It was 150 years ago tomorrow, on February 24, 1868, that Andrew Johnson became the first President of the United States to be impeached. The last President to be impeached was Bill Clinton, and that was less than 20 years ago, in December 1998. When will the next impeachment be? Perhaps in 2019?
The Rise of Andrew Johnson
As you know, Johnson became the 17th POTUS following Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865.
Johnson was born in 1808, about six weeks before Lincoln, into an economically deprived home in Tennessee. The “upper crust” of his hometown of Raleigh probably considered the Johnson family “white trash,” especially after Andrew’s father died when he was three.
Although he had no formal schooling, Andrew was a gifted speaker, and through the years he kept rising to higher and higher political offices: from alderman to mayor, to state representative, to the U.S. House of Representatives, to governor, to U.S. Senator, and then to Vice-President (even though he was a Democrat and Lincoln was a Republican).
The Fall of Andrew Johnson
Becoming President shortly after the end of the Civil War, Johnson faced the unparalleled challenge of how to deal with the former Confederate states and how to reconstruct the South. He soon came into direct conflict with the Radical Republican faction in Congress, led by Rep. Thaddeus Stephens.
The ensuing struggle for power between the executive and legislative branches of the government resulted in Johnson’s fall. Congress wanted the freed slaves to be full citizens of the nation and thought freedmen should have the right to vote.
Johnson wanted the whites to remain dominant and the blacks to remain subservient.
The showdown came over the somewhat unrelated Tenure of Office Act legislated in March 1867. As a result of Johnson’s violation of that act, he was impeached by the House—but remained in office as the Senate fell one vote short of removing him.
|February 24, 1868|
The Rise and Fall (?) of DJT
There are both stark differences and strong similarities between the 17th and 45th POTUS. Whereas Johnson was born into an economically poor home in Tennessee (the westernmost state at the time), DJT was the son of a rather affluent businessman in New York City.
And whereas DJT never held a political office before becoming President, Johnson served in various political offices for most of his adult life.
There seems, however, to be considerable similarity between the two presidents in their racist attitudes. In her book Andrew Johnson (2011), Annette Gordon-Reed avers that “to say that Andrew Johnson was a racist and sought to maintain and extend white supremacy in America is a statement of incontrovertible fact, not merely a judgment” (p. 11).
DJT’s racist and xenophobic attitudes may not be incontrovertible at this point, but his statements (and tweets) over the past couple of years give good grounds for labeling him as a racist.
And it goes without saying that DJT’s rise to his election as the 45th POTUS was completely unexpected to most people in the U.S.—and probably even by Trump himself.
Given the likelihood of DJT’s people colluding with Russia and his attempting to obstruct that investigation as well as the likelihood of his having violated the “Emoluments Clause,” there is probably far more reason for DJT to be impeached than there was for Johnson.
What will happen depends on two things: the final findings of Mueller’s Special Counsel Investigation and the congressional election this November.
If the Republicans maintain control of the House, impeachment of DJT is unlikely—and removal from office by the Senate, regardless of the election (since a 2/3 vote would be necessary), seems quite unlikely even if the House does impeach him.