On May 16, 1868, the U.S. Senate acquitted President Andrew Johnson of committing “high crimes and misdemeanors” when it failed by one vote on each of three counts to gain a two-thirds majority necessary to remove Johnson from office.
Johnson, a Democrat who ran with Abraham Lincoln on the National Union ticket and became President upon Lincoln’s death, favored a policy of benevolent reconciliation with the Southern States following the Civil War. He issued a series of proclamations that directed the Southern States to hold conventions and elections to reform their governments, and he attempted to veto a number of bills establishing military districts to oversee the new State governments.
When many of those States began returning their old leaders to positions in government, Congress objected and passed legislation to prevent the old leaders from being seated. Johnson vetoed those bills, most of which were overridden by Congress. He also opposed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
In 1867, over Johnson’s veto, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act. It was a bill designed to maintain Republican power in government.
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who had committed war crimes through his support of total war on the Southern citizenry, also favored the policy of harsh retribution, as did the Republicans who held the majority in both Houses of Congress.
When Johnson fired Stanton in violation of the Constitutionally questionable Tenure of Office Act, the House used this “violation” to begin impeachment proceedings. It filed 11 counts against Johnson, three of which were taken up by the Senate.
Johnson’s impeachment was purely political, unlike Bill Clinton’s, which was based on perjury charges.