May 16th: The Narrow Acquittal of President Johnson: A Pivotal Moment in U.S. History

May 16, 2023

On May 16, 1868, a historic event unfolded in the U.S. Senate as President Andrew Johnson narrowly avoided conviction on impeachment charges by just one vote. This marked the climax of a political storm that had engulfed the nation in the turbulent years following the Civil War.

The impeachment of President Johnson, a Southern Democrat who had ascended to the presidency after Lincoln’s assassination, was the result of his contentious relationship with the ‘Radical Republicans’ in Congress. They vehemently opposed his lenient policies towards the defeated Southern states, viewing them as an impediment to their plans for Reconstruction.

After a grueling trial, the Senate voted on the 11 articles of impeachment. The decisive vote was cast by Senator Edmund G. Ross of Kansas, who, despite intense pressure, voted “not guilty,” thus saving Johnson’s presidency. The final vote stood at 35-19, falling just short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict.

This dramatic event marked the first time in U.S. history that a sitting president had been impeached. It underscored the tension between different branches of government and set a precedent for future impeachment proceedings. More importantly, it emphasized the principle that even the President is not above the law, a cornerstone of American democracy that still resonates today.


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