President Andrew Johnson

Johnson Acquitted!

On May 16, 1868, the U.S. Senate voted against impeaching President Andrew Johnson and acquits him of committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

In February 1868, the House of Representatives charged Johnson with eleven articles of impeachment for vague “high crimes and misdemeanors.” To put this in perspective, in 1998, President Bill Clinton was charged with two articles of impeachment for obstruction of justice during an investigation into his inappropriate sexual behavior in the White House Oval Office and Nixon faced three charges for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.

The Impeachment Excitement

A correspondent gives the following account of the proceedings of the impeachment court last Saturday, and the final vote on the eleventh article;

WASHINGTON, May 16.–The caucus, at a late hour late hour last night, had determined on the programme. Notice had been served on the Radical leaders by General Grant that he would not accept the Presidential nomination if President Johnson was acquitted . The Senate would refuse to postpone a vote, unless delay would improve the prospects of conviction. The impeachers were again between Scylla and Charyddis as to what could be done. The compromise agreed upon, as developed in the proceedings to-day, was, that a vote should be taken on the 11th, which was believed to be the strongest article, and if defeated on that to adjourn until after the Chicago convention, and hold on to Grant.

When the Court opened, Messrs. Howard and Conkling were in their seats, and Mr. Grimes absent Mr. Fessenden rose, with a troubled look, and suggested the postponement of the vote for half an hour. At this moment Mr. Grimes entered, pale and feeble, leaning on the shoulder of a friend.

Theodore R. Davis's drawing of the Andrew Johnson Impeachment Trial

Theodore R. Davis's drawing of the Andrew Johnson Impeachment Trial

Mr. Anthony, doubtful, being the first on the roll, all eyes were turned on him. When he, in faltering tone, voted “guilty,” a buzz ran through the chamber, but no loud demonstration was made.

Mr. Fessenden, being called, rose, stretched his tall form to its full height, and stood erect, and listened attentively to the question by the Chief Justice. Mr. Sumner, who sits behind him, leaned over to catch a glimpse of his face, while with perfect composure, and clear voice, he voted “not guilty.”

The next doubtful Senator called was Mr. Fowler, and all eyes were immediately fixed upon him. Mr. Fowler answered “not guilty.”

Mr. Grimes had spoken, and was known to be for acquittal. When his name was called, he, too weak to rise, answered “not guilty.”

Mr. Henderson next rose, nervous under the battery of Radical eyes. Messrs. Conkling, Thayer, and Morton leaned forward to hear him vote “not guilty.”

The next doubtful man called was Mr. Ross, who sprang to his feet and voted “not guilty,” to the great astonishment of the Jacobins, who had counted on him to secure conviction, on this article. He had been visited during last night by various Radical delegations, all reporting Mr. Ross as certain on the eleventh article. His vote was the bombshell which scattered their hopes.

The President now had six Republican votes, and Mr. Van Winkle was certain. Seven secured acquittal. The contest was won. Mr. Ross had settled the question. The President was triumphant and impeachment lost. The Managers looked pitiable. Butler’s bald head was the color of a cooked lobster; Bingham rested his forehead on the table; Sevens bit his pale lips, and Logan sqirted tobacco juice.

Mr. Butler soon seized his hat and passed out at the door. He met a friend, who said “Pleasant result, General.” Butler replied, “G–d d–d this thing.” and rushed by.

The House immediately authorized the Managers to proceed to take testimony as to the influence brought to bear on Senators to induce them to vote for acquittal. This is understood to be the trick of the cattle fish, to escape under cover of its own dirt.


Collection: The Civil War
Publication: The Vincennes Weekly Western Sun
Date: May 23, 1868
Title: The Impeachment Excitement
Location: Vincennes, Indiana

In the same issue:

The “impeachers” of this city were the ugliest, fiercest, maddest looking set of fellows on Saturday that we have ever seen. Some of them tried to look as mean as old Butler himself, but only one or two succeeded.

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