The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
President Andrew Johnson assumed office following Lincoln’s assassination. Johnson had his own ideas of Reconstruction and tried to take his own course of action in putting the Union back together following the Civil War. A series of bitter political quarrels between President Johnson and Radical Republicans in Congress over Reconstruction Policy in the South eventually led to his impeachment.
Radical Republicans wanted to enact a far-reaching transformation of Southern social and economic life, permanently ending the old planter class system, and favored granting freed slaves citizenship and voting rights. After the war, they came to believe whites in the South were seeking to somehow preserve the old slavery system under a new appearance, (Divine 389).
In April of 1866, Congress enacted a Civil Rights Act in response to southern Black Codes. The act granted new rights to native-born blacks, including the right to testify in court, to sue, and to buy property. President Johnson vetoed the act, claiming it was an invasion of states' rights and would cause conflict between the races. Congress overrode the veto by a single vote. This marked the beginning of the escalating power struggle between the President and Congress, (Divine 395).
In June of 1866, Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing civil liberties for both native-born and naturalized Americans and prohibiting any state from “depriving citizens of life, liberty, or property, without due process”, (Divine 393). The amendment granted the right to vote to all males twenty-one and older. Johnson opposed the amendment on the grounds it did not apply to Southerners who were without any representation in Congress. Tennessee was the only Southern state to ratify the amendment. The others, encouraged in part by Johnson, refused. Moderate voters in the North began leaning toward the Radicals. The Radicals swept the elections of November 1866, resulting in a two-thirds anti-Johnson majority in both the House and Senate. With this majority, three consecutive vetoes by Johnson were overridden by Congress in 1867, thus passing the Military Reconstruction Act, Command of the Army Act, and Tenure of Office Act against his wishes, (Les Benedict 18).
The Military Reconstruction Act divided the South into five military districts under federal control and imposed strict requirements on Southern states in order for them to be re-admitted to the Union, including ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment and new state constitutions in compliance with the U.S. Constitution. The other two Acts limited Johnson's power to interfere with Congressional Reconstruction. The Command of the Army...