Impeachment of a President

These last few weeks, our country has been going through a dramatic and historical period. We have seen President Nixon resign his high office under threat of impeachment. Is this the first President to resign in the history of our country? Yes. Has any other President been impeached? Yes! One! Who was that President? Andrew Johnson.
What does impeach mean? “To charge a high government official with high crimes and misdemeanors while in office.” In the case of the President, the House of Representatives must prepare the charges and vote to impeach by a simple majority of the full House. Then the House refers the charges to the Senate where the trial is held, presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It takes a 2/3rds majority of the Senate to convict.
Since President Nixon has resigned there will be no further action taken against him in the House or the Senate. Impeachment proceedings are dead. Now lets look back to 1868, to the only impeachment of a President by the House of Representatives and his trial before the Senate.
Who was he? Andrew Johnson was from Tennessee, by profession a tailor. He was a man of limited education who had served his state as an alderman, mayor, member of the state Legislature, member of the state Senate, as a Congressman for 10 years, and as Governor. He was a United States Senator when the Civil War began and was the only southern Senator or Congressman to remain loyal to the Union.
President Lincoln in his first term appointed Johnson military governor of Tennessee with the rank of Brigadier General. Then Lincoln selected him as his running mate on the Republican ticket for his 2nd term and Andrew Johnson was elected Vice President. When Lincoln was assassinated shortly after the election, Andrew Johnson became President.
He soon came into conflict with the hard line or radical elements in Congress who wanted to crack down on the South and disenfranchise the entire white population and treat the southern states as conquered territory. The radicals pushed harsh measures through the Congress to punish the South, and Johnson vetoed these acts.
President Johnson and his Secretary of War Stanton did not agree on the radical policy of military rule in the South. Johnson determined to remove Stanton from office, but the Congress passed a Tenure of Office bill, which denied the right of the President to dismiss high ranking officers of the Executive Department without the consent of the Senate.
This Bill was clearly unconstitutional and President Johnson went ahead and suspended Stanton and appointed General Grant as Secretary of War. The Senate notified President Johnson and General Grant that it did not concur in the removal of Secretary Stanton, so General Grant moved out and Stanton moved back in, but President Johnson refused to recognize Stanton or allow him to attend cabinet meetings.
It was in this period of conflict and controversy that the House voted to impeach the President and a list of eleven charges were sent to the Senate for trial. The southern states were not represented in the Senate, so there were only 54 Senators and it was necessary to have 36 votes or a 2/3rds majority for conviction.
After the charges has been presented and argued by the attorneys for the House and the President, the day came to cast the ballots. It had been pretty well established that all 12 Democratic Senators would vote in favor of Johnson who was a Democrat. Six Republicans Senators had let it be known that they would not vote against the President. That left only one vote not accounted for, and the fate of the President hung on this one solitary vote.
The holder of this vote was a freshman Republican Senator from Kansas named Edmund G. Ross. No one knew how Ross would vote and tremendous pressure was brought to bear to gain his vote against the President. His life was threatened. Letters, telegrams, and petitions flooded his office.
When the fateful hour arrived and the Chief Justice called the roll, Senator Ross cast his vote. Years later, he wrote that this “was a tremendous responsibility, and I almost literally looked down into my open grave. For friendships, position, fortune, everything that makes life desirable were about to be swept away, but my vote ‘not guilty’ was given clearly so that all those in the Senate Chamber and in the galleries could hear it.”
Neither Senator Ross nor any of the other Republican Senators were ever re-elected to the Senate, but each and every one has been listed in President Jack Kennedy’s book “Profiles in Courage.” The not guilty vote of Senator Ross was a rare act of political courage and deserves to be well remembered. President Kennedy called it the most courageous act ever performed on the floor of the United States Senate. This deciding vote saved President Johnson from conviction and removal from office.

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