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150 Years Ago, a President Could Be Impeached for Firing a Cabinet Member

May 16, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

A political cartoon showing Vice President Andrew Johnson sitting atop a globe, attempting to stitch together the map of the United States with needle and thread. (Credit: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)

Today, President Trump’s cabinet looks more like a revolving door. Since taking office, he has fired an unprecedented number of cabinet members, including his Secretary of State and other key advisors. But if it were the 1860s, the president’s unilateral firings would have been an automatically impeachable offense, thanks to a law intended to restrict presidential powers—a law that almost got a sitting president booted out of office.

The Tenure of Office Act seemed simple—it prevented the president from firing cabinet appointments that Congress had previously approved. But when President Andrew Johnson defied it, a ludicrous standoff resulted. As a result of his combative attempt to skirt the law, Johnson was nearly impeached and has gone down in history as one of America’s worst presidents for his defiance.

Before the law was passed, presidents could fire cabinet members at will. But the law—created to stop Johnson’s attempts to soften Reconstruction for Southern states after the Civil War—wasn’t just any Congressional act. It resulted in an increasingly absurd spiral of one upmanship that culminated in a rare presidential veto, an even rarer congressional override, a sensational impeachment trial that was so well-attended that Congress had to raffle off tickets, and an ongoing conflict over executive power.

It all started when Johnson, a Southerner who stubbornly decided to support the North during the Civil War, was picked to run alongside Abraham Lincoln in 1864. The nation was in the midst of a roiling war, and Lincoln’s presidency was shaky as casualties racked up and opposition to his policies mounted. Lincoln needed to reach across the aisle, so he chose Johnson, a populist from Tennessee.

A political cartoon showing Vice President Andrew Johnson sitting atop a globe, attempting to stitch together the map of the United States with needle and thread. (Credit: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)

The strange vice-presidential pick worked, and Johnson got down to work as the Vice-President in 1865. But then disaster struck when Lincoln was assassinated. Johnson assumed the presidency, but it turned out his ideas about how to deal with the former Confederacy were quite different from his majority-Republican Congress.

Johnson didn’t want to …read more

Source: HISTORY

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