A President on Trial

The bullet that felled Abraham Lincoln in 1865 made Andrew Johnson president. The new chief executive backed a plan for quickly reintegrating the former Confederate states into the Union. Congress’s more radical Republicans demanded stronger measures to punish rebellious states and protect the rights of freed slaves. The dispute boiled over when Johnson prepared to dismiss a cabinet member who had strong congressional support.

Overriding Johnson’s veto, Congress passed legislation denying the president’s power to remove officials without Senate consent. Johnson ignored the act, provoking impeachment by the House and a Senate trial. On May 16, 1868, seven Republican senators defied party leaders, voting with the 12 Democrats to acquit Johnson of “high crimes and misdemeanors”—by a one-vote margin. Ironically, Johnson returned to Washington in 1875 as a senator, the first former president to serve in the chamber.

 

  • The Ladies’ Gallery of the Senate during the Impeachment Trial, by W. S. L. Lewett, 1868

    The Ladies’ Gallery of the Senate during the Impeachment Trial, by W. S. L. Lewett, 1868

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • George T. Brown, Sergeant-at-Arms, Serving the Summons on President Johnson, by T. R. Davis, 1868

    George T. Brown, Sergeant-at-Arms, Serving the Summons on President Johnson, by T. R. Davis, 1868

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Taking the Vote on the Impeachment of President Johnson, Senate Chamber, Washington, D.C. May 16th 1868. Senator Ross, of Kansas, Voting ‘Not Guilty,’ by James H. Taylor, 1868

    Taking the Vote on the Impeachment of President Johnson, Senate Chamber, Washington, D.C. May 16th 1868. Senator Ross, of Kansas, Voting ‘Not Guilty,’ by James H. Taylor, 1868

    Collection of the U.S. Senate

     

  • Vote to Impeach Andrew Johnson, May 16, 1868

    This tally sheet recorded the votes in the Senate impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson. The final count, 35 to 19, was one vote short of the two-thirds majority required to convict the president.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • Admission Ticket, Impeachment Trial of President Andrew Johnson, 1868

    President Johnson’s impeachment trial in the Senate was open to the public, though only a limited number of daily tickets were available.

    Collection of the U.S. Senate