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Memorandum from Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, February 21, 1868

To gain greater control over the military, which Congress charged with overseeing Southern states, President Andrew Johnson twice attempted to fire Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, an appointee of President Abraham Lincoln. The action challenged the Tenure of Office Act, which required Senate consent for cabinet dismissals. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts tersely advised Stanton to “stick” to his position.

Edwin M. Stanton Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Memorandum from Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, February 21, 1868

Congress Impeaches and Tries a President

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Congress battled with President Andrew Johnson over the terms of Reconstruction. Johnson favored more lenient policies for former Confederate states. Congress overrode Johnson’s vetoes of several Reconstruction-era laws, including the Tenure of Office Act, which restricted the president from appointing or dismissing cabinet secretaries without the consent of the Senate. Johnson’s subsequent firing of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton led to his impeachment and trial in 1868.

In 1868, for the first time, the House of Representatives impeached a president. In the Senate trial, however, President Andrew Johnson was not convicted of high crimes and misdemeanors.