Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Trial of the Century

It's Sesquicentenniback Saturday in this corner of the blogosphere; last week's post called to my attention that this spring marks the 150th anniversary of the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.

Last week's post offers a brief summary of what happened in 1868, so I'll try not to repeat myself too much while still going into excruciating detail. Here goes.
Andrew Johnson, in Harper's Weekly, May 13, 1865
Andrew Johnson was a Tennessee Democrat opposed to southern secession. President Lincoln appointed the Senator as military governor of Tennessee in 1862, and he and Secretary of State William Seward were impressed enough with Johnson's administration there to recommend him over incumbent Vice President Hannibal Hamlin as Lincoln's running mate in 1864. Lincoln and Johnson ran under the banner of the National Union Party, for which Johnson campaigned personally (not standard practice in those days) in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana.

His first impression on a national audience, however, did not go well. Badly hung over from Inauguration Eve partying — for which he self-medicated with more hair of the dog — he delivered a rambling, incoherent inauguration speech, and was hastily sworn in once he began to run out of steam. He kind of went into hiding after that, but his political enemies would never let him forget about it.

Just over a month later, he was suddenly elevated to the presidency by Lincoln's assassination. (Johnson was a target of the plot, too, but the man assigned to kill him got drunk instead.)
Three panels from "Bal Opera" by Thomas Nast, in Harper's Weekly, April 14, 1866
As president, Johnson stubbornly pursued a policy of reinstating Confederate states into the union, opposing voting rights for freed slaves, and pardoning Confederate leaders. This put him at odds with Radical Republicans, who favored voting, property and basic civil rights for freed slaves, and the punishment of Confederate leaders. Moderate Republicans were less eager to extend voting rights to freedmen; it's worth noting that several northern states still denied Black men the vote, and post-war moves to enfranchise Blacks were voted down in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Connecticut.
Panel from "Andy's Trip" by Thomas Nast, in Harper's Weekly, October 27, 1866
On Washington's birthday, 1866, Johnson delivered another disastrous speech in which he managed to refer to himself over 200 times over the course of the hour. (Remind you of any other presidential ego?) Worse, he accused Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Senator Charles Sumner and abolitionist Wendell Phillips of plotting to assassinate him and destroy the Union.
Panel from "Andy's Trip" by Thomas Nast, in Harper's Weekly, October 27, 1866
Johnson's already strained relationship with Radical Republicans was thus permanently ruptured; his veto (overridden) of the Civil Rights Bill of 1866, on the grounds that it discriminated against white men, convinced Moderate Republicans that they couldn't work with him, either. Republicans sent the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution to the states for ratification that year, and passed a Tenure of Office Act the next to shield Republicans in Johnson's cabinet from being fired. The amendment was ratified once Nebraska was added to the union (again, vetoed and overridden); the Tenure of Office Act was passed — you guessed it — over presidential veto.
"Samson Agonistes at Washington," unsigned, in Harper's Weekly, August 24, 1867
Testing provisions of the Act in August, 1867, Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton during a congressional recess and replaced him with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ad interim. Congress reinstated Stanton in January, 1868, and Grant stepped aside.
"The Hurt Can Not Be Much" by Alfred R. Waud in Harper's Weekly, February 1, 1868.
Johnson fired Stanton a second time, choosing as his replacement this time General Lorenzo Thomas (who resembles the guy lurking around the corner in this next cartoon, rather than the birdman in the foreground, so I'm not quite sure how to interpret it).
"General Thomas Begs to Be Excused," unsigned, in Harper's Weekly, March 14, 1868
During the war, Stanton had stripped Thomas, then working in the War Office, of the title of Adjutant-General on the grounds of inadequacy, and sent him to organize Black troops in the South. Thomas was brevetted to Major General after the war, but nursed a grudge against Stanton.
"Advice Not Easily Followed," unsigned, in Harper's Weekly, April 4, 1868
Accompanied by a Gen. William H. Emery, Thomas personally delivered Johnson’s dismissal notice to the War Secretary. But Stanton not only refused to vacate the office; he had Thomas arrested. Realizing, however, that the arrest would allow the courts to review the Tenure of Office Act and possibly find it unconstitutional, he let the charges drop. Thomas promptly sued Stanton for false imprisonment.
"A Brace of Dead Ducks," unsigned, in Harper's Weekly, March 14, 1868
Based on the mutton chops, "Forney" in the above cartoon appears to be John W. Forney, Secretary of the U.S. Senate from 1861 to June of 1868. Mr. Forney had pulled his early support of President Johnson and become a vocal advocate of impeachment by the time this cartoon was published. Johnson, who shared our current president's proclivity for attacking his critics, uncharacteristically held his fire against Forney, explaining, "I do not waste my ammunition on dead ducks."
"This Little Boy Would Persist...," unsigned, in Harper's Weekly, March 21, 1868
I would presume that "Vol. 14" of the Constitution refers to the Fourteenth Amendment, which would be adopted in July after this cartoon appeared.
"The Paroquet of the Wh—e H—e," unsigned, in Harper's Weekly, March 21, 1868
Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (he of Johnson's imagined assassination plot) was the House's floor manager for prosecution of the impeachment, but due to his age and deteriorating health, the lion's share of the duties fell to Rep. Benjamin Butler (R-MA). Butler, a Civil War general, was elected on an anti-Johnson platform in 1866 and prosecuted the case with enough histrionics for both men put together. "Luff" in the below cartoon of the two congressmen refers to unwanted flapping of the sails.
"Coming Into Port," in Harper's Weekly, May 2, 1868
On May 16, 1868, 35 Senators voted to convict Johnson on three of the articles of impeachment. They needed 36. As the remaining eight articles were decided, the 35-19 margin held through the final votes on May 26; enough Republicans broke with their party to prevent Johnson's removal from office.
"Effect of the Vote on the Eleventh Article of Impeachment," unsigned, in Harper's Weekly, May 30, 1868
One such Senator, James Grimes (R-IA) explained, “I cannot agree to destroy the harmonious working of the Constitution for the sake of getting rid of an Unacceptable President.” And thus the nation was spared the ten-month presidency of Senate President Pro Tem Benjamin Wade.

Johnson ran for the Democratic Party's nomination for President that year, but what support he had at the party's nominating convention evaporated after the first ballot. As for the Tenure of Office Act, Congress scaled its provisions back as soon as Johnson was out of office. The Supreme Court eventually found it unconstitutional in 1926 in Myers v. United States, in a ruling delivered by Chief Justice — and former President — William Howard Taft.

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