One Man's Opinion: To Impeach, or Not to Impeach. Is that the Question?

"The man had a penchant for martyrdom. This allowed him to cling to his belief that he was cruelly beset, deeply under-appreciated, wholly persecuted and denied the respect that he rightfully deserved," said historian and author Brenda Wineapple speaking of President Andrew Johnson in her new book, "The Impeachers."

Congress had twice previously impeached a sitting President. President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat who ran on a unity ticket with President Abraham Lincoln during his re-election campaign, and then nearly 150 years later, President Bill Clinton. Neither Impeachment was successful, both did not receive the required votes for removal from office in the U.S. Senate. And in both of those cases, the party NOT in control of the White House held majorities in both chambers of Congress. That is not currently the case in Washington, D.C. Democrats have control of the U.S. House, where impeachment proceedings might be considered or begin.

Johnson was considered not particularly bright, thin-skinned and racist. Johnson was best known for being the sole U.S. Senator from the south (a Democrat from Tennessee) who chose not to secede, and remained a Unionist throughout the war. For this reason, Johnson was viewed as an 'outsider' who could mediate and help bring the south back into the Union after the war.

Instead, Johnson would veto several of the most critical pieces of Reconstruction legislation, championed by Lincoln and passed by both chambers of the Republican majority Congress. The Freedmen's Bureau Act, Civil Rights Act and four Reconstruction Acts were all passed into law against his objection. And though the majority of his vetoes were over-turned, Johnson did not let that soften his rhetoric.

"This is a country for white men, and by God as long as I am president, it shall be a government for white men."

Johnson then made a particularly divisive target of the 14th Amendment, which would eventually grant citizenship to freed slaves and equal protections under the law to black Americans. Leaders of the new Republican Party, first in power under Lincoln, and who had risked their existence and political success on retaining the Union and freeing the slaves were angry and afraid the Johnson was leading the nation backwards.

Congressional Republicans were making a strong moral case that Johnson was ignoring the will of the people, and as the Vice-President is not actually elected (he is part of the ticket in the Electoral College), the validity of his holding the office was often questioned. Then as now, the question arose, must a President only be impeached only for acts of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors? Must he have actually broken a law in order to trigger the impeachment process?

Republicans instead seized on a technicality to proceed with impeachment. Johnson had 'illegally' fired Republican Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Johnson chose not to consult Congress before dismissing Stanton in 1868. That violated the then Tenure of Office Act, requiring Congressional approval before such action. And though Congress would later repeal that act over concern for it violating the Constitutional separation or powers, 8 of the 11 articles of impeachment concerned Stanton's dismissal.

The House passed out a recommendation of Impeachment for a trial in the U.S. Senate, where Senate GOP moderates decided it would be easier to simply await the coming November elections, nominating and securing the White House for the party's then popular standard bearer and war-hero, General Ulysses S. Grant. The Senate trial ended with Johnson acquitted by a single vote, including seven Republicans supporting acquittal.

Johnson, with no strong base of support in either party and still reviled in the south, finished out his term quietly and eventually returned to his native Tennessee. There he would later be somewhat redeemed and return again to Washington as a U.S. Senator with Tennessee fully re-instated in the Union.

The 2020 Presidential election is already underway. Congressional Democrats' apparent obsession with the Mueller Report is beginning to cost them independent and non-party aligned voters. President Trump's approval ratings and poll numbers are trending up, whether that fits their preferred narrative or not. Given a field approaching two dozen Democratic aspirants for the White House, the Democratic Party might be better focused on determining how far to the left of center the party wants to go, and who are the potentially strongest standard bearers to take that case to Donald Trump. Odds are running high in Las Vegas and elsewhere however that that isn't exactly what they are planning to do.

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