• Moon Mythbuster

Trump's impeachment is most comparable to Andrew Johnson's trial

by Christian Johnson

Politics is, by nature, a practical solution. However, in the past impeachment has always been based on some crime that the president has committed. With an impeachment trial raging in the Senate this week, Democrats contend that President Trump broke the law — but what law has he actually broken? What they impeached him for is “abuse” of executive power. The only available comparisons are the impeachments of Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson.

The Johnson impeachment is particularly important, because Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about an affair he had in the oval office, while Johnson was impeached over abuse of executive power. Both times in American history, Congress used impeachment to politically damage a president. This time around, it may help to look back on Johnson’s story.

Here is a little backstory behind the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. The Civil War had ended, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and Andrew Johnson became the president. The Radical Republicans received a supermajority in Congress in the 1866 midterm elections. Reconstruction was the political problem of the time and, as the name is meant to suggest, the Republicans wanted to “radically” punish the South for the Civil War. Andrew Johnson was a southern Democrat who maintained loyalty to the Union during the Civil War. Democrats wanted to give the South more time to rejoin the Union because they knew they could regain seats and power for their party. The Republicans knew they could get their agenda through while preventing the South from rejoining until their demands were met.

Thus began the standoff between the Radical Republican Congress and President Johnson, a Democrat. Johnson repeatedly vetoed Republican legislation, but the Republicans constantly overturned his vetoes. The 1867 Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, which prevented the president from removing cabinet members without permission from Congress. This was meant to protect Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Johnson broke the Tenure of Office Act by removing Stanton from his cabinet. The Radical Republicans used this context to begin the impeachment of the president. The Radical Republicans wanted him gone so they could continue their policy of strict Reconstruction uninhibited.

As it turned out, the Republicans did this to take control. Johnson had 17 charges of impeachment against him — including one for vulgar language. Johnson’s breaking of the Tenure of Office Act was the one that was brought to trial by the Senate. At the time, there were 50 Senators, and to convict a president the Radical Republicans needed 37 votes. They managed to get 36 and thus Andrew Johnson was saved from being removed from office. The Tenure of Office Act was officially repealed in 1887 because it was considered to be an overreach of the legislative branch into the executive branch.

This serves as a reminder that impeachment can and has been used in the past as a political hit while using the pretext of an executive abusing power. What the modern-day Democrats are doing is trying to overturn the election of a duly elected president because they did not like the results of the 2016 election. They are using the Ukraine phone call as pretext to force impeachment on President Trump.

History is repeating itself; like the Radical Republicans of 1867, today’s Nancy Pelosi-led House Democrats have sent the impeachment trial to the Senate. Time will tell whether President Trump becomes the first president removed from office as a result of an impeachment trial — or the first president to win re-election after impeachment.

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