Vote On President Johnson's Impeachment

On May 16, 1868, the U.S. Senate voted 35 to 19, one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict President Andrew Johnson of "high crimes and misdemeanors," as he was charged under the eleventh article of impeachment.

Ten days later, on May 26, the Senate also failed by the same margin (35 to 19) to convict Johnson on articles two and three. At this point the Senate voted to adjourn the impeachment trial without considering the remaining articles. When Johnson received the news, he broke into tears.

Johnson, a Southern Democrat, assumed the presidency after Lincoln's assassination. He issued a plan allowing former Confederate states to return representatives to Congress as soon as they repealed the ordinances of secession, repudiated Confederate debts, abolished slavery, and ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. Lacking the personal and political sagacity of President Lincoln, however, Johnson was unable to bring about the transition smoothly and what ensued was a cataclysmic encounter between the executive and legislative branches.

In 1865, Johnson took advantage of a long Congressional recess to recognize a Reconstruction government in all former Confederate states, except Texas. The states then took advantage of his conciliatory policy to pass "Black Codes" limiting freedmen's rights. When the 39th Congress reconvened in December 1865, the Republican majority in Congress refused to seat the newly elected Southern members of Congress. In early 1866, angry congressmen, led by men such as Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens, passed the Freedmen's Bureau and Civil Rights bills to empower those the codes repressed. Johnson vetoed both bills, but Congress overrode the veto of the Civil Rights Act on April 9, 1866, the first major piece of legislation to pass over a presidential veto in U.S. history.

There were three votes in the Senate: one on May 16 for the 11th article of impeachment, which included many of the charges contained in the other articles, and two on May 26 for the second and third articles, after which the trial adjourned. On all three occasions, thirty-five Senators voted "guilty" and nineteen "not guilty." As the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority for conviction in impeachment trials, Johnson was acquitted; the 35-19 vote was one less than the majority required. A single changed vote for guilty would have convicted and removed Johnson from office. Seven Republican senators were disturbed by how the proceedings had been manipulated in order to give a one-sided presentation of the evidence. Senators William Pitt Fessenden, Joseph S. Fowler, James W. Grimes, John B. Henderson, Lyman Trumbull, Peter G. Van Winkle, and Edmund G. Ross of Kansas, who provided the decisive vote, defied their party and public opinion and voted against conviction.