Johnson vetoed the first and second reconstruction acts Essay

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The impeachment of the 17th president of the United States, Andrew Johnson was a key event in the history of Reconstruction as well as in the history of our nation. In the spring and summer of 1864, it seemed unlikely that Abraham Lincoln was going to be reelected. Not only had the war been going rather badly for the Union, but a president had not been reelected in the past thirty years and it was almost understood that Lincoln would follow that form.

One of the ways in which Lincoln helped himself to get elected, as well as planning for the time in which the North and South would need to be reconciled to each other, Andrew Johnson, representative from the border state of Tennessee was selected. Johnson was a Southerner but he hated with a passion, his countrymen from the south who left the Union and despised them. However, despite his hatred for the Southern aristocrats, which Johnson had blamed for the Civil War, he certainly was no friend to the African American and this apathy towards their plight would be seen in one veto after another.

Johnson also vetoed the Freedmans Bill which sought to ensure that the newly freed African Americans would have land and a chance to make a new life for them and to ease the transition from a life of slavery to one of freedom. All of the above mentioned, led to the first impeachment of an American President.

The radical Republicans became increasingly frustrated at the rate in which President Johnson was vetoing everything that they had worked so hard to form as it was their goal to make sure that the Civil War was not fought in vain. President Johnson, in the minds of the Radical Republicans and an increasing number of other representatives in both Houses of Congress, started to see Johnson as the enemy. When President Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, it was seen as the last straw and impeachment procedures begun.

However, even though Johnson escaped formal impeachment by a single vote, his hopes for a second term, and his first full term, vanished as he was now seen in league with the Southerners whom he had previously professed to hate. When Andrew Johnson was selected by President Lincoln as his running mate in the 1864 election, many Republicans, especially radical Republicans like Thurlow Weed and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, were very suspicious of Johnsons motives as he was from Tennessee.

Their fear left when Johnson expressed his hatred towards the aristocratic land owners of the South, whom he had faulted for the start of the war in the first place. However, suspicion soon returned when Johnson made his feelings know concerning the need for Reconstruction in the first place: Those states have not gone out of the Union. Therefore reconstruction is unnecessary. This would be a theme that Johnson would keep through his formal responses concerning his multiple vetoes.

Johnson was either hopelessly optimistic about the plight of the African Americans in the South, apathetic, or purposely took on a mission to help the white farmers against what he considered the legislation of the reformers to be in aid of the black farmer over the white. When Congress met in December of 1865, the first time that both Houses had met since the death of President Lincoln, only Mississippi had failed to adopt the lenient measures that both President Lincoln and Johnson had put in place in order to ease the transition of the South back into the Union.

When it was realized that the Southern legislations had placed African Americans in a sort of quasi slavery through the restrictive black codes, Radical Republicans were enraged and sough to instill within the southern states, a series of laws which would ensure and forever protect the rights of the African American as it was their legal rights that were to be protected, the Union had the ability to ensure that these rights were enforced by their military presence in the area and to make sure that the Civil War was not fought in vain.

These were the motivations of the Radical Republicans and it soon became clear, that such goals were in direct conflict with the motivations of President Johnson. The trouble between Congress and President Johnson began in February of 1866 with the veto of the Freedman Bill. The original bill had been passed in March of 1865 and it was up for its yearly renewal. The bill called for the redistribution of land to the freedmen, provided schools for their children and set up courts which were reinforced by the military which ensured that these laws would be carried out.

President Johnson did not see the need for such expenditures and called it too expensive and unconstitutional. I share with Congress the strongest desire to secure to the freedmen the full enjoyment of their freedom and property and their entire independence and equality in making contracts for their labor, but the bill before me contains provisions which in my opinion are not warranted by the Constitution and are not well suited to accomplish the end in view.

Since then, it has become clear by historians that this was not the true motivation of President Johnson. President Johnson sought to return African Americans to a state of the oppressive and restrictive black codes. In being an enemy of the large land owners of the South, he still was no friend to the African American. Also, there seemed to be a sense of ignorance concerning the condition of the African American in these southern states.

Upon closing his formal reply in this veto, President Johnson said: It is hardly necessary for me to inform Congress that in my own judgment most of these states, so far, at least, as depends upon their own action, have already been fully restored and are to be deemed as entitled to enjoy their constitutional rights as members of the Union¦ This would mean, and it would be a common theme that would be seen in many of President Johnsons responses to repeated measures by Congress to expand or protect the rights of the African America, that President Johnson would not be aiding in any legislation which helped to protect the rights of the African American, despite his aforementioned statements.

The next measure which put President Johnson at odds with the Congress was his veto of the 1866 Civil Rights Bill. The Civil Rights Bill was put in place as a reaction the oppressive Black Codes which the South had implemented in order to return African Americans to as close to their previous slavery conditions as possible.

Within these codes, African Americans were given a curfew, were not allowed to carry guns, serve on a jury or congregate with other African Americans in a group to name a few of the provisions. The Civil Rights Bill would later be used as a stepping stone for the 14th amendment which said that all persons born in the United States are therefore citizens and as a result, are entitled to equal protection under the law.

In his veto of the 1866 Civil Rights Bill, President Johnson stated: This provision of the bill seems to be unnecessary, as adequate judicial remedies could be adopted to secure the desired end without invading the immunities of legislators, always important to be preserved in the interest of public liberty; without assailing the independence of the judiciary, always essential to the preservation of individual rights¦ It was believed by the Radical Republicans that such beliefs were not only overly optimistic and ignorant of the current situation in the South, they were simply wrong.

The Congress would override Johnsons veto on the Freedmans Bill and sought to do the same here. However, President Johnson continued to veto every bill that dealt with Reconstruction and further alienated himself from both Houses of Congress. 1867 would not be a kind year in the Johnson Administration.

On March 2nd of that year, President Johnson vetoed the first of two Reconstruction Acts that would be presented to him. The Reconstruction Bill stated that in order for the previous laws to be enforced within the Southern States, the South would be divided up into military districts and put under a type of martial law, depending upon the severity of those who ignored the law.

Again, President Johnson vetoed the bill as he saw it to be unnecessary. This is a bill passed by Congress in time of peace. There is not in any one of the states brought under its operation either war or insurrection. The laws of the states and of the Federal government are all in undisturbed and harmonious operation.

This certainly was not the case but it would seem to be out of the character of President Johnson if he ever recognized the grave state that the African Americans were under within the South. President Johnson seemed to be oblivious towards this fact and his voting record surely did reinforce this notion. In March of 1867, President Johnson would veto his second Reconstruction Act which provided for military commanders to reconstruct the Southern states into states which would recognize the rights of the African American by force if necessary. In his veto, President Johnson again stated the lack of need for such pieces of legislation. The existing Constitution of the ten States conforms to the acknowledged standards of loyalty and republicanism.

Indeed, if there are degrees in republican forms of government, their constitutions are more republican now than when these States, four of which were members of the original thirteen, first became members of the Union. President Johnson will always assert a sort of lassie faire notion towards the South; a notion that is in direct conflict with the Republican majority in both the House and the Senate and especially with regards to the very vocal Radical Republicans. Throughout 1867, The House Judiciary Committee, further irritated by Johnsons repeated vetoes, sought to find some illegal activity in which to possibly impeach the President. However, upon their investigation, there was no evidence in which to do this.

However, later that year, on August 12, 1867, President Johnson removed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Stanton certainly was no friend of Johnson and there was no love loss between them. Stanton repeatedly undermined the President at every turn and President Johnson viewed Stanton as a hold over of the Lincoln Administration and not loyal to his administration. As a result of the firing, which was in violation of the Tenure of Office Act, eleven articles of impeachment were brought against the president. Ironically, it was this very law which President Johnson had vetoed earlier that year on March 2, 1867 in which he said: The question, as Congress is well aware, is by no means a new one.

That the power of removal is constitutionally vested in the President of the United States is a principle which has been not more distinctly declared by judicial authority and judicial commentators than it has been uniformly practiced upon by the legislative and executive departments of the Government. President Johnson had overplayed his hand and formal articles of impeachment would be brought to him. On February 24, 1868, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Johnson.

Congress. The formal reason was the firing of Stanton but in reality, President Johnsons refusal to adhere to the political flow of Congress, which at that time, sought to regulate by force if necessary, the Southern states into submission on the issues of securing the rights of African Americans.

However, a President could only be impeached if he was guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors as it states in the Constitution. Article I of the Impeachment document formally spelled out his charge of high crimes and misdemeanors:

That said Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, on the 21st day of February 1868, at Washington, in the District of Columbia, unmindful of the high duties of his office, of his oath of office, and of the requirement of the Constitution, that he should take care that the laws be faithfully executed, did unlawfully and in violation of the Constitution and laws of the United States of America issue an order in writing for the removal of Edwin Stanton from the office of Secretary for the Department of War¦..

The impeachment committee was made up of all Radical Republicans: Thaddeus Stevens, Benjamin Butler and James Wilson, the most notable of the cast. Johnsons defense, as President Johnson was never present at the hearings, was Henry Stanberry, William Evarts and Benjamin Curtis as well as Jeremiah Black who would later resign from the hearings.

On the first day of the trial Johnsons defense team asked for a forty stay since they had not been given enough time to gather up their defense. The trial, which was processed over by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, a former member of President Lincolns cabinet, allowed a stay of only ten days. Another six day extension was voted upon by the Senate and granted.

On March, 30, the trial began in which Benjamin Butler, former Union General, talked for three hours in which he lambasted the President for his violation of the Tenure of Office Act and the fact that even that the President had given orders to subordinates of General Grant before even allowing him to see and review them.

The defense opened by stating that President Johnson had not violated the Tenure of Office Act with the firing of Secretary of War Stanton and that Stanton had tried everything in his power to undermined the President at every turn. Also, the fact that President Johnson had not reappointed Stanton meant that his office was not under the protection of the Tenure Act. The prosecution called other witnesses but in the end, proved unhelpful. The prosecution added further charges to the President.

Article VIII stated: That said Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, with intent unlawfully to control the disbursement of the moneys appropriated for the military service and for the Department of War, did unlawfully, and in violation of the Constitution of the United States of America, , and without the advice and consent of the Senate of the United States¦ there being no vacancy in the office of Secretary for the Department of War, and with intent to violate and disregard the act aforesaid, then and there issue and deliver to one Lorenzo Thomas a letter of authority.

The charges went further in order to prove that the firing of the Secretary of War was done with premedidation. Article IX states: That said Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, unmindful of the high duties of his office and of his oath of office, on the 21st day of February, in the year of our Lord 1868, at Washington, in the District of Columbia, did unlawfully conspire with one Lorenzo Thomas, by force to seize, take, and possess the property of the United Sates in the Department of War, and then and there in the custody and charge of Edwin M.

Stanton, Secretary for said Department, contrary to the provisions of an act entitled An act to define and punish certain conspiracies, approved July 31, 1861, and with intent to violate and disregard an act entitled An act regulating the tenure of certain civil offices, passed March 2, 1867, whereby said Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, did then and there commit a high crime in office.

It would also be the vocal opinions of the Radicals which helped the country to come to this stage in the first place. Charles Sumner stated that his objections with the President came from his many vetoes. Andrew Johnson is the impersonation of the tyrannical Slave Power. In him it lives again. He is the lineal ancestor of John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis. And he gathers about him the same supporters.

Original partisans of slavery North and South; habitual compromisers of great principles; maligners of the Declaration of Independence politicians without heart; lawyers, for whom a technicality is everything, and a promiscuous company who at every stage of the battle have set their faces against Equal Rights; these are his allies. It is the old troop of slavery, with a few recruits, ready as of old for violence cunning in device and heartless in quibble Senator John Sherman voted to impeach the President because, he had abused his power and in his words:

Armed by the Constitution and the laws, with vast powers, he has neglected to protect loyal people in the rebel States, so that assassination is organized all over those States, as a political power to murder, banish and maltreat loyal people, and to destroy their property.

All these he might have ascribed to alleged want of power, or to difference of opinion in questions of policy, and for these reasons no such charges were exhibited against him, though they affected the peace and safety of the nation. However, there would be members of Congress which would come to his defense.

One such member was William Fessenden who stated in his defense: To the suggestion that popular opinion demands the conviction of the President o these charges, I reply that he is not now on trial before the people, but before the Senate. In the words of Lord Eldon, upon the trial of the Queen, I take no notice of what is passing out of doors, because I am supposed constitutionally not to be acquainted with it.

And again, It is the duty of those on whom a judicial task is imposed to meet reproach and not court popularity. The people have not heard the evidence as we have heard it. Lynman Trumble would also concur by stating in his formal decision:

What law does this record show the President to have violated? Is it the tenure of office act? I believe in the constitutionality of that act, and stand ready to punish its violators; but neither the removal of that faithful and efficient officer, Edwin M. Stanton, which I deeply regret, nor the ad interim designation of Lorenzo Thomas, were, as has been shown, forbidden by it. Is it the reconstruction acts? Whatever the facts may be, this record does not contain a particle of evidence of their violation.

Is it the conspiracy act? No facts are shown to sustain such a charge¦ The trial had commenced and now a formal vote would be needed in order to either convict of acquit the President. In the end, senators who voted for his guilt numbered 35 and those for his innocence was 19 which was one shy of the necessary 2/3 vote needed from the senate.

The Radical Republicans had gambled and lost and the zeal that the country had for Reconstruction, would eventually end with the Great Compromise of 1877. A quasi form of slavery would impede the African American from experiencing his equal treatment under the law and as a result, future laws which would be used.

Jim Crow laws and grandfather clauses kept African Americans from the polls and placed their previous masters, as masters again. Also, the hopes that President Johnson had for reelection were gone and General Grant would follow him in two lackluster terms as President. It was a sad chapter for the President as well as the Presidency as a whole. Such events make historians wonder how the country would have been different had President Lincoln never been assassinated. Tempers among North and South might not have come to a head as they did and most accurately, African Americans would not have had to wait as long as they did for equal treatment under the law.

The choice of Andrew Johnson for Vice President had consequences for the Union which could not have been seen when President Lincoln first appointed him as the Vice President in 1864. Only unhelpful speculation can possibly answer what the make up of this country and race relations for the forty years after the end of the Civil War would have looked like, had President Johnson, in the spirit of malice towards none and charity for all. Nobody will ever know.

WORKS CITED Commanger, Henry Steele Documents of American History. New York: Century Press. 1947 Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals. New York: Simon & Schuster 2006 Reconstruction and the Courts New York: PBS American Experience 2003 http://www. impeach-andrewjohnson. com/ Downloaded on June 5, 2007.

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