I'm working on the Nuclear Energy Wiki article right now, but I figured that I'd share an essay that I wrote a few weeks ago for fun. Enjoy.
In Article 2 Section 1 Clause 9 of the Constitution, the president of the United States of America must solemnly swear to execute their office faithfully, and to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” to the best of their ability before going into office. With this regard, it is important to remember our great commanders in chief, the so-so ones, the not so great ones, and the ones who were nearly taken out of office.
The power of impeachment given to the Congress was bestowed upon it as a measure of checks and balances, in this case, making sure that if, the Executive Branch, or the President in particular, obstructs justice, whether through “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” and in both cases of impeachment, those terms have had the most broad and subjective definitions in the cases of impeachment.
Going back to the year 1864, our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, has secured his reelection in a landslide, carrying a slight majority of the popular vote (55%), being the first President to win reelection since Andrew Jackson in 1832, and defeating The Democratic Candidate and former Commanding General of the Union Army, George B. McClellan, in 20 of the 23 states, unless you count the Confederate States under Union Control, these being Louisiana and Tennessee, the latter of which was the homestate of Lincoln’s new Running Mate, Andrew Johnson, a Jacksonian Democrat who replaced Hannibal Hamlin on the ticket as a gesture of national unity, and as a method of balancing the ticket.
One of the things Lincoln is remembered for is being the first President from the modern Republican party, which was formed to counter the Pro-Slavery Democratic Party, and advocated for stopping the spread of slavery in the acquired territories. However, during the time of the election, when the Civil War seemed to be coming to an end, Lincoln and his constituents conceived of a new party Pro Tempore; the National Union Party. It was conceived so Lincoln had a means of appealing to the War Democrats, which brings us to the subject in question.
When the states of Texas, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana declared their secession, the states Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee eventually followed suit. This meant that their men in Congress also declared their severance from the Union. However, Senator Andrew Johnson openly spoke about his loyalty to the union, claiming that he intends to stand by it, and advocating for the preservation of the Union. This move is what put him on the National Union ticket in 1864, and is possibly the worst mistake Lincoln ever made in his entire presidency.
We know what happens next; Lincoln is inaugurated for second term, and just a few days after Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Lincoln was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre by actor John Wilkes Booth, before he could implement his plans for Reconstruction, known as the 10% Plan. The 10% Plan basically stated that as long as 10% of each of the seceded states’ population that voted in the 1860 Election wanted back into the Union, they will be readmitted, in order to have a hasty restoration of the Union. So, for example, in 1860, 106,717 votes were cast for the election in the state of Georgia. If 10,672 people (or unless some guy decides to cut off their knees) from Georgia vote to go back into the Union, they will. Lincoln also promised pardons to all southerners except high ranking Confederate Military and Government Officers. Johnson largely agreed with that plan, but the Radical Republicans in Congress hated it, as they wanted to punish more southern leaders, and more southerners voting to get back into the union (see Wade-Davis Bill). However, the key difference between Lincoln and Johnson was that Lincoln wanted to grant newly freed slaves rights such as citizenship and suffrage (both of which were granted by the 14th and 15th amendments respectively) along with full civil rights, while Mr. Johnson opposed this with every fiber in his body. Pretty much being a white supremacist, as president, he did everything in his power to keep the United States a white dominated country. In the early days of the Democratic party (known as the Jacksonian Democrats), a key ideology was White Nationalism. Andrew Jackson, whom the party is named after, was a pretty hardcore racist, who supported slavery and didn’t have much concern for the American Indians. Why? Well legend has it that he’s uh… a complete a**hole? Anyways, both these Andrews had their similarities, other than their names. They were both Democrats, served in Congress representing Tennessee, served as seventh and seventeenth president respectively, and both were incredibly racist. Of course, for the time, most white people were racist, but during the era of Reconstruction, which sought to guarantee freedmen equal rights, a Democrat was the last person you’d want in office, ESPECIALLY the President.
The philosophy of Jacksonian Democracy was that the government should serve to benefit the common man- sorry, common WHITE man, which was generally pro on the slavery issue (obviously), which was quickly dividing the nation, and after the Mexican Cession (1848), with sectional divides becoming an issue, having a Democrat at the helm was not desirable, as evidenced by the two Pre-Civil War Democratic Presidents, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, each of whom had terrible handlings of the issue, and hastened the coming of the Civil War, what with the Kansas Nebraska Act signed by Pierce which allowed for Popular Sovereignty in the new Kansas and Nebraska territories, which eventually led to a bunch of pro and anti slavery militants flooding the area and killing each other (which came to be known as Bleeding Kansas), or Buchanan pushing for the Dred Scott Ruling, which stated that slavery couldn’t be banned in the territories, which led to even more civil unrest. So, how does our Democrat Andrew Johnson handle the country’s affairs when slavery is officially outlawed? Eh… not very well.
We’ve already established that the President was a racist Democrat and the Congress was filled with Republicans wanting to give African Americans rights. My, how times have changed. Anyways, Congress passed bills, known as Reconstruction Bills, that helped the newly freed slaves, such as the Freedmen’s Bureau, and education for black children. Of course, as President, Johnson has the power to block these bills (veto), as described by Article I, Section 7, Clause 2 of the Constitution. However, in Article I, Section 7, Clause 3, the Congress has the power to override these vetoes if there is a ⅔ or 66% majority vote for the bill (if they attempt to override the veto). And with each house of Congress having an over 75% majority, this would be an often occurrence during Johnson’s Administration. Congress would pass a bill, Johnson would veto it, and Congress would override it. Overall, Johnson used the veto power 29 times, including 8 pocket vetoes (where a bill is not returned to Congress), and saw 15 vetoes overridden, about 52%. In terms of numbers, he saw the most veto overrides, while he is second place percentage wise, behind Franklin Pierce, who saw 5 of his 9 vetoes overridden, or about 56%. Johnson saw possibly the most uncooperative Congress in American History, but still, Johnson was a roadblock to Congress to help ensure racial equality. And while the South loved Johnson’s Democratic White Nationalist policies, they didn’t have much say in the political affairs due to there being Union Troops in the South, protecting freedmen, making it difficult for Democrats to get in Congress. But the Constitution makes the President the Commander in Chief of the armies, so doesn’t that mean that Johnson could pull out the troops from the south, letting the Democratic governments and racist populations to take over? Of course. However, the Secretary of War has the authority over the army, and the Secretary of War at this time, who was really Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, was a Radical Republican, who made sure those troops stayed in the South. However, Johnson was the President after all, meaning he could fire him, right? Well, as usual, Congress was a step ahead of him. They passed the Tenure of Office Act, which stated that the President couldn’t remove an appointed official from office (was vetoed, then overridden if you haven’t figured that out by now). Now, while this was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, since it made Congress step on the powers of the President, Congress being Congress basically said “Nyeh,” and acted like it was law. And Johnson, being the shrewd politician that he is, fired the guy anyways, and had General Ulysses S. Grant, who opposed Stanton’s removal, serve as acting Secretary. This infuriated Congress, and this led to the first time in history our Commander in Chief has been impeached.
Johnson was not the first President to have impeachment proceedings brought against him; that title belongs to John Tyler, who, after vetoing many bills that the Whig party liked (Tyler himself was a Whig, but he was expelled from the Party after blocking most of the Whig Agenda), has impeachment proceedings brought against him, but not enough House Members agreed on impeachment. Ya ever notice that whenever Congress tried to impeach the President, it’s usually politically motivated, and not for legitimate reasons (such as obstruction of justice)? Mainly because Congress just doesn’t like them and are willing to twist the Constitution’s definitions enough to make it happen, but we’re not gonna go on a tirade here.
Johnson’s impeachment began in the Winter of 1868. Along with violating the Tenure of Office Act, Johnson was facing about 10 other charges, most of which can be traced back to the violation of the Tenure of Office Act anyways. Now, with 86.4% and 78.6% Radical Republican Control in both the Senate and House respectively, and with Chief Justice and Radical Republican Salmon P. Chase (who was actually appointed by Lincoln) presiding, Johnson’s conviction seemed inevitable, right? Well… yeah it would seem that way with anyone who knows the numbers. I mean, come on man, you only need 66% of each house to say yes to get the dude outta office, and both houses have excessive majorities, so what was there to expect? Johnson himself was pretty pissed, and even though I don’t like the guy, I can sympathize with him here from a legal and political standpoint at least. I mean come on,
The House was able to get the impeachment process going; a majority of the House agreed on the impeachment proceedings. Now, it was up to the Senate to convict him and finally get him out of office. However, unlike the House that only needs a simple majority to impeach, the Senate requires a 2/3s majority to convict. The 40th United States Congress has 68 Senators, and 36 votes are needed for a 2/3s majority. Now, you U.S. history buffs know what happens next; All Democrats and few Republicans vote no on impeachment, and it is left to one man; Democrat George Vickers from Maryland. Having escaped impeachment by a single vote, Johnson served out the rest of his term with the little power and influence he had. After his presidency, he would be return to the Senate in 1875, but would die a few months into the term.
Reconstruction is often considered a failed period American history, and Johnson’s handling definitely had a part in it, and it is often debated that, had it been successful, it would have saved the U.S. the Civil Rights Movement about a century later. After the Johnson years came the Grant years, which saw more efforts towards racial equality until 1877 when Reconstruction ended due to a particular election we’re not gonna talk about now. Grant was able to undo some of the bad things Johnson did, and did good things for blacks, such as signing Civil Rights Acts, pushing for the Ratification of the 15th Amendment, and fighting the KKK, but after that period, Executive Order 9981 Signed by President Harry S. Truman in 1948, which desegregated the armed forces, was the first attempt at civil rights since Reconstruction, which was the catalyst to the Civil Rights Movement, which finally came to a peak when another Johnson, Lyndon B., who would defy Andrew, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, officially ending racial segregation domestically.
Andrew Johnson is often left out in American Cultural memory, with few memorials dedicated in his honor outside of his home state, where a more revered Andrew, his hero Jackson, is often celebrated, along with a much more notable, if not more controversial president, James K. Polk, who was also a Jacksonian Democrat. Johnson will be remembered by his countrymen, if they do remember him at all, for being the greatest president’s successor/vice president, or being the worst possible president due to strong racism in an era where racial equality was a goal of the day, which would have saved much trouble nearly a century later, which he could’ve solved in his tenure, overshadowed by his predecessor, and even his successor. Johnson can tell future leaders the wrongs of being on top from one of the worst, instead of just looking at the rights of being on top from one of the greats.
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