, including the fact that he violated an unconstitutional law, in order to neutralize him.
Johnson was ultimately acquitted by the Senate and finished out the rest of his term. But it still set a precedent.
I know there are countless people losing their minds today because Congress just impeached the President of the United States on charges they find incredibly flimsy.
And there are plenty of talking heads saying that if a President can be impeached on such flimsy charges, that it ‘sets a very dangerous precedent.’
Well, technically this dangerous precedent was set more than 150 years ago; accusations against Andrew Johnson were appallingly flimsy, yet he was still impeached.
In the tenth charge of his Articles of Impeachment, for example, Congress cited a speech Andrew Johnson had given in 1866 in which he said, “God willing, with your help I will veto [Congress’s] measures whenever any of them come to me…”
According to Congress, that simple statement was an impeachable offense… and set a precedent that they can impeach anyone for anything.
So if you think that today’s impeachment charges are too flimsy and set a dangerous precedent, this is really nothing new.
At the same time, there are also countless people losing their minds because they think ‘there’s a crime in progress’ and they want the President thrown out of office immediately.
Well, if you’re going to impeach someone and throw him out because he’s ‘abused his power,’ then you should apply the same standard to EVERYONE.
Politicians invariably abuse power for personal gain. Every time Barack Obama went to a campaign event for his own re-election in 2012, it cost taxpayers millions of dollars between the Secret Service, Air Force One, Presidential motorcade, etc.
Taxpayers foot the bill for his benefit. And every President in modern history has done the same.
These people pardon their friends, elevate campaign donors to important government posts, and lie constantly. They spend taxpayer resources and pass legislation for the sole purpose of elevating their approval ratings or solidifying their legacy.
Presidents do it. Cabinet secretaries do it. Senators and Members of Congress do it.
And it’s all abuse. Terrible, terrible abuse.
But if people are so juiced up to see one person punished for abuse of power, then why not have a real purge and throw everyone out? I would humbly nominate my 5-week old kitten to take over.
At the end of the day, though, we know this is just more bread and circuses. There’s no chance of anything real happening other than a giant waste of time and money.
Two decades ago they caught then President Bubba Clinton lying through his teeth when he said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman!” and “There’s nothing going on between us,” referring to White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
It was later found that, yes, in fact, Clinton used Lewinsky as a cigar holder. And when confronted about his lie, he had the most remarkable response in US political history:
“It depends on what the meaning of the word is is…”
Clinton was impeached and put on trial in front of the Senate.
But relying on the prevailing legal standard from the 1990s– “If it doesn’t fit you must acquit”, Clinton and his cigar were acquitted by 50% of the Senate, who were apparently also confused about the meaning of the word is.
Historian Will Durant often wrote that, despite the tremendous growth in knowledge over 5,000 years of human history, wisdom is little changed.
I couldn’t agree more. Enjoy the show.